Colombia closes borders as it braces for a nationwide strike

President Ivan Duque, a social conservative, came to power in August 2018 and now faces widespread discontent over rising unemployment, economic reforms and a deteriorating security situation.

Labor unions, teachers, students and indigenous activists are among those set to take to the streets as protests hit yet another South American nation.

Ecuador, Chile and Bolivia have already experienced major social unrest this year as governments in the region struggle to deal with popular grievances over economic stagnation, corruption, inequality and more specific national issues.

Border closures mean any entry by land or sea from Ecuador, Peru, Brazil and Venezuela will be restricted, according to Colombia’s Migration Agency Director Christian Krüger Sarmiento.

The closures began Wednesday at midnight and will remain in place until Friday at 5 a.m., according to immigration authorities.

The government also gave local authorities permission to impose exceptional measures such as curfews, restrictions on freedom of movement and bans on the sale of alcoholic beverages, according to a statement from the president’s office.

In a series of videos posted on Twitter, Duque said he recognized peaceful protest as an expression of democracy and acknowledged that Colombia faces multiple challenges.

Duque spoke out against those he said saw protests as an opportunity for “agitation,” and called on protesters to demonstrate peacefully.

“We will guarantee public order and we will defend, with all of the tools our constitution gives us, the right of Colombians to live in peace,” he said.
Venezuelan refugees recruited as child soldiers in Colombia: Report

Student groups and labor unions called the strike citing a package of economic reforms they have christened the “paquetazo.” Duque has denied his government is planning significant labor or pension reforms.

The president has also faced major criticism for his handling of the peace process with the FARC rebels, and his defense minister was forced to resign in early November over the death of at least eight children during an army operation that took place in August.

Authorities have been gearing up for the protests, and Bogota police tweeted a cinematic video showing officers in riot gear firing teargas and marching through the streets.

Duque’s popularity has plummeted since he came to power over a year ago.

According to an August 2019 poll by Gallup, 64% of respondents disapproved of his rule and just 29% said he was doing a good job.

CNN’s Tatiana Arias contributed to this report.