Local communities in Colombia are forming defense groups against left-wing rioters who have wreaked havoc across the country following a mass anti-government demonstration last Thursday.
The Argentine outlet Infobae reported on Sunday that the groups were formed as a safeguard against the risk of looting and vandalism in the wake of Thursday’s mass demonstration, where anarchists and left-wing protesters caused millions of dollars’ worth of damage to government buildings, local businesses, and people’s private property.
Despite a government-imposed curfew of 9 p.m. on Friday, the groups rampaged across the capital of Bogotá stretching from the south to the north of the city. At least three policemen were killed while ten others were injured in a bombing in the town of Santander de Quilichao in the southwestern province of Cauca.
— Reuters U.S. News (@ReutersUS) November 23, 2019
In response, various local communities began working guard shifts to watch out for vigilantes, arming themselves with weapons such as knives, sticks, fire extinguishers, and any other condiment that can be used to scare off possible invaders.
“There are about one hundred of us watching because there are four towers in this complex,” Mario Riveros, a resident of an apartment condominium in the Mazurén neighborhood, told the Spanish agency EFE.
— Ruptly (@Ruptly) November 21, 2019
In some neighborhoods, such as Mazurén, neighbors said that when they heard shots or any other nefarious activity, they would activate emergency sirens to keep residents alert to any possible threat.
One of the reasons residents felt forced to take security into their own hands was the breakdown of the country’s emergency services, which received so many calls that the entire system collapsed. The only protection provided to civilians were police helicopters circling the city looking for the most serious crimes.
The outbreak of crime took place following mass demonstrations across the country on Thursday, particularly in the capital of Bogotá, against President Iván Duque and alleged corruption, resulting in violent clashes between protesters and security forces. In Bogotá alone, the city’s Mayor Enrique Peñalosa reported $5.8 million (£4.5 million) in damages.
Today's protests in #Colombia spoke to wide dissatisfaction with the government’s response to attacks against social leaders and indigenous peoples, labor and pension reforms, corruption, and the recalcitrant implementation of the 2016 peace accords.#ParoNacional21Nov pic.twitter.com/YezxsCNsOM
— WOLA (@WOLA_org) November 22, 2019
Although the official motive centered around Duque and his supposed corruption, many turned out to oppose the government’s campaign against Marxist guerrilla groups such as the People’s Liberation Army (ELN), who have over the past year carried out multiple terrorist attacks across the country.
There were also reports of various foreigners, including Cubans and Venezuelans, participating in the protests and their consequent carnage.
In response to the crisis, Duque has repeatedly reaffirmed people’s right to protest and freedom of expression but condemned those responsible for the crimes committed.
“In a democracy, there is the right to express ourselves peacefully but also to categorically reject any form of violence,” he tweeted on Friday. “Our duty is to preserve order and ensure security. These principles will never be subject to the blackmail of those who call hate and violence.”
En democracia está el derecho de pronunciarnos pacíficamente y debemos rechazar categóricamente cualquier forma de violencia. Nuestro deber es preservar el orden y garantizar la seguridad. Estos principios jamás estarán sujetos al chantaje de los que llaman al odio y la violencia pic.twitter.com/uzdBOg6b8S
— Iván Duque (@IvanDuque) November 23, 2019