Bogota, May 24 (EFE).- Colombia’s defense minister on Monday defended police actions during a censure motion debate in congress, where senators and lawmakers accused him of being “politically responsible” for police violence in protests that began on Apr. 28.
The seven-hour session, which ended without a vote on the dismissal of Diego Molano, was convened by 18 legislators due to “human rights violations” allegedly committed by security forces during violent demonstrations, which left at least 43 people dead and 129 missing.
Also taking part in the debate was Juan Fonseca, who lost an eye during the protests allegedly due to the action of the police’s mobile anti-riot squad (Esmad) and family members of Santiago Murillo and Lucas Villas, both of whom were killed during the demonstrations.
During the debate, lawmakers from the ruling Democratic Center and the right-wing Radical Change and Conservative parties, with majorities in both chambers, expressed their willingness to reject the motion to censure, which has the backing of members of the Green Alliance, La Lista de la Decencia coalition and the Liberal Party, among others.
No minister in Colombia has ever been dismissed by a motion to censure in congress.
In his speech, the minister stressed that the government respects “peaceful demonstration” but that it is tough “against violence and all forms of assault that affect the rights of Colombians.”
In that regard he mentioned the road blockades, which he said were not “terrorism” but crimes that were daily affecting food security and supply in places like Cali and Popayán, the two biggest cities in southwestern Colombia.
The minister added that the government was using the public forces wherever road blockades were being put up.
Molano also responded to allegations of human rights violations committed by police during demonstrations, which according to the NGO Temblores have resulted in the death of 43 people, saying that the security forces were acting in compliance with protocols of operation.
The minister said that the attorney general’s office on Monday had announced that 43 people had been killed during those days but that only 17 of them had a direct link to the protests and that in three of these cases, in which the police were allegedly involved, the officials were detained and are being prosecuted by the courts.
He also expressed concern about what he described as “the systematic attack on the police,” citing as an example an incident on May 4, when a mob set fire to a police station in Bogota with 10 officials inside, who managed to escape.
Dozens of people demonstrated in Bogota’s Plaza de Bolivar, opposite the Capitol building, before the debate.
The protesters carried funeral crowns to pay tribute to those killed and expressed support for the motion to censure against Molano.
The addresses by the supporters of the motion were led by leftist senators, Ivan Cepeda and Wilson Ruiz, who accused Molano of being “one of the top political leaders in the systematic chain of crimes against humanity that have been perpetrated by public force officers and groups in Colombia since Apr. 28.”
“During these 25 days, you are directly responsible for this situation. You have designed the policy under which these massive violations have been committed; you have stigmatized peaceful mobilizations and those who have promoted or participated in them and you have encouraged violations by praising the perpetrators and inciting violence,” Cepeda said.
Meanwhile, talks between the government and the national strike committee, made up of trade unions and social organizations, continued on Monday without concrete progress towards the start of a negotiation to end the social crisis that Colombia is facing. EFE