Saturday, May 18, 2024

LATIN AMERICA | 22-11-2019 20:13

Populist riots, largely peaceful, leave three dead in Colombia

This wave of protests across Latin America defies easy categorisation and it remains unclear if Colombia's will persist.

Volunteers wiped graffiti off historic buildings and swept up shattered glass at looted businesses in Colombia Friday amid sporadic unrest following massive national protests a day before.

Labor unions and student leaders called on Colombians to bang pots and pans Friday evening in another act of protest while authorities announced three people had died in overnight clashes with police.

Protest organisers urged President Iván Duque to establish a dialogue with indigenous, student and labor groups to discuss potential reforms and criticised him for not directly addressing demonstrator complaints in a late-night address.

"If they don't decide to govern in favor of the majority, the discontent will continue accumulating," student leader José Cárdenas said.

Officials estimated 250,000 protesters marched in protests around Colombia, largely peaceful demonstrations that ended with scattered confrontations between police and protesters who vandalised bus stations and looted businesses.

The upheaval comes as Latin America is experiencing a tide of discontent, with massive demonstrations in countries including Chile, Bolivia and Ecuador where citizens frustrated with their political leaders are taking to the streets.

The protests defy easy categorisation and it remains unclear if Colombia's will persist.

Defense Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo said that as of Friday morning, 98 people had been detained and 151 police and military officers injured, as well as 122 civilians, most of whom suffered minor injuries and tear gas inhalation.

Three people died late Thursday in two separate looting incidents near the southwestern city of Cali, a focal point of the unrest.

The minister said two individuals were killed in the port city of Buenaventura after police were attacked while responding to looting at a mall. A third died in Candelaria after police said a group looting a supermarket shot at officers.

The names and cause of death of those killed were not released.

Duque convoked a special meeting with his ministers Friday but did not immediately respond to protesters' demand for meeting. In an address after the protest, the president said he had heard the day's outcry and supported talks with all sectors.

"Duque recognizes there is plenty to do," his defense minister said.

Recent polling indicates Duque has a 26 percent approval rating 15 months into his administration as the nation grapples with implementing a complicated peace process with leftist rebels, ongoing violence between illegal armed groups and long-simmering tensions over issues like corruption and inequality.

"Colombia is facing a set of complex problems that are as difficult as any in its recent history," said Cynthia Arnson, director of the Latin America program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. "I think any political leader faced with this array of problems would have a difficult time."



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