Cali wore the mantle of Colombia’s ‘resistance capital’

In several white letters, the names of anti-government protesters killed in recent weeks were written on the main streets of Cali city in Colombia: Nicolás G, Marcelo A, Jovita O, Yeisson A, Cristian M, Daniel A, Jeisson G.

Most are under the age of 25. The youngest is Jeisson García, 13.

Colombia has experienced a wave of violence last month. What began to protest against tax change this progress to a more radical call for a radical change in the country’s economic model. The protesters sought police brutality, inequality, corruption, lack of opportunities and many other issues. The hatred of Iván Duque’s conservative government can be seen.

While there have been deaths across the country, it is shocking how many have happened in Cali and the surrounding Valle del Cauca region. Of the 58 killed nationwide, 31 were in Cali and another eight in the region, according to Indepaz, a non-governmental organization.

The names of people killed in the protests were written on a main street in Cali © Gideon Long / FT

In contrast, the capital Bogotá registered three deaths and Colombia’s second town, Medellín, only one.

The government has identified 17 dead across the country, almost half of them in Cali, a town of 2.3m people in the rest of the country’s southwest.

“Cali has become the center of discontent,” said Sebastián Lanz of Temblores, an NGO that tracks violence. “We have seen members of the security forces armed to the teeth attacking civilians exercising their legitimate right to appear.”

The reasons for Cali’s emergence as Colombia’s “resistance capital” have been disputed.

Many residents blame poverty and inequality, equally vigorous rising during the pandemic, but government statistics suggest that the issues are no worse than elsewhere in Colombia.

Another explanation is sells drugs. The Cali cartel in the 1990s was disbanded but the town was still filled with cocaine and armed, violent criminals – especially in Bogotá or Medellín.

The homicide rate in Cali is 48 per 100,000 inhabitants, much higher than in Bogotá (13) or Medellín (14), which place prestige as Colombia’s murder capital.

There is a lot of confusion as to who killed. NGOs said security forces were responsible for most of the deaths. Police said they never fired at the peaceful protesters and they only fired their weapons at the criminals, vandals and people they fired first.

The government blames “terrorists”, “criminal groups” and left guerrillas. It says elements of the traditional Marxist guerrilla country – the Farc and the ELN – got through the protests.

Map of Cali, Columbia

Diego Arias, a former left -wing guerrilla and now an analyst in Cali, says there may be some truth to the claim. That’s why the Cali police faced such a heavy weapon and responded differently.

“Cali police feel like they are wearing a war zone, not the protest police,” he said. “And when you’re at war you’re directly firing at your enemy, not in the air.”

Last week, 22-year-old police officer Juan Sebastián Briñez was shot as he and his accomplices tried to stop people robbing a supermarket in Calipso’s impoverished Cali neighborhood. “I’ve never seen anything like it or heard many shootings,” said fellow officer Marvin Lisalda who is recovering at the hospital from his injury.

One of the most worrying aspects of the violence was the appearance of armed civilians firing on protesters. Early in May, they were attacked a convoy carrying indigenous activists through the city, about 10 people were injured. The identities of the attackers remain unclear, but local residents have blamed officials for the robbers working with drug dealers.

There were others, different and ethnic, proportional to the protests. Cali has one of the largest black populations in Colombia and some protesters say the city’s police force is a racist institution.

Most of the demonstrations in Cali remained peaceful during the day © Gideon Long / FT

The southwest also has a large and sound indigenous population. On the first day of the protests, indigenous activists in Cali demolished the statue of Sebastían Benalcázar, the Spaniard who led the 16th-century conquest of this part of Colombia.

Social media is full of information and misinformation. Terrifying videos show bodies allegedly washing in the Cauca River, people allegedly arrested during the protests. Demonstrators said hundreds were “missing”.

Despite all of this, most of the protests were peaceful. In one scene last week, thousands gathered in a park that turned into a rallying point.

Parents bring small children. Protesters waved the Colombian flag. Feminists, indigenous activists, Afro-Colombians, students and traditional leftists gather under a screaming sun to listen to speeches and music.

The environment is happy. The police remained calm, and the protesters drifted quietly into the darkness.

“There’s an attempt to figure out the protest and describe us all as pirates but there are different people here,” said María Alejandra Lozada, a 26-year-old nurse who divides her time between protests and treatment. of Covid patients in a public hospital.

But at night, shooting and destruction begin. In the poor neighborhoods of Siloé and Calipso on the outskirts of the town, gunshots could be heard many nights. On Tuesday night, arsonists the court was ruined in the nearby town of Tuluá.

There has been a reaction against violence and vandalism in recent days. On Tuesday, thousands of people dressed in white marched peacefully silently through Cali, calling for reconciliation and an end to the bloodshed and blockades.

But there is no sign that the demonstrations will end anytime soon.

“We have to keep going and not lose momentum,” said Mar Sánchez, one of the organizers of the Cali protest. “We also need to work to ensure that this ability created by protests is demonstrated in elections in 2022. We can’t show demonstrations a month and after the election, also voting for the same seniors.”

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