Two months after the outbreak of nationwide protests in Colombia, which have left 74 dead so far, President Iván Duque on Wednesday asked the Congress to consider an anti-vandalism law to “prevent violence in demonstrations.”
Duque mentioned this during a promotion ceremony for police officers, saying that there must be a discussion about “what peaceful protest is and should be.”
“Vandals who destroy infrastructure, public transport, who intend to hijack buses and hang wires that have already claimed lives in many of the streets, are called what they are: criminals,” said the President.
Duque’s statements come at the most tense moments of his presidency, not only because of his low popularity, with only 23 percent, but for his lack of action during the evident cases of police violence in recent weeks.
A recent Human Rights Watch report makes clear that cases of police violence are not isolated, and proposes to “initiate a comprehensive police reform effort to ensure that officers respect the right of peaceful assembly, and bring those responsible for abuses to justice.”
However, Duque seems to overlook the recommendations and complaints from citizens who through social networks ask him to condemn abuses by the security forces.
“It is shameful to see those who pose as moral tribunes, from public positions, and insult those who serve the country. These conducts must also be investigated and sanctioned. The duty of a public servant is to defend the rights of all Colombians and to do so also by defending those who serve our country, such as our soldiers and policemen,” said the President.
Colombian Senator Iván Cepeda took to Twitter to say that what the government is pursuing is to prohibit and censor future demonstrations.
Lo que buscan el presidente Duque y el gobierno, en realidad es prohibir la movilización social y censurar a quienes la promuevan: pic.twitter.com/flnxxgRl0T
— Iván Cepeda Castro (@IvanCepedaCast) July 1, 2021
“That is the objective of the Government, who knows that, after two months, it has not succeeded through violence to end the indignation of the citizens. What Congress should do is present a real reform of the police,” Cepeda said.
So far the police force has public complaints of police violence, sexual violence, and abuse of force. The organization Temblores already registers 4,687 cases of police violence in the country, in addition to 44 homicides allegedly committed by public security forces.
Acá les presentamos nuestras infografías con las cifras actualizadas sobre violencia policial en estos 60 días de paro nacional👇 pic.twitter.com/1hCFupq1I3
— Temblores ONG 🐘 (@TembloresOng) June 29, 2021
The actual substance of Duque’s proposal is unknown. However, some activists do not doubt that his intentions are real, due to his authoritarian actions in recent months.
We’ll know more when the next legislature period starts on July 20.
Juanita Ramos Ardila is a Colombian journalist who has written for El Tiempo and ColPrensa. An M.A. Journalism candidate at CUNY’s Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, Juanita is also Latino Rebels’ 2021 Summer Correspondent. Twitter: @JuanitaRamosA.