Colombia’s President Ivan Duque met with union leaders on Tuesday in an apparent effort to avoid mass anti-government protests next week, but without results.
In a weird ceremony at the end of the meeting, Duque and the representatives signed what would be a redundant agreement to respect the right to protest and reject violence.
Unions, students organizations, indigenous groups and dozens of other organizations reiterated that the anti-government protests on Thursday next week would continue.
Banking association president Santiago Castro said banks may close that day “because in the past there has been destruction and there have also been physical attacks on bank branches.”
Duque anticipating violence
Ahead of the meeting, Duque said that “we cannot let hatred end up burning the streets. This country needs to prioritize construction rather than destruction.”
Duque’s political patron, controversial former President Alvaro Uribe, claimed on Saturday that “foreign anarchists and violent groups” would seek to benefit from the protests.
The president and Uribe’s far-right Democratic Center (CD) party have consistently confused criticism and opposition with hatred. The CD is notorious for disseminating disinformation.
Hate groups like the “Aguilas Negras” support Duque and Uribe and have threatened anyone who opposes or criticizes the president with death.
The president may have lost control
The labor unions organized the national strike in October in protest at the government’s widely rejected economic policies.
Additionally, Duque’s party and business leaders came up with controversial proposals to pay young people less than the minimum wage and allow companies to pay per hour.
The unions were later joined by student organizations, indigenous groups and dozens of other organizations in rejection of violent repression of protest and the systematic assassinations of human rights defenders and community leaders.
The president has consistently refused to attend any of the organizations or their concerns over corruption, political violence and labor rights. Duque is now facing an accumulation of demands and calls for his resignation.
The president’s party received a beating in local elections last month and Duque is suffering a record low approval rating.
Peace movement Defendamos la Paz has organized manifestations and events before and after the national strike to celebrate the three-year anniversary of a peace process fiercely opposed by the president’s party.
The South American contagion
Duque has seen political allies and adversaries stumble or fall throughout South America that has seen a wave of mass demonstrations.
Bolivian President Evo Morales fled his country on Wednesday after alleged election fraud triggered the military to “suggest” him stepping down.
Chilean President Sebastian Piñera, a close ally of Duque, was forced to agree to far-reaching constitutional reforms after his mismanagement of public discontent escalated and more than 20 died.
In Ecuador, President Lenin Moreno was forced to cancel a disputed austerity package to end two weeks of protests that left seven people dead.
Venezuela, Brazil, Uruguay, Peru and Argentina have also seen substantial and sometimes violent anti-government protests this year.