In giant white letters, the names of anti-government protesters killed in current weeks are written on a important avenue in the Colombian metropolis of Cali: Nicolás G, Marcelo A, Jovita O, Yeisson A, Cristian M, Daniel A, Jeisson G.
Most had been beneath the age of 25. The youngest, Jeisson García, was 13.
Colombia has skilled a wave of violence in the past month. What began as protests towards tax reform have advanced right into a extra radical name for an overhaul of the nation’s financial mannequin. Protesters are seething over police brutality, inequality, corruption, lack of alternatives and a number of different points. The hatred for Iván Duque’s conservative authorities is palpable.
While there have been deaths throughout the nation, it’s placing what number of have occurred in Cali and the surrounding area of Valle del Cauca. Of the 58 folks killed nationwide, 31 had been in Cali and an additional eight in the area, according to Indepaz, a non-government organisation.
By distinction, the capital Bogotá has registered three deaths and Colombia’s second metropolis, Medellín, only one.
The authorities has recognised 17 deaths nationwide, about half of them in Cali, a metropolis of 2.3m folks in the restive south-west of the nation.
“Cali has become the epicentre of the discontent,” mentioned Sebastián Lanz of Temblores, an NGO which has been monitoring the violence. “We’ve seen members of the security forces armed to the teeth attacking civilians who are exercising their legitimate right to demonstrate.”
The causes for Cali’s emergence as Colombia’s “capital of the resistance” are disputed.
Many residents blame poverty and inequality, both of which have risen sharply throughout the pandemic, however authorities statistics counsel these points are not any worse than elsewhere in Colombia.
Another clarification is the drugs trade. The Cali cartel of the Nineties has been dismantled however the metropolis continues to be awash with cocaine and well-armed, violent legal — extra so than Bogotá or Medellín.
The homicide price in Cali is 48 per 100,000 inhabitants, far increased than in Bogotá (13) or Medellín (14), which has shed its repute as Colombia’s homicide capital.
There is way confusion over who’s doing the killing. NGOs say safety forces are liable for the overwhelming majority of deaths. The police say they by no means hearth on peaceable protesters and solely flip their weapons on criminals, vandals and individuals who hearth at them first.
The authorities blames “terrorists”, “criminal groups” and leftwing guerrillas. It says components of the nation’s conventional Marxist guerrilla teams — the Farc and the ELN — have infiltrated the protests.
Diego Arias, a former leftwing guerrilla and now an analyst in Cali, says there may be most likely some reality to the declare. That is why the police in Cali face such heavy weaponry and reply in sort.
“The police in Cali feel they’re entering a war zone, not policing a protest,” he mentioned. “And when you’re at war you fire directly at your enemy, not into the air.”
Last week, 22-year-old police officer Juan Sebastián Briñez was shot useless as he and his colleagues tried to cease folks looting at a grocery store in the poor Cali neighbourhood of Calipso. “I’ve never seen anything like it or heard so much shooting,” fellow officer Marvin Lisalda mentioned as he recovered in hospital from his wounds.
One of the extra worrying elements of the violence is the look of armed civilians who’ve opened hearth on protesters. In early May, they attacked a convoy carrying indigenous activists by way of the metropolis, injuring about 10 folks. The id of the attackers stays unclear, however native residents blame employed thugs working for drug traffickers.
There are different, racial and ethnic, dimensions to the protests. Cali has one of the largest black populations in Colombia and a few protesters say the metropolis’s police drive is a racist establishment.
The south-west additionally has an enormous and vocal indigenous inhabitants. On the first day of the protests, indigenous activists in Cali ripped down a statue of Sebastían Benalcázar, the Spaniard who led the sixteenth century conquest of this half of Colombia.
Social media is awash with information and misinformation. Gruesome movies present our bodies which have allegedly washed up in the River Cauca, supposedly individuals who have been kidnapped throughout the protests. Demonstrators say lots of have “disappeared”.
Despite all this, most protests are peaceable. In one such scene final week, hundreds gathered at a park that has grow to be a rallying level.
Parents introduced younger youngsters. Protesters waved the Colombian flag. Feminists, indigenous activists, Afro-Colombians, college students and conventional leftists got here collectively beneath a searing solar to hearken to speeches and music.
The ambiance was festive. The police stayed clear, and protesters drifted away peacefully at nightfall.
“There’s been an attempt to stigmatise the protest and depict us all as vandals but there are all sorts of people here,” mentioned María Alejandra Lozada, a 26-year-old nurse who divides her time between the protests and treating Covid sufferers in a public hospital.
But at evening, the capturing and destruction begins. In the poor neighbourhoods of Siloé and Calipso on the metropolis’s fringes, gunshots will be heard many evenings. On Tuesday evening, arsonists destroyed the court of justice in the close by metropolis of Tuluá.
There has been a backlash towards the violence and vandalism in current days. On Tuesday, hundreds of folks wearing white marched peacefully in silence by way of Cali, calling for reconciliation and an finish to the bloodshed and blockades.
But there isn’t a signal that the demonstrations will finish quickly.
“We have to keep going and not lose momentum,” mentioned Mar Sánchez, one of Cali’s protest organisers. “We also have to work to ensure that this effervescence generated by the protests is reflected in the elections in 2022. We can’t stage demonstrations for a month and then, when the elections come around, vote for the same old people again.”