BOGOTA – Protests against the socioeconomic policies of Colombian President Ivan Duque kicked off on Thursday with efforts to disrupt public transportation in Bogota, while reduced vehicular traffic was observed in other main cities.
Groups of people on Bogota’s south side impeded the departure of buses at some stations of the TransMilenio system, leaving thousands of residents without a means of reaching their workplaces.
“Northbound operations are suspended at the Country Sur, Primero de Mayo, Ciudad Jardin, Policarpa and San Bernardo stations,” the TransMilenio company said.
In the densely populated Suba district of northwestern Bogota, some stations also were intermittently blocked and there was an attempt to spark a confrontation between demonstrators and police at the Portal de Suba terminus station.
A crowd shouting “el pueblo unido jamas sera vencido” (the people united will never be defeated) jeered police who had arrived at the scene and fired tear gas to disperse groups of people blocking different entrances to the station.
CALL FOR NATIONAL STRIKE
The “national strike” called for Thursday marks the biggest protests to date against Duque’s conservative administration and comes at a time of social turmoil in different parts of Latin America, with Chile and Bolivia in particular experiencing violent unrest.
The union federations that organized the protests say Duque’s government is preparing a package of measures that will have a severe socioeconomic impact on workers, including eliminating state-run pension fund Colpensiones, raising the retirement age and lowering youth salaries to below the minimum wage.
Social organizations are demanding a greater commitment by the government to implement the peace accord with the FARC – a former guerrilla group that is now a leftist political party – that was reached under Duque’s predecessor, Juan Manuel Santos.
They also want effective protection measures for indigenous people and social leaders, hundreds of whom have died in a wave of killings since Duque took office 15 months ago.
Citing the need to avoid possible violence and property damage, the government has implemented security measures that include sealing the borders, heavy police deployments, aerial surveillance and, if necessary, military backup in some cities.
Bogota’s government secretary, Ivan Casas, said on Thursday that more than 4,000 police have been deployed on the streets to monitor the tens of thousands of people expected to march from different points of the city to the Plaza Bolivar main square.
AIRPORTS OPERATING NORMALLY
Airports are operating normally despite the calls for a nationwide strike, civil aviation officials said, though adding that seven terminals are currently closed due to bad weather.
Authorities in Medellin, Cali, Barranquilla and Cartagena also say that with the exception of slight problems at a handful of stations, public transport has not been interrupted, although fewer vehicles and people have been observed on the streets.
The unions and social and political leaders that support the protest have called on demonstrators to protest peacefully and not commit acts of vandalism or provoke the police.