At least 10 people in the city of Cali were killed in a day of anti-government protests, authorities said Saturday, as Colombia enters its second month of demonstrations that have met violent repression.
President Ivan Duque announced Friday he was deploying military troops to Cali while the nation marked a full month of Colombia-wide rallies that have morphed into a broad anti-establishment mobilization.
He spoke after reports of violent street clashes. In one case, a representative from the Cali prosecutor’s office said an off-duty investigator had shot at a crowd, killing a civilian, before being lynched by protesters.
“Ten people” are dead, “this is the toll we have this morning” in events linked to Friday’s demonstrations, Cali’s security secretary Carlos Rojas told Caracol radio. Police said eight of the 10 were shot dead.
Video footage showed a man lying in a pool of blood and another nearby wielding a gun; that man was then attacked by a group of people.
– ‘Almost an urban war’ –
“In the south of the city we had a real scene of confrontation and almost an urban war where many people not only lost their lives, but we also had a significant number of injuries,” said Rojas.
After chairing a security meeting in the city, Duque announced Friday “the maximum deployment of military assistance to the national police” would begin immediately.
The official nationwide toll up to Friday in the month of violence was 49 dead, with many more wounded or missing.
Human Rights Watch, which has been reporting a higher toll, says it has counted 63 deaths to date. It called the situation in Cali, a city of 2.2 million, “very serious.”
Jose Miguel Vivanco, the rights group’s executive director for the Americas, urged Duque to take “urgent measures to de-escalate, including a specific order prohibiting agents of the state from using firearms.”
– Poverty, disease, resentment –
Government mediation attempts have been largely futile, unable to contain the fury of increasingly politicized youth battered by the pandemic, angry over the country’s deep inequalities, and feeling their voices have not been heard.
Economists say more than 42 percent of the country’s 50 million people live in poverty, with the pandemic plunging many of the most vulnerable into penury.
A third of Colombians aged 14 to 28 are jobless and not in school, according to Hernando Gomez Buendia, author of the book “Between Independence and the Pandemic,” and that has led to growing resentment and defiance.
Analysts link the government’s militarized history to its response to the protests.
For more than 50 years, Colombia’s war against leftist FARC guerrillas eclipsed all other government priorities, with the state emerging from the conflict militarily strong but weak on social redress.
In 2019, the year after Duque took power, students took to the streets demanding free and more accessible public education, better jobs and a supportive government.
On April 28, fury at a proposed tax increase on the middle classes led people onto the streets again.
Though the proposal was quickly withdrawn, it had triggered a broad anti-government mobilization by people who felt they were left to fend for themselves in the health crisis, and who were further angered by the heavy-handed response of the security forces.
Protesters have kept barricades burning countrywide and blocked dozens of key roads, causing shortages of many products.
Mostly peaceful protests by day have often turned into riots at night and running battles with the armed forces.
Meanwhile, Colombia continues to battle record levels of coronavirus infections.
There have been more than 3.3 million confirmed cases, and over 87,200 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins University tally. That has left many Colombian hospitals near collapse.