Analysis: In Colombia’s protests, pandemic pressures collide with an existential reckoning for police

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According to Temblores, a Colombian NGO tracking alleged constabulary abuses, determination person been implicit 1,800 cases of constabulary unit since the marches began connected April 28, on with galore incidents of policemen firing teardrop state and rubber bullets astatine protesters that person gone viral connected societal media. The information is based connected a compilation of media reports. The US-based Open Society Foundations are among Temblores’ fiscal supporters.

Colombia's protests, explained

Officers of the Colombian National Police were progressive successful the decease of astatine slightest 11 protesters successful the past 7 days, according to the country’s interior curate Daniel Palacios, who told CNN that astatine slightest 3 apprehension warrants person been issued for officers progressive successful the deaths.

At the aforesaid time, the constabulary person been targeted by groups of convulsive rioters, with 25 constabulary stations attacked since the protests began, according to the Colombian ombudsman’s office. In 1 case, protesters acceptable occurrence to a constabulary presumption successful Bogota with astatine slightest 10 officers trapped inside. The images captured past went viral and triggered different statement betwixt those defending the constabulary and those asking for heavy reforms wrong the body.

Violent confrontations betwixt the Colombian constabulary and protesters person erupted before: Just past year, dozens of constabulary stations successful Bogota were vandalized successful September successful different question of protests against constabulary violence, a tragic occurrence successful which astatine slightest 13 radical died.

The roots of this struggle tally into Colombia’s past, tapping into some the strain of the caller Covid-19 pressures, and the country’s agelong past of conflict.

A demonstrator throws a teardrop  state  canister astatine  riot constabulary  officers successful  Cali, Colombia, connected  May 3, 2021. A demonstrator throws a teardrop  state  canister astatine  riot constabulary  officers successful  Cali, Colombia, connected  May 3, 2021.

Zealous lockdown enforcers

In Colombia, the pandemic has impacted everyone’s finances: from informal workers who were not allowed to work, to those who mislaid their occupation to the finances of the authorities itself.

Colombia’s indebtedness changeable up 20 cardinal USD successful 5 months nether the lockdown, putting unit connected the authorities to summation revenues done taxes. Meanwhile, unemployment astir doubled betwixt March and June past twelvemonth arsenic a effect of the lockdowns.

While the nonaccomplishment of jobs eased aft the highest of the crisis, arsenic of March this year, immoderate 16.8% of workers successful the 13 largest cities and metro areas were without a job: 3.4 percent points much than successful March 2020. That’s astir half-a-million much radical unemployed year-over-year, according to DANE, the government’s statistic agency.

Colombia’s months-long lockdown past twelvemonth deed little income classes and informal workers peculiarly hard. And the unpopular relation of enforcing the lockdown mostly fell onto the police, who were often the lone authorities instauration contiguous successful the tiny villages of agrarian Colombia and the immense slums surrounding the main metropolitan areas.

While societal services and civic institutions had to adjacent and enactment remotely, the constabulary became the disposable look of irksome restrictions imposed, including curfews, bans connected intoxicant income and fines to the transgressors. Heavy fines person exacerbated antipathy toward the police, particularly among citizens with little means.

Between March 2020 and April 2021, the Colombian constabulary issued 2.5 cardinal fines for breaking quarantine orders (about 6,400 per day) — astir equivalent to the fig of Covid-19 cases reported successful Colombia implicit that period.

A bequest of war

The bitter tensions of the pandemic person besides collided with a broader existential reckoning for Colombia’s police.

The South American federation was astatine warfare for astir of the past fractional of the 20th century, arsenic the authorities squared disconnected against left-wing insurgents successful cities and agrarian areas, right-wing paramilitary, and immoderate of the astir almighty cause cartels successful the world, which successful crook made competing alliances with either the guerrillas oregon the paramilitary.

Colombia's FARC enactment      is changing its sanction  to 'Comunes'Colombia's FARC enactment      is changing its sanction  to 'Comunes'

Progress toward bid successful municipality areas began astir the crook of the century, culminating successful 2016 when, pursuing a landmark bid statement with the government, the Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC) demilitarized and mostly entered civilian life, mostly ending 5 agelong decades of continuous equipped insurrection successful the Colombian countryside. The Liberation National Army (ELN) guerrilla is inactive disrupting beingness successful parts of the countryside, but the demobilization of FARC’s halfway elements has changed the dynamic of the insurgency.

That epoch shaped the police’s relation successful the country, arsenic the authorities prioritized bringing narco kingpins to justness and enforcing the regularisation of instrumentality successful struggle zones. The Colombian police, for example, were pulled into the Ministry of Defense during this period, alternatively than the Interior oregon Justice, arsenic is emblematic successful astir different countries.

In Colombia, the constabulary are not portion of the Armed Forces similar the Army, Navy and Air Force, though they bash enactment intimately unneurotic and are termed fuerza publica, information forces.

But if this statement made consciousness for a state astatine war, it is little applicable now.

“What we’re seeing present is simply a reflection of the information that we haven’t had this infinitesimal of reckoning astir what does it look similar to person information forces successful a state that is nary longer astatine war?” says Elizabeth Dickinson, a Colombian expert astatine the International Crisis Group, a think-tank that specializes connected the bequest of the bid agreements.

During the civilian war, Colombia’s information forces were considered a unifying constituent for the country, which helped to shield them from greater accountability to civilian society.

But that’s nary longer the case. According to the Special Peace Court charged with investigating the crimes committed during the warfare — portion of the presumption of the 2016 bid agreements — 6,402 Colombians were murdered by information forces successful bid to boost warfare sidesplitting tallies betwixt 2002 and 2008, a ungraded collectively known arsenic “false positives” which has go a rallying outcry for the disaffected.

The modulation to bid has meant specified crimes tin present beryllium investigated — and that the information forces are facing unprecedented scrutiny.

As Dickson enactment it, “Something that the thoroughfare is truly calling for is simply a awesome that civilian authorities are capable to clasp accountable the constabulary and the subject for misconduct.”

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