By Clara López, SEMANA, September 16, 2020
(Translated by Eunice Gibson CSN Volunteer Translator)
In the reported circumstances of a deteriorating chain of command, the highest levels of political and institutional responsibility have to answer for the lives of the defenseless citizens that were taken, not just the police officers who were involved.
The unconscionable acts of violence these days reveal that the citizens are helpless against the attacks of criminals and the abuses of the Police. The videos of the disorders in Bogotá and Soacha show both demonstrators and police completely out of control. But the fact that the Police took the lead in the disproportionate use of force against unarmed civilians is indefensible, and the worst of it is that the high-ranking officials, including President Duque and Minister Trujillo, have not responded with the decisiveness that the situation calls for.
The disturbances that were motivated by the torture and murder of Javier Ordóñez expose a devastating picture. Added to the reprehensible participation of those who were violently pushing down the protesters, was the indiscriminate action of a band of 20 and 30 police officers, motorized and on foot, acting like the vandals they had been called to restrain. Many of their helmets did not carry their identification number. The most dangerous was that in at least four localities in Bogotá the police fired on defenseless demonstrators and furnished firearms to civilian personnel. In Teusaquillo, you could see a citizen appealing to the common sense of an agent who was aiming and firing a 12-caliber rifle.
What took place supports a conclusion that the Police go out to the protests carrying firearms and are prepared to break up the protests instead of furnishing the necessary protection; protection that includes well-known tactics for surgical containment of excesses, without attacking the peaceful demonstrators who were in the majority. The Mayor of Cartagena avoided a police rampage because he accompanied the march that the officers were disposed to dissolve.
The Police that I knew when I was Secretary of Government and Mayor of Bogotá were a group that was disciplined in the military style, hierarchical and with a chain of command that nobody dared to ignore. An isolated case might be attributed to insubordination, but the use of firearms as was noted in multiple events, cannot be treated as an example of lack of discipline. In the Police, that is not an option. Somebody had to give that order, or allow it to be given. If that does not turn out to be true, as the high-ranking officials are claiming, the institutional deterioration is so great that it demands holding the Police aside until substantial measures are taken in the places where the subordinates, as General Penilla claimed, fire their weapons according to “their own criteria”.
With all that has happened, the subject of orders given has to be investigated because of the seriousness it involves for democracy. Whether by action or by omission, the road to totalitarianism begins with ambiguity about who is responsible for the abusive, disproportionate, and indiscriminate use of weapons by the government. In circumstances where the deterioration of the chain of command is noted, the highest levels of political and institutional responsibility must answer for the lives of the defenseless citizens that were taken, and not just the police officers involved, as has become the custom. Without resignations and with impunity, the little democratic restraint that survives in our leaders might drift toward the temptation of the self-inflicted coup, in the style of Fujimori.