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Colombia: the death of a student feeds the protests


They prayed for days. They embraced, sang together and gave each other hope. Colombia looked at the hospital of San Ignacio in the capital, Bogota, where the student Dilan Cruz was fighting death since Saturday. In front of the hospital, countless people stood up and feared for his life. The 18-year-old was hit by a grenade of tear gas at the head during protests and mass demonstrations, fired by a member of the riot police Esmad. Perhaps also on purpose, as the videos on mobile phones circulating on the web suggest.

Hundreds of candles were burning in front of the hospital, messages were written on colored notes and posters. "Esmad Murderer" or "Stop the violence" has been read about it. It seemed that the protest that had shaken the South American country for days was focused on the fate of Dilan Cruz.

On Tuesday night, Cruz died of his serious injuries. So the demonstrations had a name. That of a student who died because he took to the streets for a better educational policy. The victim comes from the center of the society, Dilan was a neighborhood boy, unlike the many human rights activists and natives who were murdered for years outdoors, ignored by the urban public of Bogotà. They die because they hinder billions of dollars of cocaine, they want to defend the property rights of the poor against large landowners or simply hinder large construction projects.

Several hundred thousand people took to the streets in the previous days. The vast majority are young Colombians who ask for a change of direction by the conservative president Iván Duque: in social policy, in peace politics, in economic politics. They want a different company.

It remains to be seen whether the young president is able to understand these requests, let alone implement them. Duque is considered a substitute of the current state, as governor of the former president Álvaro Uribe, hated by Colombia of the left and still influential, who ruled the country between 2002 and 2010, gathering and leading the right-wing conservative, some right-wing forces like a superfather.

Despite being only 43 years old, Duque appears to be a politician of the past, from the age of the civil war ended three years ago with the former left-wing guerrilla Farc. He still sees social movements as a prolonged rebel arm, which should continue to fight. The young president represents old Colombia. The famous cartoonist "Matador" attracts him because of his squat figure like a little pig that gets busy for the impotent world events. "Porky" is what its critics call it.

The case of Dilan Cruz is symptomatic of the Colombian government's management of social unrest, anger against reprisals and political ignorance. "We are no longer afraid", shouts a group of young protesters in the "Hippy Park" in the center of Bogotá. Thousands of people join their announcement. Fear, panic, oppression, these are the words that define this protest. Esmad's police unit responsible for suppressing riots is the critics' stated goal.

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Youth in Colombia:
Anger for Iván Duque

The student Franziska, drumming her desperation, summarizes the state of mind of the protesters: "We demand social justice, a fair minimum wage and an end to violence". And since she and her companions no longer trust Duque to defend him, she asks for his resignation.

At least, the president is trying to react quickly to this growing anger. Tuesday morning, a few hours after Dilan's death, Duque met with representatives of social movements, trade unions and organizers of the ongoing general strike. He wanted to open spaces for a dialogue in which everyone could participate, he said. At the same time, police helicopters flew over the city. The mood remains tense, because the critics of Duques do not want to be sent back with simple promises: they require results. The organizers of the strike announced that they would request an indefinite strike if necessary, if nothing changes. From Monday night, after the death of Dilan Cruz, it is not just about concessions, but a completely different Colombia.