Following a protest wave throughout South America, affecting Chile and Bolivia the people of Colombia have followed suit, taking to the streets to express general dissatisfaction with the government. According to The Washington Post these demonstrations began on Nov. 21 when rumors of the government’s plan to cut pensions for workers and retirees became widespread.
The president of Colombia, Iván Duque, has responded to the protests by sanctioning a harsh police response which has killed one student and arrested and injured many others. The police have also raided left-wing media outlets searching for foriegn influence as the leader of Duque’s party, Álvaro Uribe, stated that the demonstrators are tied to foriegn leftist organizations.
This show of force has seemingly only emboldened the protesters; hundreds of thousands have continued to take to the streets. Colombia’s Indigenous Guard traveled 15 hours to marched through Colombia’s capital of Bogota on Dec. 4 to bring attention to the 750 indigenous and human rights activists killed by paramilitaries during Duque’s tenure according to Al Jazeera.
Students and labor activists have offered a diverse set of grievances ranging from the destruction of the rainforest to state repression and austerity. Doque’s popularity has waned in recent months, now at 26% and these recent protests have further weakened his administration.
One of the main reasons for the protests, however, is the apparent failure of Duque’s administration to implement the Colombian government’s 2016 peace agreement with the FARC. The FARC are a paramilitary organization that fought a fifty year civil war with the government which killed hundreds of thousands and displaced millions. The deal disarmed the FARC and promised development in impoverished regions as well as governmental reforms. Under Duque the government has left their side of the deal unfulfilled which has led former members of the FARC to rejoin paramilitaries and criminal organizations.
Additionally, the dissolution of the FARC in 2016 created a power vacuum in regions they once controlled. Cartels have moved in to take over illegal mining, logging and coca cultivation killing locals who oppose them. This spike in violence has also affected politics; during Colombia’s 2018 elections nine candidates were assassinated by paramilitaries and cartels.
To combat these groups Duque has increased the military presence in troubled areas. In August The Associated Press reports that the government carried out an airstrike on a former FARC leader in the province of Caqueta. The government claimed that the operation was a great success but on Nov. 5 an opposition party member revealed that eight children died in the attack.
Despite the general unrest in Colombia Duque has offered no public concessions and instead has called for a national dialogue, and has invited protest leaders to meetings. While demonstrations are expected to stop around Christmas they will probably rekindle shortly after the holiday.