WOLA: Advocacy for Human Rights in the Americas

Understanding the Crisis in Colombia: Perspectives from Cali on Dialogue, Justice, and Healing

11:00 a.m. - 12:30 p.m. EDT Tuesday, 18 May 2021

(AP Photo/Andres Gonzalez)

The United States Institute of Peace (USIP), Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), and Latin American Working Group (LAWG) cordially invite you to a virtual event:

Precipitated by widespread protests over the last two weeks, Colombia’s national convulsion has had dramatic impacts across its diverse geography. The country’s third largest city of Cali, however, has experienced the most alarming levels of unrest and deepening of social wounds and divides. Sending sparks over a tinderbox of racial and socioeconomic inequality, generalized anxieties and political frustrations, initial peaceful marches as part of the national strike on April 28th morphed into levels of widespread anger that led to attacks on infrastructure and government buildings. Efforts to avert further unraveling were ineffective, in part, due to heavy-handed police crackdowns, including incidents of abuses and the killing of protesters documented by the UN. While halting some looting, these operations entrenched pre-existing animosities with the security forces and the political elite. Cali’s youth, sadly, make up the vast majority of the 45 deaths and hundreds of injured and registered disappearances in the city.

This escalation cemented confrontational frontlines and road blockades throughout the city, which despite efforts at ensuring “humanitarian corridors” have been viewed as responsible for generating scarcity of gas, food, and critical health products amid surging covid cases. Generalized fear and mistrust has also been exacerbated by the emergence of groups of armed civilians targeting protesters, harkening back to the country’s dark history of paramilitary tactics. Similar indiscriminate attacks on indigenous marches and subsequent violent responses also deepened cultural tensions in Colombia’s most racially diverse metropolis.

Countless voices have repeated calls for dialogue, yet the fresh wounds of violence, demands for justice, as well as the broad nature of popular resentment and frustration have remained clear challenges in the talks that have been initiated by Cali’s mayor and national authorities. To provide deeper perspectives on the drivers and dynamics of the crisis as well as the opportunities to transform them through dialogue, we have organized a diverse panel of key voices from Cali.


Event Details:
Tuesday, May 18, 2021
11:00 a.m. – 12:30 p.m. EDT


This virtual event will be in Spanish. Simultaneous interpretation to English will be available.

Jorge Ivan Ospina
Mayor of Cali

Francia Márquez
Afro-Colombian Social Leader

Alexander López
Senator and Labor Leader

Irene Vélez-Torres
Professor and Human Rights Defender

John Jairo Hoyos
Congressman and Victim’s Leader