In the aftermath of the national strike, Paro Nacional, which drew out large crowds in every Colombian city, and protest called by the country’s largest trade unions, three cities took the day leading by example: Medellín, Barranquilla and Pasto.
In all three cities, the marches that started peacefully in the morning, ended peacefully at night, punctuated by many acts of valor, civility and repudiation by demonstrators to acts of vandalism.
Colombia’s second-largest city, Medellín witnessed an estimated 80,000 heading to the city’s center and when, near the University of Antioquia, students saw several masked youngsters spray painting the façades of buildings, gathered together pieces of cloth and began cleaning windows of graffiti.
While local authorities feared that vandals would target the Metro de Medellín, the entity was left unscathed, with police patrolling stations to ensure commuters could reach their homes or workplaces in safety, regardless if they marched or not. Passengers also heeded messages from Metro de Medellín regarding delays on the A-Line, waiting patiently in line, while at the same time in Bogotá, the city mass transit system TransMilenio was being barraged by encapuchados.
As flames burned into the night in the locality of Suba, in Bogotá’s north, and historic Plaza de Bolívar militarized, in Medellín, Mayor Federico Guttiérez was taking to the airwaves thanking residents for having carried out their civic duties and exercised their democratic right.
In Barranquilla and Pasto, the march was characterized by carnivalesque floats along each city’s most emblematic streets, with the capital of Atlántico jump-starting their UNESCO-listed Carnaval, three months ahead of schedule. Pasto, departmental capital of Nariño, also known for a colorful January carnival – Blancos y Negros (Blacks and Whites) – residents were keen to march, many waving flags and dancing to traditional Andean music ensembles. The governor of the department, Camilo Romero, praised the day as one in which “the force of the South” was heard across the nation.
Other cities that also deserve recognition for organizing peaceful protests are Cartagena, Villavicencio, Bucaramanga and Santa Marta.
In Cali, capital of Valle del Cauca, a curfew had to be declared late Thursday after motorized police were attacked with sticks by demonstrators, and road infrastructure vandalized. By nightfall, in the affluent neighborhood of Valle del Lili, several residents took justice in their hands by protecting their homes with firearms.