55 Members of Congress denounce police brutality in Colombia, call for a freeze on military sales

Published by Brent Patterson on

On May 15, the Colombian newspaper El Espectador reported: “In a harsh letter sent to U.S. Secretary of State Antony John Blinken, U.S. congressmen asked his government to suspend direct assistance to the Colombian National Police until real improvements in the use of force are observed and no judicial responsibility is assumed for the brutality cases that have been evidenced in the midst of the protests.”

The letter is available as a separate document here.

Yesterday, Representative Jim McGovern tweeted: “I joined w/ @repmarkpocan, @janschakowsky & @RepRaulGrijalva to lead 55 Members of Congress in expressing grave concern over the political & human rights situation in #Colombia & urging the U.S. Government to clearly & unambiguously denounce police brutality in Colombia.”

Among those 55 Members of Congress are Representatives likely well-known to Canadians, including: Ayanna Pressley, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib (as see clockwise in the photo above).

Among the eight asks in their letter:

– “Suspend U.S. direct assistance, other than human rights training, to Colombia’s National Police and establish concrete, achievable benchmarks on improvements in the use of force and judicial accountability for past police brutality cases, including those committed in the context of protests in November 2019 and September 2020.”

– “Freeze U.S. commercial and foreign military sales of weapons, equipment, services, or training to the ESMAD; and freeze any grants or sales of riot or crowd control equipment to all other Colombian security forces, police, and special units.”

Canada’s assistance to the Colombian police and army

Canada’s international assistance to Colombia averages $40 million per year through various programs, mostly related to development.

On October 30, 2017, the Canadian Press reported on a “bilateral police initiative” between Canada and Colombia. At that time, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau stated: “This effort will support post-conflict policing efforts in Colombia and will see Canadian police providing training, capacity building and strategic advice to our Colombian friends.” It’s not clear the current status of this initiative.

Global Affairs Canada has also noted: “Colombia is a priority hemispheric partner for the Department of National Defence. Colombia became a member of the Department of National Defence’s (DND) Military Training and Cooperation Program (MTCP) in 2011.” And the Department of National Defence has highlighted: “The MTCP accepts new member countries that: are non-oppressive and adhere to human rights standards.”

Additionally, Canada has exported more than $45 million in military goods to Colombia in recent years, including Light Armoured Vehicles (LAVs) to the Colombian Army and Armoured Personnel Carriers (APCs) to the Colombian National Police. APCs are now being used to suppress the current protests.

We further note that the Canadian Labour Congress has issued this statement that says: “Canadian unions condemn this violence and support the legitimate demands of the Colombian people for: The demilitarization of the urban areas and cities. The dismantling of the Colombian national police riot control unit (known by its Spanish acronym ESMAD).”

We ask that Members of Parliament in Canada review the letter from the 55 Members of the U.S. Congress and develop a set of asks reflecting their concerns that are applicable with respect to Canadian foreign policy in Colombia.

Categories: News Updates


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