Colombians demand change in nationwide strike

World Today

Thousands have joined a nationwide strike to demand major economic changes in Colombia. It’s the country’s largest demonstration in years — and part of a wave of unrest sweeping Latin America.

CGTN’s Michelle Begue reports from Bogota.

Colombia’s national strike drew thousands of protesters from a cross section of society. Students, activists, and indigenous groups as well as ordinary citizens joined more than 40 unions striking against pension, tax and labor reforms.

The broad coalition of social groups had one thing in common — their discontent with the Colombian government.

“The indifference is what’s killing us,” said protester Maria Victoria Moreno. “We aren’t getting rid of all those corrupt people who are eating up our budgets and privatizing everything.”

President Ivan Duque’s disapproval is at its highest level since he took office in August 2018.

A recent Gallup poll found nearly 70% of those surveyed disapprove of the job Duque is doing.

Rising unemployment, economic reforms and a deteriorating security situation are some of the grievances. Government officials cited this week “false motivations” for the strike and denied plans to lower the minimum wage.

Indigenous leaders taking part in the strike were received warmly by Colombian civilians.

Some 135 indigenous people have been killed since Duque took office, they say. A recent massacre sparked national and international calls for action.

“When I see this support, I think of the fallen, of those indigenous people who have given their lives,” said Indigenous Coordinator Lucho Acosta. “When I see other voices rising up, I feel that they didn’t die in vain because they’ve inspired others to rise.”

Teachers joined students as they marched toward the city center in Plaza Bolivar.

“There is not enough support for education,” said Teachers’ Union leader Ana Milena Fajardo. “Why are so many students having to  abandon their studies because they don’t have a way to pay for school fees, transportation and food.”

Leading up to the protest, fears brewed that the demonstration would get out of hand. The government announced a shut down of borders. It also authorized authorities to impose curfews and bans on the sale of alcohol to contain the protests.

“We need to let go of the fear that the government is trying to instill in us,” said one student protester. “We need to ignore them, and go out and march bravely and with confidence that nothing bad will happen.”

During a private meeting earlier this week between the Colombian government and media outlets, CGTN asked what would happen if these protests go on longer than Thursday, and their answer was they have plans for every scenario, but they didn’t go into any further details.