BOGOTA, Colombia – Colombian police said on Wednesday they had arrested 70 people following fresh anti-government protests that mobilized thousands across the country the previous day and injured dozens.
As Colombians returned to the streets after a week’s hiatus, clashes with riot police broke out in the cities of Bogota, Medellin and Cali, according to officials.
The government has described the protest as largely peaceful.
Police said in a statement that they “apprehended 70 people, 69 of whom were caught in the act, on July 20 for crimes committed in several cities, and one more on murder warrants.”
The charges included blocking public roads, causing damage to property, throwing dangerous objects or substances, and possession of firearms.
The government argued that armed groups had infiltrated the protests.
Colombia’s Human Rights Ombudsman reported 50 people were injured in Tuesday’s demonstrations – 24 civilians and 26 agents.
Protests against the proposed tax hike erupted in late April, and the protests turned into a mass movement against the right-wing administration of President Ivan Duque.
Police repression, poverty cried
Protesters called for an end to police repression and more supportive public policies to mitigate the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, with more than 40% of the country’s 50 million residents now living in poverty.
The international community has condemned a security response that killed more than 60 people.
A major group representing protesters – the National Strike Committee – said on 16 June that it would suspend the demonstrations, even if smaller groups continued and roadblocks remained.
The committee called for renewed opposition to Colombia’s Independence Day on Tuesday, as the government introduced a new tax proposal in parliament.
On Wednesday, the government introduced a bill to reform the police to lawmakers who are accused of misconduct against civilian protesters. It proposes better training for officers and sanctions for those who do not identify themselves when making arrests, or who refuse to be filmed performing their duties.
But it does not suggest taking the police out of the Ministry of Defense’s control, as demanded by the protesters.
“The national police should be part of the defense ministry because of the threat and violence conditions that still exist in Colombia,” police chief Diego Molano told AFP. The organization serves “in the fight against drug trafficking, in civil defense … in the fight against trafficking that requires coordination with military forces.”
The Inter-American Commission on Human Rights has criticized Colombia’s “disproportionate” and “deadly” response to the protests and recommended separating the police from the military.