BOGOTA – Colombia’s President Ivan Duque announced on Friday his government would launch talks with all political and social groups next week as the South American country saw the second day of mass protests marked by sporadic violence.
Duque promised Colombians his administration would address some of the main demands made by the protesters, who have focused on the nation’s rampant inequality and a host of issues affecting labor unions, students and indigenous groups.
“Starting next week, I will kick off a national conversation that strengthens the current social policy agenda by working together – with a medium- and long-term view – allowing us to close the gaps in society,” Duque said in a televised address.
He added that this “conversation” among Colombians would include all regions and social sectors, using electronic means and “participatory mechanisms” with the aim of building a “significant path of reforms.”
The protests erupted on Thursday as several trade unions and civic groups called for a strike to demonstrate against Duque’s economic and social policies.
Hundreds of thousands took to the streets to display their rejection of what they see as an inadmissible pack of socio-economic reform measures and urged the government to change course.
The protests continued on Friday in Bogota, albeit with a smaller number of participants, with some neighborhoods in the south of the capital witnessing riots and looting. The incidents prompted its mayor, Enrique Peñalosa, to declare a curfew throughout the country’s largest city.
In his speech, Duque encouraged labor leaders to compromise for the sake of a “national effort” geared toward the future, “to defeat inequality, informality and the gaps that divide our country.”
“We are together in this task of building the future. And I am sure that the beginning of this conversation throughout the territory, head-on, openly, with you, will allow us to continue strengthening our democracy, and that all of us, united, will be able to turn the page on hatred, violence and inequality,” the president added.
During these two days of protests at least three people have died, two of them in Buenaventura – Colombia’s main port in the Pacific – and the third in Candelaria, a municipality located in the western region of Valle del Cauca.