Chaos in Colombia As Police Appear to Beat Protesters in Videos

Social media videos appear to show Colombian police officers violently suppressing protests against President Iván Duque Márquez's right-wing government.

The demonstrations have now entered their eighth day and have been taking place in cities and towns across the country, including the capital Bogota and Cali, the third largest city. Protests have also taken place in the northern cities of Bucaramanga and Medellín.

Police in the streets, in sheaves and with weapons, they believe be gods, but in cyberspace they are a piece of shit or simply nothing

— Anonymous Colombia (@AnonymousOpCOL) May 6, 2021

The demonstrations were originally called to oppose a tax reform plan, which has since been dropped, but protesters have remained on the streets to march against economic inequality, government inaction on poverty and police brutality.

The protests began on April 28 after a national strike drew larger crowds than expected. Colombia's Interior Minister Daniel Palacios said in a press briefing on Thursday that 24 citizens and one police officer had been killed in the violence. He added that 324 civilians had been injured.

Several videos of shootings are circulating on social media, including some that appear to show police firing at protesters. One video filmed in Medellín appears to show injured protesters being treated by health workers.

Parque de los Deseos, en este momento. Medellín#SOSMedellin

— Natalia Cardona (@Nataliaccvi) May 6, 2021

In another clip, police in Cali are apparently seen shooting at protesters, raiding houses and beating citizens with batons.

One video shows police chasing down a fleeing protester on motorbikes during the evening before kicking him to the ground and beating him with truncheons.

The United Nations said on Tuesday that it was "deeply alarmed" by the bloodshed in the city. It said it was particularly shocked by reports that police had fired on protesters on Monday.

🇨🇴 The largest cities in #Colombia, #Bogota (capital) and Medellin, are in riots.

The radicals use Molotov cocktails and firearms against the security forces.#AnonymousColombia #ColombiaAlertaRoja

— Cylon Osint (@CylonOsint) May 6, 2021

In the press conference, Palacios said peaceful protest had to be protected and the country's attorney general—who isn't appointed by the government but elected by the Supreme Court of Justice—would independently investigate all the reported acts of violence.

The minister said there had been three arrest warrants issued to police officers so far.

"So, this is a system that works under the rule of law under the constitution, and our institutions are solid institutions, independent institutions, and those institutions have to work and have to have the ability to do their jobs," Palacios said.

He blamed the leftist rebel group FARC and narco-trafficking gangs for instigating some of the violence. Palacios condemned individuals he alleged had used "the umbrella of civil protest" to use violence and vandalize property.

The protests have drawn tens of thousands of people to the streets as the marches evolved into demonstrations against economic inequality and rising poverty.

Much of the frustration initially stemmed from new or expanded taxes on citizens and business owners, and the elimination of many tax exemptions, such as those on certain sales of everyday goods.

Although Duque said the objective of the reforms—aimed at raising the equivalent of 1.4 percent of GDP, or $4.1 billion—was to stabilize the country's economy, the plan was criticized for favoring the wealthy and placing more strain on the working and middle classes.

Finance Minister Alberto Carrasquilla, the architect of the tax reforms, tendered his resignation on Monday evening, after spending most of the day in meetings with Duque. The Colombian peso fell after the move.

In a bid to quell the unrest, Duque ordered the proposal to be withdrawn from Colombia's Congress, where it was being debated, on Sunday. He said his government would present an alternative draft law. But his right-wing Democratic Center party has less than 20 percent of the seats in the house and may struggle to pass a new law.

In an address to the nation, Duque urged lawmakers to put together a new plan quickly "and thus avoid financial uncertainty."

"The reform is not a whim. The reform is a must," he said.

Unlike many other Latin American countries, Colombia prides itself on being a relatively stable economy and has not defaulted on debt since the 1930s.

This article was updated on May 6 at 10.50 a.m. ET, to add comments from the Colombian interior minister.

Protester wearing Colombia flag amid unrest
A protester waves a Colombian flag during a national strike on May 5 in Bogota. Social media videos appear to show Colombian police officers using force against protesters in cities across the country. Ovidio Gonzalez/Getty