At the time, the government hoped to professionalize and depoliticize work by consolidating a fragmented system into a national force, said Juan Carlos Ruíz, professor and security expert at the Universidad del Rosario de Colombia.
By the 2000s, the police had become a key player in a counterinsurgency strategy aimed at rooting out the FARC, in which the military chased rebels out of the territory and the police held that ground. The strategy worked, forcing the rebels to negotiate. And that has earned the police “a very high level of citizen trust,” said Paul Angelo, a member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
But since the peace agreement, little has changed within the police service.
Juan Manuel Santos, who was president when the agreement was signed, had long supported the dismantling of the defense ministry police. But the idea was unpopular with the armed forces, in part because the police bring money and personnel to the ministry, Angelo said. By the time Mr. Santos signed the peace agreement, he had little time in power and even less political capital. The change was never made.
Today, supporters of police reform are pushing again to move the force of 140,000 officers from the Defense Department to the Home Office – and to prioritize human rights training, to limit arming and to try officers who commit crimes in ordinary rather than military courts.
In an interview, the head of the national police, General Jorge Luis Vargas, said he presented a reform plan to the country earlier this year. But the police must not leave the defense ministry, he said.
“The situation of drug trafficking and illegal groups at the moment does not allow it,” he said, calling these issues “the main problem in Colombia”.
The protests began at the end of April, when Mr Duque proposed a tax overhaul intended to help close a tax hole exacerbated by the pandemic. Already, the country was at the forefront: after a year of restrictions linked to Covid, the epidemic was only getting worse, with poverty, inequality and unemployment.