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Cali takes on mantle of Colombia’s ‘capital of resistance’ 

In giant white letters, the names of anti-government protesters killed in latest weeks are written on a most important avenue within the Colombian metropolis of Cali: Nicolás G, Marcelo A, Jovita O, Yeisson A, Cristian M, Daniel A, Jeisson G.

Most had been below the age of 25. The youngest, Jeisson García, was 13.

Colombia has skilled a wave of violence previously month. What began as protests towards tax reform have advanced right into a extra radical name for an overhaul of the nation’s financial mannequin. Protesters are seething over police brutality, inequality, corruption, lack of alternatives and a number of different points. The hatred for Iván Duque’s conservative authorities is palpable.

Whereas there have been deaths throughout the nation, it’s hanging what number of have occurred in Cali and the encompassing area of Valle del Cauca. Of the 58 folks killed nationwide, 31 had been in Cali and an additional eight within the area, based on Indepaz, a non-government organisation.

Against this, the capital Bogotá has registered three deaths and Colombia’s second metropolis, Medellín, only one.

The federal government has recognised 17 deaths nationwide, about half of them in Cali, a metropolis of two.3m folks within the restive south-west of the nation.

“Cali has turn out to be the epicentre of the discontent,” mentioned Sebastián Lanz of Temblores, an NGO which has been monitoring the violence. “We’ve seen members of the safety forces armed to the tooth attacking civilians who’re exercising their professional proper to show.”

The names of individuals killed in protests are written on a most important avenue in Cali © Gideon Lengthy/FT

The explanations for Cali’s emergence as Colombia’s “capital of the resistance” are disputed.

Many residents blame poverty and inequality, each of which have risen sharply in the course of the pandemic, however authorities statistics recommend these points aren’t any worse than elsewhere in Colombia.

One other rationalization is the medicine commerce. The Cali cartel of the Nineteen Nineties has been dismantled however the metropolis remains to be awash with cocaine and well-armed, violent criminals — extra so than Bogotá or Medellín.

The homicide price in Cali is 48 per 100,000 inhabitants, far larger than in Bogotá (13) or Medellín (14), which has shed its repute as Colombia’s homicide capital.

There’s a lot confusion over who’s doing the killing. NGOs say safety forces are liable for the overwhelming majority of deaths. The police say they by no means fireplace on peaceable protesters and solely flip their weapons on criminals, vandals and individuals who fireplace at them first.

The federal government blames “terrorists”, “legal teams” and leftwing guerrillas. It says parts of the nation’s conventional Marxist guerrilla teams — the Farc and the ELN — have infiltrated the protests.

Cali, Columbia map

Diego Arias, a former leftwing guerrilla and now an analyst in Cali, says there’s most likely some fact to the declare. That’s the reason the police in Cali face such heavy weaponry and reply in type.

“The police in Cali really feel they’re getting into a battle zone, not policing a protest,” he mentioned. “And whenever you’re at battle you fireplace instantly at your enemy, not into the air.”

Final week, 22-year-old police officer Juan Sebastián Briñez was shot useless as he and his colleagues tried to cease folks looting at a grocery store within the poor Cali neighbourhood of Calipso. “I’ve by no means seen something prefer it or heard a lot taking pictures,” fellow officer Marvin Lisalda mentioned as he recovered in hospital from his wounds.

One of many extra worrying facets of the violence is the looks of armed civilians who’ve opened fireplace on protesters. In early Might, they attacked a convoy carrying indigenous activists by way of the town, injuring about 10 folks. The identification of the attackers stays unclear, however native residents blame employed thugs working for drug traffickers.

There are different, racial and ethnic, dimensions to the protests. Cali has one of many largest black populations in Colombia and a few protesters say the town’s police drive is a racist establishment.

Demonstration in Cali
Many of the demonstrations in Cali have remained peaceable in the course of the day © Gideon Lengthy/FT

The south-west additionally has an enormous and vocal indigenous inhabitants. On the primary day of the protests, indigenous activists in Cali ripped down a statue of Sebastían Benalcázar, the Spaniard who led the sixteenth century conquest of this a part of Colombia.

Social media is awash with info and misinformation. Grotesque movies present our bodies which have allegedly washed up within the River Cauca, supposedly individuals who have been kidnapped in the course of the protests. Demonstrators say a whole lot have “disappeared”.

Regardless of all this, most protests are peaceable. In a single such scene final week, 1000’s gathered at a park that has turn out to be a rallying level.

Dad and mom introduced younger kids. Protesters waved the Colombian flag. Feminists, indigenous activists, Afro-Colombians, college students and conventional leftists got here collectively below a searing solar to hearken to speeches and music.

The environment was festive. The police stayed clear, and protesters drifted away peacefully at nightfall.

“There’s been an try and stigmatise the protest and depict us all as vandals however there are all types of individuals right here,” mentioned María Alejandra Lozada, a 26-year-old nurse who divides her time between the protests and treating Covid-19 sufferers in a public hospital.

However at night time, the taking pictures and destruction begins. Within the poor neighbourhoods of Siloé and Calipso on the town’s fringes, gunshots might be heard many evenings. On Tuesday night time, arsonists destroyed the court docket of justice within the close by metropolis of Tuluá.

There was a backlash towards the violence and vandalism in latest days. On Tuesday, 1000’s of individuals wearing white marched peacefully in silence by way of Cali, calling for reconciliation and an finish to the bloodshed and blockades.

However there is no such thing as a signal that the demonstrations will finish quickly.

“We have now to maintain going and never lose momentum,” mentioned Mar Sánchez, considered one of Cali’s protest organisers. “We additionally should work to make sure that this effervescence generated by the protests is mirrored within the elections in 2022. We will’t stage demonstrations for a month after which, when the elections come round, vote for a similar outdated folks once more.”

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