“Nico was killed by ESMAD.” The message was painted at a vigil in the city of Cali, which has become the epicenter of the wave of protests that lives Colombia.
Family and friends thus remembered Nicolás Guerrero, one of the 19 confirmed deaths during the protests.
A video that went viral shows how the body of the 27-year-old man is lying on the ground after they were heard shots.
Although there is no certainty as to who shot Guerrero, his death, as well as others that have occurred since the beginning of the demonstrations (April 28), are attributed by neighbors to the controversial Mobile Anti-Riot Squad of Colombia, known in the country as ESMAD.
ESMAD is an anti-riot unit that was created in 1999 during the government of Andrés Pastrana in one of the most acute periods of the war in Colombia. It depends on the police and is attached to the Ministry of Defense.
Although it was founded under a transitory decree, former President Álvaro Uribe (2002-2010), Duque’s political godfather, formalized it and created the course that trains the agents of this unit.
Between 1999 and 2018, the actions of the police bloc produced the death of 18 people in Bogotá alone, according to the NGO Peace and Reconciliation. But official reports show that most of the agency’s interventions have been in the department of Cauca, a zone of guerrilla and indigenous presence.
In recent years, the agency carried out property eviction operations: 1,154 between 2013 and 2015, according to official figures.
Hundreds of ESMAD agents They have been prosecuted for disciplinary infractions for years. As of 2015, the Prosecutor’s Office had processed almost 40,000 cases, of which 18 resulted in convictions, according to official reports.
Riot control officers are equipped with multi-projectile launchers that can fire blanks, tear gas, stunners, and fireballs.
During the latest protests, the role of ESMAD caught the attention of different human rights organizations.
One of them is Human Rights Watch, whose regional director José Miguel Vivanco pointed out that the deaths and violent actions of the agents make “unpostponable”A police reform in Colombia.
“The protests in recent years in Colombia raise enormous doubts about whether the Police – and especially the ESMAD – are capable of fully respecting human rights in these circumstances,” Vivanco said on Monday.
In addition, the non-profit organization Washington Office for Latin America (WOLA, for its acronym in English) asked the Joe Biden government to suspend sales and provision of anti-riot equipment to ESMAD due to what happened in recent days.
In 2019, former congressman and human rights lawyer Alirio Uribe told BBC Mundo that “the commitment (of ESMAD) in multiple homicides has caused it to lose its credibility.”
“That means that as soon as they go out to the streets, in the framework of a demonstration, they automatically generate violence because they do not act as a deterrent,” he added.
“In addition, in prolonged stoppages, agents do not rest, they come out in a bad mood and have an anti-subversive doctrinal training, they see a terrorist in each demonstrator, an issue that comes from the military discourse ”, concludes the expert.
In recent years, ESMAD has been held responsible for the death of the young man Dilan Cruz, during the national strike in November 2019.
At the end of 2018 his role was also questioned for his actions to contain the university protests that took place.
In a message to the nation issued on Tuesday afternoon, President Iván Duque vindicated the role played by the police and the military in the social conflicts that are being experienced.
“The men and women who wear the uniforms of the Armed Forces and Police embody our democratic values,” said the president.
Duque added that the Colombian security forces carry human rights “in his heart”.
“Nothing justifies that there are armed people who, protected by the legitimate desire of the citizens to hold civic marches, go out to shoot defenseless citizens and cruelly attack our policemen,” he said.
Hours earlier, Defense Minister Diego Molano affirmed that ESMAD agents and other units suffered different attacks with firearms and knives.
“464 soldiers have bruises, 93 have been injured with a sharp weapon, three with a firearm and 15 by explosive devices or incendiary action. Of them 25 are still hospitalized, “said the government authority at a press conference.
Molano praised the role of ESMAD and explained that from the beginning of the conflicts the squad carried out 563 shares, 431 catches and 34 apprehensions of minors.
In Cali, more than 2,500 agents of the public force were deployed, including those with ESMAD uniforms. 1,800 police officers and 700 members of the Army arrived from different parts of the country, along with two helicopters and 60 additional motorcycles.
At least one captain of the Colombian Police died during the conflicts, according to the Ombudsman’s Office.
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.