Colombian President Iván Duque announced this Sunday (6) a set of measures to modernize the Ministry of Defense and promote a “global transformation” of the police. The changes come after more than a month of protests in which at least 61 people were killed, generating a spate of charges of human rights violations by state agents.
In social media posts, Duque promised the creation of a new disciplinary statute and a new system for receiving complaints and charges to “achieve excellence” in police work. Without giving details, the president also said that “professional standards on issues such as the use of force, human rights, service to citizens and police procedures” will be implemented.
The changes also include a review of protocols for “legitimate use of force” – something that had been questioned by protesters and human rights organizations, who saw excesses in the conduct of displaced agents for curb protests.
The Defense portfolio itself will change its name and become “Ministry of National Defense and Citizen Security”. In addition, Colombian police officers will receive a new uniform, in blue, which, according to Duque, “conveys empathy, courtesy, tranquility and confidence to the citizens”.
At least two civilians were killed and a policeman was shot dead on Friday (4) during protests in Cali, which has become the epicenter of protests that began more than a month ago and where Duque even sent troops of the Army. According to the authorities, a group of armed agents were trying to block one of the accesses to the city, the third to the country.
In a statement, the local police commander said one of his men was shot in the leg and confirmed the deaths of two civilians. The clashes took place in an area known as Paso del Comercio, where protesters have maintained a blockade since April 28, the first day of the current wave of protests.
With these deaths, the total number of victims during the acts reached 61, including 59 civilians, according to an investigation by the AFP news agency from official sources. The Colombian public prosecutor says that only 20 of these deaths are directly linked to the protests. In turn, the NGO Human Rights Watch says it has received credible complaints about 67 deaths since the start of the protests, 32 of which were linked to the protests.
Last month, Colombian authorities and protest leaders said they had reached a “prior agreement” to end the period of protests, but the government ended up backing down because part of the leaders of the protesters. the strike refused to condemn the roadblocks – a demand the government considers non-negotiable.
According to the Defense, there are at least 45 points where the blockade is still in force, despite the fact that the National Strike Committee lifted most of it in a “gesture of good will”. The Duke government attributes millions of losses to the strikers, in addition to the deaths of two babies trapped in ambulances that did not follow their path.
For its part, the National Strike Committee demands guarantees for the freedom to demonstrate and that the president apologize for the excesses of the police, denounced by a series of amateur videos published on social networks. The two sides are expected to attempt a new negotiation later this Sunday.
Initially, the acts were against the tax reform proposed by the president. Although he withdrew the bill, the violent crackdown on protests continued to fuel discontent. Since then, actions have multiplied, without a defined agenda or direction, but with demands calling for a more just country and a more united State, guarantor of life and security.
In response to popular pressure, the Duque government has already suffered two significant losses. The first was Finance Chief Alberto Carrasquilla, who stepped down due to criticism of the proposal to raise taxes for the middle class. A few days later, it was the turn of Foreign Minister Claudia Blum.