May 6, 2021 By Ryan Songalia
Marchers will be on the streets of Jackson Heights Friday in support of anti-government protests in Colombia that have left at least 24 people dead.
The rally will start at 93rd Street and 34th Avenue at 6:30 p.m. and conclude at 78th Street, with a candle lighting ceremony. Similar actions have been held at the Colombian Consulate, United Nations and in Elmhurst in recent days.
The New York protests have been far less intense than the ones in Colombian cities like Cali and Bogota, which started on April 28 in opposition to a proposed sales tax plan that would raise the costs of food and other essentials.
The Colombian president, Ivan Duque, has since shelved the tax plan– although the protests have continued. They have now led to a general strike that has brought some cities to a halt.
More than 550 people have been arrested, with President Duque alleging that drug cartels are responsible for looting and vandalism amid the protests. A government crackdown has led to 24 deaths.
The United Nations has criticized the Colombian government for allegedly using excessive police force.
Queens has the largest population of Colombian-Americans of any county in the country, with an estimated 150,000 people of Colombian descent.
For Ingrid Gomez, a city council candidate and Corona resident, the struggle has been personal. Her family immigrated from Barranquila, Colombia at age 7 to escape poverty and cartel violence.
She believes that the protests have grown out of frustrations—such as from poverty and destitution— that predate the tax bill. For instance, 27 percent of Colombians live at or below the poverty line, according to World Bank data.
“A lot of this feels a little removed from me but certainly the struggles and the pain is not removed,” said Gomez, who is running for the 21st district council seat currently held by Francisco Moya. “I understand this is a moment of tremendous pain but also there is the possibility of transformation.”
Gomez says the vigil she attended Tuesday at Manuel de Dios Unanue Triangle in Elmhurst was the most impactful she’d ever attended. A crowd of more than 100 people draped themselves in Colombian flags, sang the Colombian national anthem and sang songs in solidarity with the protesters.
She says she has been heartened by the response of younger Colombian-Americans who have remained connected to the struggles of Colombians.
“There was just an incredibly passionate energy and palpable pain,” Gomez said.
State Sen. Jessica Ramos, who is Colombian-American, has spoken out against “gross human rights violations” regarding the protests in Colombia, including the protests held in Palmira and Cali, where her father’s family lives.
Assemblymember Catalina Cruz, who was born in Colombia, has been tweeting her support for protesters, and reposting videos of alleged acts of human rights violations by police forces. “I’m going to keep sharing these. We will not be silenced,” wrote Cruz.