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Global concern for protesters in Colombia as clashes continue

21 May 2021


Thousands of people take part in a protest march through Cali, in Colombia, on Thursday

Thousands of people take part in a protest march through Cali, in Colombia, on Thursday

CHRISTIAN leaders from around the globe have called on the President of Colombia to bring an end to the violence that has now entered a fourth week. Dozens of people have been killed in clashes with police.

Anti-government protests were sparked three weeks ago by a proposed tax reform. The proposal has since been withdrawn, but the demonstrations continued, and now include calls for a basic state income and protests against rising levels of inequality in the country. Road blocks put in place by protesters have caused food and petrol shortages in the country.

Trade unions and student groups are among those who have accused the police of using excessive force against demonstrators. At least 42 people, including one police officer, have been confirmed dead. Those injured has been put at 1700, but the true figure is likely to be much higher. Hundreds of protesters have been reported missing by families.

The secretary-general of the Anglican Communion, the Rt Revd Dr Josiah Idowu-Fearon, joined leaders from the World Council of Churches, the Methodist and Reformed Churches, and from the Latin American Episcopal Church in an open letter this week, calling on President Ivan Duque to “listen to the people’s voices with empathy and without resorting to violence”.

The letter urges him to stop the spiral of violence and address the root causes of the protests. “While we acknowledge that the government is dealing with a very complex situation, we believe the focus now must not be on repressing popular protests, but rather to listen to the people’s voices with empathy and without resorting to violence, and to begin to seriously address the root causes of the mass mobilisation of the Colombian people.”

It continues: “We believe that, as head of government, you will call the Colombian authorities to remember and fulfil their primary responsibility which is the protection of the Colombian people. We pray that you will resist and reject the calls for more violence and greater use of force against activists.”

The letter promises that the church leaders will continue to monitor the situation in Colombia closely, praying for a just and peaceful resolution, and that they remain committed to supporting dialogue between the different stakeholders as the only path to resolution.

The Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States, the Most Revd Michael Curry, said that his Church stood “in solidarity with those who are protesting peacefully and who work and labour faithfully for justice and humane solutions to our problems”.

The Revd Gloria Ulloa, a World Council of Churches president, is in Cali, Colombia, and has visited protesters at four points in the city to “understand their dreams, their struggles” and the reason for their resistance and persistence in this strike.

She said: “The communities around us saw each other. They know that those who protest are not alone. We brought them hope, we told them that God is accompanying them in their struggle, and we gave them words of encouragement in the midst of their struggle.”

The Bishop of Colombia, the Rt Revd Francisco José Duque Gómez, has demanded that political leaders take “the necessary actions” to re-establish harmony. “We urge you . . . to respect life, integrity, and the right to protest, guaranteeing the safety and protection of each and every one who expresses their just claims.”

The country’s Roman Catholic bishops, who led a day of prayer and fasting for those who have died in the protests, said: “We resolutely reject, regardless of their origin, human-rights violations, acts of vandalism, blockades to mobility and the food supply, the disappearance of persons, attacks against the physical integrity of any person, and the destruction of public and private property.”

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