(MIAMI) As Colombia enters its second week of anti-government protests, Colombians in Miami are speaking up to raise awareness on what's happening in the South American country.
"I want the people in Colombia to know they are not alone, that their Colombian brothers and sisters who are not in the country are watching what's going on, and we're doing whatever is in our hands to ensure that they are being heard." says, Maria Paula Molano, who was born in Colombia and moved to Miami at the age of 7.
On April 28, nationwide demonstrations were ignited after President Ivan Duque proposed a tax overhaul meant to close the pandemic economic shortfall. Mr. Duque withdrew the tax plan on Sunday amid the protests, and his finance minister resigned the following day. But, large demonstrations against poverty and inequality worsened by the COVID-19 pandemic have continued.
In recent days, war-like scenes have surfaced on social media from within Colombia. Photos show damage to buildings and tear-gassed demonstrators. Now, Colombians in the diaspora call out the deteriorative state in the country as their families cry for help.
Gianfranco Toro, who has lived in Miami for seven years, has communicated with his family in Manizales, Caldas, every day since the protests began. "They have been telling me how hard it is to get food. They cannot even go out to the streets because the armed forces are attacking anybody that comes close to them or the demonstrations, and that's my main concern, the fact that anything can happen to them," says Toro.
This week, the United Nations' human rights division shared a statement saying they were "deeply alarmed" by the situation in Colombia and had documented at least one case "where police opened fire on demonstrators." Amnesty International released a video highlighting instances of excessive police force during the protests.
Meanwhile, dozens of Colombians in Miami are mobilizing to organize various demonstrations around the city.
"This is a 100% peaceful demonstration. We are not supporting any political party. We are having a rundown of activities all related to the arts. Art is resistance." says Camila Luque in one of her Instagram Stories. She is one of the organizers for the "Alza tu voz por Colombia" protest or "Raise your voice for Colombia" in English, happening this Saturday, May 8th, at The Freedom Tower in Miami.
While Colombians in the diaspora remain worried about what's to come, some say organizing and sticking together has helped them cope with the news.
"I've coped with the feeling of uncertainty by ensuring that I'm doing my part, by educating myself on what's going on, by educating myself on the possible solutions." says Molano, who's also organizing a peaceful demonstration in Miami, "Unidos por Colombia" set for Friday, May 7 at 5:00 pm in Bayfront Park.
Organizers say an essential part of their mobilization effort is to pay respect to the lives lost during the protests in Colombia. They are urging those who will take part in the local demonstrations to wear white or Colombian shirts. Medical supply donations will also be accepted.
Granted, the Colombian government has come under fire by human rights groups for the heavy-handed response to the protests. As reported by CBS News, Colombia's ombudsman said 24 people – 23 civilians and one police officer – have been killed in the protests since they started April 28th.
"We are not going to remain quiet. We are going to speak for our people, for every person who has suffered in our country because they are fighting for us to have a better country. We cannot give them our back." says Toro, who says he is committed to assisting every demonstration happening in Miami for Colombia.