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As national strike reaches one-month mark, what's next for Colombia?

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Image by PBI-Colombia.

The national strike that began in Colombia on April 28 has reached its one-month mark with no sign of ending anytime soon.

The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has reported that at least 1,038 demonstrations during the national strike have resulted in "deaths, disappearances, injured persons and sexual assaults as a result of the disproportionate and illegitimate use of force" by the police. And yet, or perhaps because of this, the protests only appear to be gaining momentum.

What began primarily as a strike against a controversial tax reform bill has burgeoned into a much broader indictment of the Colombian government on a range of its policies, including its failure to protect the lives of human rights defenders and social leaders.

To help answer what's next at this critical juncture, Peace Brigades International-Canada is convening a webinar on Thursday, June 3 with front-line voices from Colombia.

It will feature human rights defenders Berenice Celeita, Oscar Ramirez and Danilo Rueda.

Celeita from the Association for Research and Social Action (Nomadesc) has been monitoring the situation in Cali. That city has been disproportionately hit by state violence during the strike. Of the 31 people killed by the police as of May 4, 24 of those deaths were in Cali.

Ramirez from the Committee in Solidarity with Political Prisoners has been tracking the situation of those arrested. Between April 28 (the first day of the national strike) and May 24, there have been 1,388 arbitrary detentions of people participating in the protests.

And Rueda from the Justice and Peace Commission has been following the situation in the Portal de las Americas humanitarian space in Bogota. His organization says that space has seen "the indiscriminate use of conventional and unconventional weapons" by the police including rubber bullets, water cannons and tear gas.

Canadian armoured vehicles sold to the Colombian police

The webinar will also be an opportunity to explore the issue of the export of Huron armoured vehicles to the Colombian national police.

A Canadian manufacturing magazine reporting on a tendered order for 26 of these Toronto-area manufactured vehicles noted that they "will be outfitted with a cannon to wrangle unruly rioters with foam, tear gas, dyes and water."

Given the 3,155 cases of police violence that have occurred during the national strike, PBI-Canada has asked the federal minister of small business, export promotion and international trade if she has any concerns about how these vehicles are being used.

We hope to have an answer to that question by June 3.

To register for this webinar, that will have simultaneous translation in English and Spanish, please click here.

Brent Patterson is the Executive Director of Peace Brigades International-Canada. You can follow them on Twitter at @PBIcanada.

Image by PBI-Colombia

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