Dozens of Colombian families are still asking for justice for their dead and the pain is intensified with the arrival of a new April 28, when the first anniversary of the so-called “National Strike” is commemorated, which became the largest cycle of anti-government protests in history. recent history in the country.
The investigations of the authorities progress slowly. According to the United Nations, more than 40 people lost their lives in the demonstrations, although the Prosecutor’s Office told The Associated Press that 29 murders were documented. Of these there are only three cases on trial, two more in the investigation stage and the remaining 24 in investigation, an initial phase in the processes.
“We have not even reached a first instance. There is no defendant, he is under investigation,” said an anguished Laura Guerrero, mother of Nicolás Guerrero, a young 26-year-old artist who died in the early hours of May 3, 2021 during a demonstration in Cali, a city in the southwest of the country considered the epicenter of the protests and where the violence worsened.
The nonconformity in Colombia took shape in the streets in two months of protests that generated instability and uncertainty. The pressure of the demonstrations managed to get the government to withdraw a fiscal reform that they considered unfair and for the finance minister to resign, but it did not stop, then it became a generalized claim for structural problems such as inequality, unemployment, poverty and alleged excessive police force.
In Cali, some streets were closed by barricades and access to the city blocked, making it difficult for food and medicine to pass through. Although most of the demonstrations were peaceful throughout the country, there were acts of vandalism against public infrastructure such as transport and police stations, and private infrastructure, such as the burning of some banks. There were also disturbances and clashes with riot police, which not only caused deaths, but also more than 3,000 injuries, between civilians and police.
“My son was hit by a nine-millimeter weapon on the left side of his forehead. We have provided all the evidence, it is clear to me that the police killed him,” Guerrero, who has received threats for publicly denouncing and leading a group of victims, told the AP.
Hundreds returned to the streets on Thursday – in demonstrations less crowded than those of 2021 – in cities such as Bogotá, Cali, Medellín and Villavicencio, where tributes to the victims and cultural activities were held. Meanwhile, the government deployed a security operation with more than 50,000 soldiers. In the balance of the day, the authorities indicated that it was mostly peaceful with “minor incidents” and interventions by the riot police in Bogotá, Medellín, Popayán and Tunja due to disturbances. 14 people were captured, including a foreigner.
“There are breaches by the government with educational reforms, security in the territories and lands for indigenous peoples and peasants,” Adelso Gallo, president of the National Peasant Association, told the AP during a popular assembly in Bogotá attended by some 200 people. Gallo also rejected “impunity” in the face of complaints of human rights violations in the context of last year’s protests.
The alleged excessive use of force to repress the demonstrations in 2021 has been a constant complaint not only by the victims, but also by human rights organizations such as Human Rights Watch and the Colombian office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Human rights. The latter verified that 46 people lost their lives in the protests -including two police officers- and pointed out, in a report released in December, that in 28 of these cases members of the public force would be the alleged perpetrators.
However, in response to a request for information, the Colombian Prosecutor’s Office reported that according to its investigations there are 10 cases in which members of the public force are linked.
“The strongest evidence we have is ballistics, because it shows that the bullet came out of the policeman’s gun,” Sandra Milena Meneses, mother of 19-year-old Santiago Murillo Meneses, who died on the night of March 1, told the AP. May in Ibagué, a city in the west of the country.
His case is one of the most advanced, the trial is about to start. The Prosecutor’s Office formally accused Major Jorge Mario Molano Bedoya, who is in custody, for allegedly firing “his supplied weapon indiscriminately and for no reason, with the understanding that the protesters had withdrawn” hitting Murillo, who was walking alone heading home and was oblivious to the protest.
In a recent interview with the AP, Colombian President Iván Duque said that his government has “zero tolerance” for any illegal conduct by a member of the security forces and assured that as a result of investigations there are “several people (police officers) who have received suspension sanction” or have been removed from their responsibility, however, it did not detail how many cases are involved.
When consulted through a request for information, the police did not answer how many uniformed officers have been sanctioned and how. However, the Attorney General’s Office, in charge of disciplinary investigations of public officials, assured that 448 investigations against police officers remain active, out of a total of 1,205 complaints that were processed.
Although the majority of the list of active investigations has “summary reserve” and therefore there is no public access to the details of the process, some were specified. In Bogotá, there is an active case for alleged assaults by riot police on demonstrators during disturbances and a six-month suspension and special disability sanction is in the process of being ordered, the Attorney General’s Office said.
Faced with the questions, the police assure that they have promoted training in human rights and implemented improvements in their protocols to guarantee the right to peaceful demonstration. In February, the United States government donated eight million dollars to the Colombian police to strengthen human rights standards and the fight against corruption within the institution.
The security forces have been questioned before. During the September 2020 protests in Bogotá and Soacha, police were allegedly involved in the deaths of 11 people, according to an independent and United Nations-backed report. Protests against the police were sparked by the murder of Javier Ordóñez, 43, who was restrained and beaten by police officers despite his constant pleas for them to stop.
The mothers of the young people murdered in several cities of the country not only carry the judicial process on their backs, they also seek to leave their children’s names high. “It has been a year where everything changed for us, very difficult because of the mourning and also because, although we have had a lot of support, we are carrying social pressure, stigmatization in the midst of a political crisis, although we are not politicians,” Meneses said. .
The authorities have said that some protests were infiltrated by armed groups, however, the Prosecutor’s Office replied to the AP that in the cases of 15 fatalities in which “the facts have been clarified” no type of relationship has been established with groups outside the law.
“I always have my hope in truth and divine justice that all things settle sooner or later and that everything has a limit,” Meneses says through tears. “They even took away my fear, they took away my only son. I am not going to shut up, I have my whole life for this, ”he adds with conviction.