What's Happening in Colombia and How We Can Help Them
Updated: May 22
Colombia, titled the Republic of Colombia, is a country located in the northwestern areas of South America. It shares its borders with Brazil, Panama, Venezuela, Peru, and Ecuador. The country is surrounded by the Caribbean Sea to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the west. It is the second most biodiverse country on the planet. Also, it is the only country in the Americas named after explorer Christopher Columbus.
With a population of around 49 million, Colombia is the most populated Spanish-speaking country in South America. It has a long history of political turmoil and instability, which is tied to its disparate wealth distribution and illicit drug trade. The country is no stranger to public protests and unrest, which has been a regular occurrence since the late 1800s.
A peace deal was struck in 2016 with the Marxist insurgents of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc). This ended five decades of bloody conflict, which left 260,000 dead and 7 million displaced.
What is Happening in Colombia in Recent Weeks?
Citizens across the country have been protesting for weeks against the current government. The first protests began on April 28th, when citizens took to the streets to speak out against new tax reforms that the government proposed implementing.
The reform would have increased taxes on basic household goods such as milk, eggs, and meat, and also on fuel, electricity, and other utilities.
This proposed reform was met with severe backlash from the general public. The Finance Minister’s comment that eggs cost 1,800 pesos, as opposed to the actual cost of 4,300 outraged the public.
Many citizens thought of this as proof of the stark difference in living conditions between the poor and the rich. They believed that the ruling class didn’t understand the struggles the working class had to go through every day.
The government withdrew the bill after a week of ongoing protests but the situation did not fizzle out.
The protests were met with a harsh response from the law enforcement agencies, and there were several reported incidents where the police used excessive force on protestors who were marching. At least 51 people have been killed, of which 43 have been killed at the hands of police.
This led to the protests being extended, with the public condemning police brutality, social inequity, and the crippled state of the country.
They are also expanding their demands to the setting up of Universal Basic Income, abolishment of university tuition fees, and demobilizing the riot police.
Government’s Response :
At the height of the violence, the former Colombian President, Alvaro Uribe, tweeted this:
"Let’s support the right of soldiers and police to use their firearms to defend their integrity and to defend people and property from criminal acts of terrorist vandalism."
Since then, Twitter has deleted the tweet saying that the former President is "glorifying violence" during anti-government protests.
When interviewed by CNN, Colombia's Interior Minister Palacios mentioned that 11 police officers were being investigated across the country regarding 25 protester deaths.
"We in Colombia have a very independent system of counterweight and these institutions work. They are not under siege, and as a result there's been already three warrants for three police officers involved in the death of three protesters. Our system works under the rule of law," he stated, and also added saying, "We do not condone excessive use of force; we do not accept any abuse of the rule of law."
However, the Government figures seem to vary greatly from what's being reported by local organizations and international bodies.
The coverage of the protests has not only had a widespread impact but has also led to deeper issues.
1. The Situation in Cali
As the protests continue in Cali, Colombia, the city faces the imminent threat of a shortage of supplies as protestors block roads.
The people of Cali have been queueing up for almost 12 hours for fuel and other supplies. The deliveries aren’t reaching the traders, or are reaching them, but have hiked prices.
The Mayor, Jorge Iván Ospina, said that it was crucial for supplies to reach Cali. Colombia’s president, Iván Duque, met with the National Strike Committee, the group behind the organization of several protests nationwide, but the parties failed to reach an agreement. The protests show no signs of abating, and it is unclear as to how long it will continue.
2. Misuse of Power and Sexual Harassment
For most people, the police are whom they turn to when reporting sexual harassment. In Colombia, in multiple incidents of gross misuse of authority, the police have been resorting to sexual violence as a means to silence women protestors.
There have been multiple documented incidents of police groping women’s intimate areas in order to subdue them from protesting, and complaints haven’t taken the issue anywhere, with even female police officers being of no help to those who were victims of sexual harassment by the police.
The police who were involved, in fact, blamed the victims after harassing them and asked them to stay at home if they didn’t want it happening to them. The heads of the police force seem to be prioritizing those accused instead of supporting the victim. There has been no resolution as of yet.
What is happening in Colombia is a serious violation of human rights. Abuse of authority by those in positions of power should not be condoned.
A government should listen to its citizens, not repress their voices. Even the smallest donation helps. Amplify their voices, help Colombians be heard.
How We Can Help Colombia :
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Surabhi Paraki is a Journalism and Communications student at Jain University. She is also an activist and a content writer at the International Youths Organization for Peace and Sustainability.
Inputs and Edits by Aswin Raghav R.