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Colombia protests enter week three as violence escalates

At least 42 people have died, thousands have been injured and hundreds are believed to be missing as widespread protests and violence across Colombia continued for the third week. The demonstrations began over a pandemic-related tax policy and escalated over charges of police violence against protesters. Ivette Feliciano speaks to Sandra Borda Guzman, associate professor at Los Andes University, Bogota.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    A third week of widespread protests and violence across Colombia has left at least 42 people dead, thousands injured and hundreds believed to be missing. The demonstrations began over an unpopular pandemic related tax overhaul and have escalated over charges of excessive force used by police against the protesters.

    NewsHour Weekend's Ivette Feliciano spoke with Sandra Borda Guzman, associate professor at Los Andes University in Bogota, about the ongoing conflict.

  • Ivette Feliciano:

    The protests began at the end of April due to outrage over the now canceled tax plan. Why did that tax plan cause so much unrest?

  • Sandra Borda Guzman:

    Right after the pandemic and the confinement that the government used in order to face this danger, the economy suffered quite a bit. The tax reform was sort of an excuse that people used to go to the street and basically to let the government know that they needed more social policies.

  • Ivette Feliciano:

    Who is leading the protests? And overall, what are their demands?

  • Sandra Borda Guzman:

    There is a strike committee and it is composed by labor union leaders, student organization leaders, members of the indigenous communities, the teachers union. And they are the ones in charge of negotiating with the government. However, it's getting more and more difficult to come to an agreement because the government is very weak. So I think that conversations are going to take a long while.

  • Ivette Feliciano:

    A local advocacy group in Colombia says that 40 protesters have allegedly been killed by national police.

  • Sandra Borda Guzman:

    Yeah, this is probably the most important problem right now. This is even more acute in difficult neighborhoods, in main cities, Cali, Bogota, where young people already had a very contentious relationship with police. And then on top of this whole thing, we have a lot of disappearances. There's more than a hundred people, more than a hundred young people that we don't know where they are, that they were basically retained by the police, illegally retained, and they gave no information. What these people are now.

  • Ivette Feliciano:

    And obviously these protests are happening at a time during the COVID-19 pandemic. And the authorities and several of Colombia's largest cities are warning that there might be another spike in infections. Can Colombia handle another spike?

  • Sandra Borda Guzman:

    We haven't even been able to handle the first and the second spike, but that's an argument that you can not basically use because people right now in the streets are so desperate about the economic situation that they say they have nothing to lose. We are all aware that this is going to be a problem, especially taking into account that the government hasn't been able to negotiate a substantial amount of vaccines for people here in Colombia. And that's going to make the situation way more difficult than what we're seeing right now.

  • Ivette Feliciano:

    What is the US's role in this crisis?

  • Sandra Borda Guzman:

    Fortunately, we have the right by the administration paying a lot of attention to human rights problems. The House of Representatives are paying attention to what's happening in Colombia because we have a lot of cooperation, security cooperation. If the public force in Colombia commits violations to human rights there, they have a way to punish them for doing that, just cutting the security aid. And also, I think that the State Department is paying close attention to what's happening in terms of human rights.

  • Ivette Feliciano:

    We've heard reports that some roads have been blocked into Cali, one of the largest cities in Colombia.

  • Sandra Borda Guzman:

    It's getting difficult to move from one place to the other. And this has affected the supply of gasoline, food and necessary services. However, the indigenous community, the ones who are leading the demonstration in Cali, have implemented humanitarian corridors that you can use to get basic supplies through without stopping the strike.

  • Ivette Feliciano:

    Sandra Borda Guzman, Associate Professor at the University of the Andes and columnist at El Tiempo News, thank you so much for joining us.

  • Sandra Borda Guzman:

    Thank you so much, Ivette, have a good night.

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