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Letter from… Colombia


By Juan Ulloa

These are not easy times for Colombia. Since April 29 the country has been struggling with a National Strike, called by unions of workers, students, teachers, leftist politicians, freight transport guilds, and young people in general, who called for the removal of a tax reform announced by the Government in mid-April.

Although the Government halted the reform on May 2, the strike has continued until today with new demands regarding social injustice, inequality, poverty, respect for human rights, and lack of youth employment in the country. Crowds of protesters in many cities have expressed themselves in peaceful marches; others have blocked national highways and streets, and confronted the Police, driving to violent riots.

According to the Ombudsman's Office, 25 civilians have lost their lives and 387 were injured, some of them, victims of police brutality, NGOs said. On the other hand, one policeman died and 826 were injured. The Ministry of Transport claimed that 782 roads are blocked, driving losses to the country of US $ 233 million. In several cities, there are shortages of food, fuel, and medical supplies.

The situation has created a political crisis in which President Iván Duque's weakness is the main factor. On one hand, his political allies from the Centro Democratico party need his lack of leadership to maintain law and order. On the other, the opposition parties are claiming that his Government is responsible for the violence on the streets, a narrative that has crossed borders into the American and European media.

Indeed, many opinion leaders from across the political spectrum believe that this social and political crisis is the worst in decades because of a lack of a clear solution. Yesterday, President Duque help a meeting with the National Strike Committee, with no results. The most likely scenario therefore is that Colombia will continue facing protests until the 2022 elections unless violence forces another political solution.

All of this has happened amidst the worst COVID-19 wave since the arrival of the pandemic, in which 480 people are have died and 17,000 cases are reported every day. Hope lies in the vaccination campaign that has shown positive numbers over the last two weeks, despite the strike.

Besides, is important to remark that Colombian society has overcome many critical situations in the past, without putting at risk the democratic system. Indeed, many analysts said that this crisis is a paradox since its roots are in the sustained economic, health, and education progress achieved between 2000 and 2018, which itself created a new generation of middle-class people, but whose health is put at risk through corruption and the Pandemic.