On November 21, 2019 there were nationwide strikes and protests in Colombia. We look at the reasons for Colombia protests and tips for foreigners to stay safe.
Potentially millions in Colombia took to the streets on November 21 in protest over the government’s economic policies.
Many Medellin Guru readers asked about the reasons for these protests and if they should stay home on this day. So, we look at some of the reasons for these protests and provide some tips for foreigners to stay safe during these protests in Colombia.
Editors note: national protests continued for two months in Colombia after the first nationwide protest on November 21 and we have updated this article multiple times.
See our January 21 update below for protest locations in Medellín on Tuesday, January 21, 2020.
Reasons for the Colombia Protests
The date of the national strike on November 21, was set early in November by trade unions, student organizations, opposition parties, state educators and groups representing indigenous communities who are opposed to the economic reforms of the Duque government in Colombia.
Recent mass demonstrations in Colombia by students protesting corruption in public universities, helped the paro nacional (national strike) scheduled on November 21 gain momentum.
A corruption scandal involving a credit card and a Netflix account sparked a recent wave of student protests in Colombia. Two university officials at Universidad Distrital were accused of embezzling more about $3 million USD with a public university credit card account between 2012 and 2019.
The scandal shed light on ongoing corruption at universities in Colombia. Also, students have been protesting to demand that the Colombian government comply with its agreement that guarantees an additional 4.5 billion COP for higher education in the budget.
In addition, a Congressional inquest into the aerial bombardment on August 29 of a FARC dissident camp that resulted in the deaths of 11 combatants and 8 children added fuel to the protest movement. The alleged cover-up of the deaths involving minors illegally recruited by dissidents forced the resignation of the Defense Minister Guillermo Botero last month.
Furthermore, the deaths of over 800 human rights activists, social leaders and demobilized FARC combatants from January 2016 to May 2019 including over 230 social leaders since Duque became president has resulted in ongoing criticism of the Duque administration by left-wing parties and movements. And these deaths provide another reason for protesting.
During the nationwide strike, Colombian students, farmers and workers will also reject government initiatives such as the proposal to reduce the salary of young people up to 75 percent of the minimum wage, plans to eliminate public contributions to the pension system and attempts to privatize companies.
The nationwide protest in Colombia has multiple reasons with many participants, which makes this essentially a major protest against the Colombian government.
What Are the Security Measures for the Colombia Protests?
The government of Colombia has enacted tough security measures to guarantee public safety during the nationwide protests on Thursday, November 21.
This includes a decree that gives mayors and governors “extraordinary powers” to ban liquor sales, restrict the carrying of weapons, and declare a curfew. In Antioquia where Medellín is located, there is a ban on liquor sales from 11:59 pm on Wednesday, November 20 until 8:00 pm. on November 21.
In addition, Colombia’s Armed Forces have been placed on high alert for Thursday’s protests with 8,000 soldiers reportedly deployed to Bogotá, Medellín, Cali, Barranquilla, Cartagena, Bucaramanga, Pereira and Pasto.
For example, in Medellín, the Colombian Army will provide support to Medellín’s Metropolitan Police to protect the Medellín Metro and other transportation infrastructure. On Wednesday, November 20, higher levels of security can be already be seen in some of the metro stations in Medellín.
Furthermore, the Colombian government will close all its overland border crossings at midnight on Tuesday, November 20, to prevent foreigners from infiltrating the protest marches. The borders will be closed until 5 am on Friday, November 22.
Where Are the Protests in Colombia on November 21?
The biggest Colombia protests will be seen in the biggest cities in Colombia including Bogotá, Medellín, Cali, Barranquilla, Cartagena, Bucaramanga, Pereira and Pasto. Millions are expected to participate in the nationwide protests in Colombia on November 21.
In Bogotá, the protest marches will start at about 9 am in the following locations before heading to Plaza de Bolívar.
