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Protesters clash with riot police in Medellin, Colombia Protesters clash with riot police in Medellin, Colombia  (AFP or licensors)

Colombian Bishop condemns violence amid social unrest

As Colombians take to the streets in anti-government protests, the Catholic Bishop of Buga calls for dialogue and an end to the violence.

By James Blears & Devin Watkins

Tens of thousands of people marched in Colombia’s main cities on Friday, especially in the capital, Bogota, many openly with bright banners, while others wore masks to conceal their identities.

In the city of Cali, Mayor Jorge Ospina confirmed that three people died in protests there, while a fourth person was killed on the road to Candlelaria.

Authorities say an on-duty agent of the Attorney General’s Investigative Unit opened fire on protesters who then attacked and killed him.

Mayor Ospina warned: "If there are no talks, then the spiral of violence will go on and more people will die."

Cali has become the focal point of the protest movement.

Dialogue, not violence

After a month of protests, Bishop José Roberto Ospina Leongómez, the Bishop of Buga and Apostolic Administrator of Cartago, renewed calls for an end to the violence in a letter to the people of Colombia.

“I want to tell you all that I support you with my whole soul and that I share the suffering of those who have fallen victim to the outrages committed,” he wrote. “And I reject any form of violence or outrage against human dignity and the right to live with dignity, from whatever part it may come.”

Bishop Ospina expressed his concern that the violence may be the result of “a society that long ago lost its moral compass: a people who believes they can resolve their problems without God.”

The Bishop of Buga then appealed to all people of goodwill to promote dialogue and a solution to the crisis.

Agreement but no signature

Government negotiators and protest leaders have reached a tentative agreement, but the document has stalled because President Ivan Duque has yet to sign it. So, one month in, there’s no out in sight.

The Colombian government says 17 people have died in these four tempestuous weeks. However, demonstrators insist the victims number in the hundreds, with hundreds more missing and countless arrests.

The government scrapped the tax hike they were proposing, which sparked the unrest.

But, it’s now gone much further than this, with demands for a basic salary, more job opportunities, and a full-scale investigation into the actions of riot police.

The Ministry of Finance puts the economic losses at the equivalent of 2.6 billion dollars thus far.

The ports of Barranquilla, Santa Marta, Cartagena, Tumaco, and Buenaventure are under severe pressure. Blockades and road blocks are hampering daily economic activity nationwide.

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29 May 2021, 12:44