The Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission of the United States Congress examined in a virtual hearing the recent protests in Colombia that led to violent episodes in which at least 40 people have died and more than 2,500 were injured.
Five witnesses analyzed the causes and consequences of the social outbreak, made recommendations to Congress, and answered questions from the two co-chairs of the Commission: Democratic Representative James P. McGovern and Republican Congressman Christopher H. Smith.
“This latent crisis could jeopardize the possibilities of consolidating a fragile and incomplete peace, unless strong measures are taken to address the inequality, lack of opportunities and police violence that have brought Colombians to the streets,” warned Elizabeth Dickinson, Senior Analyst for Colombia at International Crisis Group.
The denunciations of excesses of the public force and a reform to the police were at the center of the discussion. José Miguel Vivanco, director of Human Rights Watch for the Americas and who attended as a witness, pointed out that the police have used “excessive force” to disperse the protests that have even led to the death of at least 25 protesters or bystanders, in 18 cases using live ammunition.
Vivanco called for structural changes such as transferring the police from the Ministry of Defense to the Ministry of the Interior, so that it depends on civil and non-military authorities. However, Dickinson added that this would be an “important” step, but probably not “sufficient”, so he recommends a comprehensive reform that is supported by the United States.
Representative McGovern called for freezing sales of riot control equipment and even suspending direct US assistance to the Colombian police until “we see judicial responsibility for police brutality.”
The idea of conditioning economic aid to Colombia is being studied in the US Congress. The Subcommittee on Appropriations for Foreign Operations of the United States House of Representatives approved on Thursday a law on financing foreign operations for 2022 with which Colombia would receive 461.4 million dollars.
However, it specifies that 30% of the aid for the fight against drugs will depend on a certification from the State Department that confirms that Colombia works to prevent, investigate and punish human rights violations.
Representative Smith questioned the origin of the protests and pointed out that they may respond to the interests of countries such as Cuba, Venezuela and Russia. Citing statements by Colombian senator María Fernanda Cabal, a member of the ruling party, Smith indicated that messages from the “left” have been amplified on social networks by robots “located in countries like Russia.” In May, the Russian embassy in Colombia denied the allegations.
Smith also pointed out the possible interference in the protests of illegal groups such as the guerrillas of the National Liberation Army (ELN) or the dissidents of the defunct Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) that did not adhere to the signed peace agreement. with the Colombian government in 2016.
Dickinson assured that the illegal armed groups did not organize the protests in Colombia, but could benefit from prolonged disturbances, especially with roadblocks in cities where the state lost control and in rural areas where the armed forces managed to “intimidate residents and, according to some reports, expanding traffic”.
Steve Hege, regional deputy director of the United States Institute for Peace, suggested that Congress support efforts for dialogue between the government and protesters both in the current administration of President Iván Duque and during the upcoming electoral period.
Melissa Galbraith is the World News reporter for Globe Live Media. She covers all the major events happening around the World. From Europe to Americas, from Asia to Antarctica, Melissa covers it all. Never miss another Major World Event by bookmarking her author page right here.