BOGOTA – Violent demonstrations against police brutality in Colombia mutated into cultural interventions by citizens in the streets and in some of the police facilities that were set on fire in the riots of recent days.
After meeting with Colombian President Ivan Duque on Saturday, Defense Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo said the protests and acts of vandalism of recent days, which has left at least 13 people dead in Bogota and the neighboring town of Soacha, were infiltrated by anarchists and groups such as the National Liberation Army (ELN).
“It should be noted that the organized and systematic nature of what we have experienced recently is the product of the infiltration of the ELN, of FARC dissidents, of other groups with different denominations of anarchists and terrorists that do nothing more than destroy public property and the infrastructure dedicated to security,” Trujillo said.
Despite tensions, culture was tried as an alternative to violence in Bogota and other cities through graffiti, books and music.
The Immediate Attention Commands (CAI) of the police in the Bogota neighborhoods of La Gaitana and La Soledad became improvised cultural centers and libraries that were nevertheless dismantled by the Mobile Anti-riot Squad (Esmad) in a day that was peaceful until this moment.
Cultural expressions were also seen in the Caribbean coastal city of Cartagena, where dozens of people came out to demonstrate with drums, with the participation of Mayor William Dau, who told EFE that he joined to guarantee a peaceful day.
Violent rallies began on Wednesday after a video began circulating showing two policemen exerting force and using a Taser in the arrest of Javier Ordońez, a 46-year-old man who, according to the official version, died shortly after the incident in hospital.
The outrage turned into a wave of violence resulting in 13 deaths in “alleged acts of police abuse” in which 72 citizens were injured with firearms, according to Bogota Mayor Claudia Lopez.
Youth organizations in the town of Suba, in the northwest of Bogota, took over the destroyed CAI (police post) of La Gaitana and turned it into the Julieth Ramirez Cultural Center, named for a psychology student about to turn 19 whose family says she died after being hit by a bullet while going to meet a friend, although she was not participating in the protests.
One of the participants, Andres, told EFE that the CAI “has resigned itself as a cultural space, for the memory against the impunity of the murder of young people who were unfortunately killed by the National Police the night of September 9.”
“What youth organizations of the town decided was to take the space and turn it into a popular library where women, children, older adults, could converge, hold workshops, talks, discussions and build a public library in this space,” he said.
The facade of the CAI was painted with messages such as “We want peace and education” and “In honor of the fallen,” and had approximately a hundred books displayed on the main table, but members of Esmad and other uniformed men arrived to retake control of the infrastructure and erased messages with paint.
The police were accompanied by neighbors such as Jose Gonzalez, who said they were reclaiming “the security of the area” which, he said, has been greatly affected by vandalism, looting and violence.
“Everything got out of control, there was vandalism, several warehouses were looted in the area, everything panned out to affect us as residents,” he told EFE.
In Cartagena, university students held a protest on Saturday, joined by the mayor Dau, who told EFE that his commitment is with the people and that he participated in the demonstration out of solidarity “with the people.”
“Here I come to make sure that everything goes well, so that we can demonstrate but without violence, in a peaceful way because we cannot allow vandals to infiltrate, to damage the effort that real protesters are making,” said the local chief.
Among the protesters was Daniel de Avila, a law student at the University of Cartagena, who told EFE that in addition to the case of Ordońez, the protest in his city was for the death of young Harold Morales, who according to his relatives died at the hands of the police on Aug. 24.
“There is too much anger in the people of Cartagena for all of this, because nobody wants their kin to be killed. On the 24th it was Harold, a week ago it was Javier (Ordońez in Bogota) and tomorrow it could be me or it could be you. Who defends us from those who defend us?” he asked.
The mayor of Bogota convened a virtual concert on Sunday for young people, a “great act of forgiveness, reconciliation and justice” in the Colombian capital.
“Protecting constitutionality requires forgiveness from the families of the injured and the victims, as well as a sanction and removal of all members of the police who have used firearms in an abusive and indiscriminate manner; they must defend life and democracy, not attack it,” said Lopez during the activation of the District Peace Council.
She also called for citizens to light a candle in their homes in memory of the dead and in rejection of police violence.
“Let us use these two symbols of citizenship to express our peaceful outrage and to honor life as an unbreakable right,” Lopez concluded.