Protesters play music during a Saturday march Downtown. Credit: Hillary Flores/Block Club Chicago

DOWNTOWN – Carolina Gomez came to the United States from Colombia five years ago to pursue her dreams. But she’s still working to make things better in her home country — which is why she joined protests Downtown over the weekend.

Colombia’s major cities, including Gomez’s native Bogota, have been enveloped in protests for weeks. The government has cracked down on the unrest in violent fashion, with residents telling reporters officers have fatally shot protesters and disappeared people to try to stamp out the unrest.

Gomez and hundreds of others marched Downtown on Saturday, rallying against the government’s actions.

“We decided to make ourselves seen today in Chicago and tell our people from afar that we are with them. Even if we can’t be there, we’re there in spirit and we’re doing this for them …,” Gomez said. 

Protesters march Saturday near the Colombian consulate. Credit: Hillary Flores

The protests started in late April after the government proposed lowering the threshold at which it could tax people, increasing taxes on businesses and eliminating exemptions for individuals. The move was designed to help the government amid financial woes during the pandemic — but critics said it would have pushed many Colombians into poverty.

The government withdrew the proposal after several days of protests, but activists were outraged by the violent crackdown on people speaking out, spurring more unrest.

At least 26 people have died, 900 have been injured in connection to the protests and dozens of people are missing, according to ABC.

Gomez, a Logan Square resident, blamed the losses on Colombian officials.  

“To be an activist and protest in my country is considered suicide, and that’s why we took the streets to protest [in Chicago]. Because we don’t want to be killed anymore and because we want to express our thoughts,” Gomez said. “We want the right to march in the streets and speak out against what we disagree with.”

Gomez said the current government of Colombia does not represent her. She left Colombia because she felt like she didn’t have the tools to support her family and pursue her dreams there.

“We’ve been with an oppressive government for many years, with a government that doesn’t listen to our youth, with a government that doesn’t believe that education is the tool for a better future, but believes that guns and funding police and military forces is the solution,” she said.

A protester holds up a sign during a Saturday march Downtown. Credit: Hillary Flores/Block Club Chicago

Other people at Saturday’s protest, like Santiago Mojica, said they’ve been worried and frustrated about being far from family members who are still in Colombia.

But Mojica said he wanted to march to let his family and other Colombians know outsiders are listening to their pleas.

Mojica said the financial situation in Colombia has made his family there desperate. He left the country to seek opportunities in the United States.

“I’m here alone, but with God’s help, seeking a better life … . I have my whole family in Colombia,” Mojica said. “My brother tells me he has to stay in the house all day listening to the gunshots from his apartment … . That’s what they tell me, that the situation is just truly very difficult.”

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