BOGOTÁ, Colombia — Hundreds of thousands of left-wing activists took to the streets throughout Colombia Thursday to demonstrate against President Iván Duque, resulting in violent clashes between protesters and the police.
Most protests started out peacefully before quickly descending into violent standoffs. In the capital of Bogotá, police helicopters flew overhead as riot police fired teargas and rubber bullets at protesters. There were also large outbreaks of vandalism, with the city’s Mayor Enrique Peñalosa estimating $5.8 million (£4.5 million) in damages.
The official motive behind the demonstrations was to oppose the government’s recent reforms to the pension system, sparking wider anger against alleged corruption and economic inequality. However, many turned out to oppose the government’s hardline stance against left-wing terrorist groups, who continue to carry out attacks across the country.
Many protesters also wanted to express their opposition to Duque generally, whose approval rating has dropped to just 26 percent since his election last year, placing him well below previous presidents.
“Duque is just Uribe’s puppet,” 19-year-old student Álvaro Jiménez told Breitbart News, referring to former conservative President Álvaro Uribe. “They only work for the rich and care very little about the poor.”
Opponents of Duque also accuse him of dogged loyalty to Uribe and failing to tackle the country’s widespread problems with corruption. Uribe fought an intense war against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) during his presidential term in the mid-2000s with the help of then U.S. President George W. Bush.
“Corruption is the number one problem in this country, but Duque is part of the problem,” said 54-year-old María Guzmán. “By ripping up the peace agreement, the President and his supporters are determined to take us back to a time of civil war.”
Day of mass left-wing protests in Colombia with scenes reminiscent of Venezuela. Only difference is that these people were fighting for socialism rather than against it. pic.twitter.com/pBtUYgEZYy
— Ben Kew (@ben_kew) November 22, 2019
The protest’s organizers, the National Strike Committee, said in a statement after the protests that “Colombia won on this historic day of citizen mobilization.”
“We call on all citizens to be ready to take further action in the street if the national government continues to neglect our demands,” they said. “This very broad expression of nonconformity and rebellion developed peacefully will have to be assimilated by the national government.”
Responding to the protests on Thursday evening, Duque promised to deepen “social dialogue” between the government and its citizens.
“Today, Colombians spoke. We hear them,” he said in a televised address. “Social dialogue has been the main principle of this government and we need to deepen it with all sectors of society and speed up the social agenda and the fight against corruption.”
Hoy hablaron los colombianos y los estamos escuchando. El diálogo ha sido la principal bandera de este Gobierno, el cual debemos profundizar con todos los sectores y acelerar la agenda social y de lucha contra la corrupción. pic.twitter.com/OzvukhThnk
— Iván Duque (@IvanDuque) November 22, 2019
The president, who took office in August 2018, also condemned the widespread violence, with his Defence Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo confirming three deaths, 98 arrests, and injuries to 122 civilians and 151 members of the security forces.
The protests are reminiscent of recent left-wing protests in Chile, where a rise in metro fairs led to mass demonstrations against the leadership of their center-right President Sebastián Piñera, who was also elected last year. In contrast, across the Colombian border in Venezuela, millions continue to demonstrate against Nicolás Maduro’s socialist regime, as the country grapples with the worst economic and humanitarian crisis in its history.