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Politics Colombia's protests are threat, test for US

03:10  07 may  2021
03:10  07 may  2021 Source:   thehill.com

Explainer: Bloody protests in Colombia leave at least 26 dead

  Explainer: Bloody protests in Colombia leave at least 26 dead Protests have raged on in Colombia for 10 days that have left at least 26 dead, hundreds injured and dozens missing. Demonstrations erupted in Bogota, Medellin, Cali and other cities on April 28 decrying President Iván Duque's proposed tax hike that critics say would raise the price of food and taxes for more middle-class workers. The plan was meant to unburden the government from the COVID-19 pandemic's financial strain, The Associated Press reported.

More than a week of violent protests across Colombia have seen least 25 people killed and hundreds injured, prompting statements of concern from the US government and the European Union.

The protests began last week after President Ivan Duque introduced a controversial tax reform bill that has been criticized as regressive. Protesters rallied in the capital, Bogota, as well as other major cities. Thousands of anti-government protesters turned out again across Colombia on Wednesday, as the demonstrations against President Ivan Duque continue for the eighth day in a row. Deadly clashes between police and the demonstrators led to dozens being injured over the course of the day.

a group of people standing in front of a crowd: Colombia's protests are threat, test for US © The Hill Colombia's protests are threat, test for US

Colombia's relationship with the United States is hitting its lowest point in decades as the country's government faces criticism over its militarized response to massive street protests.

The wave of protests risks destabilizing one of Latin America's most functional democracies and the United States's closest ally in the region.

While international organizations like the United Nations and the European Union have accused Colombian forces of police brutality in attempting to quell the protests, the Biden administration is taking a more measured approach.

Mother searches for son believed killed by Colombia soldiers

  Mother searches for son believed killed by Colombia soldiers BUCARAMANGA, Colombia (AP) — Doris Tejada last heard from her son on New Year’s Eve 2007. Óscar Alexander had left her home in central Colombia to travel to a city on the border with Venezuela to earn money selling clothes to help his family after losing his job as a surveyor’s assistant. Four years later, Tejada said, she felt a chill of premonition while watching a news report on television in which a group of Colombian mothers blamed the military for the murders of their missing children. “What is happening with their children is the same that is happening to us,” she said that night to her husband, Darío Morales. “They say it is a false positive.

Mass protests were held across Colombia on Wednesday after a night of unrest in the capital city, as street violence continued after more than a week of angry anti-government demonstrations. On Wednesday, tens of thousands marched through Bogotá, the capital, despite the threat of police violence and the pounding rain. Several hundred gathered in the historic Plaza Bolivar, in front of the capitol, in a largely peaceful demonstration pockmarked with a few stone-throwing agitators.

A number of police stations have been attacked in the Colombian capital Bogotá, as widespread protests run into a second week. Mayor Claudia López requested the help of the army to guard the stations, calling the violence "inadmissible". At least 24 people, including a police officer, have died since the protests started. The UN has urged the security forces to refrain from using firearms. The police were believed to be responsible for at least 11 of those deaths, Colombia ' s ombudsman said.

"Police, whether in the United States or Colombia, need to engage by certain rules and respect fundamental freedoms, and that's not a critique," said Juan González, National Security Council director for the Western Hemisphere.

Colombian officials have defended their security forces, even as more than 20 protesters have died this week, saying a line has to be drawn between peaceful protesters and those who engage in violence and vandalism.

"If we start separating peaceful protest from vandalism and violence, we start having a very clear dialogue and the dialogue that we as a country have is that this is a country of institutions and of the rule of law, which has to be applied to everyone," said Interior Minister Daniel Palacios on a call with reporters Thursday.

Colombia's bloody protests could be a warning to the region

  Colombia's bloody protests could be a warning to the region Tensions have hardly dissipated in Colombia after President Ivan Duque withdrew a controversial fiscal reform proposal this weekend. Six days of protests had seen at least 19 people killed and hundreds injured. Now, the demonstrations have evolved into a broader popular show of anger. © Juan Barreto/AFP/Getty Images Demonstrators and police clash at a protest against he tax reform bill in Bogota. Thousands of people are still taking to the streets to protest against police brutality and the economic cost of the pandemic amid Colombia's extreme inequality.

Colombia entered its eighth day of protests Thursday, with police employing severe crowd-control methods and drawing criticism from the international community as deaths and arrests pile up. But what has caused this escalation? The protests started over a week ago in response to President Ivan Duque’s tax reform plan, which the government insisted was "vital" to stabilize Colombia ’ s finances. A protester clashes with the police during an anti-government protest in Bogota, Colombia , Wednesday, May 5, 2021.

