Colombian Anger With President Duque’s Administration Boils Over Into National Protests & Violent Confrontations With Riot Police
Wednesday saw massive protests held in every major Colombian city, and some small towns expressing deep anger at the administration and governance of Colombian President Ivan Duque. Labor unions took a major part in organizing the protests, but other groups, representing indigenous and social issues and students took part. Inevitably, looters and street thugs took advantage of the situation in some instances.
Most protesters were peaceful, but there were incidents of violence, vandalism, and looting. In Cali, members of the Misak indigenous tribe and their allies tumbled the statute of 16th century “conquistador” Sebastián de Belalcazar: a hardened criminal sentenced to death by the Spanish for murder and treachery, but also credited with founding of the cities of Quito & Guayaquíl in Ecuador, and Popayán & Cali, Colombia.
During the protests, there were violent encounters in several Bogotá locations, looting in Cali and Atlantic coastal cities, and in Medellín, rioters tumbled the widely reviled “fotomultas,” traffic cameras that generate automated fines for drivers without their knowledge or police intervention.
The Duque administration on Tuesday attempted to obtain a court order to block the strikes from taking place, but the move had the opposite effect of inflaming anti-government sentiment and turning public sentiment towards the protesters.
The protests and confrontations with police caused closures of parts of Medellín’s metro system and cable car networks, and suspension of the Transmillenio bus service in Bogotá, stranding many thousands of commuters who had not connections to the protests. Several buses were torched in other cities.
Looters completely emptied and destroyed the bicycle store of noted Colombian cycling athlete Jarlinson Pantano, while Pantano himself was away participating in a protest march. “Supposedly this was to be a national strike, peaceful, against the tax reform. I, as a store owner, said to my employees, that we should go out of the store supporting it.”
Beyond the tax reform, which was the primary theme of the protests, Colombians took the opportunity to express deep discontent with the current government’s failure to manage the COVID pandemic, and lack of vaccines available in the country, and the government’s failure to protect community and social leaders from armed crime. Under the current administration of President Ivan Duque, coca production has reached an all time high, and there have been a spate of killings of indigenous leaders and social activists by criminal groups. President Duque and his supporters in the Centro Democratico party of his political patron, former President Alvaro Uribe oppose the peace process negotiated by previous President Juan Manuel Santos, and they have attempted to euphemize the rising spate of massacres in the country by attempting to label them as “collective homicides”—which of course, is what a massacre is.
The aftermath remains to be seen, but the protests have severely damaged, perhaps fatally, Duque’s tax reform proposal, and his Centro Democratico party’s prospects in next year’s presidential elections. Even Duque’s own political patron Alvaro Uribe has expressed opposition to parts of the tax package Irrespective of the political atmosphere, Colombia faces an impending fiscal crisis as the government is not harvesting revenues sustainable for its levels of spending and debt. Though it has borrowed significantly to counter the COVID pandemic, it has been unsuccessful managing public health, with hospitals throughout the country at or over capacity, and vaccinations far behind schedule. Duque will need a miracle between now and the end of his presidency next year for his legacy to be seen as anything but a failure.