Bogota, Colombia – Hundreds of demonstrators took to the streets in the Colombian capital on Saturday as anti-government protests continued for a third day amid rising fear and violence.
The protests began on Thursday when more than 200,000 people took part in what they called a national strike over a number of grievances, including possible economic reforms by the government of right-wing President Ivan Duque.
While the majority of the protesters continue to demonstrate peacefully, banging kitchenware in the streets in a traditional Latin American protest called a “cacerolazo” [casseroles], some small factions clashed with security forces in Bogota and countrywide.
Three protesters have died in the unrest so far, while a car bomb in the western region of Cauca killed at least three police and left 10 others wounded on Friday.
In Bogota, where thousands of security forces have been deployed, tear gas was used on peaceful protesters, while some groups of protesters rioted at night time.
As the protests continued for a third day on Saturday, the growing violence combined with overnight curfews in Cali and Bogota – the first in more than 40 years – has left many Colombians with a looming feeling of terror.
“Imagine you’re in your bed, calm and thinking nothing will happen, then you begin hearing the helicopters, the military trucks passing through the streets, you hear the alarms of the buildings,” said 20-year-old protester Oscar Javier Diaz. “You hear weapons, next screams, shots from the security forces.”
Javier Diaz was among a group of peaceful protesters gathered in Bogota’s National Park on Saturday, wearing a rainbow indigenous handkerchief tied around his neck. He, like many other protesters, was calling for an end to the killing of indigenous and social leaders, corruption, possible economic reforms and the surge of violence in Colombia’s rural zones.
The young Colombian said he and a group of neighbours stayed up all night outside their apartment complexes with sticks to ensure that no one came to rob or vandalise their buildings.
Night-time vandalism has left stores looted and throngs of mass transit stations damaged.
“This fear that we survived last night,” Javier Diaz said, “it’s something that rural zones have had to live with for a long time. I think the city is finally starting to understand the fear and sadness that war creates.”
Shortly after telling Al Jazeera he hoped to continue protesting peacefully in the “cacerolazos”, he and hundreds of other peaceful protesters were charged and tear-gassed by police in riot gear.
On Saturday afternoon, a young protester was critically wounded when he was struck on the head by a tear gas canister. The incident spurred outrage among protesters, who later lit candles and gathered where the incident took place.