Anti-government demonstrations have been ongoing for two weeks, as people protest proposed tax reforms, rising inequality, and police violence
Tomorrow (May 12) will mark two weeks since mass protests broke out in Colombia. Demonstrations initially began on April 28 in opposition to a proposed tax reform, but have since escalated due to shocking police violence and rising inequality in the country – both of which have been exacerbated by the pandemic.
Alongside horrific footage of police brutality, defiant videos have emerged on social media, showing LGBTQ+ protesters vogueing through the streets. In one clip, demonstrators can be seen dancing to the beat of drums as they march with a crowd, while another shows a group of trans and non-binary people vogueing as riot police surround them.
LGBTQ+ people have been subjected to rising violence over the last year, with 63 people killed in the first eight months of 2020. Among those were 17 trans women, 12 gay men, six lesbian women, and one trans man, as well as others from the LGBTQ+ community whose sexual orientation and gender identity weren’t specified.
“During the pandemic, prejudice and discrimination have been exacerbated,” Colombia’s human rights ombudsman said in a statement, “while obstacles to accessing justice… increased.” The organisation also cited 36 cases of aggression by police officers.
Riot police have also been shockingly heavy-handed during the current demonstrations. On May 4, the United Nations’ human rights office said it was “deeply alarmed” by reports that the police had opened fire on protesters, and accused law enforcement of using excessive force. 11 investigations into alleged misconduct by the police are reportedly being carried out, including one report of an officer kicking a protester in the face.
As well as plaguing the recent protests, instances of police violence have sparked demonstrations in Colombia over the last few years. In November 2019, tens of thousands of people took to the streets after a teenager, Dilan Cruz, was killed by a projectile fired by riot police during anti-government protests. Then, in September 2020, seven people were killed in protests sparked by the murder of 46-year-old lawyer Javier Ordóñez, who was filmed begging for his life as officers repeatedly tasered him for drinking a beer in the street.
Alongside police violence, protesters are also demonstrating against a now-suspended tax reform, which would have lowered the threshold at which salaries are taxed, affecting anyone with a monthly income of $626 (£443) or more. The government argued that the rises were essential to ease Colombia’s economic crisis.
However, activists say the reforms would disproportionately impact the country’s poorest people, who are already facing deepening inequality due to COVID-19. During the pandemic, 3.6 million Colombians have been pushed into poverty. Those unable to eat or feed their families have begun hanging red flags outside their homes to show their need for help. “We need to make sure the world knows we exist,” one woman told The Washington Post. “We have nothing to eat. We depend on good-hearted people who pass by and see the flags. That is how they know we are hungry.”
See footage from the protests above and below.