Colombia Follows Latin American Wave of Rage With Nationwide Strike and Protests

November 21: A general strike took place in Colombia on Nov. 21, paralyzing the country. […] Strikers blocked major streets, ports and airport entrances. The Central Union of Workers (CUT) accused the government of “brutal repression” in Bogotá, where police fired tear gas on peaceful protesters. Fights with police broke out in other parts of the country. The mayor of Cali declared a 7 p.m. curfew. (Greanville Post)

Colombians angry with conservative President Ivan Duque hoped to channel Latin America’s wave of discontent as they took to the streets by the tens of thousands on Thursday with a long list of grievances, from persistent economic inequality to violence against social activists.

Students, teachers and labour union organisers took part in protests across the country in what appeared to be one of the nation’s biggest demonstrations in recent years, testing an unpopular government as unrest grips the region.

Police estimated 132,000 people overall took part in protests in several cities.

[…] The protests were largely peaceful but there were scattered confrontations between riot police and demonstrators, who at one point tried to march along a road leading to Bogota’s international airport but were turned back with tear gas.

Analysts were sceptical that the event would generate any prolonged unrest like that seen recently in Bolivia, Chile and Ecuador, noting a lack of unifying factors in a divided country that is one of the region’s stronger economic performers.

“We’re not in a pre-insurrectional climate,” said Yann Basset, a professor at Bogota’s Rosario University. “I’m not sure there’s a general rejection of the political system.”

The Duque government is nevertheless on edge, deploying 170,000 officers to enforce security while closing border crossings and deporting 24 Venezuelans accused of entering the country to instigate unrest.

“They are preparing as if for a war,” said Ariel Ávila, deputy director of the Peace and Reconciliation Foundation. “But it’s very vague what they’ve shared about any potential disturbances.”

Duque, who has a lacklustre 26 per cent approval rating, has gone on a charm offensive seeking to connect with citizens and counter erroneous claims on social media that he has proposed to raise the retirement age and reduce wages for young workers.

[…] Unlike other recent protests, there is no one crystalizing event sparking the demonstrations, but rather an array of complaints that vary widely depending on who is asked.

Comments from Cabinet ministers on potential financial reforms have raised concerns among union members about pension and work rule overhauls – though Duque’s administration insists such proposals do not exist.

Student groups accuse the government of not fully complying with an agreement to boost education funding after a swell of protests last year. Duque has increased the education budget to what he says is the highest level in Colombia’s history, while student activists contend science funding is still lacking.

Source: AP via South China Morning Post

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