Colombian riot police continue violent repression of students

Students have mobilized and called for the dismantling of riot police squadron following an incident of violent police repression against university students in Bogotá

September 28, 2019 by Peoples Dispatch
“Corrupt people get out of the District University”, reads the poster. Photo: Colombia Informa

The Anti-Disturbance Mobile Squadron (ESMAD) violently attacked Colombian university students who were mobilizing in the capital Bogotá on September 27. The mobilization was called for to protest against corruption and to reject the violent repression of previous students’ protests during the week by the ESMAD against students from the District University and the Javeriana University. Friday’s protest was joined by students from over seven universities in the capital.

Dozens of videos circulated on social media showing the baton attacks against students, ESMAD shooting gas, and violently arresting students. According to human rights organizations as many as 75 people were arrested during the protest.

Since September 24, the students of Francisco José de Caldas District University, a public university in Bogota, Colombia, have been protesting against corruption committed by officials of the University, who are accused of mismanagement of more than 10 billion Colombian pesos of the university education budget.

In the month of July, the news agency Canal Uno revealed that William Muñoz Prieto, the former director of the Extension Institute of the District University, used a credit card and a checking account in the name of the university to pay for his own expenses such as travel, luxury car buying, and even paying for sexual services to seek political and administrative favors.

In the absence of any judicial action against him and before the institutional silence and cuts in the budget of the university, the students decided to demonstrate at the administrative headquarters of the university on September 24 on the 7th Avenue in Bogotá. The protesters were attacked and violently repressed by Colombian national police force, the ESMAD. Students from the Javeriana University, a private university located next to the administrative headquarters of District University, immediately gathered to chant and sing to express their support to the students of District University.

In response to the police repression, students from the District University and Javeriana University called for a rally the next day on the same street, to reject the excessive use of force by the ESMAD. However, their peaceful protest was once again attacked by the national police officials, this time with water tanks. They also threw stun bombs and tear gas inside the university premises, injuring at least six of the protesters. One of the bombs fell near the building of Hospital San Ignacio, which is part of the Javeriana, and affected the dozens of patients and hospital workers.

ESMAD officials threw stun bombs and tear gas inside the premises of the University of Javeriana on September 25. Photo: W Radio

The Javeriana University in a public statement, denounced the violence response of the state, the arbitrary detentions of students and faculties, the use of rubber bullets, tear gas, stun bombs and violations of human rights.

The next day, on September 26, the students from the Pedagogical University, the National University and the University College of Cundinamarca, also protested against the insensitive reaction of the ESMAD. Nevertheless, they were also repressed by the police with tear gas and stun bombs, which were thrown inside the educational institutions.

The irrational and unconstitutional reaction of the ESMAD, moving from one university to another, has been condemned nationally as well as internationally. The students, human rights activists and university administrations have been reporting against the police abuse, but the right-wing government of President Ivan Duque is defending the force.

The violent repression of social protests and prosecution of social leaders have increased significantly since Duque took the office. A number of incidents of police repression of students’ protests have been registered since Duque’s assumption last year.