The United Nations' human rights office has accused Colombia ' s security forces of using excessive force against protesters . The UN said it was particularly shocked by events in Cali on Monday, where it said police had fired on protesters . Even though President Iván Duque announced on Sunday that he would withdraw the tax reform, protests have continued in Colombia ' s major cities. The umbrella group which called for last week' s protest has convened a fresh nationwide strike for Wednesday, saying that the withdrawal of the tax reform was not enough and that it also wants improvements to

The protests began as a reaction to a proposed tax hike by the administration of President Iván Duque Márquez, which was withdrawn as public opposition mounted.

But the protests also drew public support as a continuation of discontent that had started in 2019, as well as public discomfort with the economic social and economic side effects of the pandemic.

"The situation in Colombia is unlike anything that a Colombian administration has confronted over the last two decades," said Dan Restrepo, a former Western Hemisphere head at the National Security Council in the Obama administration.

"[It's different ] in that you have a set of peaceful protests that were taken advantage of by folks to foment violence and then you had a quite harsh overreaction, at least from segments of Colombian security forces," added Restrepo.

That overreaction drew the ire of a number of congressional Democrats, many of whom have been critical of Colombia's human rights record for decades.

What is Happening in Colombia? Protests Against Iván Duque Márquez Explained

  What is Happening in Colombia? Protests Against Iván Duque Márquez Explained The president's reforms have been criticized for favoring the wealthy and placing more strain on the working and middle classes. Many are frustrated by new or expanded taxes on citizens and business owners and the elimination of many tax exemptions, such as those on certain sales of everyday goods. The protests have drawn tens of thousands of people to the street, and the marches across the country have evolved into protests against economic inequality and rising poverty in the Latin American country. The protests began last Wednesday after a national strike drew larger crowds than expected.

Protests continue across Colombia , with dozens of people dead and hundreds injured since they began on 28 April. The demonstrations were originally against tax reforms that its government said would be key to handling the country's economic crisis – reforms its president has since withdrawn. The UN has urged Colombia ' s security forces to refrain from using firearms, while the government has blamed violence in the country on left-wing rebels. Read more: What is behind protests in Colombia ?

WASHINGTON (Sputnik) - The US Senate Foreign Relations Committee chairman, Bob Menendez, in a statement expressed concern over the risk the recent deadly clashes between police and protesters in the Colombian city of Cali poses to regional stability.

And the Colombian ruling party, Centro Democrático, had already rubbed Democrats the wrong way as some of its members -- including party leader former President Álvaro Uribe -- openly campaigned for or endorsed Republican candidates in Florida in 2020.

Both the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Bob Menéndez (D-N.J.) and the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-N.Y.), tweeted disappointment at the Colombian government's reaction to the protests, particularly the National Police (PNC) and its riot-control unit (ESMAD).

"I'm extremely concerned by the brutal PNC and ESMAD response to protests in Colombia. I'm particularly alarmed by developments in Cali and call on President @IvanDuque to deescalate the violence and make clear that excessive use of force is inexcusable," wrote Meeks.

https://twitter.com/HouseForeign/status/1389607654666948610

Meeks did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

And while most observers agree that elements of the country's remaining guerrilla movements, ELN and FARC, as well as narco traffickers, are likely stoking some of the violence, human rights groups believe the government is overplaying their influence.

Colombia sees calmer protests, industry groups warn of fuel shortages

  Colombia sees calmer protests, industry groups warn of fuel shortages Colombia sees calmer protests, industry groups warn of fuel shortagesBOGOTA (Reuters) - Protests in Colombia marked their ninth day on Thursday with smaller groups of demonstrators in cities including Bogota and Medellin, while industry groups warned of gasoline shortages across the country following road blocks.

"It's very likely that some of the acts of vandals are part of some of the urban support networks of ELN and FARC. Why not?" said Adam Isacson, director for defense oversight at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), a non-profit human rights advocacy group.

"That doesn't mean they had a planning or commanding or directing role in any of that," said Isacson.

Isacson added that large-scale protest are rarely 100 percent non-violent, and the government's efforts to paint all vandals as members of criminal or guerrilla groups "is simply untrue and frankly dangerous."

"It's a way to elevate common street thuggery into terrorism," said Isacson.

