Did the Colombian police use Canadian-made Bell 407 helicopters for surveillance of National Strike protests?
Photo: A Colombian national police Bell 407 helicopter.
The Ottawa-based Canadian Commercial Corporation (CCC) is a federal government agency that facilitates government-to-government contracts to sell Canadian goods and services to countries around the world.
Its 2013-14 annual report notes this “success story” in Colombia:
“As per the CCC contract with Ministry of Defense, four Bell 407 helicopters were delivered to the National Police; and two Bell 412 helicopters were delivered to the Naval Aviation Group [the Colombian navy]. The aircraft were manufactured by Bell Helicopter Textron Canada Ltd. of Mirabel, QC.”
Open-source research by Peace Brigades International-Canada reveals that Bell 407 helicopters were used for surveillance of the Colombian labour movement-organized National Strike mobilization on November 21, 2019.
On November 20, 2019, Semana reported that the Bell 407 Halcón (Falcon) helicopter would be used by the National Police to monitor National Strike protests in Bogotá with high resolution cameras with facial recognition technology.
At that time, Semana noted: “The aircraft, normally, carries four policemen (two pilots) and sends the images it takes to the police command, in real time, so that they are implemented in chases, padlock operations and all kinds of operations.”
Webinfomil.com further reported that the National Police would “deploy its entire fleet of Bell 407 Halcón surveillance helicopters … in the main cities of the country, where the most important concentrations are expected to occur.”
What was being surveilled?
The National Strike was convened by the Colombian labour movement, including the Unitary Central of Workers (CUT), the General Confederation of Labor (CGT) and the Confederation of Workers of Colombia (CTC).
The following day, Al Jazeera reported: “Hundreds of thousands of protesters marched through the dense city streets of Bogota and other cities across Colombia.” And AFP highlighted: “Spokesmen for several organizations backing the protests said more than one million people had marched nationwide.”
Why were so many people on the streets?
Semana Sostenible explains: “Stopping the killing of environmental and social leaders, stopping deforestation, prohibiting fracking and the use of glyphosate, protecting the moors and respecting popular consultations, are some of the reasons why environmentalists took to the streets to make themselves felt.”
How did the Colombian police respond?
By November 23, 2019, the PBI-Colombia accompanied José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers’ Collective (CCAJAR) tweeted: “The Colombian authorities must end the repression of social protests and the excessive use of force against those who demonstrate, guaranteeing the human rights of all people.”
PBI-Colombia echoed CCAJAR’s concerns by tweeting: “Social and peaceful protest is a human right above all else, disproportionate repressions cannot be justified against the civilian population, we request guarantees and respect for life.”
The National Strike protests continued into 2021, as have concerns about the actions and impunity of the Colombian national police.
In May 2021, the New York Times reported: “During Colombia ‘s decades-long conflict with violent rebel groups, the national police often fought on the front lines, using tanks and helicopters to combat guerrillas and destroy drug labs. It was a force made for war, one that has now found a new front, in the streets of Colombian cities , where police have been accused of treating civilian protesters as enemies on the battlefield.”
Were the Canadian-made Bell 407 helicopters sold to the Colombian National Police in 2013-14 used in the National Strike protests of 2021?
Ottawa Citizen reporter David Pugliese has previously noted: “The Ottawa-based CCC [Canadian Commercial Corporation] acknowledges it conducts no follow-up to ensure exported Canadian-built equipment isn’t being used to abuse human rights.”
As such, the question remains unanswered.
We remain attentive to this situation and to the demands made by PBI-Colombia accompanied organizations NOMADESC and CREDHOS that Canada stop assisting the Colombian police with equipment as reported here and here.
PBI webinar, May 31
On May 29, 2014, the Canadian Commercial Corporation noted: “At CANSEC 2014, CCC led eight foreign delegations visiting from Argentina, Bahrain, Chile, Colombia, Kuwait, Mexico, Peru, and Saudi Arabia. CCC toured the exhibition floor with these delegations and introduced representatives to new Canadian technologies, facilitating meetings between foreign delegations and Canadian companies.”
The Bell 407 helicopters were sold to Colombia in 2013-14.
On this coming May 31, the day before CANSEC 2022, Peace Brigades International is organizing a webinar on arms exports and militarization of territory.
To register for that, please click here.
PBI-Colombia tweet: “The exercise of social protest is a basic right and legitimate political participation, #today we accompany the defender of #humanrights David Ravelo in #Barrancabermeja at the #NationalStirke.”
Thank you to CoDevelopment Canada for helping to amplify this story.