longstanding frustrations to a boil.

Colombia is among the most unequal countries in the world. A report from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development in 2018 said that it would take 11 generations for a poor Colombian to approach the mean income in his or her society — the highest number of 30 countries examined.

Despite reductions in poverty in the decades before the pandemic, many Colombians, particularly the young, feel the engines of upward mobility are beyond their reach.

violence continues in many rural areas, fueling frustration.

As the protests have escalated, resulting in clashes between demonstrators and police, Mr. Duque’s government has frequently blamed the violence on armed groups it says have infiltrated the protests.

responded with force, sometimes firing bullets at peaceful protesters, according to New York Times interviews with witnesses. This has exacerbated anger.

At least 42 people are dead, according to Colombia’s Defensoría del Pueblo, a government agency that tracks alleged human rights violations. But Human Rights Watch and other organizations say that the death toll is likely higher.

The Defensoría says that it has received 168 reports of people who have disappeared amid the protests, and only some of them have been found.

In an interview, Mr. Duque recognized that some officers had been violent, but attributed the violence to a few bad actors, saying major change in the police force was not needed.

“There have been acts of abuse of force,” he said. But “just saying that there could be any possibility that the Colombian police will be seen as a systematic abuser of human rights — well, that will be not only unfair, unjust, but without any base, any ground.”

Protesters have also blocked major roads, preventing food and other essential goods from getting through. Officials say this has hampered efforts to fight the coronavirus at a time when new cases and virus deaths are at near record highs.

The defense department says that hundreds of officers have been hurt, and one has been killed, while people associated with the protests have vandalized police stations and buses.

While tens of thousands have marched in the streets, not everyone supports the protests.

Jhon Henry Morales, 51, a taxi driver in Cali, said his city had been nearly paralyzed in recent days, with some protesters blocking the roads with tires.

He had not been able to work, he said, putting him behind on his bills. “Protest is legal,” he said. But, he said, “I also have rights as a Colombian citizen.”

Reporting was contributed by Sofía Villamil and Steven Grattan in Bogotá.

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Colombia, Strained by Pandemic and Economic Hardship, Explodes in Protest

BOGOTÁ, Colombia — A teenager shot to death after kicking a police officer. A young man bleeding out on the street as protesters shout for help. Police firing on unarmed demonstrators. Helicopters swarming overhead, tanks rolling through neighborhoods, explosions echoing in the streets. A mother crying for her son.

“We are destroyed,” said Milena Meneses, 39, whose only son Santiago, 19, was killed in a protest over the weekend.

Colombians demonstrating over the past week against the poverty and inequality that have worsened the lives of millions since the Covid-19 pandemic began have been met with a powerful crackdown by their government, which has responded to the protests with the same militarized police force it often uses against rebel fighters and organized crime.

This explosion of frustration in Colombia, experts say, could presage unrest across Latin America, where several countries face the same combustible mix of an unrelenting pandemic, growing hardship and plummeting government revenue.

Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, Nicaragua and elsewhere.

Each country’s protest was different. But in all of them, people voiced their grievances over limited opportunity, widespread corruption and officials who appeared to be working against them.

Then came the pandemic. Latin America was one of the regions hardest hit by the virus in 2020, with cemeteries filling past capacity, the sick dying while waiting for care in hospital hallways, and family members spending the night in lines to buy medical oxygen in an attempt to keep loved ones alive.

The region’s economies shrank by an average of 7 percent. In many places, unemployment, particularly among the young, spiked.

significant popularity since the beginning of the pandemic, according to polling from the firm Invamer. And analysts say he is at his weakest point since he came to office in 2018.

The police and military response has made a national conversation built around compromise extremely difficult, said Sandra Borda, a political analyst and columnist for the newspaper El Tiempo.

a video, a witness can be heard shouting.

“Is he OK?” the witness says. “Can he breathe? Breathe! Breathe! Breathe!”

A passing deliveryman loaded Mr. Murillo onto his motorbike and rushed him to a clinic. There, his mother’s anguished cries were captured on tape. “Son, take me with you! Son, I want to be with you!”

Doctors could not revive him, and residents of Ibagué held a protest vigil in his name the next day.

“I asked them to protest civilly,” said his mother, “in peace.”

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In Colombia, 19 Are Killed in Pandemic-Related Protests

BOGOTÁ, Colombia — The dead include a ninth grader who went out to protest with his brother; an artist shot in the head as cameras rolled; and a teenager whose mother’s anguished cries of grief — “son, I want to be with you!” — have been shared thousands of times online.

At least 19 people were killed and hundreds more injured during days of protests across Colombia, in which tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets to demonstrate against a tax overhaul meant to fill a pandemic-related fiscal hole.

On Sunday, President Iván Duque announced that he would withdraw the current proposal, and instead seek a new plan, this time borne out of consensus. “The reform is not a whim,” he said, “the reform is a necessity.”

