May 19: Largest Civic Mobilization in 40 Years in Colombia

On Tuesday, May 19, what began as a commemoration of two members of the Center for Research and Popular Education (CINEP) human rights and environmental advocates Mario Calderón and Elsa Alvarado, murdered one year earlier in their apart, along with Elsas father, grew into the largest civic mobilization in more than 40 years in Colombia. Organized by a broad coalition, the Frente Amplio Social, and catalyzed by the spiral in political violence in the weeks preceding the date, hundreds of thousands of Colombians marched in cities throughout the country. "30 minutes of noise" was scheduled for 12 noon, including a general work stoppage, to drown out the sound of bullets, all to denounce the ever-worsening violence beseting Colombia. In Bogotá, when church bells rang at noon, people joined hands in a long human chain, singing the national anthem and praying for an end to the violence. Many carried photographs of their loved ones who have been killed in the violence.

Virtually all sectors of society participated, as both street children (gamines) and National Police cadets were to be found in the rallies in downtown Bogotá. Even the ministers and delegates from the more than 100 countries attending the conference of the Non-Aligned Nations in Cartagena had a minute of silence to support the Colombian people's longing for peace, at the initiative of Venezuela.

The protest was marred only by the murder of Bernabé Cortés, a television reporter, as he was on his way to cover the peace protests in Cali; Cortés was the fifth journalist to be murdered in the last eight months.

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