Ecuador’s Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities (Conaie) pledged its support to the national strike in Colombia that began Thursday. “We stand with our brothers and sisters of Colombia and are gratified to see that the fight for people’s rights has spread throughout the Andean region,” Conaie said in a Twitter statement.
Hundreds of thousands of Colombian pensioners, students, teachers and union members, as well as members of the indigenous community, marched through the streets of the country’s major cities Thursday. Although protests began peacefully, violence erupted later in the day as police fired tear gas into crowds and vandalism was reported in Bogota, Cali and Medellin.
Police vehicles and buses were reportedly burned in Bogota and Cali Thursday night.
Conaie President Jaime Vargas said the fight for human rights is the same in Ecuador, Colombia, Chile and Bolivia. “This is a crusade against the abuses of rightwing, neo-liberal governments that have rejected the rights of labor, bowed to the wishes of the IMF and World Bank, sold off public assets and worked to defend the interests of the rich and powerful,” he said. “In Colombia, the fight is also against the massacre of hundreds of community leaders. Colombia is one of the most violent countries on earth and the government does nothing to stop it and, in many cases, encourages it.”
Vargas said that protests and strikes will continue. “We have met with some success in Ecuador and Chile and understand that together we are powerful. This uprising will not end until true justice is achieved and the rights of the people are respected.”
On Thursday night, Colombian President Iván Duque said he was listening to the demands of the protesters. “We are paying close attention and concede there is much work to be done to correct problems,” he said. “I am willing to talk to leaders of today’s events if it can be done in a peaceful atmosphere.”
Duque warned, however, that vandalism and violence will not be tolerated and said he was granting extraordinary powers to local governments to combat it.
In recent months, Duque’s public support has dropped dramatically as crime rates have risen in Colombia. An October poll showed his popularity at 23 percent.