Army in Cali where protests left at least 13 dead

© KEYSTONE/EPA/Ernesto Guzman Jr

The Colombian army, obeying the order of President Ivan Duque, began on Saturday to deploy a thousand troops in the city of Cali, the epicenter of anti-government protests. At least thirteen people were killed there the day before.

The streets of the country’s third largest city, 2.2 million, were almost deserted on Saturday, the day after clashes between protesters, police and armed civilians that left at least 13 dead in various incidents.

At least eight people have died from gunfire, police said. An investigator from the Cali prosecutor’s office fired at the crowd, killing two civilians, before being lynched by protesters, according to the prosecution.

Tax reform

The violence comes exactly one month after the April 28 uprising against a quickly abandoned tax reform project led by right-wing President Ivan Duque, which aimed to increase VAT and broaden the income tax base.

In a month of popular uprising, at least 59 dead, including two police officers, have been recorded in the country, according to an official count. Some 2,300 people were injured and 123 are missing. Human Rights Watch reports up to 63 deaths.

Call for de-escalation

“The situation in Cali is very serious,” tweeted José Miguel Vivanco, director for the Americas at Human Rights Watch, who urged President Duque to take “urgent de-escalation measures, including a specific order to ban the use of ‘firearms by state agents “.

For a month, the scenario has almost always been the same: by day, the demonstrations are peaceful and creative, at night the rebellion turns into riots where fireworks and Molotov cocktails mix with live ammunition.

This unprecedented revolt shakes the big cities, where barricades are erected and where road blockages cause shortages and exasperate part of the population. The government, despite mediators tasked with negotiating with the National Strike Committee, is unable to deactivate a crisis which, for the moment, does not threaten to overthrow it.

Impoverished youth

This sudden crisis has above all revealed, according to analysts, the dull anger of a politicized youth, impoverished by the pandemic, who no longer wants to be silent.

For half a century, the conflict with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc) obscured a reality that has become too glaring: according to the World Bank, Colombia ranks among the most unequal countries in terms of income and has the most informal job in Latin America.

The State concentrated in its fight against the guerrillas – the ELN and the dissidents of the Farc – and completely abandoned the social demand.

The 2016 peace agreement, which disarmed what was once the most powerful guerrilla on the American continent, ended an outdated conflict, far from the new urban generation “discovering politics,” explains academic Hernando Gomez Buendia, author of the book “Between independence and the pandemic”.

No “valve”

While a third of young people aged 14 to 28 do not work or study, “Colombia is becoming”, he said, “a country of urban conflicts”.

Unlike the social upheavals in Chile, where the social uprising led to constitutional reform, or in Ecuador, which has just organized elections, Colombians have not had a “valve” to vent their many frustrations, believes Cynthia Arson , Latin American Program Director, Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars.

The unpopularity of Ivan Duque, who is due to leave office in 2022, seems to work in favor of the left, which has never presided over the country. The former mayor of Bogota and ex-guerrilla Gustavo Petro is now leading the polls.

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