Bogotá Mayor Claudia López marked Sunday as a day of forgiveness and reconciliation after the Colombian capital witnessed one of the most violent episodes since the storming of the Palace of Justice by the M-19 guerrilla on November 6, 1985.
As protests over the brutal killing of Javier Ordoñez continued over the weekend, resulting in more vandalism and confrontations with the National Police, Mayor López presided over an ecumenical service in the morning attended by the families of the 13 victims who were shot during the riots by firearms allegedly belonging to the police.
The day’s events also included a concert by youngsters outside the Verbenal Command Post (CAI) that was destroyed and torched by vandals on Wednesday evening. Mayor López reminded Bogotanos that the concert “is not a show,” given that one of the youngest victims of the protests, Jaider Fonseca, age 17, was shot and killed in Verbenal. “We are not celebrating anything. This is an act of mourning and forgiveness in which we recognize the seriousness of what happened,” she said.
While President Iván Duque had been invited by Mayor López to attend the religious ceremony in the city’s most important square – an empty seat tagged with his name – revealed the deepening political divide that exists between the two most important leaders in the country, and already strained by the coronavirus pandemic. Even though the Palace of Nariño excused the President based on “previous commitments,” on Sunday, Mayor López foiled the official line saying: “Recognition and forgiveness are not delegated, they are exercised.”
President Duque has staunchly defended the role of the National Police in dealing with the protests after 68 CAIs were attacked, the majority graffitied with the acronym ACAB, for All Cops Are Bastards. The vandalizing of government buildings and landmarks with hate speech slogans that have been used in other anti-police brutality protests around the world, prove – according to the national government – the infiltration of sophisticated criminal organizations in the demonstrations. “Behind the destruction of CAIs in cities across Colombia exists a clear and premeditated plan by illegal armed groups including ELN and FARC dissents,” remarked the country’s High Peace Commissioner Miguel Ceballos. According to Ceballos, the strategy of these criminal organizations is to “destroy the security infrastructure that protects Colombian cities.”
Defense Minister Carlos Holmes Trujillo also accused international movements – among them anarchists and ACAB – of orchestrating the systematic destruction of public property, and who recruit, indoctrinate and mobilize via social media. The country’s Police chief General Gustavo Moreno claims that “popular collectives” sympathetic to the Venezuelan regime of Nicolás Maduro, acquired weapons that were used in the Bogotá protests. Mayor Claudia López, however, only went as far as to state that “criminal hands” were responsible for 13 deaths.
Amateur footage, however, taken on cellphones during Wednesday’s and Thursday’s rioting show members of the National Police firing their standard-issue weapons. Authorities put the number of civilians injured by bullets at 76. On Saturday, the National Police’s General Moreno asked forgiveness in the name of the country’s 161,000 officers “for any actions that may have violated the Law and governing principles of the institution.”
Yet just hours after the ceremony to honor the victims in Plaza de Bolívar, TV footage filmed groups of youngsters in the historic square preparing Molotov explosives from discarded beer bottles ready to attack police.
On Friday, in the district’s official bulletin listing the hours and locations of protests, ACAB summoned followers to a police command post in the neighborhood of Alcalá with the slogan: “The north unites or burns!” On Saturday, residents fearing that their CAI was a target of ACAB surrounded the building by forming a human chain.
Similar gatherings of solidarity and bravery took place in other CAIs across Bogotá that were not affected by the violence, including one near a shanty in Chapinero Alto, where locals prepared pots of canelazo (cinnamon-infused drink) for nervous, yet grateful, officers. “They have always been part of our families,” remarked community leader Stella Ramírez. “Now, they need our help.”