A review of the police in Colombia – the organization for world peace

Protests continue across Colombia against police brutality as the statue of famous colonizer Christopher Columbus was toppled by protesters in the coastal town of Barranquilla. Since April 28, demonstrators have been active in the streets of Colombia, initially rejecting a tax reform project that would have removed tax exemptions for employees and increased taxes on businesses. The escalation of the protests was caused by a violent government crackdown on the protests, citing concerns over COVID-19 as the rationale for the police response. Protests escalated further following the violent measures, causing injuries to more than 2,300 civilians, security forces and the deaths of more than 60 people.

The protesters mainly come from historically discriminated and disadvantaged communities, such as indigenous groups in Colombia. In their report of June 7, 2021, Amnesty International has described the alarming number of people they say are missing as a result of the nationwide strike; “The Working Group on Enforced Disappearances identified 775 people who feared going missing, 327 of whom remain unknown. ” Gloria Gómez, coordinator of the Association of Families of Detainees and Disappeared, said that “some people, when arrested, shout their name and ID”, underlining the desperation and difficulty in recovering the detainees people.

The protesters are calling for the disbandment of the riot police and that every member of the security forces who committed unjust acts of violence be held accountable by an independent body, rather than by the military courts which are currently dealing with each case. In response, President Iván Duque’s right-wing administration announced harsher prison sentences for vandalism, roadblocks and attacks on police. Critics point out that with increasing prison sentences, the government is effectively criminalizing protests. Human Rights Watch condemned the government’s response, calling on members of the Colombian national police for committing “gross abuses.”

Police methods in Colombia treat every peaceful protest as a violent protest, which stigmatizes peaceful protesters and groups them with violent protesters. Frequently, policing is strictly aimed at dismantling uprisings of Marxist-Leninist ideology or other left-wing political groups that are known to threaten the Colombian government, rather than ensuring the safety of Colombian citizens. Colombian police respond effectively to each demonstration as a threat to national security. By viewing citizens as threats to the nation, the government prevents people from supporting its ideals and breaks support for the police force in Colombia. In September 2020, following the death of local lawyer Javier Ordóñez at the hands of the police, the rate of disadvantage granted to the police has reached a historic rate of 64 per cent.

Violent police are further engulfing a nation that has struggled enormously with COVID-19. Police are creating new problems for a population that has suffered an extraordinary increase in poverty during the COVID-19 pandemic, as 3.6 million people have been pushed into the poverty zone. With a violent police response to protests, rather than a de-escalation tactic, there is little room for peaceful coexistence when individuals are targeted for expressing their ideals. According to a BBC News article, the Colombian defense minister claimed left-wing rebel groups had infiltrated the protests. This approach is likely an attempt to diminish and undermine the reputation of protesters and to show Colombians that President Iván Duque only seeks the ideals of his political party and not the citizens he is supposed to represent. With this response, his party unwittingly feeds its political opponents, showing that the president and his administration will take any protest as an alleged attack on his party and use violence as a response.

President Iván Duque’s administration has failed to defuse police violence in Colombia during times of unrest. The administration has systematically used the police force to maintain the status quo rather than to facilitate peaceful transitions within Colombia. Police reform alone will not solve Colombia’s problems; however, it is a necessary step to create pathways for further change in the region. President Duque clearly fears an uprising by the National Liberation Army and a takeover of Marxist-Leninist ideology within the Colombian government. His administration’s mistreatment of protesters, who are predominantly indigenous, further separates his government from public support. Therefore, gradual change cannot occur with continued oppression and silence of voices. People’s concerns about government policies, policing, the response to COVID-19, and corruption must be discussed openly to ensure that the Colombian public is fairly represented. President Duque’s administration currently employs an adversarial mentality, which increases division and resentment towards his party and further throws individuals into opposing categories.

When international politics are at stake, there is no doubt that the United States has significant influence over Colombia and its government. Without any international pressure on the Colombian regime, there is little chance of reform. Since the Cold War period, the United States has supported the government of Colombia while countries such as the former Soviet Union, Cuba, Libya and more recently Venezuela have funded the National Liberation Army. It is evident that the United States has historically opposed Marxist ideology, creating an American incentive for a strong Colombian government. However, allowing police brutality to occur during protests and harming civilians who already face horrific conditions such as displacement, limited reproductive rights, extreme poverty, and indigenous isolation will cause the public to consider his government as an enemy of the people. It would be in the interests of Colombians and the United States to condemn police violence during protests, so that the country can evolve into a government that represents their interests and security.

Ideally, a lot should change with police reforms. However, open dialogue and honest discussion will renew the lost trust in the Colombian government, ensuring that the wishes of the people are heard and that the government actively tries to improve conditions. Real change cannot happen unless those who are suffering make improvements in their lives. Censoring individuals on the basis of their personal beliefs will create additional resentment towards the Colombian government and strengthen outside groups like the National Liberation Army. In situations such as illegal roadblocks, all efforts should be made diplomatically to improve equality and economic opportunity, rather than resorting to lethal force in an attempt to maintain order. The police must protect the rights of Colombian citizens, not just the protection of the current regime.

Previous Colombian government offers reward for capturing snipers from presidential helicopter - MercoPress
Next IACHR makes 40 observations to Colombian government regarding social protests - MercoPress