Anti-Government Protests in Colombia Lead to Police Massacres and Violence

Anti-Government Protests in Colombia Lead to Police Massacres and Violence

What started as a protest against an exploitative tax reform has rapidly turned into violence and uproar as the people of Colombia lead anti-government protests against an authoritarian regime, and the authoritarian regime responds with murder and violence.

On Wednesday, April 28th, trade Unions organized protests in Colombia’s major cities, including Bogota, Medellín, and Cali, to denounce a tax reform that places a burden of sales taxes on the lowest income-earners. This tax comes as an addition to the 39% income tax rate that citizens already abide by with each paycheck.

Chants for peace in Colombia. Recorded on May 7th at a protest in Dover, NJ

The tax reform was met with outcries of unfairness by the Colombian population. Colombia’s economy is volatile and fragile, with a steady poverty rate of around 30% in the past five years, and a GDP which has fallen into debt.

These conditions have worsened during COVID-19—which kills more Colombians per-capita than even India—with 500 deaths per day as the country goes through its third wave, and over 76,000 total deaths from the pandemic. Vaccine supplies in the country are slim, and things do not seem like they will get any better. All of this is, of course, compounded with the decades long struggle against the nations criminal underbelly—a black-market economy of drug-manufacturing which produces 92% of the world’s cocaine and has caused uncountable damages to the Colombian people’s health, safety, and general well-being.

After several days of protests, which were supported by over 70% of the population, President Ivan Duque withdrew the tax reform on Sunday, May 3rd. The Finance Minister responsible for the plan also resigned. But, this was not enough.

The Colombian people, who have been pushed over the edge by Duque and his right-wing extremism, are now calling for more action, including the withdrawal of a proposed health-reform that would only benefit the wealthy, demilitarization of cities, an end to ongoing police violence, and the dismantling of the riot police known as ESMAD (Escuadrón Móvil Antidisturbios, or Mobile Anti-Disturbance Squadron).

These demands for peace and health have been met with fierce and violent rebuttal from the Colombian government. Murders, injuries, and disappearances have occurred all across Colombia, with the southwestern city of Cali being the epicenter of the violence.

Temblores, a nonprofit human rights organization in Colombia, has tracked 39 murders, 278 acts of violence, and 12 acts of sexual assault by the police, as well as over 800 disapearances.

Other outlets have reported much higher numbers, but the actual amount is difficult to pin down.

Several videos have also been taken of military officers firing into crowds of civilians from helicopters.

Since the outbreak of government violence, the UN, EU, and other international leaders have denounced the murders and called for de-escalation by the Colombian government. The Biden administration, who is continuing the country’s friendly support of President Ivan Duque and the right-wing party of Colombia, has remained silent as of this writing (May 8th). Most representatives, senators, and other politicians have also remained silent.

Colombia has ignored the requests of the UN and EU, and many Colombians believe that the United States is the only country that can stop this violence. Dr. Manuel Rozental, a political activist in Colombia, said in an interview with DemocracyNow!: “the only force and power that this country [Colombia] responds to is the United States.” … “If the US stops this, they will stop fascism. If [the U.S.] doesn’t, they are in complicity with what is happening here.”

The silence of the US government has been disheartening to many, especially in the Northern New Jersey area which is home to the two densest Colombian populations in the country. New Jersey as a whole is home to 9 out of the top 25 densest populations of Colombians or people of Colombian-descent overall in the country. Protests in New Jersey have sprung up in the wake of the violence, and lists of demands have been sent to representatives and senators in the area.

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The demands (audio below) made at a protest in Dover, NJ, on Friday, May 7th, include that the legislators publicly denounce human rights violations in Colombia, specifically acts of violence by police and military, invoking the Leahy Law to prohibit the further use of US resources and funds to militarize and assist Colombian armed forces, and providing humanitarian aid directly to the Colombian population, namely lack of access to healthcare, and education, and jobs.

Demands made by Gabriel, a protester and organizer working with Wind of the Spirit, in Dover, New Jersey

While the future of Colombia and it’s government is in question, one thing is clear—the general public has spoken, and they have spoken against authoritarianism. The people of Colombia no longer want to be ruled by corrupt, self-serving, elites, and they are fighting to make their voices heard.

Thanks for reading! If you’re interested, here is a link to a list of organizations and charities in Colombia you can follow or donate to.

For an entertaining first-hand account of the protest, click here

Author: D.C. Gonk

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