In Colombia, the student and workers' unions march ended Thursday night with brutal cases of police repression reported throughout the country.
Colombia: Students and Unions Join in Anti-Gov't Protests
In Cauca, since roughly 3 p.m. demonstrators denounced the disproportional use of force by members of Colombia's Mobile Anti-Disturbances Squadron (ESMAD). "With no regard to the humanity of the protesters, the ESMAD leaves countless injured until now. The people of Cauca rejects these violent actions against young people, children, the elderly, and everyone who was present in the peaceful demonstration," Prensa Alternativa Cauca reported.
The national march was organized by Colombia's Central Workers' Union, the teachers' union (Fecode), and Colombia's student movement, which declared a national strike in early October to demand a higher budget for Colombia's historically underfunded public university system. Other social sectors, including pensioners and transport workers, joined Thursday's march to reject President Ivan Duque's tax reform that will extend taxes to almost all items in the basic consumer basket while providing a tax cut for corporations.
In Bucaramanga, a human rights defender told a local outlet "At this moment we are kidnapped by the Metropolitan Police of Bucaramanga." The woman, whose name was not included in the report, said that several students of the Industrial University of Santander were attacked by police with tear gas and rubber-coated bullets.
She also explained that human rights defenders present at the protests attempted to mediate with police to no avail. There are also reports of a brigade of the Colombian Army stationed at the entrance of the university. According to witnesses, they fired into the sky to intimidate protesters.
Several videos of police repression were shared through social media Thursday night. Like the one below, in which you can hear protesters chanting "without violence" and see them lifting their arms before they are fired at. Protesters respond to the explosion by yelling insults at the ESMAD.
La respuesta del ESMAD ante la marcha pacífica de estudiantes, con niños presentes.— Natalia León Patiño (@NatisDBZ) November 9, 2018
¿Son estos los protectores de la sociedad?#ParoNacional #ParoEstudiantil #ESMAD pic.twitter.com/ujJg8iugqw
"The response of the ESMAD to the peaceful student march, with children present. These are society's defenders? #NationalStrike #StudentStrike #ESMAD"
The Popular Network for Human Rights issued an official statement repudiating and warning against "arbitrary detentions and intimidations at the hands of public forces and the disappearances that students suffered at different universities."
The total number of Colombians detained, injured, and disappeared remains unknown. But the scenes of violence registered in Colombia's departments were also reported in Bogota, the capital.
Defense Minister Guillermo Botero, who has previously associated civilian protests with illegal armed groups and called for social protests to be regulated, announced he will present a bill to Congress to increase sentences to up to 50 years for people who attack members of the state's security forces.
Colombia's public education system has a 3.2 billion pesos deficit just to continue operations, and 15 billion pesos deficit to maintain quality and infrastructure. Students want to meet with president Duque to discuss the national budget and have announced a meeting with different unions to organize a national strike if the government does not recognize their demands.