Colombia: police are like the military

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Colombia: police are like the military

Carole Concha Bell writes about President Iván Duque’s so-called ‘police reforms’.


Credit: Policía Nacional de los colombianos/Esmad/Flickr

President Ivan Duque promised to ‘modernize’ Colombia’s police force after they killed more than 60 protesters during the demonstrations against tax reforms in May 2021.

The ‘Mobile Anti-Disturbance Squadron’ (ESMAD) is Colombia’s militarized riot police. There are reports that they used torture, sexual abuse, and disappearances to control protesters. There was evidence of police firing live bullets into crowds. Amnesty International says at least 400 people disappeared from the city of Cali, where the protest movement is strong.

One of President Duque’s promised changes means all police institutions must have a human rights office. But there is nothing to ensure that the human rights offices are independent. Carlos Cruz Mosquera is a UK-based researcher on the Colombian Peace Process. He called it a ‘cosmetic reform’. ‘It’s hard to imagine police holding themselves responsible for actions against human rights,’ he said. ‘During the protests the police said they did nothing wrong and they said there were only 20 deaths but independent observers said there were many more.

‘One of the main criticisms is that the minister of defence is responsible for the police but he should be responsible for the armed forces. They see the protests as a war and the Colombian people as an army that they must fight.’

There is police repression and also inequality continues to make the public angry. Incomes in Colombia are one of the most unequal in Latin America. The richest 20 per cent of the people have 56 per cent of national income. And Colombia’s military expenditure in 2020 was $101 billion, the second highest in Latin America.

Carlos Cruz Mosquera says international support for Colombia’s police comes from geopolitics. The UK, Canada, and the US have helped with funding and training the Colombian military, but this funding was used ‘not to fight the drugs trade, but to stop political protests.’ He says, ‘Colombians here in the UK have asked MPs to speak out. So far, we have only had a few individual and very general responses. ‘There’s hypocrisy, because during the Hong Kong protests there was endless news coverage. Labour MPs were on the news calling for sanctions against China. But when it comes to UK’s economic friends and trading partners, no one talks about sanctions or strong action even when there are terrible abuses.’

Colombian NGO Temblores agrees. In a tweet the organization said, ‘Mobile Anti-Disturbance Squadron’ (ESMAD) was also created before by a ‘modernization’ policy. So Temblores is calling for fewer police powers and changes in the judiciary. The 2016 Peace Process led to the FARC ceasefire but it failed to stop actions against human rights. The ‘Justicia Especial para la Paz’ (Special Jurisdiction for Peace) agreement has allowed abuses against civilians, including by the police, to continue.


(This article is in easier English so it is possible that we changed the words, the text structure, and the quotes.)