‘Not even the pandemic’ will stop Colombia protests, leaders say


Thousands of union members, teachers, students and indigenous people are set to participate in a national strike in Colombia on Wednesday to protest the social and economic policies of President Ivan Duque, the killing of human rights activists and recent police violence.

The marches are the latest in a sporadic series of protests that began late last year, including September demonstrations against police brutality that led to 13 deaths.

The government has warned that crowds create a high risk of coronavirus infections. Colombia, which held more than five months of national lockdown to stem the virus, is set to top 1 million confirmed infections later this week.

Protesters are demanding a variety of government concessions, including a guaranteed income for those who lost their jobs because of coronavirus, more funding for health and education and steps to stop gender-based violence.

Protest leaders, including indigenous representatives, have also demanded a meeting with Duque to discuss the murders of activists, whose deaths the government attributes to criminal gangs and leftist rebels.

“We march jointly today for the negotiation of an emergency petition, which will include health, life, farmer production, the rights of women, of vulnerable populations,” said union head Diogenes Orjuela during a Tuesday press event with indigenous leaders.

Some 10,000 indigenous people have arrived in Bogota this week, principally from the country’s southwest, appealing for Duque to meet with them.

“Not even the pandemic will stop our movement,” said Hermes Pete, head of the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca (CRIC). “There is no other path but to keep fighting.”

The marches’ crowds could be “tomorrow’s outbreaks,” Duque warned on his nightly television broadcast on Tuesday.

Business leaders have called for protests to be suspended on fears they could damage nascent recovery after lockdown. The government estimates the economy will contract 5.5% this year.

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