Colombia announces release of protesters imprisoned during 2021 national strike

Colombian President Gustavo Petro said that the protesters would be declared “guardians of peace. ”According to human rights organization INDEPAZ, 2,005 people were arbitrarily arrested during the 2021 national strike

December 06, 2022 by Peoples Dispatch
Colombia national strike
Hundreds of thousands of Colombians took to the streets across the country in rejection of a neoliberal tax reform bill presented by the far-right government of former President Iván Duque. (Photo: Congreso de los Pueblos/Twitter)

On Saturday, December 3, Colombian President Gustavo Petro announced that hundreds of young protesters who were imprisoned during the national strike in 2021 would be declared “guardians of peace” and released before the end-of-year celebrations.

“I announce that hundreds of young people arrested for participating in a protest will be declared guardians of peace before Christmas Eve in Colombia,” said President Petro, during a meeting with the Community Action Boards in the city of Pasto, the capital of the Nariño department.

President Petro added that his government ”does not agree with keeping the young people, social leaders, and activists, who simply expressed themselves, imprisoned in jails, when they have every right to spend their Christmas with their families.”

The head of state stressed that “the right to protest is a democratic right, the right to express oneself and to mobilize are democratic rights. Governments that order their police to kill, imprison, torture and detain young people are not democratic governments, and this is the government of change.”

The freedom of the protesters, who allegedly committed crimes during the nationwide protests in 2021, has been one of the primary concerns of the Petro government. The government had earlier tried to include an article that granted pardon to those who had committed crimes in the midst of social mobilizations in the “Total Peace Law” passed in early November. Nevertheless, the government was forced to withdraw that article in the face of fierce opposition from right-wing voices. With this announcement, the Petro government seems to have found an easier way to grant freedom to the protesters without having to process a bill in Congress, which could again have been rejected.

Last year, Colombia witnessed a series of nationwide protests against a neoliberal tax reform bill, presented by the far-right government of former President Iván Duque, which deepened austerity policies in the country. In response, the Duque government unleashed unprecedented levels of police and military repression against protesters.

Colombian human rights organization, the Institute of Development and Peace Studies (INDEPAZ), in its annual report on violence in 2021, reported that during the national strike, between April 28 and June 30, 2021, 79 people were killed, at least 44 of them at the hands of security forces, 90 suffered eye injuries, 35 were sexual assaulted, 833 reported violent interventions, 661 suffered physical violence, and 2,005 were arbitrarily arrested. The institute said that in total 4,687 cases of police violence had been registered.