BOGOTA – At least three people were slain and 98 detained in a day of massive protests called by social movements Thursday in several cities around Colombia to express their rejection of the social and economic policies of President Ivan Duque.
Details were provided this Friday by Defense Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo in his report on the protests that turned violent by nightfall and caused losses in Bogota worth more than 20 billion pesos (some $5.8 million).
“While most of the day the demonstrations went off without problems, in certain cases the violent elements caused serious damage. In the last few hours authorities confirmed the death of two people in Buenaventura amid the disturbances,” he said.
The official added that those deaths occurred in an attempt to loot a shopping mall in the city, which has the country’s main Pacific Ocean port, while another person was killed in Candelaria, also in this town in the southwestern Colombian province of Valle del Cauca.
Thousands of protesting Colombians crowded the streets of Bogota, Cali, Medellin and other big cities on Thursday until well into the night, when a sudden clanging of pots and pans resounded in most districts of the capital and spread to other towns.
NUMBERS OF PROTESTERS
The defense minister said that close to 253,000 people took part in “622 activities from marches to rallies to other kinds of movements” in 350 municipalities of 31 Colombian provinces.
Trujillo added that 98 individuals were arrested and 207 more were taken to police stations “for their protection,” while eight minors were “apprehended.”
“A total of 151 members of security forces – 148 soldiers and 3 police officers – were injured during the day of nationwide protests. Also hurt during the day were 122 civilians, who either suffered slight injuries or the consequences of inhaling gases,” he said.
DAMAGE IN THE CAPITAL
Bogota Mayor Enrique Peñalosa told a press conference that 24 people were captured in the capital for attacking police stations and public transport employees, while damaging 265 trash containers.
“The cost of the damages will be more than 20 billion pesos,” the mayor said, adding that “further evaluations” of the destruction will be made later.
After the protests, vandals confronted police in the downtown Plaza Bolivar and attacked the Capitol, the Palace of Justice and the Lievano Palace, seat of the Mayor’s Office, with stones, paint and Molotov cocktails.
Similarly, at least 68 stations of the Transmilenio public transport system were damaged with sticks, stones and graffiti. Authorities say the reparations will take two days.
In light of Thursday’s violence, Mayor Peñalosa imposed the dry law prohibiting the sale of alcohol this Friday to avoid further turmoil in the capital.
“There are some who are calling for more strikes to be carried out today...of course they have an interest in more vandalism being perpetrated tonight. For that reason and to guarantee that the risks of violence are minimized, we hereby impose the dry law,” Peñalosa told the press conference.
He said the measure will take effect at 12:00 pm this Friday and continue until 12:00 pm on Saturday.
Peñalosa also called on citizens to reject the violent elements in the country.
EXCESSIVE FORCE USED?
Pictures of Mobile Anti-Disturbances Squad (ESMAD) members hitting a woman in the face and videos of more than five cops kicking and punching a couple on a street in downtown Bogota have gone viral on social media.
As a result, the defense minister said that police inspectors opened 11 preliminary investigations in Bogota, Manizales, Cali and Cartagena into reports of “possible irregularities in the conduct of members of the police force.”
Nonetheless, Trujillo praised the work done by security forces during the protests, since they acted “with legitimate force” and helped restore order in several cities around the country.
“Our security forces will continue acting to guarantee the peaceful and democratic exercise of Colombians’ right to demonstrate freely, in line with the nature of our system of liberties,” he said.