‘The struggle continues’: Colombia protests persist regardless of pandemic

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Bogota, Colombia – Lots of of individuals gathered at a road nook in downtown Bogota on Monday to commemorate the anniversary of Dilan Cruz’s loss of life. His mom and sister organized a circle of flowers on the road the place the 18-year-old was shot by police a yr earlier throughout an anti-government protest, along with his garments and a framed portrait positioned within the centre.

All through the vigil, the principally younger crowd chanted: “Dilan didn’t die, Dilan was killed!”

The killing of Cruz, who was shot with a projectile by riot police at shut vary, fuelled Colombia’s burgeoning anti-government protests in late 2019. What started in November as a “Nationwide Strike” towards labour reforms, rapidly advanced right into a nationwide anti-government motion.

Lots of of hundreds of Colombians rallied to precise their anger with the administration of President Ivan Duque over a variety of points, together with its implementation of the 2016 peace deal, financial reforms, inattention to rural populations, inequality and the assassination of social leaders.

Individuals stand below an enormous fabric with a portrait of the late pupil Dilan Cruz, throughout a march towards the federal government of Colombian President Ivan Duque inside a nationwide strike in Bogota on November 27, 2019 [File: Juan Barreto/AFP]

The protest motion misplaced momentum earlier this yr amid the nation’s coronavirus outbreak, with Duque in March introducing wide-ranging restrictions in an try and minimise the virus’s unfold. A lot of the nation remained below lockdown for six months as the federal government banned mass gatherings.

Colombia has confirmed greater than 1.25 million circumstances of COVID-19 and its loss of life toll from the illness has handed 35,000, in line with a Johns Hopkins College tally. Its economic system has additionally deteriorated amid the restrictions, with some sectors solely re-opening in September. Casual staff, who make up roughly 47 p.c of Colombia’s workforce, have been the toughest hit and are additionally probably the most weak to COVID-19.

Regardless of the months-long restrictions, the motion has continued actions. In June, the Nationwide Strike Committee despatched a letter to President Duque outlining six prompt measures to answer the twin well being and financial crises, together with emergency lease subsidies and elevated help for the general public training system. Duque’s administration had not responded to the letter or met the committee on the time of publication.

“This yr, regardless of the pandemic, I’ve seen many youths and households with lots of social consciousness,” stated Laura Garzon, one among Dilan Cruz’s academics who attended the vigil.

“The longer term is unsure, however regardless the struggle continues.”

Indigenous folks participating in a ‘Minga’ (Indigenous assembly) stroll alongside the Pan-American freeway as they arrive within the metropolis of Cali with the expectation of assembly President Ivan Duque, on October 12, 2020 [File: Luis Robayo/AFP]

The committee and different collectives have additionally organised a handful of marches in latest months to demand emergency measures to supply monetary reduction and healthcare ensures.

Ruben Pinilla, a instructor and organiser for the District Affiliation of Schooling Staff, stated that hundreds of protesters had taken half in a number of demonstrations since June, regardless of the restrictions. Amongst them was the Indigenous Minga gathering from October 17 to 21, when 8,000 Indigenous folks from the southwest of Colombia travelled a whole bunch of miles to the capital to demand governmental reform and safety for his or her territories and their leaders.

In a latest instalment of the nationwide strike, hundreds of scholars and staff took half in marches on November 19 demanding authorities reforms. The Central Union of Staff marched with banners declaring that “Duque neither listens nor negotiates.”

“We’re younger folks representing a voice that’s attempting and looking for to rework our futures,” stated Fabio Castro, director of activist drumming group Barbukana. He instructed Al Jazeera he marched in hope that the federal government would distribute sources equitably. “Artwork is among the most forgotten sectors throughout this pandemic – there’s no financial reduction, and the federal government doesn’t supply us employment alternatives both,” he stated.

Ladies maintain indicators studying ‘When loss of life exists, reminiscence resists’ and ‘The useless on my nation harm me’ throughout a protest towards police brutality in Medellin, Colombia, on September 14, 2020 [File: Joaquin Sarmiento/AFP]

Whereas the federal government has supplied some emergency reduction, authorities have opened a number of investigations into irregularities in contracts linked to emergency coronavirus assist and the potential involvement of officers.

Gimena Sanchez-Garzoli, director of the advocacy group Andes for the Washington Workplace on Latin America, instructed Al Jazeera, “Along with the earlier discontent, now protesters are reacting to the mass corruption of COVID-19 funds.” She added that some politicians have wielded the pandemic as an excuse to disregard pleas for elevated safety and different reforms.

The federal government has blamed latest protests on “outdoors infiltrators” from the ELN armed group and remaining FARC dissidents. In the course of the heated and spontaneous protests towards police brutality in September, the defence ministry pronounced them “an articulated, systemic, organised manifestation of violence and vandalism”.

When the committee introduced plans for a march on November 21, the anniversary of the largest mass mobilisation throughout final yr’s protests, the federal government introduced that choose purchases can be tax-free on that day. The protests had been a fraction of the scale of the earlier yr’s occasion, and native media reported floods of shoppers in purchasing centres.

Lots of of hundreds took half within the nationwide strike on November 21, 2019 [File: Luisa Gonzalez/Reuters]

Pinilla instructed Al Jazeera that organisers didn’t see the “crucial mass” they had been hoping to welcome within the capital’s major plaza, however that it was vital to recognise that individuals gathered of their respective neighbourhoods all through Colombia.

“On this second, you will need to strengthen the everlasting presence [of the movement] in every territory,” he added.

Whereas the COVID-19 outbreak may proceed to discourage some folks from participating in mass gatherings, protest organisers and analysts stated the motion may proceed to evolve on native ranges.

Shauna Gillooly, PhD candidate and researcher in political science at UC Irvine, stated that the nationwide strike committee ought to ally with these protesting police brutality to amplify the motion sooner or later. In September, when a person was killed after police repeatedly shocked him with a taser in Bogota, town exploded into protests.

“There should be conversations concerning the nationwide strike increasing calls for and turning to the factions throughout the nationwide strike who weren’t represented nicely final yr,” she stated.

Pinilla’s organisation has been negotiating with native administrations, calling for extra political involvement and voter participation within the subsequent congressional election, and is hopeful social actions will proceed to develop.

“It’s an evolution not in measurement or amount, however in profound conviction and understanding of the causes that construct this platform for peaceable change,” Pinilla instructed Al Jazeera.