Colombia’s government and security forces are under fire over their alleged intimidation tactics ahead of Thursday’s anti-government protests planned in 95 cities and towns across the country.
Particularly the mobilization of the military, “preventive” police raids and the stigmatization of social protest have alerted both the United Nations and judicial authorities.
Controversial powers given to mayors and governors were gladly assumed by some while rejected by others.
While protests will be held
UN and courts speak out against security forces’ actions
The United Nations human rights chief, Alberto Brunori, expressed “concern” over “several decrees, circulars and instructions that contemplate the possibility” of “curfews, and military support for the control of public order within the framework of the day of protests.”
A Bogota judge on Wednesday ruled that the majority of police raids at publishers,artist collectives and student leaders on Tuesday had been illegal. Press freedom foundation FLIP called the raids “intimidation of media and limitations of the freedom of expression.”
Brunori additionally expressed concern about the “persistent messages of unidentified origin that have been published on social networks and by news media that stigmatize social protest.”
Political leaders receive Duque’s alarmism with mixed reactions
The military declared its highest alert after President Ivan Duque reportedly fears an impending coup based on conspiracy theories coined by his political patron, former President President Alvaro Uribe.
Traditionally authoritarian regional leaders close to Uribe welcomed the Interior Ministry’s extraordinary powers, others dismissed them.
In Bogota, where the military has been patrolling the city center since Monday, soldiers would have concentrated forces around critical infrastructure or returned them to their barracks before Thursday, Security Secretary Jairo Garcia told newspaper El Tiempo on Tuesday.
The mayor of Barranquilla and the governor of Boyaca have refused to use any extraordinary powers, claiming protests in their jurisdictions would be held in “territories of peace.”
Barranquilla Mayor Alejandro Char said calmly that “anyone who wants to participate can do so freely and we will make sure to protect them.”
Boyaca Governor Carlos Amaya, a former student leader, said that he had ordered the police to keep the controversial riot police unit ESMAD away from protests in his province, claiming it would only incite violence.
Expectations high among protest organizations
The national government’s militaristic response to the national strike appears to have only swollen support for the protests and further sunk the approval of the president.
With labor unions. students and indigenous organizations leading the marches, and dozens of social organizations supporting them, expectations are that Thursday’s national strike may be the biggest national strike since 1977.
While initially called by the labor unions and the students to protest against the government’s economic and peace policies, the joining of other groups have diffused the specific demands; they are now mainly in rejection of Duque.