Colombia

COVID-19 sparks prison massacre in Colombia

Inmates' fears that prison authorities are not doing enough to prevent COVID-19 outbreaks inside Colombia's notoriously overcrowded and unhygienic prisons exploded into violence on March 21, with uprisings reported at facilities across the country. The Justice Ministry acknowledged "revolts at different penitentiary centers in the country," including the prisons in Ibague, Jamundi and Combita, two prisons in Medellín and another two in the capital Bogotá. Justice Minister Margarita Cabello said 23 had been killed in suppressing a "massive and criminal escape attempt" at Bogotá's La Modelo prison, one of the country's largest and most overpopulated. Local residents reported on social media hearing gunfire and explosions at the facility. (Colombia Reports, El Espectador, CNN, AP)

Colombia: protests met with repression —again

The protest wave in Colombia was revived with a national mobilization Jan. 21, to be again met with repression from the security forces. Protest organizers explicitly rejected violence, but police and gangs of masked men sabotaged efforts by municipal authorities to maintain the peace in the country's two biggest cities. In both Bogotá and Medellín, the progressive mayors who defeated President Ivan Duque's far-right Democratic Center party in local elections last year had adopted protocols to prevent police attacks on peaceful protesters. Human rights defenders in Bogota said that the feared National Police riot squad, ESMAD, ignored protocols put in place by Mayor Claudia Lopez and attacked protesters without first attempting mediation. Some 90 were arrested and several injured in the capital, including at the central Bolivar Square, where ESMAD troops attempted to block marchers from entering. Presumed provocateurs also sparked clashes elsewhere in the city. 

Colombia: ex-army chief called to trial over killings

The former commander of Colombia's armed forces, retired general Mario Montoya, was summoned late last month to appear before a trial to take place under the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) concerning the grisly practice of "false positives"—the killing of non-combatants in the guise of military operations against the guerillas. Montoya has been called to testify in Case 03, officially dubbed "muertes ilegítimamente presentadas como bajas en combate por agentes de Estado" (deaths illegitimately presented as fallen in combat by agents of the State). The testimony is scheduled for Feb. 12.

Colombia: UN protests slaying of rights activists

The Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed concern in a Jan. 14 statement over the killings of human rights defenders in Colombia last year. The statement said the commission is "deeply troubled by the staggering number of human rights defenders killed in Colombia during 2019." The commission asserted that there were between 107 and 120 killings of rights activists in Colombia over the course of the year. It called on the "Colombian Government to make a strenuous effort to prevent attacks on people defending fundamental rights, to investigate each and every case and to prosecute those responsible for these violations, including instigating or aiding and abetting violations."

'Anti-terrorist' militarization in Bolivia

The new Bolivian regime's Government Minister Arturo Murillo has announced creation of a special "Anti-Terrorist Group" (GAT), drawn from elite units of the National Police force, to "completely disarticulate all the terrorist cells" operating in the country. Murillo made the announcement at a Dec. 2 meeting of the National Police Special Anti-Crime Struggle Force  (FELCC) in Santa Cruz, where he charged that recent political violence in the country had been instrumented by foreign "terrorist" operatives financed by Venezuela as part of a plan to "destabilize" the countries of South America. He particularly mentioned Martín Serna Ponce, a supposed operative of Peru's defunct Tupac Amaru Revolutionary Movement (MRTA), and Facundo Morales Schoenfeld, a veteran of Colombia's FARC. (Aristegui Noticias, Mexico, Dec. 3; La Razón, La Paz, Dec. 2)

War escalating in Colombia's south

As Colombia's major cities exploded into protest amid a national strike on the nigt of Nov. 21, a truck-bomb attack targeted a National Police station in the southern department of Cauca, leaving three officers dead. Authorities blamed the blast in the town of Santander de Quilichao on "dissident" elements of the FARC guerillas who have remained in arms despite the peace accords. President Ivan Duque dispatched Defense Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo and several of his top officials to Cauca after the attack to take stock of the security situation in the department. (El Espectador, Colombia Reports, Nov. 23)

Duque starts dialogue after Colombia strike

Colombia's President Ivan Duque on Nov. 24 convened his National Labor Concord Commission (Comisión Nacional de Concertación Laboral) to begin the "National Conversation" he pledged four days earlier in a bid to quell a fast-mounting anti-government protest wave. Social leaders, mayors and departmental governors from across the country are to participate in the talks. The protests escalated Nov. 21 when trade unions, including the giant Unitary Workers Central (CUT), called a nationwide general strike, and repressive measures by the National Police only fueled the mass mobilization.

'Dubia Cardinal' rages against Pachamama

Cardinal Walter Brandmüller, one of the two remaining "dubia cardinals" who dissented from a perceived liberal tilt in the Catholic Church, praised the men who removed the controversial "Pachamama statues" from a church in Rome during last month's Amazon Synod and threw them into the Tiber River. The German cardinal hailed the perpetrators as "courageous...prophets of today" in an Oct. 29 interview with the conservative Catholic LifeSiteNews, adding: "These two young men who threw these tasteless idols into the Tiber have not committed theft, but have done a deed, a symbolic act as we know it from the Prophets of the Old Covenant, from Jesus—see the cleansing of the Temple—and from Saint Boniface who felled the Thor Oak near Geismar."

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