Colombian President Evan Duke has met with political opponents and expressed more optimism than his critics about progress toward calming widespread and sometimes deadly street protests for more than a week.
“We had a productive meeting with the Hope Alliance, a great opportunity for dialogue, overcoming differences and without political point-scoring,” Duke told the group of politicians on social media on Friday.
Opposition groups called for the beleagured PM to resign, saying “there is a lot of work to be done.”
The group “entered into negotiations with President Evan Duke as the opposition and we left as the opposition,” said Senator Jorge Roledo of Colombia’s Pride Party.
“We kept our vision and he kept his word.”
They called on the Duke to meet with civil society protest organizers.
There were peaceful processions in Bogota and Medellin, while roadblocks across the country reduced food supplies, causing some prices to rise.
Increasing the supply of food and other items like oxygen is never justified, Duke said.
“Yes in conversation … but not in road blocks,” he told reporters. “They are not peaceful because they affect the rights of others.”
The government is set to meet on Monday with the National Strike Committee, which is made up of unions and other groups – but has said it intends to hold a meeting soon.
Protests erupted in the Andean country last week over plans to raise sales taxes. The proposal was rejected but protesters’ demands now include an initial income and opponents say it is too vague to fix the imperfections of the long-controversial health reform repeal.
The Human Rights Lok Sabha said 226 people had been killed since the protests began, but said all seven were not involved in the procession. Advocacy group Human Rights Watch has reported 36 deaths and police violence has been described as “worrying”.
A major has been arrested in connection with the killing of a protester late Thursday night, the armed forces said in a statement.
Opposition parties have stated they will not run in the by-elections, but have stated opposition to using force or imposing sanctions on Iran.
The government must stop police violence, said Katherine Miranda, a Green Party congresswoman.
“The government is two-way. Day in and day out, it offers dialogue and compromise, but at night it only shows repression, ”he told Reuters.
One of the main demands of the protesters was the disbandment of the alarming riot police squad ESMAD, which was blown up by the Duke.
“Protests will continue until the dialogue yields results,” Francisco Maltes, president of the Central Workers’ Union (CET), said in a video this week.
Some Colombians called for an end to the protests.
“At the moment, the government has decided to withdraw [the tax reform], The popular victory should have been declared, “Gustavo Petro, a leftist senator and possibly optimistic about the 2022 president, told Blue Radio on Friday.
“At the moment, there is no clear purpose,” he said.
Poverty and unemployment increased during the coronavirus lockdown and deepened social inequality. According to official figures, about half of Colombia’s 50 million people were living in poverty by the end of 2020.
Edward Rodriguez, a congressman from the Duke’s Democratic Center Party, said the talks showed the way forward.
“The success of the dialogue depends on everyone listening,” Rodriguez said. “And it operates on public policy.”
Green Party’s Miranda added that voters are likely to take dissatisfaction to the ballot box in 2022 and predicted, “The country’s model will change. [of government]”
The Duke may not run next year, but ongoing protests could hurt the prospects of candidates from his party.
“What is happening in the protests is not in favor of the government or its party or the fate of the 2022 election,” said Sergio Guzman, a risk analyst in Colombia.