What began with tens of thousands of demonstrators marching towards Bogotá’s historic Plaza de Bolívar chanting and singing songs of protest, turned sour at 4:30 p.m when masked vandals began defacing the statue to Liberator Simón Bolívar at the heart of square and surrounded by the Palace of Justice, Mayoralty, Primatial Cathedral and Congress.
As the encapuchados proceeded to smash windows, spray paint the walls of the historic landmarks, and climb the fence of the Casa del Florero with intent to destroy the museum’s artifacts, the National Police Anti-Riot Squad – Esmad – advanced through the square. The ensuing chaos and confrontation with tear gas and stones resulted in injury to several protestors who were attended to by first responders.
The violence has been focalized in three areas of Bogotá: Centro, Suba and Universidad Nacional. The TransMilenio station facing the National University is the scene of intense confrontations between Esmad and masked protestors, with employees of the city’s mass transit system protecting themselves from the hordes of vandals who smashed the gates and windows of the station. Several students who were exercising their right to peaceful protest tried to reason with the vandals in an attempt to stop them destroying public property. One individual who was inside the station allegedly stealing was grabbed by a mob and beaten repeatedly.
As Esmad cleared the Plaza de Bolívar, many protestors sought shelter in offices nearby and abandoned the demonstration, that since it began at 9 am was being celebrated by trade unions, women’s groups, environmentalists, civic leaders and leftist organizations as a “day of peace.” By the time the masked protestors headed north along Carrera Séptima to Avenida Jiménez, the representatives of the country’s largest trade unions, as well as thousands of peaceful demonstrators had left the historic center.
In Suba, the confrontations are ongoing, between Esmad and protesters near the locality’s main TM station, where several municipal trash bins were set on fire and the bicycle racks ransacked and destroyed.
The security situation in Colombia’s capital remains precarious with nightfall and the ensuing acts of violence targeting the city’s mass transit system. Responding to the vandalism that sabotaged the peaceful protest, Bogotá’s General Secretary addressed the media saying: “Violence and vandalism are not effective means of communications between the state and citizens. It won’t resolve the social problems of the country.”
Mayor Peñalosa confirmed that the violence was very “concentrated” and his administration is not contemplating a curfew for the city. The mayor thanked the National Police for its valor after 10 officers were injured in the attacks, two of them seriously. The Mayor confirmed that in Bogotá there are “organized groups of delinquents” who committed acts of vandalism to 56 of Bogotá’s 138 TransMilenio stations. Dozens of bicycles at Portal de Suba “belonging to individuals from low-income families were stolen,” confirmed the Mayor.
“We are infinetly more the good citizens, and as of tomorrow we will rebuild the city that we dream of,” said Peñalosa.
President Iván Duque has yet to make an official statement on the turn of the day’s events.