South America in particular, has been especially pummeled by the virus, and many countries in the region face dire fiscal conditions if reforms are not made.

Mr. Duque was among the first to try to address his country’s economic problems, and the public response here does not bode well for other regional leaders, said Sergio Guzmán, the director of Colombia Risk Analysis, a consultancy.

“This is one of those moments where a key break in society is happening,” he said. “And people are fed up and waking up to the power of the streets.”

have called a heavy-handed state response in trying to control them.

Several instances of police abuse have been captured on video in recent days, including one in which a young protester is seen kicking a police officer on a motorbike. The video shows the officer respond by shooting at the protester as he runs away.

The protester was Marcelo Agredo, 17, the ninth grader who went out to march with his brother. He died soon after, according to his father, Armando Agredo. The death was confirmed by the country’s ombudsman, a government agency that investigates human rights violations.

“You don’t take a person’s life for a kick,” said Mr. Agredo, 62, a retired taxi driver. “We want justice.”

Credit…Armando Agredo

Amid this anger, the country’s former president, Álvaro Uribe, took to Twitter to say Colombians should support “the right of soldiers and police officers to use their weapons to defend themselves” against “terrorism.”

The social media site removed the message shortly after, saying it violated rules “regarding the glorification of violence.”

deployed more military forces to the street to quell unrest.

The protests began Wednesday, and by Monday at least 18 civilians and one police officer, Jesús Solano, had died, according to the ombudsman. Among the dead was Jesús Flórez, 86, who died “apparently from gas inhalation.”

At least 540 police officers have been hurt during the demonstrations, according to the national police, while more than 100 buses have been vandalized or burned. The police said they had also identified nearly 17,000 people who were not complying with public health measures like wearing masks.

according to numbers released last week.

The tax proposal would have raised tariffs on some everyday goods and services, while keeping in place pandemic-era cash subsidies intended to help struggling people.

Ultimately, though, many in the streets said they saw only the tax hikes — and a government that they felt was out of touch with their needs.

“They have pushed us to hunger,” said Natalia Arévalo, 29, a protester in Bogotá. Ms. Arévalo, who sells clothing, said last week that a new lockdown meant to curb the spread of the virus had severely curtailed sales. “Now they want to take the little we have left.”

Some of the biggest protests have been in Cali, Colombia’s third-largest city. On Sunday, Nicolás Guerrero, a young artist, was among hundreds gathered in a northern part of the city. Suddenly, shots rang out.

A grainy video, livestreamed and watched by many, shows shouting and confusion.

Juan Gómez, a 27-year-old lawyer, was there, and watched as Mr. Guerrero bled out at his feet.

“It was horrible,” said Mr. Gómez. “I have never seen someone die before my eyes.”

“There is no proportionality,” he said of the force being used on the street. “It doesn’t make sense.”

Mr. Gómez spoke by phone on Monday. He was angry enough, he said, that he planned to head back to the streets later that day.

Sofía Villamil contributed reporting.

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In Colombia, 17 Dead in Pandemic-Related Protests

BOGOTÁ, Colombia — At least 17 people are dead and hundreds have been injured following days of protests across Colombia, in which tens of thousands of people have taken to the streets to demonstrate against a tax overhaul meant to fill a pandemic-related fiscal hole.

On Sunday, President Iván Duque announced he would withdraw the proposal, and on Monday, the country’s finance minister said he would resign.

But the decisions have done little to quell public anger, and the protests have morphed into a national outcry over rising poverty, unemployment and inequality sparked by the arrival of the coronavirus last year.

Videos of police officers responding to protesters with violent force have exacerbated longstanding anger over police abuse.

New York Times database that tracks deaths and infections.

Sergio Guzmán, the director of the Colombia Risk Analysis, a consultancy, said that the government had waited too long to rescind the unpopular tax proposal, allowing anger and resentment to spiral up.

“Now it’s much more about the way the government has run the country for two-and-a half years, it’s about the lockdowns, it’s about popular discontent,” he said. A lot of frustration had simmered over the last year amid lockdowns, he added.

South America in particular, has been especially pummeled by the virus, and many countries face dire fiscal situations if reforms are not made. Across Latin America, economies shrank an average of 7 percent last year, more than in any other region, according to the International Monetary Fund.

Mr. Duque was among the first in the region to try and address his country’s fiscal problems, said Mr. Guzmán.

But the public response does not bode well for other leaders. “This is one of those moments where a key break in society is happening,” he said. “And people are fed up and waking up to the power of the streets.”

Sofía Villamil contributed reporting.

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Children Trapped by Colombia’s War, Five Years After Peace Deal

PUERTO CACHICAMO, Colombia — At 13, she left home to join the guerrillas. Now, at 15, Yeimi Sofía Vega lay in a coffin, killed during a military operation ordered by her government.

