Siloé is a maze of intricate streets lost in a western slope of Cali, the epicenter of the protests that have raged Colombia for a month, leaving 43 dead across the country, according to the Ombudsman’s office. The humble Cali neighborhood is one of the most combative places in the city.
Dozens of people stay on the roundabout that gives access to the place saying they are not ready to give up their struggle until there are solutions to their problems. Many of them are youngsters on the front line, wearing rudimentary signs, consisting of traffic signs or containers, and wearing protective measures such as bicycle helmets or motorcycle knee pads.
The main problem with the place, most agree, is the lack of opportunities for young people, which often leads to crime and violence, in what is called the ‘red zone’ by most of the citizens of Cali there are invisible borders established by armed groups in the region that cannot be crossed.
“It’s very difficult to be young here. When you are 18, thank God he kept you alive. It is difficult to know your identity card (DNI). Wherever you go, say that They come from Siloé and one of them gives you respect, “says a young protester, who asks not to be identified.
The pandemic has further exacerbated the problems of a humble neighborhood founded a century ago that has expanded in recent decades with the massive arrival of displaced people from the armed conflict in Colombia, including many Indigenous or Afro-Colombians who have fled nearby regions are like Cauca, Chocó or Nariño, where the war is still tough.
Unemployment has risen to 20 percent of the workforce. Multi-dimensional poverty affects almost one in four people, and some young people see gangs or drug trafficking groups as the only way to bring bread home.
“Here education has become a victim. All of a sudden we have government agencies that give us credit to study, but in the long run they subject us to living half our lives to pay them what they loaned us in those young People are affiliated with organizations that are not best suited, says Juan, a young man who was injured by a bullet in his foot.
He complains that the police shot him dead two weeks ago during an operation in the area. He did not go to the hospital for fear of being prosecuted. “It was risky to go to a health post and be associated with terrorism or vandalism,” says the young man.
It’s not an isolated complaint. The night of May 3rd was bloody in Shiloham. The neighbors were holding a sit-in when more than a hundred officers showed up at the scene. Local residents recorded videos of firearms. Four young people died that night, and neighbors denounce that this was due to police bullets.
“We were here in the roundabout and were attacked with prohibited rifle shots and nine millimeters. Not even the bullets will stop us. We continue to fight and resist. The government has to guarantee that we will be heard and that no one will be buried here. One more Drops of blood, “claims another young man, holding the bullets that were allegedly fired by the police in his hand.
“I’m asking the police not to be murderers,” he says, showing dozens of gunshot wounds that have pierced nearby stores, such as a kiosk, bakery, or lottery shop.
“There was an unfortunate circumstance, slightly, aggressively and deliberately against the municipality of Siloé,” said the Mayor of Cali, Jorge Iván Ospina, of the events of May 3rd, assuring that it would be done behind the back of a consistory that ” never “would” allow “the use of firearms against a community” and demand that the case be brought “to the last courts of international justice”.
The police say that there are also firearms in Siloé and that they were shot.
“We want a dialogue. Reach an agreement and understand each other. The idea is no more deaths. It is no longer war. We are tired of so many wounded that they kill us one by one for our rights. We are not the enemies of the.” Police. We are only defending our rights. This is a peaceful strike. They are doing it armed, “says another young man with a handkerchief on his face, who is demonstrating at the Siloé roundabout.
“There are no options here,” he repeats, like most of the neighbors. It is also their reason to keep protesting. “Many people from the neighborhood prefer to go to other countries to be exploited because it is the best. There are no exits here and even less from a lower class, with little education and no resources”, he complains.
Iván Duque’s government is in negotiations with the unemployment committee, while protests continue across much of Colombia.