- Gobernación de Cundinamarca: Avenida El Dorado with Calle 51
- Universidad Nacional: Avenida El Dorado with Cra 30
- Parque Nacional: Carrera 7 with Calle 39
- Sevillana: Calle 30 Sur with Carrera 34
- San Juan de Dios: Avenida Caracas with Calle 9
- Chicó: Calle 100 with Carrera 11
In Medellín, the protest marches will start at many locations as early as 6 am and have different routes in the city as seen in the following map from the Medellín Mayor’s office.
The local Colombian news in other cities in Colombia will have stories (in Spanish) about where protests will be located in other cities.
Tips for Foreigners to Stay Safe During Protests
These are expected to be huge nationwide protests in Colombia with hundreds of thousands expected to participate.
The protesters in Colombia have repeatedly said their protests are planned to be peaceful. But with so many protesters and many police and military working to maintain order, it is possible that some of the protests may become violent.
For example, recently in Ecuador and Chile, protests became violent. And in September and October in 2019, student protests in Bogotá turned violent.
Here are four tips for foreigners to stay safe during these protests:
- Stay away from the protests – these protests are NOT tourist attractions, as some foreigners I talked to recently seem to think. You are taking some risk participating in these protests or going to take photos. The above map of the protest marches for Medellín provides an easy way to determine where the protests are located. Stay safe by staying away from these areas.
- Stay at home during the day – if you want to watch the protests, stay at home and watch on the news. The protest marches also disrupt transportation in the big cities in Colombia. So, if you don’t have to go out, simply stay at home and be safe. Also, some businesses in Colombia close during protests.
- If you go to the protests bring ID and follow police orders – if you decide to go see the protests or participate, keep in mind that Colombian law requires people to carry ID. So, bring your ID or a photocopy. The marches are expected to be huge with a big police presence. Make sure to follow the orders of police that are trying to maintain order. And follow our Colombia safety tips.
- Is it safe to go out at night? – it depends. The protest marches are scheduled during the day and are expected to end by late afternoon. We recommend watching the news to make sure the protests have ended before going out. Some Medellín events have been scheduled on protest days and a few were canceled in the past. So, if going to an event on a day of protests make sure the event isn’t cancelled.
Aftermath of the Protests – November 25 Update
In the aftermath of the national strike in Colombia, which drew out large crowds in every Colombian city, three cities took the day leading by example: Medellín, Barranquilla and Pasto. In all three cities, the marches started out peacefully and ended peacefully at night. The protests have continued in some cities in Colombia but are mostly small, with the major exception of Bogotá.
The protests on November 21 turned violent in both Bogotá and Cali. In Cali, protesters blocked roads and vandalized mass transit buses, and the mayor called for a curfew.
In Bogotá, 68 stations of the Transmilenio transport system were attacked, as well as 66 buses. In addition, the Capitol (which houses both houses of Congress), the Palace of Justice and the Liévano Palace, which is headquarters of the City Hall were attacked. Police in Bogotá had to deploy teargas to disperse protestors.
In addition, the protests continued for several days in Bogotá and the mayor had to resort to curfews to calm things down. And on Monday, November 25, Bogotá braced for the fifth day of protests.
According to the figures released by Bogotá’s Personería (Ombudsman) – 120 civilians have gone to medical facilities Bogotá for injuries sustained during the last four days of protests. And Colombia’s National Police also suffered high numbers of injuries with 182 members reportedly attacked in the line of duty since Thursday’s “day of peaceful protest” in Bogotá turned violent.
November 26 Update
Protest leaders in Colombia called for a general strike after talks with President Ivan Duque failed to encounter a breakthrough. At least four people have been killed in the conflict with police, including an 18-year-old student that drove protesters back to the streets.
So, widespread government protests continued in Bogotá for a sixth day in a row on November 26. And larger protests spread to Medellín in the afternoon on Tuesday after several days of relative calm in Medellín.
Protests in Medellín blocked some roads in the afternoon on Tuesday and caused chaos with traffic not moving in some areas in Medellín for an extended period. And the protests in Medellín and the Aburrá valley went on from 3 pm to 8 pm at several locations on Tuesday.
