The night and the barricades of Cali, focus of popular anger against the government in Colombia, they exude fear. The shots “are in the early morning”, say the protesters, who do not sleep an eye.
Young people feel the police siege that they repress during the day and at night, when “they can walk in civilian clothes”, they shoot, according to the testimonies of several members of the so-called resistance, with whom the AFP agency spoke at three points of the mobilization that has been going on for almost a month and half.
Out of the trenches drug trafficking groups are pointed out as undermining the protest, exasperated with blockages that deplete his activity.
The attacks come from “armored vans” approaching the barricades in the dark.
“That’s why we are the zombies, the ones who don’t sleep,” says “Rojo”, a 33-year-old protester who protects himself under that nickname for fear of reprisals. When you remove the gas mask, your face reveals sleepless nights.
Rojo is in Puerto Resistencia, one of the most active points of the protest in Cali, the third city in the country with 2.2 million inhabitants.
Poverty, inequality and fury
Impoverished by the pandemic, the middle class exploded on April 28 in the streets when President Iván Duque wanted to raise taxes.
Although the president withdrew the proposal, the repression ignited an unprecedented protest movement that left more than 60 dead in more than a month of protests. Only in Cali there were 18 deaths the first week.
The Ombudsman’s Office, which documented the cases, maintains that the public force is allegedly involved in eight of the homicides, while the police count one dead and 17 wounded by gunshots in their ranks.
A protester displays several bullets fired during clashes with police in Cali, Colombia, in late May. Photo: AFP
When everyone started shooting, the government ordered the troop deployment to support the police, who were denounced for multiple abuses before the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, on an extraordinary visit in Colombia until Friday.
Although viral videos abound about High-end pickup trucks from where fire was allegedly opened on protesters, the police have not received any complaints.
“The people are not trusting the institutions,” acknowledge two reserved officers.
According to a medical source who attended five night attacks, who asked not to be identified due to threats, the wounded ask not to be taken to hospitals so as not to be “prosecuted.”
By day, calm prevails in the Puerto Resistencia camp. Boys play volleyball and neighbors browse the small library set up by protesters in a destroyed police station.
A group of young people rest on a barricade, during a protest against the government of Iván Duque in Cali, Colombia, days ago. Photo: AFP
But when night falls around these “islets of anarchy”, named after the government, the police harassment it is permanent: searches that end in beatings, humiliations, arbitrary detentions.
The NGO Human Rights Watch (HRW) denounced police brutality and speaks of up to 20 homicides at the hands of state agents throughout the country.
Here “we are all ready to lay down our lives,” explains Byron, 30, who wears a covered face and a brass shield.
“We have been in rebellion practically by the lack of opportunities. Every day it is more difficult to eat,” he adds.
Cali, Colombia’s third largest city, became the epicenter of anti-government protests since late April. Photo: AFP
Some of those who stay up late in the “first line” of action claim to have weapons to repel attacks, others show makeshift shields, sticks and stones.
The role of drug trafficking.
A civil authority, a neighborhood leader and a human rights official believe that the violence does not only come from state agents.
The three, who requested a reservation given the severity of the crisis, agree that drug trafficking also decided to suppress the protest.
The drug dealers or distributors were affected by the semi-paralysis of the city. Mafia customers no longer enter neighborhoods for fear of riots.
Faced with this situation, some infiltrated camps “to commit crimes, such as trafficking, consumption, everything that has to do with narcotics,” says General Juan León, local police commander.
Security forces patrol the streets of Cali, in maximum tension since the end of April. Photo: REUTERS
Violence and lack of opportunities
Several of the 10 blockades that suffocate Cali are in the “invisible borders” imposed by the gangs in one of the cities with the highest murder rate in the world: 47.9 per 100,000 inhabitants in 2020.
But stigmatizing the demonstrations would be a “historic mistake,” warns Mayor Jorge Iván Ospina.
The protesters are between 15 and 35 years old. They are informal workers, students, or unemployed professionals because of the pandemic that threw 3.5 million Colombians into poverty.
These “young people have always been cannon fodder” for illegal groups, but now they have the support of the popular classes since “the pandemic made them feel that the cause was common,” explains Archbishop Darío Monsalve.
The Duque government, which still does not get an agreement with the protesters, Try to forcefully end the locks.
But “if the neighbors do not find a” fundamental solution to their problems, “it is a matter of days, hours and months for us to have” new roadblocks again, “says Ospina.