Bogota Colombia – The city of Cali in southwestern Colombia, the third largest city in the country, has become its focal point Anti-government protests Amid rising violence between protesters, security forces and armed civilians.
Protests have been going on across the country since April 28 after unrest erupted over unpopular reforms. The The offer was withdrawn And the finance minister resigned, but there are protesters Expands the list of their claims From the right-wing government of President Evan Duke.
While many now want a set of healthcare reforms to further privatize Colombian health care, others have taken to the streets to condemn it. Massive violence and killings Surrounding the Andean nation.
Tensions escalated in Kali on Sunday evening, with protesters demanding the end of the protests by armed civilians. Protesters blocked major highways, disrupting food and fuel supplies to the city.
More than a dozen people were injured, most of them tribals who came to the city to take part in the protest and staged a traditional protest called “Minga”.
Duke, who made a brief visit to Kali on Monday morning Addressing violence, Said additional security forces would be sent to impose the blockade. The president called on tribals to return to their territories “to avoid violent clashes with civilians.”
Kalio was at the center of anti-government protests last week, when police opened fire on protesters, killing and injuring several. International attention to unrest.
Governments, politicians and human rights groups have called on the Colombian government to rein in security forces, who have been widely criticized for using excessive force against protesters.
“Initially, the Duke said there was no need to go to Kali, which doesn’t go very well with everyone, including his supporters,” said Gimena Sanchez, director of the Andes in the Washington office of the Latin American think-tank.
“Eventually he fell under pressure, but again what did he do to ensure accountability for the abuse that has taken place against so many protesters?” Sanchez told Al Jazeera.
“I think his incompetent and arrogant response to the protests and the pressure from his ruling party to use all necessary force to stop the protests will only make the protesters more angry and prolong the protests.”
The death toll is still unclear
The death toll from the protests has been widely debated.
Human Rights Watch said it had confirmed the deaths of 36 people, but local NGOs Indepaz and Temblores put the number at 477. Colombian human rights activists say 226 people have been killed, most at the hands of police.
The Colombian National Police, which reports directly to the Ministry of Defense, has faced an ongoing investigation for additional troops. A reform of the police force has been hotly debated year after year and is now being added to protesters’ demands.
Sanchez said: “The Duke needs to address the concerns of most of its citizens, address abuses and guarantee a reform of the security forces so that protesting Colombians are not seen as internal enemies and are not met with.”
The government has regularly blamed insurgent and armed groups for infiltrating the protests and inciting violence. The duke met on Monday with national protesters and strike leaders as part of a national dialogue that he proposed ending the protests.
Political analyst Sergio Guzman says one of the main problems facing the government is a lack of public confidence.
“[This is] Not only because of the track record of the past, when it comes to establishing a broader dialogue with the community with those who may oppose the government, but also the fact that the Duke does not have enough time to implement any staff as a result of the dialogue, unless they get stuck. The point of action, ”he said.
With only 15 months left in the Duke’s government, much of what is being demanded will have to go through Congress, Guzman explained.
Meanwhile, another national strike day is being planned for Wednesday, in what will mark the third week of ongoing protests.
Elizabeth Dickinson, a senior analyst at International Crisis Group, said: “It is clear that we are far from a resolution and far from real dialogue on some of the issues that protesters want to have at the table.”
“Instead, what you see is that the government is treating the situation like a law enforcement problem,” Dickinson told Al Jazeera, adding that the lack of official recognition of the protesters’ demands was a political crisis.
“However, the longer it lasts, the more it will turn into a security crisis, so there is a real reality to this situation,” he said.
Guzman said the protesters understood that the blockades were creating a lot of crisis among the citizens, which he believed was undermining their legitimacy.
“Hopefully, the protesters will also acknowledge that at this point they need to understand that the government has actually listened to them and has taken steps to find a way out and propose a solution,” he said.
For Dickinson, there needs to be more organization to move the discussion forward. “I think bringing this dialogue and discussion as a result, the lack of leadership at the local and national levels is the only push,” he said.