Still, Colombia has some of the region's most advanced autonomous institutions designed to prevent human rights abuses, a product of the country's reconstruction amid a drug war and half-century communist insurrection by FARC.

While Colombia remains a relatively violent country, its reforms over the past two decades -- many funded by U.S. aid through Plan Colombia -- have rendered it one of the strongest democracies in Latin America.

"When you analyze Colombia a lot of how things look today depends on where your starting point is," said Restrepo, pointing to the institutional weakness in the country in the 1990s and before.

Colombia: New massive events against the fiscal reform project

 Colombia: New massive events against the fiscal reform project © Luisa Gonzalez, Reuters protesters parade against the project of tax reform in the streets of Bogota, May 1, 2021, in Colombia. Despite the statements by President Ivan Duque claimant to seek a "consensus", Colombia lived on Saturday its fourth consecutive day of demonstrations against the government tax reform project.

But Colombia's two presidents before Duque, Uribe and Juan Manuel Santos, governed on an upswing of U.S.-Colombia relations where the country went from near-failed state status to a thriving democracy.

Under Duque, circumstances have conspired to cool that relationship somewhat, starting with the Centro Democrático's open support of former President Trump and Florida Republicans in 2020.

That's cut down avenues of diplomacy for a country that's prided itself on two decades of active and successful bipartisan advocacy in Washington.

"I think Ambassador [Francisco] Santos finds fewer open doors in Capitol Hill today than he did two years ago," said Restrepo.

Ambassador Santos pushed back on any notion of a rift between Washington and Bogotá.

"The Colombia-US partnership is as strong as ever, and it is moments like this when our friendship is reinforced," said Santos.

"As the two oldest democracies in the Western Hemisphere, we are united in respecting human and civil rights, and in pushing back on attacks against democratic freedoms. We have been and will stay in close contact with our American friends -- from the Biden Administration to Congress," he added.

And the Duque administration shares with Democrats -- even those targeted by Uribe -- the fear that destabilizing forces are attempting to undermine Colombian democracy.

Former Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, one of two Florida Democrats who lost their seats in 2020 after she was accused of being a socialist by Centro Democrático operatives in Florida, said she fears violence in protests is being stoked by foreign actors, possibly including Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro.

Colombia protests enter third week with national strike

  Colombia protests enter third week with national strike Colombia protests enter third week with national strikeBOGOTA/CALI (Reuters) - Anti-government protests in Colombia entered their third week on Wednesday as unions, student groups and other organizations convened a national strike after fruitless talks with the government.

Maduro has historically sheltered FARC guerrillas in Venezuelan territory.

"I think that democracy right now is holding on by a thread in the U.S. and in many countries in Latin America," said Mucarsell-Powell, who was born in Ecuador.

"What we're seeing is there's a lot of discontent by the people in Colombia but we're also seeing violent actors taking advantage of what's happening to incite violence and blame it on Colombian citizens," she added.

Still, Mucarsell-Powell remains critical of the Centro Democrático's campaign activities in Florida.

"I don't think it's beneficial for Colombian officials to get so involved in any elections just like we shouldn't get involved in their elections," she said.

And most observers still view an opportunity for dialogue with protest leaders, particularly as Colombians prepare to vote in a presidential election in 2022.

The country's history of civil strife against communist guerrillas has traditionally led Colombian voters away from left-wing populists who could cozy up to regional leaders like Maduro.

The spectre of left-wing populism has in the past deterred Colombian voters, although in 2018 leftist Gustavo Petro competed in a second round against Duque.

"There are people trying to polarize on both ends of the spectrum," said Restrepo.

There are legitimate concerns about what a populist leftist government could mean for Colombia, but I also think that there is political intentionality in lifting up the prospects of a Petro government to advance their own political ends," said Restrepo.

Still, the Biden administration is giving the benefit of the doubt to Duque, encouraging the government to cool down tempers through dialogue with protest leaders.

"The Colombian people need to have this conversation, it's not an appropriate time for the U.S. to comment when we haven't gotten all the details," said González.

Cannabis company growing weed in Colombia goes public in US .
Most cannabis companies that list their stocks in the United States grow their products in indoor greenhouses, often in Canada. © From Flora Growth/Facebook A Flora Growth employee works in a cannabis farm in Colombia. But a company named Flora Growth that went public on the Nasdaq on Tuesday is taking a different approach. Although headquartered in Toronto, its agricultural operations are in Colombia. And it cultivates cannabis the old-fashioned way: outdoors. Why? It's a lot cheaper.

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