Vanesa protects herself from the hail of tear gas, stones and streams of fire hoses, which in Colombia often lead to protests only with protective goggles, a helmet, a headscarf over the nose and mouth and a flimsy black wooden sign.
The mother of three children is one of a group of 10 women who call themselves “Front Line Moms” and take part in the protests to protect young people from alleged police violence.
The Andean country has seen demonstrations and thousands of roadblocks for almost a month. Although the protest leaders made advance arrangements for talks with the government late Monday, they have promised that demonstrations against inequality and police abuse, among other things, will continue.
“If our children fight, if our children march, we mothers will support them and fight together with them,” the group sang at a recent protest.
Vanesa, 39, lost her job as a tango dancer due to the coronavirus pandemic and started selling coffee on the street.
“We are a group of single mothers who are now trying to fight for the violated rights of young people,” said Vanesa, who refused to share her last name.
The group can be seen on social media videos, one of which shows a sonic grenade thrown by police that exploded during a demonstration nearby.
Vanesa said the mothers were inspired to take action after participating in a protest in which the national standby force tearfully gassed a group of protesting mothers and children.
“That was the spark to decide that we would do something different,” she said.
The government says only 17 deaths are directly related to marches, while human rights groups are calling for dozens more. The attorney general said they found 290 missing people and are looking for 129 more.
Whole families have joined marches marked by poverty, which rose to 42.5% last year, and high unemployment, which has already exacerbated deep inequalities.
“We are tired of the fact that there is no work, that there is no health care, that we don’t even violate our rights to protest,” said Vanesa as protesters queued for a meal in south Bogota that was watched by police.
Other similar groups of mothers have sprung up in cities, including Western Pasto.
Vanesa asked the police to respect the protesters.
“They have mothers too.”