Colombia Protests Escalate as Police Stations Focus Of Growing Unrest

Police stations in Colombia are the focus of spiraling unrest that has rocked the country, with social media users posting images and descriptions of violence.

Unverified messages posted on Twitter described how protesters had been locked inside San Francisco police station in Cali, the western city which has been the center of protests since they started a week ago.

"They are shooting at us and we are here inside the station, we're getting burned," said a tweet from the account of Físico Impuro, which showed video of flames inside a building and people screaming.

A tweet from another account said that the San Francisco police station was "burning in the Fatima neighborhood and they do not want to let those detained get out."

Another user tweeted: "You can hear many police planes and motorcycles, this seems like a war zone and they are fighting with young men armed with stones."

Protests Colombia
Demonstrators protest against a tax reform proposed by Colombian President Ivan Duque's government in Bogota, on May 4, 2021. Police stations have been the focus of unrest. JUAN BARRETO/Getty Images

Colombia government secretary Luis Ernesto Gómez tweeted that the San Francisco police station was among 16 across the country that had been "vandalized."

With anger mounting against proposed tax changes made by the government of President Ivan Duque, 19 people have been killed in the demonstrations, 11 of which were in Cali, the country's human rights ombudsman said.

The protests started in opposition to a proposed tax plan to pay Colombia's debts and maintain a basic income scheme. The plan was withdrawn on Sunday but demonstrations have continued as the anger has morphed into a call for action against poverty and police violence.

The international community, led by the United Nations, denounced the actions of security officers in Colombia, as videos emerged on social media of clashes between protesters and law enforcement.

UNHCR spokeswoman Marta Hurtado said it had received reports of "excessive use of force by security officers" as well as "live ammunition being used" and beatings and detentions of demonstrators, AFP reported.

However, Colombian senator Iván Cepeda Castro blamed the protesters for the violence, tweeting: "I emphatically condemn the burning of several CAIs [police stations] and attacks on the police in Bogotá."

"The only ones that benefit from this violence are the enemies of the peaceful mobilization of citizens and those who want to sow confusion to justify violent repression," he added.

Colombia's defense minister, Diego Molano Aponte, who had earlier said that illegal armed groups were behind the looting and vandalism, also blamed protesters for attacks on the police stations, which he said had "left several police officers injured."

"We cannot continue to see police and civilians injured. That is why the call is for the marches scheduled for this Wednesday to be held peacefully," Molano tweeted.

This referred to further marches as well as a national strike planned amid calls for a basic income guarantee, the dissolution of the riot police and the withdrawal of a government health reform proposal.

This story has been updated.