Colombian President Iván Duque announced this Sunday (6) a set of measures to modernize the Ministry of Defense and promote “comprehensive transformation” of the police. The changes come after more than a month of protests in which at least 61 people were killed, leading to a series of accusations of human rights violations by state agents.
In publications on social networks, Duque promised the creation of a new disciplinary statute and a new system for receiving complaints and accusations to “achieve excellence” in police work. Without giving details, the president also said that “professional standards on issues such as the use of force, human rights, citizen service and police procedures” will be implemented.
The changes also include a review of protocols for the “legitimate use of force” — something that had been questioned by protesters and human rights organizations, who saw excesses in the conduct of displaced agents to curb protests.
The Defense portfolio itself will change its name and will become the Ministry of National Defense and Citizen Security. In addition, the Colombian police officers will receive a new uniform, in blue, which, according to Duque, “transmits empathy, courtesy, tranquility and confidence to the citizens”.
At least two civilians were killed and a police officer was shot on Friday (4) during demonstrations in Cali, which became the epicenter of protests and where Duque even sent army troops. According to authorities, a group of armed agents was trying to block one of the accesses to the city, the third largest in the country.
In a statement, the local police commander said that one of his men was shot in the leg and confirmed the deaths of two civilians. The clash took place in an area known as Paso del Comercio, where protesters have maintained a blockade since April 28, the first day of the current wave of protests.
With these deaths, the total number of victims during the acts reaches 61, of which 59 are civilians, according to a survey by the AFP news agency from official sources. The Colombian Public Ministry claims that only 20 of these deaths are directly related to the protests. In turn, the NGO Human Rights Watch says it has received credible reports of 67 deaths that have occurred since the protests began, 32 of which are linked to the demonstrations.
This Sunday (6), the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights arrived in the country to assess the situation and will visit until Thursday (10) Bogotá and Cali, two of the cities most impacted by the protests.
Representatives of the Washington-based organization linked to the Organization of American States will meet with government officials, civil entities, collectives, unions, among others, seeking to listen primarily to “victims of human rights violations and their families”, the commission said, in a statement.
Last month, Colombian authorities and protest leaders said they had reached a “pre-agreement” to end the period of demonstrations, but the government ended up backing down because part of the strike leaders refused to condemn the roadblocks — a demand that the government considers non-negotiable.
According to the Defense, there are at least 45 points where the blockade is still in force, despite the National Strike Committee having removed most of them in a “gesture of good will”. The Duke government attributes millions of losses to the strikers, in addition to the death of two babies trapped in ambulances that failed to follow their path.
For its part, the National Strike Committee demands guarantees for the freedom of demonstrations and that the president apologize for the excesses of the police, denounced by a series of amateur videos published on social networks.
Initially, the acts were against the tax reform proposed by the president. Although he withdrew the bill, the violent crackdown on protests continued to fuel discontent. Since then, the acts have multiplied, without a defined agenda or direction, but with demands that demand a fairer country and a more solidary State that guarantees life and security.
In response to popular pressure, Duque’s government has already suffered two high-level casualties. The first was the head of Finance, Alberto Carrasquilla, who left office due to criticism of the proposal to raise taxes for the middle class. Days later, it was the turn of the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Claudia Blum.