Reportedly, Colombian unions and student groups will hold another protest on Wednesday in honor of the teenage demonstrator who died after being injured by a tear gas canister.
The protests on Wednesday, November 27, in Medellín start at 8 am at entrances to the Palace of Justice (Palacio de Justicia) (Alpujarra) and at 9 am the protests will at the Alpujarra government complex in El Centro.
And at 1:00 pm in Parque de las Luces, there will be a rally to reject the acts of violence that occurred in the demonstrations and the confrontations with Escuadrón Móvil Antidisturbios de la Policía (ESMAD riot police). Teachers will join students and workers at Parque de los Deseos at 3:30 pm with a march to Parque de El Salvador in Buenos Aires.
And additional protests in Medellín on Wednesday are scheduled at 5:00 pm in Parque Juanes de la Paz in Castilla and Parque Belén in Belén, 6:00 pm in Parque de Los Deseos and Parque El Poblado and 7:00 at Parque de La Milagrosa and Parque Principal of Itagüí and at 8:00 pm at the Mayor’s Office of Envigado.
November 28 Update
The protests in Colombia continue on Thursday, November 28, in several cities in Colombia including Bogotá and Medellín.
According to information from the Medellín Metropolitan Police, the following are location for protests on November 28 in Medellín and the Aburrá Valley:
- Protest and march at the La Estrella metro station at 4:40 am
- Protest and march in the main park of Copacabana at 6:00 am
- Protest and march at the roundabout of Avenida San Juan with Avenida 80 at 6:00 am
- Protest by students at the Poblado metro station and Politécnico Jaime Isaza Cadavid at 3:00 pm
- Protest at Parque de Las Luces in El Centro at 6:00 pm
- Protest at the Madura metro station at 6:30 pm
December 3 Update
Nationwide protests return to Colombia on Wednesday, December 4 against the social and economic policies of President Ivan Duque.
On Monday, the Colombia government asked the unions and student groups that make up the National Strike Committee to call off the Wednesday protest and agree to a dialogue with the government. But the head of the Central Union of Workers (CUT) responded “We are not going to suspend the strike, the order to strike tomorrow Wednesday, December 4, is maintained.”
The following is the schedule of protests in Medellín on Wednesday, December 4:
- 7 am – Protesters start near Jardín Botánico and march along Carrera Carabobo to Calle Barranquilla and arrive at Punto Cero, where they will meet with students.
- 7 am – Students from public universities (Nacional, Antioquia, ITM, Colegio Mayor, Pascual Bravo y Tecnológico de Antioquia) will meet at Punto Cero at 7:00 a.m. and an hour later they will march to Minorista and Avenida Ferrocarril to the entrance of Sena where more protesters will join.
- 9 to 10 am – Marchers will advance towards the Parque de las Luces, where they will arrive between 9 am and 10 am.
- 10 am – Protesters from Itagüí, Caldas, San Antonio de Prado and Sabaneta meet in Parque Envigado and march to Parque El Poblado in El Poblado. And after arriving at Parque El Poblado, protesters will continue down Calle 10 to Avenida Las Vegas and head north.
- 4 pm to 5 pm – Protesters are expected to arrive at Ciudad del Río, where a concentration with cultural and musical activities is scheduled.
December 10 Update
On Tuesday, December 10, national protests continue in Colombia, which have been going on for just over three weeks. Since November 21, hundreds of thousands of people in Colombia from all backgrounds have been marching to protest in large and small cities and even in rural areas. Colombia hasn’t seen such protests in several decades.
In Medellín, on December 10, the protests start at 1 pm at Parque de las Luces in El Centro and the protestors will march to Parque de los Deseos arriving at about 4:30 pm where there will be a concert called “symphonic pan”. The protests on December 10 in Medellín appear to only impact areas in El Centro.
December 21 Update – More Protests on December 22
The mobilizations for the national strike, which began on November 21, continue in Medellín on Sunday, December 22. More than 40 local and national artists will join in a new day called #MedellínResisteCantando.
