The United Nations has condemned the violent crackdown on protests in Colombia, after clashes between police and protesters that left at least 18 dead and 87 people missing.
In a week of unrest across the country, riot police rampaged through the smoky streets, shooting protesters at close range and charging crowds with their motorcycles.
At least five people have died in Cali amid renewed violence on Monday evening. The southwestern city, which has a large Afro-Colombian population, has been the scene of widespread violence since protests began peacefully with a nationwide general strike last Wednesday.
“We are deeply alarmed by the developments in Cali overnight, where police opened fire on protesters, and a number of people were killed and injured,” a human rights spokesperson for the United Nations said on Tuesday. ‘UN.
Colombian Defense Minister Diego Molano faces growing calls to resign, but insisted on Tuesday that police conduct “was under the law”.
“Our duty is to protect those who protest – and those who do not – from those who dress up and take advantage of these crowds to terrorize Colombians,” he said.
But witnesses said officers appeared to escalate tensions. “It is as if the police are waiting for night to fall so that they can get up and start shooting indiscriminately,” said a community leader in a poor Cali neighborhood who has been repeatedly attacked by police. “The bodies will pile up, the dead on the dead. “
The leader said every night brings a new cacophony: the whirlwind of police helicopters above heads as sirens, flashbangs and the crackle of tear gas dominate the streets. Protesters, seeking to block the entry of riot police into their communities, erected roadblocks made from burning debris.
“The order was to militarize the city, so that’s what’s happening,” the chief said. “We hope the international community pays attention, because so far no one else is.”
Cell phone images posted via social media showed scenes reminiscent of a war zone. In a, a bloodied, seemingly lifeless body is surrounded by a distressed crowd. “They shot him, son of a bitch!” spectators can be heard screaming. In another, a civilian is seen collapsing to the ground after a motorcycle officer hit him on the back of the head.
Temblores, a local NGO that monitors police violence, advised protesters in Cali to return home because there was no guarantee of safety. “Your life comes first and the state attacks it deliberately,” they said. tweeted.
The authorities are investigating reports that members of a United Nations humanitarian mission have been threatened and attacked. The city’s airport, from which more than 25 flights depart every day, is now closed. Roadblocks on the outskirts of town and on the road to the nearby Pacific seaport at Buenaventura were also reported on Tuesday morning.
Jim McGovern, Democratic Representative from Massachusetts, tweeted: ” This [violence] is part of a disturbing pattern of excessive use of force, killings and human rights violations. “
Colombian right-wing President Iván Duque has faced three major nationwide protests since taking office in 2018, and each has faced police violence. In September, anti-police protests erupted after officers in Bogotá killed a man with a Taser electric weapon.
The current protests have started with a general strike against unpopular tax reform, although many protesters march against a deeply polarizing government, to defend threatened human rights leaders, for an increase in the social safety net during the pandemic and for a police reform.
Colombia’s economy has been ravaged by the Covid-19 pandemic, which has so far claimed more than 75,000 lives, with daily deaths last week breaking the country’s records.
Duque rescinded his tax reform proposal on Sunday afternoon, 24 hours before accepting the resignation of Alberto Carrasquilla, his finance minister, but none of these measures calmed the discontent.
Police violence is disheartening for those hoping for a peaceful future for Colombia when the country signed a historic peace agreement with the left-wing guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc), in 2016.
Many hoped that this deal, alongside the official end of five decades of civil war that has killed 260,000 people and forced more than 7 million people to flee their homes, would open up a new space for the left on the Colombian political spectrum.
Instead, since Duque took office in 2018, protesters have been regularly accused of acting as pioneers for dissident rebel groups who did not lay down their arms.
“The government continues to criminalize social protests and stigmatize them as being infiltrated by guerrillasSaid Pedro Piedrahita, professor of political science at the University of Medellín.
“The Colombian public security organization still operates under the anachronistic doctrines of anti-communism, of an internal enemy, and as such, protesters are not seen as citizens but as legitimate military targets that must be eliminated. – whatever happens.