Colombian protesters march as government warns against violence

Colombian unions, student groups and other protesters were marching on Thursday to insist the government maintain the minimum wage for young people and the universal right to a pension, even though the government says those are not part of reform plans.

Demonstrators march in Bogota, Colombia, on November 21, 2019.
Demonstrators march in Bogota, Colombia, on November 21, 2019. Luisa Gonzalez, Reuters

As tens of thousands of marchers converged on Bogota’s central square and other meeting points, blockades closed some mass transit stations. In the northwestern neighborhood of Suba, police fired tear gas in an attempt to reopen a station, while some protesters blockaded roads with dumpsters.

Seven police officers were injured in the city of Cali, where several buses were vandalized, the police reported.

At a time of unrest in other Latin American countries, Colombian police this week raided activists and a culture magazine, while Colombia’s President Ivan Duque warned his government will not tolerate violence.

The president has repeatedly denied he plans to propose pension and tax reform laws containing the changes alleged by protesters. He said he immediately rejected the idea of reducing youth salaries when a think tank proposed it.

“No reform has been proposed,” Duque told viewers during a rare Facebook Live broadcast this week, adding he also does not want to raise the pension age. “It has been said that we want to pay young people less than the minimum wage. That’s also a lie.”

Other groups of marchers are expected to participate to protest what they say is a lack of government action to prevent the murder of hundreds of human rights activists, corruption at universities and other issues.

“The people are bored of social injustice, our social leaders are being killed,” teacher Patricia Riano said. “The economic, political and labor reforms don’t favor the Colombian people.”

Supporters of the march, which include major unions, allege Duque’s government also wants to make the public pension fund Colpensiones private and differentiate salaries by region.

Police raids late on Tuesday drew wide criticism on social media when staff at the Cartel Urbano magazine posted videos showing cops rifling through artwork while staff questioned the reason for the raid.

Union marchers plan to head to the central Bolivar Plaza, while some student groups will walk to the city’s airport. Many businesses and offices were closed as workers stayed home or joined marches.

Elsewhere in the region, Chile’s conservative government is grappling with anti-austerity marches, the biggest crisis to hit the country since its return to democracy in 1990.

Protests in Bolivia over vote-tampering allegations led long-time leftist President Evo Morales to resign earlier this month, and his ouster has inflamed tensions in crisis-hit Nicaragua.

Duque has authorized local authorities to adopt curfews and limits on carrying weapons and the sale of alcohol if needed to contain protests.

The country’s migration agency has shut border crossings until early Friday morning and said it expelled 24 foreign nationals who were affecting national security.


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