Colombia. Bucaramanga. May 19. 2021.The city of Bucaramanga experienced a complicated day after security forces violently repressed demonstrations by residents this Wednesday, May 19. Human rights organizations reported more than 30 people injured, including one person with an eye injury from an ESMAD (Colombian riot cops) weapon, and several arrests in the Bucaramanga metropolitan area.
For the past 21 days, thousands of people in Santander have taken to the streets to demonstrate their discontent with the government of President Iván Duque. These days are marked by strong police repression against activists.
Once again yesterday, Bucaramanga was the epicenter of a violent day that, according to the legal and human rights organization Equipo Jurídico Pueblos -EJP-, resulted in a balance of more than 30 people injured by ESMAD and police attacks.
Around 6:00 pm, the demonstration reached the area around the Universidad Industrial de Santander -UIS-, after being violently attacked by ESMAD and harassed by the National Army. The safety of the demonstrators was threatened and attacked several times by actions of ESMAD, which used tear gas, stun grenades and water cannons in an attempt to disperse the demonstrations.
“In a disproportionate and arbitrary manner, ESMAD continues to attack demonstrators. It is worrying that after the multiple complaints about the illegitimate and illegal actions of the security forces, the attack against the practice of social protest continues and with increasing intensity,” denounced the Pueblos Legal Team at the time, after two tanks advanced at high speed without regard for the people who were in the streets.
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From 8 p.m. to 10 p.m., hundreds of demonstrators experienced moments of fear after being completely cornered by ESMAD inside the university facilities.
Due to the use of tear gas, more than 20 people were reported injured and were treated by members of the medical service. Among the injured, a young man was hit in the eye by a blunt object from ESMAD; his eye condition is unchanged so far.
According to one demonstrator, ESMAD apparently threw tear gas grenades that were clearly expired because the dates had been erased or did not match; in other words, they were expired, putting the health of people who inhaled the chemicals at great risk.
It was not until around 10:30 p.m. that a humanitarian corridor was opened for the kettled people due to pressure from human rights activists.
Persecution of social protests
In the morning of May 19, the University Committee for Human Rights of the greater Bucaramanga area denounced that the police had harassed and carried out apparent judicial actions against the protesters at Puerta del Sol. They also denounced that the people were irregularly detained by the police for an alleged robbery of a SIJÍN agent and were transported in vans that were not marked with police insignia.
In addition, they denounce that members of the National Army of the Fifth Brigade detained a person without justification and, according to the Committee, exceed the powers and competences that they must fulfill in the context of human rights.
“It is therefore alarming how war-like the national government’s approach to social protest is, because it is openly unconstitutional and a grave violation of human rights for armed soldiers to be present at a peaceful demonstration, to film and also to threaten to break up the demonstration. The right to social protest is a fundamental right and one of the state,” says Equipo Jurídico Pueblos against the presence and harassment by the National Army.
In the municipality of Girón, 5 people were also arrested for carrying out a sit-in with a community kitchen.