Colombia’s President Ivan Duque on Saturday said promoters of an anti-government national strike set for November 21 seek to “ignite the country” and are “calling for violence.”
The president made the claims less than two weeks before a national strike that was originally organized by labor unions, but has since received the support of students and indigenous organizations.
None of these organizations have called for violence. In fact, the indigenous organizations and the students joined the union strike to reject violence that has killed hundreds of social leaders since the beginning of a peace process in 2016 .
Voices demanding the resignation of the unpopular president have grown louder, especially after Duque’s far-right party that opposes this peace process received a beating in local elections last month.
Peaceful protest is a constitutional right, that’s true. But I would say the most important thing is not to let them set the country on fire.
President Ivan Duque
‘Some are calling for violence’
According to the president, “some are calling for violence or violent protest” in apparent reference to a video spread on social media in which a masked man claimed that “we will attack the security forces like never before.”
Ironically, that video went viral among supporters of Duque political patron, former President Alvaro Uribe and was immediately ridiculed.
All organizations taking part in the protests oppose violence and have called for the protests to remain peaceful.
Nevertheless, Uribe on Friday claimed that the announced protests could “serve foreign anarchists or violent groups.”
According to Uribe, “the strike called for November 21 is part of the Sao Paulo Forum’s strategy to destabilize Latin American democracies.”
We ask the competent authorities to prosecute those who incite violence and that in the case of foreigners they are jailed or deported.
Former President Alvaro Uribe
Multiple South American governments have accused the Latin American organization of leftist groups of political agitation amid a wave of political unrest in the region.
The Sao Paulo Forum, in which multiple Colombian political parties take part, has made no reference to the announced strike.
Colombia only the latest in South American wave of protests
Duque is evidently concerned about the growing number of organizations that are joining the national strike and protests in opposition to his unpopular government.
On Friday, the country’s Civil Aviation Workers Union said they would join the strike “in rejection of the massacres of social leaders, as well as the dismal policies of this government.”
The president is suffering an abysmal approval rating and has seen both political allies and adversaries throughout the region forced to make major concessions after enormous protests.
Duque has supported protests against leftist governments like that of Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and dismissed protests against right-wing allies like Chilean President Sebastian Piñera.
In Colombia, the accumulation of protests follow Duque’s failure to hold meaningful talks with the individual organizations who are now joining forces.
Furthermore, the president has tried to push through his party’s agenda without a majority in Congress.
The last national strike in Colombia was held in 2016 when labor unions protested against the policies of Duque’s predecessor, former President Juan Manuel Santos. This strike, however, was not supported by indigenous and student organizations like the November 21 strike.