Protests in Colombia © Ivan Valencia
General strike announced for tomorrow, Wednesday, keeps Colombia on edge. But there are signals of detente between the Duque government and its critics. Meanwhile, the Church urges all sides to humility and dialogue.
In Colombia, ahead of tomorrow’s eagerly awaited Wednesday general strike, there are first signs of an easing of the political situation. Colombia’s conservative President Ivan Duque said in a televised address yesterday (Monday) that he was ready for direct talks with the organizers of the recent general strike. This was one of the core demands of the initiators of the mass protests.
Duque ready to talk
At the same time, he asked the strike committee to refrain from further action this week. Duque also addressed the demonstrators’ demand to resume peace talks with the Marxist ELN guerrillas, which were put on hold after a bombing that killed 22 people. If the ELN is committed to peace in Colombia, she said, it must release all hostages and end criminal activity. Anything else would lead to further violence, Duque said.
Also on 2. In December, the Catholic Church called on the ELN to release three hostages held by the guerrillas. The open letter was signed by the bishops of the dioceses of Cali, Quibdo, Apartado and Istimina-Tado. Meanwhile, Colombian peace activist and partner of the Latin American relief agency Adveniat, Leyner Palacios, canceled his planned trip to Germany in December. The increasing violence in Colombia forced him to do so, he justified the decision.
Negotiations in the general strike
On 3. On December 12, spokesmen for the strike committee accepted a meeting with the president, also scheduled for Tuesday, but said they would stick to the general strike scheduled for Wednesday. "We are negotiating in the midst of the demonstrations and maintaining the call for the great mobilization for the strike on Wednesday," Nelson Alarcon, head of the teachers’ union Fecode, told Radio Blu. Jennifer Pedraza, one of the representatives of the student body at the National University, reiterated to the daily newspaper "El Espectacdor" the willingness to engage in dialogue. "But we are not going to call the strike on 4. Cancel December. On the contrary. We extend the call to take to the streets to defend the demands of the strike committee with greater force."
Meanwhile, nearly 600 academics have called on the Duque government and the country’s leading political forces to engage in constructive dialogue. National government, students and civil society would have to work together in a purposeful way. In an open letter published Monday and quoted by the daily El Tiempo, the signatories call for respect for human rights from all sides, peaceful protests, a willingness to reach agreements, dialogue with all relevant actors and concrete proposals of a short-term and medium-term nature.
It is important to correct the current path, the letter continues. He said the government must respect the peace agreement with the FARC, ensure effective protection of social activists and respect agreements with the student body, indigenous and Afro-Colombian populations.
Holding on to privileges
Earlier, the Catholic Church had already called on both sides to reconsider their positions. "I say to everyone who could use a good dose of humility: All the world is a bit haughty and haughtiness is not a good counselor," said the vicar of the Archdiocese of Bogota, Rafael Cotrino. Humility, on the other hand, helps to put things in perspective and think about what’s possible as a country, he said.
The goal must be to overcome the deep rifts of inequality in Colombia, Cotrino said: "We all have to step back from certain privileges if we want social conditions for the poorest of the poor to improve. But I do not see that."Instead, he has the impression that many want to keep their privileges and remain untouchable. That is why it will be difficult to find a solution. What is needed, however, is a "vision for the good of the country".
Colombia has been under prere since a general strike on 21. November 2019 rocked by demonstrations and unrest. Among other things, the protests are directed against social policies, the slow implementation of the peace process with the former guerrilla organization FARC, and the lack of protection for human rights and social activists. The demonstrators hold President Duque responsible for the failures.