Bogotá vandalized as ´peace protests´ turn violent
Colombia´s capital Bogotá was the scene of riots on Friday as protesters took to the streets to vent their anger at the government´s decision to exclude citizen groups from the negotiating table as peace talks with the FARC begin next week.
The so called ´week of indignation´ was billed as an attempt by the left-wing Marcha Patriotica (MP) to provide a voice for the victims of the war, excluded from a formal role in the talks.
David Florez a spokesman for the movement argued: “We must demand the participation of the people´s movement at the peace dialogues.”
But the actions of Friday will have undermined the MP´s cause.
The organizers (of which the MP form a part) will no doubt look back on the events with a degree of shame.
As the march headed toward the emblematic Plaza de Bolívar, home of the courts of justice, congress buildings and the offices of the mayor, Gustavo Petro, it descended into chaos. Hooded and balaclava ´protesters´ hurled potato-bombs and home made missiles at police officers.
Marauding down the iconic seventh avenue they tore into shop fronts smashing windows, and launched paint bombs at the buildings of this, the city´s historic Candelaria district.
Earlier, the famous street sellers that line the seventh on the way towards Bogotá´s seat of power had been forced to flee, and this important shopping district had been shut down.
The MP themselves had the good sense not to turn up – perhaps they expected its violent end.
The movement´s leader, Piedad Córdoba is reported to have been in the southern department of Huila while leading spokesman Carlos Lozano was also notable by his absence.
Perhaps most telling is the fact this highly political march finished without even a speech from the MP.
It is tradition for a stage to be erected in the Plaza de Bolívar from which protest organizers make their case to a supposedly listening Congress whose neo-classical pillars stand proudly, merely metres away.
The right to protest is enshrined in the Colombian constitution – and a good thing too.
But Colombia Politics believes that the violence of Friday does not represent the people (it most probably does not represent the vast majority of those on the march either).
The government will involve citizens groups – but once the formal talks have been concluded.
It is essential that the peace talks are conducted in private, with as few actors as necessary. After all, the talks are about agreeing an end to the conflict itself. The process of building the peace comes later.
The MP´s hardline views do not represent the majority of Colombians. When citizens are involved the voice of the far left must not be the only view heard.
As reported on this website, the MP is the movement will become the platform from which demobilized FARC guerrillas will fight future elections.