Bogotá, Colombia – The Colombian flag’s colors are, in order, yellow, blue, and red. But recent social media posts show the flag upside down: Red comes first. Red for blood. Red for death.
Red for the 24 officially counted – and likely more – people who went to protests and never came back.
It’s been a turbulent time in Colombia since protests started April 28. People took to the streets because of a tax reform proposal at the national legislature that would severely impact the middle class.
Days later, after the violence had already escalated, President Iván Duque removed the tax reform proposal from Congress.
The protests continued afterwards because of various reasons: another tax bill is being created, a new healthcare bill is in Congress that would lower the number of people covered, the inadequate response to the killing of social leaders, and the general dissatisfaction with the government.
After a rough couple of days, Duque ordered the military to take over the streets.
The government’s response to unarmed protestors is guns: now we pay the price.
According to the government there are 24 dead, 900 hurt, and 87 missing. The numbers are rising as time goes on.
Some, such as Temblores, an NGO dedicated to defending human rights in Colombia that is now monitoring police violence, tweeted statistics higher than officially reported. On Thursday, Temblores put the death count at 37 and said 11 people were sexually assaulted by police.
These numbers have not been recognized by the government.
In the street violence, members on a human rights mission by the United Nations were threatened by local police in the city of Cali, according to an official UN Twitter account in Colombia.
Translated from Spanish, the tweet from the UN Human Rights in Colombia said, “while we were following the human rights situation in Cali there were no direct shots against the UN human rights team. However, other members of the commission received threats, shots and aggression from the police but no one was hurt.”
Yes, people have been violent. That is clear from the absurd amount of public property set on fire or destroyed, but that doesn’t excuse the government’s violent response. The military isn’t prepared to deal with civilians, it isn’t prepared to disband a crowd, it isn’t prepared to stop violence.
The military is prepared to shoot bullets until there is no one around.
The president ordered the military to act knowing that they should not be involved.
The president still defends the acts when there is proof that people were defenseless; when there was a video of a man dying on the sidewalk after a bullet hit his head and a video of a mother shouting that they should kill her, too, after she lost her only son.
In the last few weeks, Duque has proven himself incompetent in running a country – creating ‘reform’ that would burden an already starving middle class with a tax on basic necessities and ignoring advice from anyone who didn’t agree with what he’s done.
For the past few days, he’s not only proven himself incompetent but inhumane.
Violence rapidly increased on both sides, and the mother of one of the dead, Nicolas Garzon, asked for the police to stop, but nothing has been done.
Duque remains alone bathing in waters of his own ego, deaf to the shouts of the people outside his home.
The situation is critical. With various human rights violations, disturbances by the citizens including violent attacks towards the police, and abuses by the government; there is no end in sight to the situation.
The only solution must begin with Duque. He needs to stop looking at his smiling face in the mirror and instead into the angry expressions of everyone outside the window. He must listen to the people instead of telling them what he believes is best for them.
Every day he speaks about a Colombia that no one knows, a fantasy country that lives in his own head. There needs to be a middle ground where demands are met for the improvement of the country, not the improvement of a few.
Until this doesn’t happen the Colombian flag will remain flipped. Red, blue and yellow; not yellow, blue and red.
Red for blood. Red for death. Red for Colombians.
Ana Fadul is a Reporter with Youth Journalism International.