Anti-government protests in Colombia entered their third week on Wednesday. Demonstrations erupted over a government proposal to raise taxes as millions of people saw their incomes cut short due to COVID-19. But it lasted for days even after the government withdrew its proposed tax plan.
Protest leaders say their demands now go much further and include calls for a basic income system, free education in public universities, and police reform. 42 people were killed during the protests, according to Colombia’s Human Rights Ombudsman.
Protesters spoke to the BBC about their reasons for continuing the demonstrations, the largest to sweep Colombia in decades.
Yasila, a professor of political science
There is a great deal of discontent at the national level that goes beyond the issue of taxes. It is caused by all the injustices that have occurred during [Iván] Duque government and during previous governments.
Hundreds of community leaders have been killed since the peace agreement was signed with the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) in 2016, including indigenous and black leaders.
We have a poster here with the names of nearly 300 ex-FARC fighters who were killed after laying down their weapons. Moreover, what we see is that when people go out to protest there is repression, and that just makes us want to keep mobilizing.
I think these protests should continue until people have satisfied their need to express their frustration at what is happening.
Ramiro Velasco, art teacher
I wear a costume that represents death: it represents the carnage that was happening in Colombia under this government, the killing of community leaders in the countryside, the deforestation, the growing poverty and everything related to death.
At the moment there is a severe shortage of government in this country. The government has no clear plans on how to improve healthcare, and it has let the peace deal with FARC fade. For all of these reasons, I am here. We have to demand that the government do its job because at this moment they are making us an unviable country.
They told us not to go out because we will get sick and die. But these demonstrations are proof that people are no longer afraid. We have to go out and express ourselves.
Liliana Rodriguez, classic singer
I am showing my support for the protests by going out here to sing opera. What you see people expressing here is general dissatisfaction. It’s not just about tax reform, or health system reform, and all the other laws. People are showing the discontent they’ve been feeling for a long time.
Young people are especially frustrated that we study so much, but we have nowhere to continue our career after that. I used to sing for the choir in the Bogota Musical Orchestra but this is just a youth choir. Now there is no choir where I can sing full time, because there are no choirs in Colombia that pay professionals to sing.
No work and things like food are more expensive now, and there is government corruption, which is what makes people frustrated. Tax reform was just a fuse. But what really happens is that we are tired of our mismanagement.
Ernesto Herrera, leader of the Santa Fe Football Club fan group
We support these protests because we are victims of the state. Individuals have been killed by the police.
Our youth have many unmet needs. There are drug addiction problems, economic problems, and problems that have not been recognized. But we want to go ahead and change things and have a different kind of government.
We do not feel that the politicians represent us. But we want to sit down with them and show them that in our experience as football fans, we know what young people are going through. We have young people who need basic income and access to education and who need access to a decent healthcare system.
Daniela Sanchez, a hospital worker
I am a clown, and I do a laughter therapy for children in the hospital as well as for elderly people with incurable diseases.
We decided to participate in these protests because we are tired of inequality in this country. There are people in the countryside and in the cities as well, who can no longer afford three meals a day, and people who do not have access to adequate education or health care, and we saw that while working as clowns in the hospital.
The epidemic has revealed the big differences between the rich and the poor in Colombia. Show how many people cannot access the Internet, for example, or how many people lack savings and need to work on the streets to eat.
So I think this should continue until the government shows remorse for its actions and I hope it shows people the importance of voting. We need to make good choices in next year’s elections.
Miguel Morales, a member of the indigenous Misac community
This protest is not just about taxes. We are from the Cauca region, but we have about 200 families who have been here in Bogota for 10 years due to the violence in our lands.
We believe that these protests should continue because the president must realize that his job is not to do what his party wants or what [his mentor] He wants ex-President Alvaro Uribe, but the will of the people is implemented.
While he is not having real talks with the people the protests will continue.
We have demolished the statues [of Spanish conquistadors] During the protests. These are symbolic acts of justice. For a country to live in peace, the history of all its inhabitants must be heard.
Wendy Monroy is a student at a public university
I was in the second semester of my studies when the epidemic broke out. Classes were put on hold for a few weeks and then they tweaked things so we can continue our studies online.
I continued to study, but many of my fellow students dropped out. They dropped out because they had to work to support their families, because their parents no longer had money.
So I’m here to ask for things like better healthcare but also better conditions for students.
At my university, we haven’t been able to return to lessons face-to-face yet. In private universities, they actually attend regular classes again, but this is because they have money to take biosecurity measures, simple things, like providing hand sanitizers, but in my university this is not done.
I think there are solutions for this country and we have to fight for that. These are the biggest protests I can remember. It shows that young people are ready to take over this country and maybe in some years, things can change.