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LatinNews Daily - 10 May 2021

COLOMBIA: Gov’t seeks to calm international concern at protest repression

On 7 May Colombia’s foreign minister, Claudia Blum, sought to defuse international concerns over the repression of anti-government protests, arguing that the authorities had respected the right to protest and criticising the “vandals and violent actors” that she claimed had hijacked the demonstrations.

Analysis:

The government led by President Iván Duque is under growing international scrutiny for its response to the protests against the government’s now withdrawn tax reform bill, which have broadened into more general anti-government protests. Human rights organisations have alleged a multitude of abuses against protesters by the security forces, including arbitrary killings, sexual violence, and forced disappearances. Faced with international consternation, the Duque government has insisted that the massive deployment of security forces is intended to protect the right to protest, arguing that the demonstrations have been infiltrated by insurrectionist groups.

  • In a 7 May statement, Blum insisted that “the Colombian government has taken every step to guarantee the [right to] peaceful protest”, saying that this “is evidenced in the thousands of Colombians who have expressed themselves peacefully” since the protests began. Responding to international criticism of the security forces’ repression of protesters, Blum said that “all of our embassies and consulates abroad are demonstrating to the world that Colombia is governed by the rule of law, with solid democratic institutions, separation of powers and independent regulatory bodies”.
  • Blum’s comments came amidst continued international concern at the actions of the security forces. On 7 May, the United Nations office in Colombia condemned the “loss of human life, incidences of violence and excessive use of force”, and called on the authorities to respect human rights and “guarantee the right to peaceful assembly and protest”. Also on 7 May, the president of the European Parliament’s foreign affairs committee, David McAllister, called on the Colombian security forces to restore order “in a proportionate manner, without abuses, arbitrariness or excess”, expressing “concern” at the “confusing and diverse information released about the number of the dead and injured, including those of law enforcement officers and people whose whereabouts remain unknown”.
  • Threatening to undermine Blum’s claims that the government was ensuring the right to assembly, on 9 May President Duque called on the interior ministry, defence ministry, and regional authorities in the city of Cali, Valle del Cauca department, to “guarantee the greatest possible deployment of the security forces to bring security to the city”, which remains the epicentre of the unrest. Duque also ordered “the adoption of restrictions on movement that are necessary to minimise risks to citizen security” .
  • Amid the general unrest, illegal armed groups have been accused of carrying out acts of violence. In Cali, the regional indigenous organisation, Consejo Regional Indígena del Cauca (Cric), accused right-wing paramilitaries of an armed attack yesterday that left eight indigenous protesters wounded. Meanwhile, members of congress and government figures have claimed that the protests have been infiltrated by left-wing guerrilla groups and Venezuelan agitators.
  • Human rights organisations have voiced concern at hundreds of disappearances during the protests. On 8 May, the human rights ombudsman reported that 548 people had been reported as missing between 28 April-7 May, and that 25 civilians and one police officer had died. The NGO Amnesty International has also denounced “alarming reports of sexual violence and disappearances” carried out by the security forces.

Looking Ahead: Duque is due to meet today (10 May) with protest organisers, including trade unions and social organisations. Visible dialogue with protest organisers is the government’s best hope of calming the unrest, which currently shows no sign of abating.