Colombia: Dozens of Volunteers Stay Up All Night Removing Anti-Police Graffiti

Graffiti is painted over in Cali, Columbia. @CaliesCaliCOL/Twitter
@CaliesCaliCOL/Twitter

A group of at least 50 locals in Cali, Colombia, organized a “paint-a-thon” campaign on Sunday to clean up far-left, anti-police graffiti and murals throughout the city.

The entire nation of Colombia has experienced a wave of leftist violence since late April after a coalition of Marxist groups announced a “national strike.” Initially, the strike was an intended protest against conservative President Iván Duque announcing that he would raise taxes on nearly every economic class in the country. Duque abandoned the plan, after receiving near-universal condemnation, days after it was first announced. The “national strike” continued into July, however, now allegedly a statement against police brutality, gender inequality, indigenous rights violations, and other topics unrelated to the tax proposal.

The “national strike” violence hurt Cali perhaps more than any other city, and its Valle del Cauca. Leftist rioters and terrorists firebombed police stations and targeted statues, historical buildings, and residential areas for destruction. The strike also triggered mass looting, damaging small businesses already devastated by ongoing Chinese coronavirus pandemic restrictions on their ability to do business. In response, citizens began taking to the streets with guns and machetes to protect their homes and neighbors, as the fire attacks rendered many police precincts unable to function.

The riots appear to have prompted a deterioration in Colombia’s ability to properly respond to the nation’s ongoing Chinese coronavirus crisis. Colombia documented a record-high number of deaths attributable to coronavirus in mid-June, after a month of riots attracting dozens of leftist attackers. Vandals also targeted supply convoys on highways closed off by “national strike” roadblocks, stealing personal protective equipment (PPE), coronavirus vaccines, and other important goods. As of Monday, Colombia has documented 4.3 million coronavirus cases and nearly 110,000 deaths since the pandemic began, one of the world’s highest known infection rates.

The Duque administration has accused the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN), both Marxist terrorist organizations, of participating in the destruction and vandalism of police stations and private property in Cali.

Cali was the first city to organize a pro-police, anti-rioter rally in May, prompting similar events nationwide attracting thousands of people.

After a week of relative quiet in the city, locals organized Sunday’s “paint-a-thon,” a cleanup effort to remove anti-police graffiti and leftist “hate messages.” According to Colombia’s El Tiempo, the efforts began at 6 a.m. local time. The “murals” removed included graffiti scribbled on the sides of highways referring to members of police units as “rapists” and accusing them of “genocide.”

“I love my city very much and I don’t want my city to look destroyed and washed up like it looks today,” one unidentified woman participating in the clean-up told Cali’s El País in a video interview.

Another, identified simply as Beatriz, insisted that the clean-up efforts were not damaging any artistic installments or legitimate expressive content, but “obscene words, offensive words, words of death. … We want to see a clean city, hopefully, they don’t dirty it up again.”

At least two members of Colombia’s Congress, Christian Garcés and María Fernanda Cabral, joined the efforts. Both are members of the ruling conservative Democratic Center party and have spearheaded recent efforts in Congress, in light of the violent leftist riots, to draft a gun rights law for the country. Unlike the United States, Colombia’s constitution and legal framework do not protect the right to bear arms and the government requires private citizens to offer a compelling reason they need a firearm before they can legally purchase one.

“This paint-a-thon is a demonstration of all that citizen love that exists for Cali,” Garcés told El País. “Today, citizens have come to paint walls, the public spaces that in past days where we lived moments of violence and vandalism were filled with violent, negative messages, messages that incited destruction.”

The local Cali government, which opposes the Democratic Center and has engaged in “dialogue” with the rioters, expressed outrage with the clean-up efforts, emphasizing that those painting over the vandalism did not have a permit to do so. No evidence suggests those who painted the widespread anti-police graffiti in the city received a permit for their efforts, either.

“The mayor’s office is the one who should be painting the city, just as we are reconstructing [police stations], traffic lights, and, very quickly, public transit stations,” Cali secretary of security and justice, Javier Soler Parra, said this weekend before Sunday’s paint-a-thon. Soler appeared to be responding to growing calls on social media by citizens to organize efforts to combat the leftist destruction of the city.

City officials also noted that there was no official police presence at the event to protect participants. Despite this, many officers participated in the event themselves and, while some “tensions” were reported when leftist organizers attempted to interrupt the cleanup, no reports indicate any incidents of violence.

Follow Frances Martel on Facebook and Twitter.

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