Why Colombian Protests Are Relevant To Us All
Since the end of April, Colombia has seen a series of protests and strikes as a result of unfair tax and health reforms by the Government. However what’s been more pressing is the police brutality that the protests have faced leaving 43 dead, 855 injured, 1264 detained for no valid reason, 89 missing, 21 (known reports) of sexual violations and those numbers are continuously changing as the demonstrations progress. How have such protests and demonstrations led to such destruction on the streets of Colombia?
A national strike was organised for the end of April by a collective of labour unions and social / student organizations.The same groups organised the 2019 - 2020 anti government protests too. In the backdrop of Covid 19, Colombia’s economy suffered the deepest crash in its history last year, leaving millions unable to afford three meals per day. The Government proposed extending the Solidary Income Program to 4.7 million people - an increase from the existing 3 million recipients. This revenue was proposed to be raised from all Colombians through VAT and other measures. However, naturally it would have adverse effects on the poorest in society increasing prices on daily necessities such as meat, milk, basic menstruation products and medicine. These proposed reforms would have plunged more Colombians below the poverty line.
The right to public protest was suspended the day before the national strike by the government in an effort to dampen public mood. The general public ignored that and moved to protest anyway. They were met by armed forces, mainly the police to begin with, as the government tried to retain law and order. While trying to maintain control, the people were subject to violent police brutality. The right to protest is a universal human right and a fundamental part of any democracy. That these protests have led to such high numbers of deaths and systemic violations is indicative of the way the police are set up in Colombia. The National Police of Colombia are controlled by the ministry of defense and this takes them out of the jurisdiction and accountability process of the civilian Colombian government. It means they act without sufficient accountability.
The government's response has been to corrupt the narrative of the protests as left wing radicals so real resolution doesn’t have to take place, and many of the police who are there to “restore order” believe this. The attacks that have been made against journalists and social media / internet disruptions are clear attempts to silence the people.
The streets are in complete distress to say the least, and we can see it live from our phones. The current approach to repress and brutalise increases risk of human rights violations. In Colombia protests are suppressed by the government with blockades, helicopters with armed police, activists and journalists targeted, peaceful demonstrators beaten, tear gas and water canons unleashed inappropriately and many other repressive tactics. Strategies of war, used against their own population to silence legitimate protests.
A full reform of the police is essential. Colombia is the only democracy with a police force controlled entirely by the defense ministry and as a result accountability is very difficult as their trials are held in Martial courts. Trials are adjudicated quite often without a jury and that’s only the few cases that actually make it to trial. The US is by far the biggest funder of the Colombian Ministry of Defense with upto $150 million in assistance per year. The UK too continues to trade in arms with Colombia despite their own imposed sanctions against doing so. It is no wonder that we have heard such little of the barbarity across our media.
Colombia has a recent history of violence in protests. The Paro Nacional - or the National Strike of 2019 yielded similar results in terms of violence against the people. With the power of social media and the unrelenting violence Colmbians face, there are many things these demonstrations are standing for, but fighting for the right to fight for their rights is the fuel that keeps this resistance moving.