Some of the youngest children in her town, Puerto Cachicamo, led her funeral procession, waving small white flags as they wound past the school, with its mildewed books and broken benches, past the shuttered health clinic and their small wooden houses.

“We don’t want bombs,” the children chanted, marching down a dusty road to the cemetery. “We want opportunities.”

Nearly five years after Colombia signed a historic peace accord with its largest rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, the country’s internal war is far from over.

Mass killings and forced displacement are again regular occurrences.

And young people — trapped between an often absent state, the aggressive recruitment of armed groups and the firepower of the military — are once again the conflict’s most vulnerable targets.

still grappling with atrocities committed by all sides during a conflict that left at least 220,000 dead: Did authorities know there were minors at the camp? Was the attack launched anyway?

injured civilians.

Before the peace deal, the FARC had a grip on this region, punishing petty criminals, issuing taxes and organizing work crews, all under the threat of violence. They also commonly recruited young people.

In 2016, when the FARC signed the peace deal and demobilized, its fighters left in a fleet of boats on the Guayabero River.

Three months later, the FARC dissidents arrived, said Jhon Albert Montilla, 36, the father of another girl killed in the military bombing, Danna Liseth Montilla, 16.

Voces del Guayabero, a group of citizen documentarians.

Just as the pandemic began, the government had stepped up coca eradication in the area, prompting protests from locals who saw their livelihoods in danger. Cameramen from Voces rushed to the scenes.

As the military clashed with protesters — shooting several civilians during different encounters — Danna sat in a small shop, one of the few places in Puerto Cachicamo with reliable electricity, editing the videos and uploading them to the internet over a feeble connection.

“But her desire was to be with us in the field,” said Fernando Montes Osorio, a cameraman with Voces who was shot in one clash, leaving his hand permanently mangled.

forced to resign months later, after an opposition senator revealed that he had hidden the victims’ ages from the public.

The scandal was a major test for newly installed President Iván Duque, a conservative whose party vociferously opposed the peace deal.

His critics say his post-accord strategy focuses too much on taking out big-name criminal leaders, and not enough on implementing social programs that were supposed to address the root causes of the war.

His supporters have urged patience. “We cannot undo 56 years of war in just two years,” said Mr. Duque’s high commissioner for peace, Miguel Ceballos, in an interview last year.

identified so far by the national medical examiner’s office are between the ages of 19 and 23.

he told the newspaper El Espectador. “Children must be protected when appropriate, but force must also be used.”

In Puerto Cachicamo, Custodio Chaves, 34, has not seen his daughter Karen since she disappeared two years ago, at 13.

Mr. Chaves said she was recruited by the FARC dissidents. Since the March attack, he has been consumed by worry.

“Is my daughter hurt?” he asked. “Did she suffer or not? Was she destroyed by a bomb? Is she in pieces?”

He doubts the government will ever tell him.

After “thousands and thousands of lies,” he said, “it’s impossible to believe them.”

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Colombian Official Refuses to Say if Children Were Killed in Attack on Rebels

BOGOTÁ, Colombia — Colombia’s defense minister said Wednesday that several young people were at a rebel camp recently attacked by the military, but would not confirm reports that children were among those killed, an allegation that fueled deep outrage in a nation reeling from decades of war.

In an interview on W Radio, the minister, Diego Molano, said that “young combatants,” who had been recruited and transformed into “machines of war” by criminal actors, were present at a military operation meant to target a violent armed group.

But he declined repeatedly to reveal the ages of the dead, amid reports from local officials and news outlets that one or more of those killed were minors, including a 9-year-old girl. In the interview, Mr. Molano called that information “illegitimate” and part of a “political war to give information that sought to delegitimize our military.” On the program, the host read out the names of those reported dead in local news reports.

The accusations instantly resonated in a nation scarred by decades of brutal internal war involving the U.S.-backed government, left-wing rebels, right-wing paramilitaries and powerful drug cartels — fighting that frequently included child combatants and claimed many civilian casualties. Today, the country is divided over a 2016 peace deal that sought to put an end to that era, but has had only limited success.

FARC signed a peace deal with the government in 2016, officially ending the war between the two sides. But some rebels, including Mr. Duarte, abandoned the peace deal and returned to arms.

As the FARC has pulled out of vast swaths of territory, other violent groups have moved in, turning many communities into battlegrounds between the military, old and new rebel groups, and paramilitaries. For many in Colombia, the war has not ended.

President Iván Duque has been the subject of growing criticism that he is not doing enough to stop the violence.

In late 2019, his former defense minister, Guillermo Botero, left his position after failing to disclose that several children died during a military raid on a criminal group.

wrote Diego Cancino, a councilman in Bogotá, the capital, on Twitter. “Minister Diego Molano, you can’t justify the unjustifiable.”

Sofía Villamil contributed reporting.

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