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Thousands of people have taken to the streets of the main Colombian cities on Tuesday to protest against the policies of the government of President Iván Duque. This image corresponds to what happened in the center of Bogotá, shortly after noon. The demonstrations are expected to continue into the night. Today commemorates the Cry of Independence of 1810. Alexa Rochi
Thousands of people have taken to the streets of the main Colombian cities on Tuesday to protest against the policies of the government of President Iván Duque. This image corresponds to what happened in the center of Bogotá, shortly after noon. The…

Colombia: Anti-government protests mark Independence Day

Thousands of Colombians marked their independence day with another anti-government protest. Sixty people have died since riots started on April 28.

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Amid the commemoration of the Cry of Independence and the installation of the sessions of Congress, Colombia experienced another day of protests in the main cities of the country, with a recent past of strong clashes with the police and the violation of human rights by several law enforcement officers, causing at least 60 deaths.

To celebrate the first great revolt against the Spanish crown, which occurred in 1810, the national flag is usually placed at the windows of the houses and many families plan to go out into the streets to watch the military parade around noon. In the afternoon, after 3 o'clock, the President of the Republic speaks before senators and representatives to the Chamber to install the legislative sessions.

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That is what usually happens. But things have changed in Colombia. On July 20, there was no public military parade with the same magnitude as before, and the opening of the Congress took place in the morning. Instead of a family day, thousands of men and women took to the streets to march and protest against the government of Iván Duque, creating a new episode after at least two intense months of demonstrations against economic policy and broken promises, aggravated by the crisis caused by the impact of the pandemic.

The protests began on April 28 with the call for the National Strike to protest against a government project to raise taxes in the middle of one of the most difficult social, political and economic moments in history. What few foresaw was the resistance of the protesters. For almost eight weeks, clashes and generalized violence were registered, especially by members of the police shock group deployed to control the protests, known as Esmad, and sectors that took advantage of the claims to destroy businesses. 

Several videos captured the moment in which members of the police fired at civilians, civilians destroying transport stations, civilians on the side of the authorities using their weapons against protesters, in a collection of evidence of violations of human rights.

The police action involved the visit of a delegation from the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), which made a strong report public, in which it asked to separate the National Police from the Ministry of Defense, as well as to take measures to prevent the abuses of the uniformed.

At this time, in cities such as Bogotá, Medellín, Cali and Cartagena, workers' unions, students and representatives of sectors of civil society were marching peacefully and in the dimensions of what happens during May Day. In recent weeks, the government issued measures to regulate social protest, banning the use of hamlets and shields and blocking roads.

Only 35 mobilizations were scheduled in Bogotá. In contrast, the mayor of Bogotá, Claudia López, warned that "vandalism will not be tolerated" and the presence of more than 4,000 police officers and 2,700 military personnel was ordered in the sectors of concentration of protesters in the capital of the country.

"We think you live in a country that is not Colombia"

At the beginning of the day, President Iván Duque installed the sessions of Congress, in an intervention criticized by the opposition parties. In addition, the president abandoned the hall precisely when it was the turn of the legislators opposed to his government.

"We listen to Duque and we think that he lives in a country that is not Colombia. He leaves just when the opposition is going to speak. So we made the decision not to speak to a president who delegates his ears, but to Colombia," said Congresswoman María José Pizarro, daughter of Carlos Pizarro Leongómez, commander of the M-19 guerrilla group that signed the peace agreement on March 9, 1990 and was assassinated on the following April 26 when he was a candidate for the presidency.

For his part, Antonio Sanguino, senator of the Green Party, questioned the President's position to evade the responsibility of the public force for human rights violations.

"Instead of acknowledging his mistakes, guaranteeing the protection of human rights, and accepting the recommendations, he turned to disrespect for the principle of good faith and Colombia's international obligations," he said, referring to the IACHR report.

What happened the rest of the day on the streets is a mystery, if one takes into account the measures taken by the government and what happened in recent months with the clashes between protesters and members of the police shock group to control the protests.

In 2022, Colombia will hold elections for the Presidency and Congress, which has accelerated radicalization in the country. Likewise, the image of President Duque and the Democratic Center, the ruling party, is not the best. According to the most recent poll, Duque has 72% disapproval.

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