Colombia’s mass media have been spreading disinformation over an allegedly growing public security crisis in the capital Bogota that is contradicted by local security statistics.
Weekly Semana, which is close to the far-right government of President Ivan Duque, published multiple reports on the “wave of insecurity” in the “capital of fear” over the past few days.
Semana claimed on Wednesday that “the critical insecurity situation in the country’s capital is reflected by official indicators,” which is false.
Bogota security statistics indicate that reported crimes in the capital went down 24% in the first eight months of 2021 compares to the same period last year.
The manipulation of Bogota’s inhabitants
Like Semana, other news outlets with close ties to the national government have repeatedly reported on armed robberies.
Newspaper El Tiempo, another government-loyal publication, has published about individual crime incidents on a daily basis.
Colombia’s two commercial television networks, RCN and Caracol, have illustrated their terrifying reports with CCTV footage presumably provided by the National Police.
Amid the bombardment of apocalyptic news reports, Bogota residents’ insecurity perception has surged to a staggering 96%, a poll commissioned by Semana said last week.
None of the government-loyal media have reported on the statistics that indicate the mass media were busier inducing mass hysteria than accurately reporting on the capital city’s actual security situation.
Defense Minister Diego Molano, who is responsible for the police, used the fear generated by the media to justify the militarization of the capital.
We are changing reality, not just perception. As of today, 360 soldiers of our army will be deployed in Bogota in coordinated actions with the Colombian Police.
Defense Minister Diego Molano
Bogota’s ‘crisis’ contradicting security statistics
A lockdown in response to the coronavirus pandemic triggered a collapse in reported crimes throughout Colombia, including the capital, in April last year.
The number of reported crimes remained relatively low after the gradual reopening of Bogota compared to the period before the pandemic.
Despite the apparent underreporting, nothing indicates that a “wave of insecurity” turned Bogota into Colombia’s “capital of fear” as claimed by Semana.
Most prevalent crime rates drop
Reports of the most common crime in Bogota, army robbery, dropped almost 21% compared to 2019 when the residents of the capital reported a record number of 125,000 of these crimes.
Robberies of commercial establishments dropped almost 59% compared to 2019 and also home invasions saw a significant drop over the past two years.
Extortion also dropped slightly, according to Bogota’s Security Secretary. This is likely inaccurate because of the difficulties to report this racket that is run by both organized crime and illegal armed groups like paramilitary group AGC and guerrilla group ELN.
The real threat
The expansion of these illegal armed groups in the south of Bogota one of the causes of homicides in the south of the capital, according to the Ombudsman’s Office.
The Security Secretary registered 754 homicides between January in August, approximately 15% more than the 656 and 645 registered in 2019 and last year respectively.
The Ombudsman’s Office warned about the growing threat posed by the illegal armed groups for the sixth time since 2018 in May.
There is a presence of alleged members of paramilitary successor groups such as the self-styled AGC and the Aguilas Negras, and other illegal structures such as the Urban War Front of the ELN and militias that broke away or did not sign the agreements with the [now-defunct guerrilla group] FARC. In addition, the transfer and restructuring of members of armed organized crime groups like “Los Paisas”, “Los Orientales” (heirs of the Diablos del Cielo) and “Los Obispos.”
Despite the warnings of Colombia’s top human rights agency and the data of the Security Secretary, the government-loyal media continued bombarding the people of Bogota with reports on violent crime.
The media offensive fueled public discontent and sunk the public approval of Bogota Mayor Claudia Lopez who failed to curb the mushrooming sense of insecurity fueled by the media.
Fighting the judicial branch over an apparent ghost threat
Lopez, a long-time critic of the national government, called in the help of the defense minister on Monday to combat the capital’s “security crisis” and save her approval rating, which had dropped from 76% to 42% in a year.
The mayor additionally supported Bogota Police Commander General Eliecer Camacho after he complained that only 500 of the 17,000 people arrested by his police department so far this year actually ended up in jail.
In 2021, 17,000 people, of which 2,470 were foreign nationals, have been arrested for different reasons. Five hundred of these were taken into custody and between 75% and 80% were released during the process.
Bogota Police General Eliecer Camacho
Lopez added she didn’t understand how it was possible that “the prosecution presents evidence and a judge doesn’t warrant the arrest.”
Magistrate Juan Carlos Lopez of the Bogota Superior Tribunal responded that “the mayor’s statements ignore the constitutional grounds that demand of a judge to guarantee and respect the rights of citizens.”
Bogota’s police department, Prosecutor General Francisco Barbosa and the defense minister had already been embarrassed on multiple occasions for hailing the arrest of alleged criminals who turned out to be innocent civilians.
“Our Glorious National Army”
After Lopez’s former political allies began abandoning Bogota’s mayor over her decision to call in the military, the media loyal to Colombia’s far-right government on Thursday stepped up their offensive.
Apart from replicating unsubstantiated claims made by government allies that the security situation in Bogota continued to get worse, weekly Semana began promoting calls on Lopez to resign.
Other media loyal to the regime continued bombarding Bogota’s residents with reports on virtually every petty crime committed in the capital.
Furthermore, military officials began explaining how the strengthened cooperation of “our glorious National Army” does not just seek to militarize Bogota, but other major cities in Colombia.