A man looks through a broken window of a vandalized police station after a protest in Bogotá on May 5. LUISA GONZALEZ / Reuters
Iván Duque tries to recover the political initiative.
The president of Colombia has offered a dialogue to the organizers of the protests who for a week have taken to the streets to show their discontent with the Government and the situation the country is going through.
The assassination of protesters by the security forces and the vandalism of hooded men against shops, banks and police stations has triggered the tension to the maximum.
The country has been frozen for a week, with cities and roads blocked and shops with the blinds down.
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The government has resorted to a phrase by Álvaro Gómez Hurtado, a historic conservative leader assassinated in Bogotá in 1995, to approach the leaders of the protests: "An agreement on what is fundamental." That is, a minimum from which to build a dialogue that helps unite Colombian society. "I am not a person of bias," said Duque on
. “Many people told me that if I would meet with Timochenko (a former FARC guerrilla who adhered to the peace process). If I have done it with him, how can I not meet with other political leaders? One cannot cut off the spaces for conversation ”.
Duque's emissary to materialize this rapprochement with the protest leaders is Miguel Ceballos, High Commissioner for Peace. By phone, Ceballos assures that his main mission is to stop the violence that, for now, has cost the lives of 20 people and injured more than 800. The director of the police, General Vargas, assures that he has not been given his men were ordered to shoot, although some of them have been documented to have shot to kill unarmed protesters. "No more violence, we do not want police abuses or protesters against civil society or the forces of order," he says.
The protests started a week ago to ask for the withdrawal of the tax reform, a tax increase with which the Government wanted to cover the hole that the pandemic had left in the coffers. Economic experts defended this fiscal adjustment as a mechanism to better distribute wealth, among other things. On the fourth day of clashes in the streets, with the army patrolling the cities, the president withdrew the reform and dropped the finance minister who had promoted it. Those decisions did not calm the waters. Colombia's wound is deeper than a simple bill that has not been passed through Congress. For this reason, Ceballos, within this dialogue, considers that it is essential to appease the crisis to accelerate vaccination,revive the economy and offer free college education to low-income people.
Those young people whom the Duke tries to please have now been the protagonists of this crisis, for better and for worse.
They have led the criticism against the Government, against a president with whom they do not feel identified despite being the youngest who has ever governed in Colombia.
Duque will just turn 46 the day he leaves the presidency in eleven months.
But the young people have also laid the dead.
Some of the victims were barely teenagers.
In Cali, a city blocked for several days by land and air, there have been many clashes between youth and police in the most marginal neighborhoods.
Kids without studies, without jobs and without a clear future.
Five of them died Tuesday night.
In social networks, the hashtag # Nosestánmatando has gone viral.
The biggest riots on Wednesday, however, took place in Bogotá, the capital. The mayor, Claudia López, pointed out that the escalation of violence "was brutal." There are at least 30 protesters and 16 police officers injured. An immediate attention center, small police stations scattered throughout the neighborhoods, was set on fire with ten officers inside. Those places are often targeted by protesters because a young man was killed there by the police two years ago.
Meanwhile, Duque seeks to appease the fury by approaching them.
The day he overthrew the tax reform, the stellar project of his mandate, he said he would try to build a new one with more consensus.
He has not been able to get to it.
According to those around him, he hardly sleeps and is awaiting that dialogue that will take over the agenda of his Government for the next two weeks and the sources of violence.
Before saving the tributary must calm the streets of the country.
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