Protests in Colombia: What has happened so far

Expat news
Published on 2021-05-11 at 12:00 by Javier Olivas Alguacil
Colombia is slowly coming out of nearly two weeks of tension. The recent protests got 1,506 persons injured and 26 dead. The Colombian government and international organisations made an urgent call for peace.

The protests began on April 28 following the presentation of a tax reform bill by Colombian President Ivan Duque. This bill was judged inappropriate by the Colombian middle class, especially amid the COVID-19 pandemic. It's worth noting that so far, Colombia has a record of more than 3 million cases out of 50 million inhabitants and more than 77,800 deaths. To make things worse, the unemployment rate rose to 14.2% last March. Currently, some 3.44 million people are out of jobs. Add to that the economic recession Colombia has been experiencing for years. The Gross Domestic Product (GDP) dropped by 6.8% in 2020, while poverty stands at 42.5%.

With the proposed controversial new bill, value-added tax (VAT) on consumer goods would rise, and the income tax base would broaden. This was unacceptable for trade unions, workers and many other groups, including students. For the past ten days, they have been claiming improvements in healthcare, safety, education, etc., and complaining about police and military abuse.

Initially, these were intended to be pacific demonstrations, but things got out of control in Bogota, the capital, and Cali in the southwest of the country, which are home to a large expat community. The police installed roadblocks following violent clashes with the protestants, which had a significant impact on the supply of food, medicine and fuel to several regions. These roadblocks were only removed last Friday when things began to calm down. As mentioned above, the tensions resulted in 26 deaths over ten days and 1,506 injuries, including civilians and military officers. Besides, more than 90 people are currently missing.

International response

The Colombian government condemned the recent protests and warned that abuses against the police would not be tolerated. However, international bodies such as the United States, the European Union, the United Nations and several other human rights organisations condemn police and military actions. They appealed to the president to engage in discussions with the demonstrators to find a solution as soon as possible.

But that's not all. Several Colombian celebrities have expressed their feelings about the situation in Colombia on social media. For famous singer Shakira, "It is unacceptable for a mother to lose her only child due to brutality and for other people to lose their lives in a pacific protest." Singer J Balvin also wrote, “When we get our spirits up, maybe we will find our peace. But not the dead! No to violence! Footballer Radamel Falcao also made a call for non-violence on social media. "I wish that the right to a pacific demonstration will be valued and respected".

But all this is not even surprising. Colombia has a long history of conflicts and guerrillas, as is the case in several Latin American countries, not to mention the non-respect for human rights. Regarding President Ivan Duque, whose 5-year mandate ends in August 2022, he has already been the subject of several protests since 2019.

Faced with such a complex situation, the municipality of Bogota has announced the setting up of 13 commissions to discuss the guarantees of citizen protest. These commissions consist of delegates from human rights organisations, city council officials with expertise in dialogue, law enforcement officials and directors from the Bogotá district. Their mission will be to keep an open eye on the violation of the fundamental rights of Colombian citizens. Meanwhile, President Ivan Duque says he is ready to discuss with the different parties concerned.

What about expats in Colombia?

Expatriates, especially those in Bogota, have been expressing their fear and discomfort about the recent protest on social media. Some of them even report several internet shutdowns during the protests. “I told my family that we will only be going out when it's really urgent, at least for now. You never know what might happen next, ”comments Aaron, an American expat in Bogota. “We heard gunshots, screams and all kinds of noises every night… it was terrifying. It was like in Hollywood movies, ”adds Sebastien. "Here, where I live, it's usually quiet, but the last few days were just a nightmare", says another expat.

It's worth noting that Colombia is home to a large expatriate community of different origins, with most of them in Bogota and surrounding areas. So it is recommended that expatriates stay away from protests, avoid travelling unnecessarily during tensions, and always be in possession of their ID.

Article translated from Explosiva situación en Colombia