42 people have been killed during the anti-government protests that began two weeks ago amid discontent fueled by growing poverty and inequality during the pandemic, Colombia’s human rights ombudsman said.
The government agency added that 168 people were reported to have disappeared during the protests, which were to continue, and the human rights ombudsman said 24 people were killed in the protests and 89 were missing.
The new numbers from the Ombudsman are similar to those recorded by Temblores, a nongovernmental group that tracks police violence. Templores said on that 40 people were killed during the protests in incidents of police violence, while a policeman was stabbed to death while trying to stop a riot.
Colombian police have been widely accused of using excessive force to disperse demonstrations and riots that began on April 28 after the government tried to raise taxes in what it said was an attempt to reduce its deficit and raise funds for health care and social services.
The government withdrew its $ 6.7 billion tax plan on May 2 and the finance minister resigned the next day, but protests continued across the country. Protesters are now calling for demands that include police reform, implementation of a basic income plan for 10 million people and free education in public universities.
The Colombian economy shrank by 7% last year, leaving millions of people without work due to pandemic-related restrictions. This increased frustration with the government, which had failed to meet demands made during the previous wave of protests in 2019.
On Monday evening, the government’s peace commissioner, Miguel Ceballos, said President Ivan Duque’s administration was ready to sit down with the protest leaders to negotiate some of their demands. Ceballos asked the United Nations and the Roman Catholic Church to mediate the talks.
Protest leaders met government officials earlier on Monday and said that basic conditions for negotiations, such as security guarantees for protesters, were not met. Protest leaders are expected to respond to the government’s new offer later this week.
Protests are being organized as coronavirus infections reach record levels in Colombia, where more than 78,000 people have died from COVID-19, the disease the virus can cause. Last week, Colombia averaged more than 15,000 new infections per day. The current rate of infection is five times greater than it was at the beginning of March