Thursday, May 6, 2021

Colombia brutally represses protesters (May 6, 2021)

 Colombian security forces continued their heavy handed response to ongoing, nationwide anti-government demonstrations last night, firing tear gas at protesters in Bogotá after crowds attacked police stations. What started as a protest against a tax reform proposal ballooned into a social explosion of anger over poverty and inequality, both worsened by the pandemic's impact. 

And the government's forceful response has also made police brutality a central issue of the ongoing protests: The clashes over the past eight days have left at least 24 people dead, most of them demonstrators, and at least 87 missing. Local NGO Temblores, which documents police abuse, estimates that 37 have been killed. (La Silla Vacía profiles the victims of police brutality.)

Rights groups and members of the international community -- including the U.S. Biden administration, the U.N. and the OAS --have denounced excessive use of force.The United Nations human rights office said it was “deeply alarmed” over violence against protesters in the Colombian city of Cali, where “police opened fire on demonstrators” and allegedly killed and injured several people Monday night. On-the-ground sources said police indiscriminately shot at demonstrators, even from helicopters.

Yesterday, demonstrators breached protective barriers around the nation’s Congress, attacking the building before being repelled by the police. Bogotá's mayor said Tuesday that a mob tried to “burn alive” 10 police officers by setting fire to a small police station.

Yesterday, President Iván Duque repeated government allegations that illegal armed groups are engaging in acts of vandalism and looting and he said more than 550 arrests had been made. There are calls from within Duque's party to declare a state of siege. But experts say that illegal groups are not directing the protesters, and that the characterization ignores a legitimate social movement. Duque's discourse is tonedeaf -- he hasn't addressed the issue of protester deaths, and his response to create a space of dialogue is woefully inadequate, according to La Silla Vacía.

The protests are, in many ways, a continuation of the massive demonstrations that rocked Colombia in 2019, with a broad array of grievances, including demands for better health and education services and policies to reduce violence. They show that discontent has only grown -- along with poverty -- in the past pandemic year.

More Colombia
  • "Duque’s hard line security policies have failed the Colombian people and undermined decades of professionalization among the security forces themselves," argues Paul J. Angelo in the Washington Post. He calls for independent investigations and prosecutions of police officers involved in human rights abuses, and civilianize the country's police force.
News Briefs

  • The pandemic has sent a wave of poverty across the region, reversing declines from the past decade. Latin America has been uniquely hard-hit due to the double whammy of pandemic intensity and economic recession. The region accounts for about 30% of the world’s Covid-19 deaths, despite having only 8% of its population. Its economy contracted 7% last year, more than double the decline of any other region, reports Bloomberg.
  • Younger people are increasingly being killed by Covid-19 in Latin America, as cases across the region rise and hospitals are increasingly overwhelmed, warned Pan American Health Organization head Carissa F Etienne yesterday. Scant vaccines mean that toughening restrictions and preventative measures are the only way to reduce contagion, but in many countries there is scant sign of authorities being willing to take such steps, reports the Guardian.
  • The rising rate of Covid-19 infections in Latin America poses a threat to the U.S., and experts are pushing for the region to be prioritized in the distribution of U.S. surplus vaccine stocks. (The Hill)
  • The U.S. Biden administration reversed course yesterday and came out in favor of suspending patent protections for Covid-19 vaccines. Support for patent waivers has been growing, particularly among developing countries, since South Africa and India introduced a proposal in the World Trade Organization -- but has been opposed by the U.S. and European countries until now. (See March 11's post.) The decision is a major change, but obtaining approval at the WTO will take time, and expanding vaccine production will be slow. (New York Times)
  • Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro said that the U.S. will soon send doses of AstraZeneca's Covid-19 vaccine to Brazil, though the White House has said that no decisions had been made on which countries would receive any extra vaccine supplies from the U.S., reports Reuters.
  • Cuba's advances in developing five separate coronavirus vaccines -- two of which are in advanced trials -- build on a long history of biotechnology investments, reports Al Jazeera. Since the 1980s, Cuban scientists have developed vaccines for a whole range of ailments, including hepatitis, tetanus and the meningococcal meningitis
Regional Relations
  • The U.S. Biden administration plans to release by the end of June a list of corrupt Central American officials who may be subject to sanctions, reports Reuters. The U.S. government's special envoy for the Northern Triangle, Ricardo Zuñiga, also said the administration was considering further sanctions against officials in the region for alleged graft under the Global Magnitsky Act.
  • U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris will visit Mexico and Guatemala on June 7 and 8. (CBS)
  • "How the Biden administration should deal with the governments of Central America presents a dilemma. On one hand, it has to be careful of repeating Washington’s history of supporting repressive regimes," writes Ioan Grillo in the New York Times. "On the other hand, the United States needs to get to the root of what causes people to flee to its southwestern border ... a meltdown stemming from gang violence, climate-change-driven drought and economic hopelessness."
  • An ambitious and creative foreign assistance program could offer an historic opportunity to turn the Greater Caribbean Basin into a significant geographic asset for the United States, argues Richard Feinberg in Americas Quarterly.
  • A Brazilian judge suspended a police probe into a top Indigenous leader who had criticized the government of President Jair Bolsonaro for its handling of the Covid-19 crisis, reports Reuters. (See Tuesday's briefs.)
  • Peru's upcoming presidential runoff is a faceoff between the country's rural population and Lima -- Historic disparities between the countryside and the capital have been compounded by the health and economic crises brought on by Covid, reports Americas Quarterly.
  • Efforts to minimize the human rights abuses of Argentina's 1976-1983 dictatorship have shifted from a fringe view to the country’s conservative political elite. In response, a group of legislators from the ruling Frente de Todos coalition have introduced three separate proposals to punish the denial, apology, minimization or justification of the state terrorism committed by the dictatorship. They have modeled their bills after laws in Germany, France, Belgium, Spain and Switzerland against Holocaust deniers, reports Vice.
  • A small boatload of indigenous Zapatistas are making a journey across the Atlantic to “invade” Spain, five hundred years after Hernán Cortés violently conquered Mexico -- Guardian.
Did I miss something, get something wrong, or do you have a different take? Let me know ...

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