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‘Starving us’: Young Colombians say bleak futures pushed them toward widespread protests

‘Starving us’: Young Colombians say bleak futures pushed them toward widespread protests
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Thousands of young people and college students have been at the forefront of Colombia’s antigovernment protests for more than two weeks, armed with improvised shields made from garbage cans and umbrellas.

They have taken the brunt of the tear gas and gunshots from security forces, and dozens have paid for it with their lives.

The young men and women have become the voices for Colombians fed up with a government they say has mismanaged the coronavirus pandemic and crushed hopes of a better future.

“To a large extent, we found that there was no fear of death. Sometimes it is the only thing that remains when the system is starving us and there are no opportunities,” said Yonny Rojas, a 36-year-old law student who also runs soup kitchens in one of the poorest areas of Cali, the city where the government response has been especially violent.

The students didn’t begin the demonstrations, which erupted on April 28 when unions called people into the streets after President Ivan Duque’s government tried to raise taxes on public services, fuel, wages and pensions, effectively squeezing the middle class. That protest drew tens of thousands of people across the South American nation.

The administration withdrew the proposal four days later, but it was not enough to quell the discontent that had simmered during the pandemic. Anger grew with reports of police brutality, deaths and disappearances of protesters.

Despite more than a half century of nearly constant civil conflict between the government and leftist rebels, Colombia is among the wealthier nations in the region, with one of the highest levels of university education in Latin America.
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