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.

View Source