In 1986, Uruguayan writer Eduardo Galeano wrote about Colombia, “While foreign ministers and doctors cry out, proclaim and reclaim, reality exists. In the Colombian fields the war between conservatives and liberals is fought at gunpoint; the politicians put the words and the peasants put the dead. And the violence is already reaching Bogotá, knocking on the doors of the capital and threatening its usual routine, always the same sins, always the same metaphors: in the bullfight last Sunday, the desperate crowd has launched into the sand and has broken into pieces a poor bull that refused to fight.”

It is the year 2021 and following the omen of Galeano, the usual Bogota routine was broken by the hand of an unexpected sector of Colombian society: the young people.And it is that after more than 60 years of a tragic armed conflict, after two almost-unsuccessful signatures of peace agreements, after an admirable citizen effort to build the foundations of the institutionality that would judge the past and lay the foundations for peace, and in the middle of a pandemic that wiped out the economy and the health of a large part of the population, that President Ivan Duque presented his intention to promote a tax reform that would place the costs of the Colombian economic recovery on the shoulders of the classes. average and working women.

Perhaps Duque and his cabinet thought that the people would be defeated by years of struggle or that they would be overwhelmed by the pandemic, but far from going unnoticed, the initiative aroused the anger of everyone, but particularly of young people, who after growing up in a country in war now were sentenced to live impoverished or in debt.

But following Galeano’s words, the Colombian authority jumped into the ring to try to tear apart what is considered the first citizen mobilization of the post-peace accords era. Some of the many demonstrations are estimated to have reached 20,000 protesters.

Faced with the overwhelming rejection of the reform, the government responded by sending ESMAD, the Mobile Anti-Riot Squad, which attacked the protesters seeking to find in them the internal enemy that it had been trained to face in time of war. With “non-lethal” weapons but used for the purpose of death (direct shots at protesters at close range), with war tactics such as forced disappearance and rape, ESMAD wanted to quell public anger. In response, he found more organized rage.

Since September 2019, when ESMAD murders the young lawyer Javier Ordoñez and to date, organized Civil Society reports more than 14 fatalities by firearms and more than 76 injuries by firearms, all at the hands of this assassin squad.

It seems then that what the Colombian people are experiencing is an attempt by the government to return to war in times of peace. But now the internal enemies are the youth and the hope of peace in a country.

Global Exchange joined the call for help from the Colombian citizens by sending two well-known journalists who documented and published reports of police abuse in the US and international media.

A week later, I arrived in Bogotá to meet with organizations, victims of police violence, artists, legislators and academics to listen to their agenda of struggle and action. As part of this visit, I had a conversation with Ali Bantú Ashanti, part of the legal defense collective Justicia Racial, about the parallels between the fight against authoritarian abuse by the governments of Afro-descendant communities in Colombia and the United States.

As a result of these meetings, we agreed to promote a series of actions to educate and mobilize the American public opinion, as well as to influence the economic aid packages to the Colombian government with a single objective: to force the government of Iván Duque to a police reform to remove the police corporations from the always unpunished military justice to submit to the civil judicial system, like any citizen. A police reform that allows citizen controls to police action. A police reform that ensures better recruitment, training and promotion systems. A police reform that has clear and effective protocols to evaluate and punish the performance of the police.

We ask you to join us by calling your representative and ask them to add their name to Senator Johnson’s letter calling for immediate actions to end violence from state forces against civilians, particularly Afro-Colombians and Indigenous people.  

A police reform that civilizes the police, that restores hope to the people, that respects the right to demonstrate and that stops making violence into a Roman circus or a brave party that feeds an unsatisfied oligarchy, hungry for violence and opposition to peace, like the bullfight of which Galeano spoke.