Observers

A hospital in Bogota announced on November 25 the death of a young protester who had been shot in the head by police 48 hours prior. He was a victim of the police crackdown on the mass protest movement against the policies of Colombian President Iván Duque that has been shaking the country since November 21. Three other protesters have also been killed in clashes with police and 500 people have been injured.

Several videos show 18-year-old Dylan Cruz running in the moments before he was shot in the head on November 23. In the video below, you can hear a shot ring out at (‘02). Cruz then slumps to the sidewalk.


Two other videos show officers from the Mobile Anti-Disturbances Squadron (or, in Spanish, Escuadrón Móvil Antidisturbios, or ESMAD), a special police unit, moving down the street. One of them fires. Ahead, Cruz lies limply on the sidewalk. In one ot those videos, posted on Facebook but later deleted, people are heard shouting: "They hit him! They wounded him! Calm! No violence!”, while other people dressed in red rush over to start giving Cruz first aid. In the second video, posted on Twitter, the scene can be seen from a nearby window.


"The police clearly targeted him; it wasn’t a mistake”

Alexandra González is a member of the human rights group Fundación Comité de Solidaridad con los Presos Politicos (Committee of Solidarity with Political Prisoners). She was there when Cruz was hit.
 
This was a peaceful protest. None of the protesters were throwing stones or making graffiti. But it was very tense. ESMAD agents threw tear gas canisters towards the groups of protestors several times. At one point, the security forces surrounded and encircled the protesters. Protesters started running away on several occasions, while others picked up the gas canisters used by the police and started throwing them back at the officers. I was filming when the police officer shot Cruz [Editor’s note: The shooting occurs at 4’08 in the video that González filmed].

They clearly targeted him; it wasn’t a mistake. Especially as other officers had already targeted and shot at other protesters. I heard them say several times, “Hit him! Hit him! It doesn’t matter who but hit him!“ They had weapons that they were using to launch tear gas.

Medical students immediately started trying to save Cruz. They were soon joined by members of the Civil Defense and the Red Cross.

We also formed a cordon around him so that people wouldn’t get too close. But even though we were trying to take care of him, ESMAD officers let off another tear-gas canister and fired a rubber bullet at us, even though we were just trying to take care of him.

Then, 25 minutes later, an ambulance arrived to bring Cruz to the hospital. [Editor’s note: a student union has also criticized this long waiting time.]

On November 23, the hospital declared that Cruz suffered from “craniocerebral trauma” caused by the penetration [of a sharp object.] The hospital didn’t give any more information about the injury, though they did say his life wasn’t in danger. But on the evening of November 25, the hospital finally announced that Cruz had died after spending 48 hours in intensive care.

A symbol of police repression

Even before Cruz was announced dead, his injuries at the hands of police had sparked a wave of emotion across Colombia. Many people saw his story as symbolic of the brutality of the police crackdown on protesters. People gathered at the location where he was hit on the evening of November 23 to pay him tribute.


Several human rights organizations criticized ESMAD’s “excessive use of force.”  The country’s attorney general announced that an investigation had been opened into Cruz’s death. He further denounced the fact that ESMAD is not letting the protests take place normally, which he said is a violation of Article 37 of the Constitution. The Colombian president and the head of the Metropolitan Police in Bogota also announced that investigations into Cruz’s death had been opened.

Other images of police violence

Since the start of the protests, other images showing police brutality have also been posted online and rights group Amnesty International has spoken out against this violent crackdown. The video below also shows a police officer shooting at someone who is running away (at 0’10). The officer is only about a meter from the person when he shoots.


In another video, a police officer throws a stone at the person who is filming from a window while his fellow officers drag someone on the ground.


In yet another video, a police officer can be seen kicking a woman in the face (0’10). The woman collapses.


Unprecedented protests in Colombia

The unprecedented protest movement that has been gripping Colombia started on November 21 with a general strike, the first since 1977.  Hundreds of thousands of people took to the streets in mostly peaceful protests. The protests continued in the following days. Each evening, people would gather for “pan concerts”, where they would gather and bang on pans together.  A curfew has been in place in the capital city since November 22.

The protesters oppose the government’s recently proposed labour reform as well as its push to increase retirement age and reduce public pension funds in favour of private parties. Protesters are also calling for increased funding of public education and the full implementation of the peace agreement signed with the Farc rebels. They further denounce the assasination of more than a hundred social and indigenous leaders since Duque took office in August 2018.

In response to the ongoing protests, Duque opened what he called a “National Dialogue” on November 24 and gathered mayors and governors from around the country to launch the initiative that he said will focus on topics ranging from equitable economic growth to corruption. Protesters have been critical of this, saying that the government has not addressed the demonstrators' demands.

Article by Chloé Lauvergnier (@clauvergnier).