Where does the promise to dismantle the Colombian riot police ESMAD unit now stand?

Published by Brent Patterson on

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Photo: Oscar Ramirez (Committee in Solidarity with Political Prisoners) and Alexandra González (Cabinet Secretary of the Ministry of National Defence). Photo by MOVICE.

There are historic and ongoing calls from Peace Brigades International-Colombia Project accompanied human rights organizations for the Colombian police Mobile Anti-Riot Squadron (ESMAD) to be dismantled.

On November 29, 2022, dhColombia tweeted: “DESMONTE DEL ESMAD YA”. That translates to “DISMANTLE THE ESMAD NOW”.

In an interview on October 27, 2022, Alejandra Garzón of dhColombia further stated: “There is a historical need to dismantle ESMAD. This restructuring must be rooted, a total purge of the police officers who have been complicit or who have participated in violent acts.”

In that same interview, Lina Peláez of NOMADESC commented: “ESMAD must have an absolute dismantling.”

In January 2021, the Committee in Solidarity with Political Prisoners (CSPP) also tweeted: “#DesmonteDelESMAD”.

And in November 2019, CREDHOS tweeted: “#DesmonteDelESMAD”.

As a candidate, Gustavo Petro had promised to do this.

In June 2022, Reuters reported: “[Petro] also promises a total restructuring of the police, including dismantling its much-criticized riot squad.”

Petro was sworn in as the President of Colombia on August 7, 2022.

Where does the promise of dismantling the ESMAD stand now?

Alexandra González Zapata (who was with the CSPP and now with the Ministry of Defence) recently commented: “The dismantling of the ESMAD is in the government program, but first, we must think about all the restructuring of the use of force.”

And on November 28, 2022, Semana reported: “Voices are growing within the Presidency of the Republic calling for the urgent dismantling of the Mobile Anti-Riot Squadron (Esmad) of the National Police, a position that was radicalized when recalling the case of Dilan Cruz [an 18-year-old high school student killed by a projectile fired by the ESMAD in November 2019 while he was at a protest for better access to education].”

That article continues: “Several weeks ago and after the director of the Police, General Henry Sanabria, confirmed in SEMANA that the ESMAD would not end, but there would be a whirlwind in their image, the Police revealed some details of the proposal that is on the table to change the face of this shock unit.”

Those change include: “a modification to the color of the uniform, which would no longer be black as at present, but white”, “some of the tankettes/armoured vehicles would be converted into ambulance vehicles to remove injured civilians and police from the demonstrations” and “to suppress or adjust the protocols for using Venóm” smoke projectiles.

But the Movement for the Victims of State Violence (MOVICE) has tweeted: “For the victims, the clearing of the ESMAD IS NOT NEGOTIABLE, this was a commitment and a promise of the National Government during the campaign.”

We also recall that during the national strike in Colombia in 2021, the Canadian Labour Congress (CLC), the Public Service Alliance of Canada (PSAC) and the National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) supported the popular calls for the dismantling of the ESMAD riot squad.

In the coming weeks, we hope to interview a human rights defender with a PBI-Colombia accompanied organization and amplify their thoughts on this issue through a podcast. Stay tuned for more on this soon.


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