Colombia has entered its fourth week of violent unrest as riot police continued a brutal crackdown on nationwide protests against poverty and inequality exacerbated by the coronavirus pandemic.
What were initially triggered by a controversial tax increase aimed at funding a health system struggling to deal with the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic, protesters are now calling for greater social reforms including greater social protection for low income earners along with better access to health care and education.
Following the proposed introduction of the new tax on the 28th of April, protests broke out across major cities including the capital Bogota and the southern city of Cali as protesters defied Covid-19 restrictions and took to the streets.
Protesters clashed with police with several incidences of excessive force and police brutality reported as thousands were injured in exchanges with police and security forces. 40 people were also reported to have been killed drawing international condemnation as The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights voiced “profound shock” at reports police had opened fire on protesters, often from close range.
Colombia has been hit hard by the pandemic with the countries gross domestic product (GDP) dropping by 6.8% last year, the most in half a century. The Coronavirus pandemic has further driven up its unemployment rate with one in four Colombians under the age of 28 now unemployed.
Despite President Ivan Duque’s decision to remove the bill from congress on May 2nd, protests continued across the country fueled largely by incidences of police violence.
Meanwhile, the country continues to be ravaged by the Covid-19 pandemic as health services struggle to cope with the spreading virus while the country has registered more that 75,000 deaths. The pandemic has also contributed to an increasingly divided society as the number of people living in extreme poverty increased by 2.8 million last year.
Now entering its fourth week, protesters have blocked major transit routes in the country leading to shortages in fuel and food as the country falls further into civil unrest. Such is the volatility of the current situation, Colombia has been removed as a host nation for the 2021 Copa America, scheduled to be played in June.
Originally from Colombia but now living and working in Madrid, Spain, I spoke to Sandra Doejo about the protests, the excessive force used by police and after how frustrated and exhausted Colombians feel after decades of political corruption, violence and inequality.