By MANUEL RUEDA and CHRISTINE ARMARIO, Associated Press
BOGOTÁ, Colombia (AP) — Colombian President Iván Duque held a two-hour meeting Tuesday with a protester steering committee but neither side was able to agree on a clear path forward and demonstrators vowed to hold a new national strike instead.
Diogenes Medina, a union organizer on the National Strike Committee, said protesters want a separate dialogue with Duque rather than inclusion in the “national conversation” that the president has begun with various societal sectors.
“We’re willing to keep talking,” he said, while adding that, “We’ve told the government we want an independent initiative and are waiting for their response.”
The talks appeared to be the most promising avenue out of nearly a week of daily demonstrations bringing students, workers and other Colombians upset with Duque’s government to the streets. Absent a quick resolution, the organizers said they would intensify their street protests in the days ahead.
“The government has not given a response to the points presented,” student leader José Cárdenas said. “The reasons for the strike continue.”
The new strike will come nearly a week after 250,000 Colombians marched in one of the nation’s largest protests in recent history. In the days since, there have been smaller demonstrations, leading to the deaths of three people in looting incidents and an 18-year-old student who was fatally injured during a protest.
Protesters are demonstrating about issues including entrenched corruption and environmental damage.
“We’re in a terrible state,” said Blanca Rocha, 60, a housewife who supports the protests. “The country is taking a step backwards every day.”
Vice President Martha Lucía Ramírez described the meeting between Duque and protest leaders as “constructive” and said the government shares many of their concerns, including improving education and work opportunities.
Duque launched what he calls a “national conversation” with diverse sectors of society on Sunday aimed at including citizens in drafting solutions – and prefers a conversation in which not just the National Strike Community is at the table.
“The president is opening a much broader space,” Ramírez said. “In any event, the president has invited them, when they want to return, to sit at the table.”
Protest leaders presented Duque with 13 requests. Activists oppose rumored pension and labor reforms that the government insists do not exist, but which have nonetheless been discussed by think tanks and ministers.
Associated Press writer César García contributed.