The following report was submitted by an activist in Colombia
As Colombia suffers the effects of COVID-19 on its public health and economic system, the virus is far from being the principal problem in the country. The 9th of September of 2020, thousands of Colombians from different cities of the country rose against police brutality, triggered by the murder of Javier Ordóñez by two cops the night before.
Javier Ordoñez was initially arrested for breaking the lockdown. In custody, he was tortured with electric shocks and then beaten to death by police. In the resulting protests, more were killed and injured by the police.
In response, the government adopted even more repressive measures, such as the militarization of Bogotá, where 300 soldiers, 750 ununiformed police and 850 police officers from other cities were sent in to re-establish the government’s control.
After five days of conflict between civil crowds and public forces, thirteen citizens have been killed by the police during the protests, most of them young people. Also, over seventy people have been injured with firearms and many other have been severely harmed and tortured by different means such as electric-shots, fire, and beatings with unofficial weapons. This constitutes serious Human Rights violations by the National Police in head of the government of Iván Duque Márquez.
The explosion of riots in the capital of the country is just one more example of the deep-rooted violence that determines the lives of millions of people from the most excluded and segregated regions. Only during this year, more than fifty massacres have been perpetrated across the nation by illegal armies related to drug trafficking, with presumable consent of the official armed forces (the Police and the Army). The victims? Social, environmental, Human Rights and community leaders and activists who worked at local levels. Over 900 people have been murdered since 2016 when the peace agreement was signed between the Colombian Government and the FARC guerrillas. Just during the first nine months of 2020, 152 leaders have been killed.
Historically, violence has constituted a central tool in the government’s strategies. Today is no exception. 2019 was drastically marked by displays of unrest and resistance to the social, economic, and political project of Duque’s government. In November of last year, the streets of Colombia were the scene of the biggest social mobilizations in the history of the country. Workers, students, LGBTI collectives, environmental activists, afro and peasant communities and citizens from all kind of social strata and cultural background protested against the packages of neoliberal policies in matters such as peace and security, social welfare, labour and tax reforms, or environmental laws. The answer of the government? Violent repression and persecution against protestors, manifested in the murder of Dylan Cruz, a 19-year-old student killed by an agent of the anti-riot squad (ESMAD). The iconic photograph of Cruz demonstrated how the Colombian public forces treats people who express dissent.
COVID-19 has provided President Duque with an excuse to both increase police control of civil life and to implement the unpopular reforms and policies that caused 2019’s strikes and protests in first place. Nonetheless, after five months of quarantine, the streets of Bogotá and many other cities from Colombia are full of protestors who are tired of the outrageous series of abuses by the police forces and Deque’s government.
Again, the government has answered dissent with escalating violence against protesters, and stigmatization and persecution of those who dare criticise the state.
For many Colombians, it is important to know that their struggles are being seen by other people around the world. There are numerous articles, pics and videos documenting how the circumstances have been evolving during the last months, however, the Human Rights violations committed by the police forces against the Colombian people are still unknown to many around the world. For this reason, I extend an invitation to activists and human rights defenders to get involved in raising awareness of and denouncing what is happening in Colombia.
Today more than ever, we need the world’s eyes on Colombia. We need support and solidarity as we struggle for a true, popular democracy against an intensification of authoritarian rule by the head of the narco-estate, Ivan Duque, and its political party Centro Democrático.