Colombian protesters in Calgary feel alone and unheard

For weeks the streets of Colombia have been flooded with young people protesting the education system, healthcare, increased poverty, corruption, and the use of violence and harassment by their current government, President Iván Duque. The peace deal of 2016 no longer applies.

Many Colombians outside the country in other nations, including here in Calgary, are rallying (peacefully) to make these issues visible and raise awareness to the suffering that is escalating and continuing to ensue in Colombia right now — but they’re struggling to get their message out.

Local media’s response to their rallies: silence

“We go to City Hall and stay there for hours in support of Colombians, and we get recorded for a few seconds in the news and they take our stories, but ultimately we feel alone and that nobody wants to hear from us, ” says Marian Lasso, Colombian Rally organizer here in Calgary. “I don’t know what the main idea is for the media here when they look for stories, but apparently the story of Colombia is not one of them.”

Let’s dive in… 

On April 28, 2021, the Colombian government proposed a new tax reform that was positioned as an answer that would help mitigate the effects of the pandemic on the Colombian population and economy.

Poverty in Colombia has increased over 40% since the pandemic hit Colombia, Lasso tells us.

“After one year of the pandemic, people are suffering from not only being unhealthy, and the global emergency, but from the situation happening in the country,” Lasso explains. “Many have lost their jobs and a lot of people are eating just once a day because they don’t have the means or the economic resources to get food.”

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Obviously, something needs to be done, but Colombians have once again been let down by the lack of support from their government, and this tax reform was their tipping point.

“The government didn’t help at all during the pandemic,” explains Lasso. “The people hoped they would implement social programs and offer financial help, but instead they proposed this new tax reform would put a 19% tax on all basic services and needs.”

This includes everything from basic food like eggs, milk, and cheese to water, electricity, gas, and transportation. “The basic things Colombians need to survive.”

“Instead of helping Colombians financially, the government decided to take what they weren’t getting from the big companies, from the poor lower and middle class,” says Lasso, adding that the strike on April 28 signified that Colombians have had enough.

Although the Government rescinded the reform after a few days of protest, this was the tipping point for much larger issues for Colombians widespread throughout the country.

“Many Colombians are still on the streets protesting against reforms regarding the labour system, the health system, and the patient system, but mainly they are protesting the violent police response and human rights violations of the government.”

These protests are different from the usual resistance the country is used to.

For starters, this is the first time that a massive movement in Colombia has been led by the younger generations, explains Eliana Torregroza, a born Colombiannow living in Calgary.

“Huge movements of young people leading the resistance for the first time and they are doing it in a very peaceful way. They are utilizing the mediums of music, art, and visuals. They’re painting the whole country with the history so that the memory will be in the streets for a long time — they’re actually changing everything and how they’re going about it. It’s crazy to see.”

Police there have responded by avidly removing these art pieces while implementing excessive force against the protestors.

“Several young people have been injured and killed through police brutality,” says Lasso. “One of the friends in our rally group here in Calgary had a friend in Colombia who got a bullet in their hand from one of the policemen.”

Ironically, despite the upheaval throughout the country, Torregroza tells us that over 70% of the population in Colombia agrees with the protest, which is a first.

“The country is usually very polarized, but for once it’s mostly aligned. The history of the country is changing and the resistance isn’t against any one person, or the actual politicians, rather the people are just tired of the constant corruption and violence.”

“For the first time, it seems like the country is awake.”

What is the message from the Colombian community in Calgary?

Many in the Calgarian Colombian community have friends and family back in their home country, so understandably it’s still very important to them, explains Lasso.

“Many of our friends and family are going to the strikes in Colombia and with that anything could happen if this goes on for any longer. We hope that somehow this ends before more people are harmed and killed.”

Their rallies in Calgary are done in peace, with the message that they want the killings in Colombia to stop and the government to find another way through conversations and agreements with the people. Through their rallies they are urging the Government of Canada and Calgarians to stand with Colombians in solidarity, help spread the news, and raise awareness so that there is a soon end to the massacre’s insight.

Calgary can expect to see lots of artistic and visual representations of Colombia In the streets in the coming weeks.

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