Colombia’s Student Protests Result In Violence

On Friday, September 27th, Colombian students from eight different universities took to the streets to protest corruption amongst University officials. As a result of these protests, five students were seriously injured due to an explosion. Additionally, one student committed suicide at Pontifica Javeriana University by jumping from the eighth floor. These demonstrations were met with aggression from the Mobile Anti-Disturbance Squadron (ESMAD). Videos from the university La Javeriana have been circulated on social media showing squad cars spraying a group of student protestors with tear gas while a woman comes up behind the officers yelling, “no violence.” Senator Angela Maria Robledo posted a picture of a supposed police officer posing as a civilian in plain clothes. According to RCN Radio, the police contradicted this and said all the officers present were wearing a uniform.

Protestors alleged that there were undercover police amongst the students who were being deliberately violent and inciting aggression between students and the police. Javeriana University released a statement saying, “The University supports citizen participation in public protest, but strongly rejects the use of violence in all forms and by any of the actors.”

Students were protesting the scandal that broke out of Universidad Distrital Francisco José de Caldas in which a millionaire network of administrative irregularities came to light in the educational institution. The highest authority of the university, Ricardo Garcia Duarte has been indicted for being part of the irregular management framework, resulting in an investigation. In August, the Attorney General of Colombia called on Muñoz Prieto for his relationship with the corruption scandal and the managing of more than 10.495 million pesos (almost three million dollars). 

University protests demanding accountability for corruption has been a reoccurring event in Colombian universities for some time now but this is one of the only times it has turned violent. Guillermo Botero, acting Minister of Defense since 2018, has been continuously blamed for the police brutality that recent protests organized by students and marginalized groups have been subject to brutal repression. This is the second time this month that protests were afflicted by police suppression; at least three students disappeared since the last protest. 

Colombia has been under right-wing governments for the past 20 years and President Duque came in a time where the youth is in need of change from the conservative politics of their parents’ generation. The current administration has not been able to understand that the history of fear and blind respect for governmental and military authority has been lost amongst the younger generation. Today’s Colombian youth wants accountability and transparency in the power structures behind the country and the acknowledgement of crimes committed by the government against minorities for the past 50 years. 

Defense Minister Botero said, “All public protests received the support of organized crime groups.” The go-to argument amongst the Colombian politicians that still support the brutality of the country’s military complex is that anyone against the government is automatically a socialist allied with “terrorist” groups such as FARC. 

Colombia has basically had the same presidential administrations since the conservative President Uribe. There has been no change in corruption, political representation, or rights for indigenous and minorities, thus making it more frustrating to be quiet as President Duque continues the legacy of criminalization of dissent. Duque has also been critiqued for not doing anything to protect social leaders who are being killed at an alarming rate, sometimes by the state’s military. To make matters worse, Duque took to Twitter to say, “The irrational attitude of the violent protesters cannot undermine the right to peaceful social protest, a right respected by the government.” Once again, his siding with the destructive, unnecessary, and violent acts of aggression by a military force that attacked young adults for wanting better futures demonstrates that he has no plans to listen to the new generation’s calls for change and representation.

These protests are being used by ESMAD to oppress civilians under a government that justifies this violence. It is understandable that the political and social climate in Colombia is extremely sensitive at the moment with FARC members taking up arms once again and the fragility of the peace process. However, these expressions of civil liberties are still not respected and met with even heavier suppression that results in the stoking of even more violence. The same reasons for which Colombians turn to criminal and terrorist groups is what students are trying to fight against. These corruption scandals are just the tip of the iceberg in the many social, economic, and political issues that the government fails to recognize. 

Just as the administration is so adamant in truth, reconciliation, and justice for victims as a part of the peace process, these same values need to be implemented in daily life for Colombians who stand on the margins of the government’s concerns. 

Kerent Benjumea