BOGOTA – Militants, some of them wearing hoods, shut down a main thoroughfare in the Colombian capital for nearly two hours on Thursday, forcing municipal authorities to call in riot police after they announced a protest protocol mandating the deployment of “peace managers” in the event of protests.
The group attacked city buses and set fires to block traffic days ahead of planned nationwide protests against the social and economic policies of right-wing President Ivan Duque in a new phase of a mobilization that began last November.
Citing the death of student at the hands of police during a protest in late 2019, Bogota’s new mayor, Claudia Lopez, presented this week a new municipal protocol for handling protests.
“Esmad (the riot police) is not the regulator of citizen mobilizations, it is a shock organism of last resort, not first resort,” Lopez said Tuesday.
From now on, she added, Esmad will be deployed “only with the express authorization of the mayor.”
The Bogota mayoralty is Colombia’s second-most-important elective political post.
The city’s new procedure calls for responding to protests by deploying the mothers of demonstrators and police as “peace managers.”
If the managers are unable to preserve the peace, authorities will turn to Bogota’s Gestores de Convivencia, an existing corps of unarmed marshals that has had success in defusing tense situations in the past.
In the event of violence, Esmad will be brought in to restore calm.
Lopez’s top aide, Luis Ernesto Gomez, said at the scene of Thursday’s disturbances that the mayor decided to deploy Esmad because the militants refused “to re-establish transit.”
“We sought all mechanisms of dialogue and it was impossible to advance,” he said.
Once the riot police cleared the road, Lopez said that the protocol would remain in effect going forward.
Lopez, a leftist former senator, took office Jan. 1 and her first public address as Bogota mayor included a defense of the right of citizens to protest.