Posted on

Colombian unions, student groups to hold third national strike

BOGOTA — Colombian unions and student groups will hold a third national strike on Wednesday amid fraught talks between protest leaders and the government over President Ivan Duque’s social and economic policies.

The strike will be the latest demonstration in two weeks of protests, which have drawn hundreds of thousands of marchers and put pressure on Duque’s proposed tax reform, which lowers duties on businesses.

The protests prompted him to announce a “great national dialog” on social issues, but government efforts to stop new demonstrations have not met with success, as the union-led National Strike Committee has stuck firmly to demands for one-on-one talks and refused to call off protests.

The demonstrations, while largely peaceful, resulted in damage to dozens of public transport stations and curfews in the cities of Cali and Bogota.

Protesters have wide-ranging demands – including that the government to do more to stop the murder of human rights activists, offer more support for former leftist rebels who demobilized under a peace deal and dissolve the ESMAD riot police, whom marchers have accused of excessive force.

Five people have died in connection with the demonstrations, which started on Nov. 21 and have occurred in tandem with protests in other Latin American countries.

The Central Union of Workers (CUT), the country’s largest union, said it would negotiate this week with the government even as protests continue.

“I invite all Colombians to mobilize massively to show the government that there is another opinion in the country, that the other Colombia has the right to be listened to,” CUT President Diogenes Orjuela told Reuters by phone early on Wednesday, adding marches must be peaceful.

Meetings between Duque’s representatives and the committee are expected to start again on Thursday.

The committee has made 13 demands, including that the government reject a rise in the pension age and a cut in the minimum wage for young people, both policies Duque denies supporting.

The government has repeatedly said the committee’s demands for one-on-one dialog exclude other sectors and that it cannot meet certain demands, including that it refrain from deploying the ESMAD.

Protesters in Bogota, the capital, are set to march from seven locations across the city on Wednesday before converging on the central Bolivar Plaza, in front of congress and a block from the presidential palace. (Reporting by Oliver Griffin, additional reporting by Luis Jaime Acosta Editing by Julia Symmes Cobb and Steve Orlofsky)