Colombia’s indigenous peoples lead peaceful anti-government protest


Labor unions, teachers, civic organizations and student movements marched to Bogotá’s central square Plaza de Bolívar following the caravans of the indigenous Minga, representing communities across southwestern Colombia.

After four days in which members of the Misak, Guambia, Nasa and Inga tribes came to the capital to accompany the National Strike – Paro Nacional – as of Wednesday afternoon, the marches were being conducted in peace with major roads cleared to facilitate the movement of thousands of demonstrators toward the historic center.

With the Indigenous Guard protecting the anti-government protestors from potential vandals and violent infiltrators, the representatives of the Minga officially handed-over during a ceremony on a stage facing the Capitol, the protest to the National Strike Committee, before returning on a 500-kilometer journey to their ancestral territories. The Minga came to Bogotá to protest against the killing of their social leaders and failed implementation of the peace accords with the demobilized Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla. According to human rights organizations, 164 indigenous activists have been killed so far this year by illegal armed groups fighting for control of lucrative drug routes between coca-growing regions and the Pacific coast.

The Paro Nacional – hashtagged at #21O – comes eleven months after mass mobilizations began against the right-wing government of President Iván Duque and followed popular uprisings in many Latin American nations. The list of grievances of protestors against the government includes environmental issues and police brutality. With the presence of the Indigenous Guard securing peaceful protest inside the Plaza Bolívar, the National Police’s Anti-Riot Squad – ESMAD – lined the façades of banks and historic buildings several blocks away from the gathering. And despite traffic congestion near the colonial district of La Candelaria, the city’s mass transport system TransMilenio continues to operate without blockades and acts of vandalism.

Wednesday’s protest marks the second time the Minga has come to Bogotá since the declaration of the national health emergency over coronavirus. In July, members of the country’s indigenous peoples also participated in a day of protest despite initial objections by Mayor López over hosting outsiders as new daily cases of COVID-19 infections were rising in the capital. Mayor López decried the government’s promotion of a Tax Free Day – Día Sin Iva – in June, yet welcomed the Minga to Bogotá on Sunday, even as the city registered average daily cases of coronavirus near 1,200.

The Ministry of Health’s bulletin confirmed 2,557 new cases of coronavirus in Bogotá for October 21, raising the capital’s total since the outbreak of the pandemic on March 6 to 302,268.

The participation on Wednesday of the Minga, however, was celebrated by leaders from across the political divide for setting an example of peaceful resistance and authority. Before abandoning the capital, the sporting complex – Palacio de Deportes – which housed the Minga, was handed back to the district in impeccable conditions of cleanliness.

The National Strike Committee announced a return to the streets on November 21, exactly a year after violent protests engulfed the Colombian capital resulting in a curfew decreed by former Mayor Enrique Peñalosa.


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