BOGOTA – Labor union members and university students, as well as indigenous protesters from different Colombian provinces, held a third national strike on Wednesday to express their rejection of conservative President Ivan Duque’s socioeconomic policies.
Demonstrators carrying flags, signs and banners gathered in the early morning hours in various points of the Colombian capital to resume the mass protests that began on Nov. 21.
Among other things, the signs stated that pensions are a basic right and denounced dirty tricks and corruption affecting people’s retirement savings.
Thousands of residents of Colombia’s largest cities have taken to the streets since late November to show their displeasure with the policies of Duque’s administration.
The protests, which followed mass unrest in Chile over social inequality, have led to outbreaks of violence and the death of a demonstrator struck by a police projectile in Bogota.
Authorities also are investigating three other fatalities stemming from disturbances in the southwestern province of Valle del Cauca.
On Wednesday, indigenous protesters hailing from the provinces of Cauca, Huila, Nariño and Risaralda marched from Bogota’s National University of Colombia to the massive downtown Bolivar Square carrying signs reading “Colombia desperto” (Colombia has awoken) and “Resiste” (Resist), as well as the Wiphala flag associated with native peoples of the Andes region.
“Today we’re rallying for the dignity of the Colombian people. Today the indigenous peoples of Colombia are mobilizing in defense of life, peace, our territories and against Duque’s ‘paquetazo,’” National Indigenous Organization of Colombia senior adviser Luis Kankui said on Twitter, referring to a packet of proposed changes to the country’s tax, labor and pension laws.
Joining the demonstration were students from the National University of Colombia, who are calling for greater investment in higher education and an end to violence against indigenous communities targeted by illegal armed groups in the troubled Cauca region.
Violence in rural areas has been on the rise amid complaints from Duque’s opponents that he has moved too slowly to implement a peace agreement signed in 2016 by his predecessor, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Juan Manuel Santos, and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla group.
Some demonstrators gathered Wednesday in the capital’s densely populated Suba district before marching peacefully toward downtown. Labor union members also walked from National Park, in Bogota’s eastern hills, to the center of the city.
The director of the National Police, Gen. Oscar Atehortua, told reporters that that force is fully capable of accompanying the protests and “ensuring a day of peaceful public demonstrations.”
“Our mission today is to guarantee the security and tranquility not only of those who want to demonstrate ... but of those people who don’t share this purpose and want to continue with their daily activities,” he said.
Atehortua said 134 rallies and 184 marches have been called nationwide. He added that some main roads have been blocked as part of the protests, though noting that mass transportation in Bogota is operating normally.
Interior Minister Nancy Patricia Gutierrez said authorities will continue to “accompany” the demonstrations and that local administrations have been instructed to coordinate closely with police to guarantee law and order.