Police killing of 18-year-old protester sparks outrage in Colombia

The 18-year-old student who was shot by Colombian riot police during mass protests has died from his injuries. ESMAD riot police shot Dilan Cruz in the head with a rubber bullet as he ran away from them as they attacked demonstrators in central Bogota on Saturday 23 November. Several people filmed the incident, with the clips going viral on social media, sparking intense criticism over the government’s disproportionate response to the public discontent. Dilan died in hospital two days after he was shot.     

Since the National Strike launched on 21 November, protests have continued across the country. Core demands include the reversal of planned pension and labour reforms, full implementation of the 2016 peace agreement and an end to the killings of social activists. The movement includes trade unions, students, human rights organisations, indigenous groups and opposition political parties. On Friday night, with protests in their second day, authorities implemented a curfew in Bogota, Cali and Bucaramanga.

Videos recorded on mobile phones have documented widespread police brutality, including beatings, shootings and the teargassing of peaceful demonstrators. One video showed police shooting a fleeing person in the back from point-blank range, while another showed a police officer wearing a helmet headbutting a young woman in the face. According to Colombian press reports, at least 350 people have been injured and 170 arrested.

Opposition political figures and social movement representatives denounced the police killing of Dilan Cruz. Senator Gustavo Petro, who came second in 2018’s presidential election, said he would boycott a meeting convoked by President Iván Duque to seek resolution to the crisis. ‘For Dylan, because the president does not respect sincere dialogue with social movements or their spokespersons. As Duque wants to substitute the agenda wanted by the people in the streets, I will not attend this reunion,’ he tweeted.

Senator Victoria Sandino of the FARC political party tweeted ‘I do not have words to express the pain and anger over the murder of Dilan Cruz. Now more than ever we must dismantle the ESMAD, and we are not going to leave the streets until the government listens.’

Dilan Cruz was due to graduate high school on Monday and planned to study administration at university. Like most young people from lower-income families, he required a loan to undertake his studies. His friends said he was marching to protest the difficulties and costs faced by young people seeking to enter higher education.

Even before Dilan’s death, vigils had already been held in many parts of Colombia over the attack. Following the announcement that he had died, his name was trending on Twitter as Colombians expressed their indignation over the latest act of violence by the ESMAD, which has killed several young people through aggressive policing tactics in recent years.

Colombia’s main trade union movement called for an intensification in the protests in response to Dilan’s killing. In a statement, the CUT, the CGT and other trade union organisations urged people to ‘reinforce and elevate protests, mobilisations and the National Strike with greater intensity on Wednesday 27 November in homage to the symbol of this National Strike, Dilan Mauricio Cruz Medina’.