Colombia continues mass arrest of social leaders, protest organizers

Colombia’s police stepped up the arrest of rural community leaders and urban government critics this week.

Defense Minister Diego Molano announced the arrest of social leader Aurelio Suarez on Sunday, claiming the detainee was involved in an attack on President Ivan Duque earlier this year.

The prosecution said Tuesday that 13 alleged leaders of anti-government protests earlier this year were arrested on vandalism and terrorism charges in the capital Bogota and Medellin.

The arrests of the farmers’ representative and the alleged members of “Frontline” protests organizations were fiercely criticized.

The ‘FARC dissident’ with the worst alias

Aurelio Suarez (Image: Defense Ministry)

Molano announced the arrest of “alias Aurelio,” claiming that the social leader from the northeastern Catatumbo region was a ringleader of rearmed members of now-defunct guerrilla group FARC.

According to the police, Suarez was a member of the board of directors of the Catatumbo Farmers’ Association (AsCamCat) and “a former council candidate in the municipality of El Tarra for political party Comunes” that was formed by former guerrillas after their demobilization in 2017.

The police claimed that Suarez “took advantage” of his leadership position “to carry out criminal activity,” including the alleged attack on the president and an alleged bomb attack on the army’s 30th Brigade in the city of Cucuta.

In a press release, AsCamCat said the organization didn’t have a board of directors and that Suarez was never a leader of the organization.

The organization previously rejected claims that the social leader wasn’t a former member of the FARC, but a local community leader.

The arrest is confusing as the police claimed that the arrested leader’s first name is in fact Suarez’s alias.

FARC dissidents, like members of other groups, use aliases to conceal their identity.

The ongoing arrests of alleged protest organizers

Frontline protesters from Bogota. Image: Jordan Stern

The prosecution told newspaper El Tiempo on Tuesday that it sought prison sentences between 8 and 22 years for alleged Bogota organizers of anti-protests that kicked off in April this year.

The alleged members of the “Frontline” protest organizations were among 13 who were arrested by police in the capital and Colombia’s second largest city Medellin on Monday.

According to the prosecution, the protesters would be guilty of terrorism, conspiracy to commit a crime and vandalism.

The 13 detained protesters are among more than 200 alleged members of the Frontline groups that were characterized for wearing protective gear in response to police brutality that allegedly killed more than 80 protesters.

Judges have refused to jail the vast majority of alleged protesters after rejecting the prosecution’s evidence that would prove criminal or terrorism activity during the largely peaceful protests.

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