Bogota Colombia – The city of Cali in southwestern Colombiya, the largest city in the country, has become a hotbed of anti-government protests between protesters, security forces and civilians armed with weapons.
International protests have been ongoing since April 28 after a disturbed outburst erupted. The petition was called off and the finance minister stepped down, but protesters have added a list of demands from the right wing government of President Ivan Duque.
While many now call for medical care to help restore Colombian medical institutions, some continue to pour into the streets to denounce the violence and killings that have swept the Andes.
Violence escalated in Cali on Sunday evening when protesters were harassed by armed civilians who wanted to put an end to the protests. Opponents blocked highways, disrupting the flow of food and fuel into the city.
More than a dozen people were injured, mostly Indians who came to the city to take part in the demonstrations and perform traditional demonstrations called “thorns”.
Duque, who made a brief visit to Cali earlier on Monday to respond to the violence, said more security forces would be sent to clear the area. The president also called on ordinary people to return to their communities to “avoid conflicts with citizens”.
Cali was also in the midst of anti-government protests last week, after police opened fire on protesters, which killed several people and sparked international attention.
Governments, politicians, and human rights groups have called on the Colombian government to step up their efforts to protect the security forces, who have been widely accused of using excessive force in the fight against terrorists.
“Initially, Duque said he did not need to go to Cali, where it did not go well with anyone including his followers,” said Gimena Sanchez, director of the Andes at the Washington Office in Latin America tank-think.
“He was subsequently pressured, but what else did he do to ensure accountability for the actions that have taken place for so many critics?” Sanchez told Al Jazeera.
“I think that reacting wisely and arrogantly to the protests and his ruling party to use him as much as possible to put an end to the protests would upset the protesters and continue to hold protests.”
The death toll is still unknown
The death toll in connection with the protests is not being disputed.
Human Rights Watch has confirmed the deaths of 38 people, while government agencies Indepaz and Temblores released the figures to 47. A Colombian human rights activist says 26 people have been killed, most in police custody.
Colombian police, who speak directly to the Ministry of Defense, are under constant surveillance to use more force. The change in police force has been a hot topic for years, and it has intensified in recent years.
“The Duque must address the concerns of many citizens, address the violence and ensure the security reforms that the Colombians are showing are not seen and regarded as an internal enemy,” Sanchez said.
The government has strongly condemned the uncoordinated terrorists and armed groups for interfering in the protests and inciting violence. Duque also met with protests and shot dead leaders on Monday as part of a nationwide dialogue aimed at ending the protests.
Political analyst Sergio Guzman said one of the biggest challenges facing the government would be the infidelity of citizens, however.
“[This is] “Not only because of the large number of negotiations with the opposition, but also because there is not enough time for Duque to achieve whatever the outcome of the talks is, unless it is summed up,” he said.
Duque has 15 months left in the government and most of the work should go through Congress, Guzman explained.
Striking the country
Meanwhile, another strike day is set for Wednesday, which will be the third week of demonstrations taking place.
“Obviously we’re far from the election and we’re too far away from real dialogue on what the opposition wants to have on the table,” said Elizabeth Dickinson, senior researcher at the International Crisis Group.
“Instead, I think what you see is that the government has continued to address this issue as a legal issue,” Dickinson told Al Jazeera, adding that the government’s ignorance of the opposition’s claims is a political problem.
“However, this is going to be a security issue if it takes too long, then this has to happen very quickly,” he said.
Guzman said the protesters understood that the blockets were causing problems among the citizens, which they believed were undermining their legitimacy.
“We hope that the opposition will once again acknowledge that this is the time for them to realize that the government has listened to them and to work out a solution,” he said.
For Dickinson, there must be more organization for negotiations to take place. “I think one of the obstacles is the lack of leadership, nationally and internationally, in order to achieve this dialogue and dialogue,” he said.