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Colombia protests draw worldwide attention, scorn from some of its biggest stars

Shakira, J Balvin and Maluma are just three of the names to show solidarity with protesters in what’s been a violent week.

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Massive protests, involving tens of thousands of people, have broken out in Colombia, particularly in Bogotá, Cali and Medellín, where citizens are fed up with excessive police force, inequality and rising poverty.

So far, the protests have resulted in hundreds of injuries and the deaths of 19 people, 11 of which occurred in Cali. Colombia's Defensoría del Pueblo, its public ombudsman, stated that 89 people were missing following the protests, according to news reports.

Cali, the nation’s third-biggest city was the worst-affected by the ongoing unrest, and it has had soldiers patrolling its streets on government orders since last Friday, April 30.

The Ministry of Defense has deployed 47,5000 uniformed personnel across the country, and in Cali alone there are 700 soldiers, 500 riot police officers, and 1,800 other police as well as two helicopters in operation.

The deadly protests have caught the attention and sparked outrage for several international organizations, like the European Union and United Nations,  and well-known celebrities, including Shakira and J Balvin.

The EU has called on Colombia’s security forces to avoid a heavy-handed response to street demonstrations over a proposed tax reform, which President Iván Duque insisted is necessary to fix the country’s economy. It is calling for calm and condemning the violence that has led to 19 deaths.

"We condemn the deaths of all the people who have been killed during those protests, the reports are saying at least 19 victims and also one police officer," EU spokesman Peter Stano told Reuters.

"It is really a priority to stop the escalation of this violence and to avoid any disproportionate use of force by security forces," he continued. 

The U.S. has also spoken up on behalf of the rights of all people to peacefully air their grievances against their governments. U.S. State Department deputy spokeswoman Jalina Porter emphasized this right in a statement on Tuesday, May 4. 

“Violence and vandalism is an abuse of that right. At the same time, we urge the utmost restraint by public forces to prevent additional loss of life,” Porter said. 

A spokesperson from the UN human rights office said on Tuesday that the UN is “deeply alarmed” at the excessive police brutality transpiring in Cali. 

Diego Molano, Colombia’s defense minister, has been facing growing calls to resign, but insisted on Tuesday, May 4, that the conduct of the deployed law enforcement officers “fell within the law.”

“Our duty is to protect those who protest — and those who do not — from those who disguise themselves and take advantage of these crowds to terrorize Colombians,” he said.

But similar to protests in the U.S., witnesses are maintaining that they are primarily peaceful, and the police presence is exacerbating tensions. 

One community leader in a Cali neighborhood that’s been repeatedly raided by police told The Guardian that it feels like the police are “waiting for night to fall so they can roll up and start shooting immediately.”

Shakira, who was born in Barranquilla, posted her thoughts on social media writing in Spanish: “it’s unacceptable that a mother loses her only son because of brutality and that another 18 people's lives were yanked away in a peaceful protest.”

The popular Colombian Reggaeton singer J Balvin also posted on Instagram, saying “we need help, Colombia needs help, SOS,” and wrote in Spanish that “there’s no control over the situation.” 

Another high-profile Latin music star, Maluma, posted on his Instagram account about the situation. 

"We are living sad, painful moments… Intolerance and uncertainty have taken over our lives,” he wrote. 

“It hurts me a lot even though I’m not there,” the singer said in a video, adding that he doesn’t agree with the tax reform, because “it directly affects my family and it affects me.” 

Colombian pop singer Karol G has also posted several messages on Twitter.

On Wednesday, April 28, she wrote in Spanish: “empathy: fight even if you don't lack anything, because some people lack everything.” 

Then, on Saturday, May 1, the star wrote that her heart and soul are with her country, in the hope that “the fight, the voice and the blood that has been spilled, will echo and generate change.” 

Football player Radamel Falcao also shared a message on Twitter, calling for the demands of the people to be heard. 

“I express my concern and shock for the events that have been happening during the last week, my solidarity with those who have lost their lives, the injured and their families," Falcao wrote. 

The Galatasaray star also wrote that it’s imperative for “bridges to be built” between the different political, economic and social actors in his country.

He stressed thoughtful reflection and free debate should take place without the need for “destruction of those who think differently.”

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