A man who was fined more than $250 for buying an empanada in Bogota in February has finally seen justice. The sum is to be returned to him by the authorities, but the police code has not been amended.
Bogota Ombudsman Carmen Castañeda took the case of 22 year old Stiven Claros to District Police Inspector Mireya Garcia, who agreed that the fine was disproportionate.
The fine sparked indignation throughout Colombia, and escalated tensions between the National Police, who defended the fine, and citizens who challenged the authorities.
“The fine imposed by a member of the national police was excessive and disproportionate given the circumstance.”
The fine was imposed on the basis of article 140 of the police code, which outlines “behavior against the care and integrity of public space,” and “promoting or facilitating the use of public space in violation of regulations and laws.”
The fine for this violation of the law is more than four times higher than for carrying a knife. According to police records, Bogota has seen as least 8000 fines already this year for these offences.
Though Claros has seen justice in this case, this article has not been amended or revoked, leaving many vulnerable to similar arbitrary treatment by Colombia’s notoriously abusive police force. Millions in Colombia depend on informal business and street vending, and millions more buy aa multitude of food and consumer items from informal vendors in public spaces.
Bogota’s security secretary Daniel Mejia said earlier this month that Colombia’s capital was 9,000 policemen short to guarantee basic security, but as many as seven policemen were available to fine Stiven Claros for buying an empanada.
The debacle has raised a number of questions about police training and use of resources, as well as concerns about an authoritarian performance of control in public spaces, rather than working towards meaningful rule of law.
The fine came as part of a wave of similar events, including a Erika Martinez who received a fine for asking the price of an empanada, and a schoolboy charged with disrespecting authority for asking a policeman if he liked empanadas.