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EL ESPECTADOR

Next Up, Colombia: Why Latin American Protests Keep Spreading

Colombians are the latest in Latin America to take to the streets, in what may be the 'first clang of the bell' of many aimed at President Ivan Duque.

Protest in Bogota on Nov. 21
Protest in Bogota on Nov. 21
Hernando Gómez Buendía 

-OpEd-

BOGOTA — In Ecuador, the protests lasted 11 days, were sparked by a spike in gasoline prices, and forced the president to backtrack on his impossible economic adjustment program.

In Chile, the most intense period of the protests lasted 12 days. They were caused by accumulated rage against the existing economic model, and exploded because of the government's clumsy decision to close the Santiago metro. As a result of the unrest, the powers that be promised to reform the country's constitution, but that doesn't fix the real problem, which is inequality.

In Bolivia, protests lasted 20 days and were prompted by President Evo's fraudulent reelection. They have produced a right-wing government that native Bolivians refuse to accept.

In Venezuela the protests lasted, or have lasted, several years now, and the demand is an end to the socialist Bolivarian regime. But people are also weary of demonstrating, and nobody sees a solution any time soon.

In Hong Kong, there have been some six months of protests against Beijing's de facto rule of the autonomous city again, without a solution in sight. In Lebanon, protesters toppled a corrupt government and have aggravated the country's bankruptcy. And in France, people donning yellow safety vests have been protesting for more than a year, expressing a kind of ill-defined anger toward everything, and driving President Macron half-mad.

Across the world, 2019 has been the year of the street protest, driven in large part by web technology.

From Baghdad and Tehran to Barcelona and Lima, people are using social networking and coming out in massive numbers to voice their disgust. And governments are frightened. There have been incidents of violence as a result, with police losing control. There's been repression and killings, in some cases, along with government overtures that may or may not be sensible or efficient.

And then, last Thursday (Nov. 21), it was Colombia's turn. Protestors organized a general strike that lasted one day and was more like a mass march uniting a wide array of discontented sectors under the umbrella of opposition to reforming the labor and pension laws, with isolated incidents of violence and without any known or effective response by President Iván Duque.

Police disperse anti-government demonstrators in downtown Bogota on Nov. 21 — Photo: Str/ZUMA

Despite claims made by the country's most conservative elements, there was no sign anywhere of the Sao Paulo Forum or Venezuela's Maduro plotting against the country. Nor did the strike result in the social explosion some extremists were hoping for and other extremists had warned us about! Police brutality was moderate compared to in other countries. And the looting and vandalism that occurred isn't all that surprising.

The event didn't result in any kind of negotiations. Nor is there any sign that the president and his party have understoodor wish to or could understand —where this public frustration comes from. Poor Duque's only response was an inane call to unity without negotiating with anyone, while insisting that the government has done what it has not in fact done, and promising to shelve reforms that are actually heading our way.

Practically any event could trigger that kind of behavior among the desperate youth in the country's poorest districts.

Colombia is awakening from its lengthy dream-nightmare of armed conflict, an eternal president Ed. note: Alvaro Uribe, who never really went away even after his term ended, nearly a decade ago and the Peace Pact. The guerrillas have been done for a while now, and what we're seeing now are normal and legitimate protests in a democracy that yes, is unfair and exclusive, but is also the one we have.

The strike was the first clang of the bell. It was an odd thing — really just a big march, as I said — but one that was also distinctly Colombian, with a mix of rebellion, anger, vandalism and carnival-style celebration. The bells will toll again, and this inept president for whom we voted will eventually have to listen.


*The author is director of online magazine Razón Pública.

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