Protesters in Colombia decry government pandemic response

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A group of Indigenous march during a national strike in Bogota, Colombia, Wednesday, Oct. 21, 2020. Workers' unions, university students, human rights defenders, and Indigenous communities have gathered for a day of protest in conjunction with a national strike across Colombia. The protest is against the assassinations of social leaders, in defense of the right to protest and to demand advances in health, income and employment. (AP Photo/Fernando Vergara)

BOGOTA – Protesters filled a historic square in Colombia’s capital Wednesday to demonstrate against the government’s handling of a wide range of issues including the economic fallout of the pandemic and implementation of the peace accord.

Indigenous leaders, students and union members gathered at the Plaza Bolivar waving flags and banners decrying the government nearly one year after massive protests rocked the country only to fizzle with little to show by way of reform.

The COVID-19 pandemic had largely put a halt to demonstrations this year, but organizers were hoping to renew momentum after the government lifted six months of strict quarantine measures aimed at containing the virus.

“There are lot of people going to sleep hungry and waking up hungry,” union organizer Julio Roberto Gómez told Colombia’s BLU Radio.

Colombia is on track to reach 1 million confirmed virus cases this week and is one of the hardest hit nations in Latin America. Millions of jobs have been lost and unemployment reached nearly 17% in August. Though President Iván Duque’s approval rating has improved during the pandemic, the country remains divided on a host of issues.

“It’s very difficult for President Duque to carve a path forward without further dividing society,” said Sergio Guzman, director of Colombia Risk Analysis.

The protest Wednesday follows a demonstration earlier in the week by thousands of Indigenous people who journeyed to the capital in brightly colored buses and pickup trucks demanding to meet with Duque on issues like mining concessions and escalating violence amid setbacks in the implementation of the 2016 peace accord.

The agreement with the former Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia to end Latin America’s longest running conflict remains a source of contention in the nation. Duque and his allies are critical of the agreement, which they contend offers too many concessions to ex-guerrillas, who are largely able to avoid any jail time.