These protests on Sunday are three cultural caravans that will travel through different areas of the city until they reach La Alpujarra. Iconic local groups such as Tr3s of Heart, Alcolirykoz, Altered States, Crudo will be part of the tour/march to protest peacefully.
The organizers of the protest describe Sunday’s protest as a platform where musical and performing artists can express their positions and opinions in the discontent that unemployment represents.
The marches will leave at 9:00 on Sunday from three points in Medellín: Cementerio de San Javier, parque de los Deseos and Parque El Poblado with routes as follows:
- Cementerio de San Javier (in Commune 13) – will go down the Avenida San Juan (44th street) to tthe 80th roundabout to head north to La Floresta . From there continue until carrera 70 until San Juan and from there continue to La Alpujarra.
- Parque de los Deseos – for those north of the city where they will mobilize along the Carabobo sector, going up calle Barranquilla Street to Carrera 50. From there, the route goes along Avenida Oriental to Parque Boston, then down Avenida La Playa to Girardot to Avenida San Juan to La Alpujarra.
- Parque del Poblado, in the south, go down Calle 10 and take the 65th to La Alpujarra.
January 21, 2020 Update
Tuesday, January 21, 2020, the national strike in Colombia resumes its activities after a break during the holidays. The Comité Departamental del Paro Nacional has extended through its social networks, the invitation for a protest march that will travel through a few routes in Medellín, starting at 9 am.
At 9 am, protestors will concentrate on two meeting points. One is at Parque de los Deseos in El Centro. This group will cross Avenida Ferrocarril and pass in front of Sena to reach Parque de las Luces. The second meeting point is at the intersection of San Juan Avenue with Carrera 65. This second group of protestors will cross the river to reach Parque de las Luces.
Both protest groups will meet at 10 am at Parque de las Luces in El Centro, in front of the Alpujarra, and march together along Avenida Industriales to Parque del Poblado. At 5 pm, there will be a cacerolazo there. A cacerolazo is a protest which consists of a group of people making noise by banging pots, pans, and other utensils in order to call for attention. There were no protests scheduled south of Parque del Poblado.
The protest on January 21 in Medellín was different than the past, which were mainly peaceful protests. On January 21, along the protest route some vandalism was done with graffiti painted on some banks, metro bus stations and other businesses. There were reportedly four detainees, two policemen injured, walls and glass with graffiti and journalists assaulted.
Also, Esmad, the riot police, were called out in El Poblado due to attempts to damage property, such as the nearby Dann Carlton hotel and attempts to incinerate a police motorcycle.
- Educator protest in Bogotá in 2017, photo by Baiji
The Bottom Line: Colombia Protests: Tips for Foreigners to Stay Safe During Protests
The Colombia protests on November 21 were huge with 100s of thousand participating. This nationwide protest in Colombia has multiple reasons with many participants, which essentially makes this a major protest against the Colombian government.
You can easily stay safe from these protests by simply staying home during days of protests. Plus you will avoid the disruptions of transportation that are expected in the biggest cities in Colombia.
The bottom line, if you don’t have to go out on the days of protests, stay safe and stay home. And if you do go out take extra precautions and try to stay away from the protest marches.
Protests are fairly common in Colombia and in other countries in Latin America. There have been many protests in Colombia and Medellín in my over 8 years living in Medellín. And I have never encountered a problem but I stay away from these protests.
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Editors note: updated on November 25, 2019 with information about the aftermath of the the protests in Colombia on November 21.
Editors note: updated on November 26 2019 with updates on the protests in Colombia.
Editors note: updated on November 28, 2019 with information about protest locations in Medellín on November 28.
Editors note: updated on December 3, 2019 with information about protest locations in Medellín on December 4.
Editors note: updated on December 10, 2019 with information about protest locations in Medellín on December 10.
Editors note: updated on December 21, 2019 with information about protest locations in Medellín on December 22.
Editors note: updated on January 21, 2020 with information about protest locations in Medellín on January 21 and information about vandalism during the protests.