Why so many Colombians are protesting so long

Mass demonstrations, now in their fourth week, signal a demand for an end to politics of hate and polarization.

Colombians in Bogota take part in a May 19 protest demanding government tackle poverty, police violence, and inequalities in healthcare and education.

Anti-government protests in Colombia have now entered their fourth week, which is unusual enough for one of Latin America’s stronger democracies. The numbers are also atypically big, with tens of thousands on the streets at a time in most cities. Another notable is the range of voices, from urban youth to rural poor. And the number of their complaints spans from corruption to police brutality to a proposed tax hike that first triggered the protests.

Most remarkable, however, may be a popular demand for the new style of politics.

“What seems to be ruled out is the continuity of the politics of hatred and polarization that have characterized Colombia in the past several years,” writes Mauricio Cárdenas, a former finance minister, in Americas Quarterly. “Governing from one side of the political spectrum is a recipe for disaster.”

Colombians see a disconnect between their daily problems and politics marked by divisiveness and acrimony. “They are telling the traditional politicians that they are ready to replace them in order to make the country more democratic, less corrupt, less unequal,” states Mr. Cárdenas.

Before the protests began April 28, many people already had high expectations of political reconciliation. In 2016, the government entered a peace pact with the country’s largest rebel group, the FARC, or Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. The agreement promised to bring the rebels into politics and end a half-century of war. But slow implementation of the pact is now one of the protesters’ grievances.

With elections due in 2022, public opinion has shifted against the conservative president, Iván Duque. He is trying to reach out to youth but his popularity has only fallen. “We are looking at a citizenship that is more committed and involved,” said political analyst Laura Gil in a YouTube forum.

Among Latin American countries, Colombia ranks relatively high in its capability to combat the No. 1 complaint of the protesters – corruption. It has a high level of civil society, investigative journalism, and education, according to Transparency International. Now, protester Miguel Morales told BBC, “We need to make good choices in next year’s election.” By the size and duration of the protests, the choice seems to have been made.

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