After more than a month of sustained civil unrest marked by street protests and road blockades, negotiations between the Colombian government and the strike committee, a coordinating organization that draws from unions and student groups, have reached a dead end. Last week, the strike committee announced it had unilaterally ended its negotiations, and this week, it said it would pause demonstrations for now, announcing a protest set for July 20. Each side is now accusing the other of political brinksmanship. There is little appetite for making concessions that could portray weakness ahead of elections, which may create a highly polarized election cycle.
The government has been waiting for economic losses and fatigue to make the protests unsustainable—a strategy that comes with its own major costs for Colombia President Iván Duque Márquez. More than 3,000 road blockades have been recorded, and although they may be slowing down now, the damage has accrued. According to La República, economic losses amount to $1.3 billion in May alone. Negative international press has critically compromised Duque’s reputation abroad. During the past month, images of police abuse and criticism of the failed tax reform that sparked the protests became uncomfortable front-page news for the government.
Meanwhile, the government’s negotiation strategy has required buying time, extending negotiations as much as possible, and presenting unilateral solutions to protest demands. Although there have been concessions—such as shuffling the cabinet, granting subsidies to low-income university students, improving youth employability through tax breaks, and introducing police reforms—the government is not keen on giving the strike committee credit for any of these policy changes despite the fact they have been long-standing protest demands.
Yet the strike committee is presenting a less than unified front. Although they have acknowledged road blockades and extended strikes are hurting the economy, the committee does not have the ability to end blockades nationwide, a constant demand from the government, as some blockade leaders do not recognize the strike committee. The committee has also made a series of demands that are highly unlikely to be met, including dismantling the anti-riot police unit, issuing currency to hand out additional COVID-19 subsidies, amending the country’s trade agreements, and admitting culpability for human rights abuses committed by police during the protests. Additionally, some members of the strike committee have taken advantage of their time in the spotlight to launch political endeavors of their own, making it easy for the government to dismiss their demands by arguing they should be preceded by an electoral victory and channeled through legislation.
To read more, visit Foreign Policy.