Amnesty International condemns police violence in Colombia following the deaths of dozens of demonstrators

On May 2, Nicolás Guerrero, a 26-year-old artist from Cali, Colombia, took to the streets to protest the lack of possibilities he saw in his own country. He had a family in Spain, which he planned to bring to South America one day. He was found laying on the pavement, badly injured, later that night, when riot police started a harsh raid. Later, he died in the hospital.

Nicolás' mother, Laura Guerrero, told the Guardian that her son "loved Cali, he loved Colombia, and all he wanted was to make things better here." “He died resisting as he lived.”

The police violence that the younger Guerrero found himself swept up in was not an isolated incident, but part of something systemic and institutional, according to a report published by Amnesty International on Friday.

The report, titled Cali: In the Epicenter of Repression, stated, "The incidents documented were not isolated or sporadic, but rather reflect a pattern of violence on the part of the Colombian authorities, who have responded to the protest with stigmatization, criminalization, unlawful police repression, and militarization." “Acts of urban paramilitarism by armed civilians,” according to Amnesty International.

Protests in Colombia began in late April, originally in response to a tax plan that was later withdrawn, but rapidly transformed into a countrywide outcry about persistent economic inequity. Protesters took to the streets for over two months, with marches in major cities virtually every day. Roadblocks were erected by some demonstrators, and private and public property was destroyed.

At least 44 protestors were murdered and 1,650 were injured as a result of the police response across the country. The police were deploying counter-insurgency techniques perfected in combating the country's Marxist rebel groups against demonstrators, according to a recent human rights commission to Colombia made up of representatives from 13 nations.

Guerrero stated, "People need to know what's going on here because we're not making the dead up." “The dead are real,” says the narrator.

Amnesty International said the tactics outlined in its report were based on hundreds of testimony from protestors, human rights activists, and organizations, and that it had digitally verified audiovisual footage.

The study examines three incidents that occurred during the demonstrations. The first occurred on 3 May at Siloé, a hilltop slum in Cali stormed by police. Then, on May 9, armed citizens assaulted a caravan of indigenous protestors while police stood by, wounding 11 people. The third incident included an armed citizen raid on a neighborhood near the Valle university, which was apparently conducted out in collaboration with authorities.

“Under the guise of restoring order, hundreds of people were injured, and scores of young people died,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Amnesty International's America's director, in a statement released before of the report's release. “What happened in Cali demonstrates the government's brutal response and the actual aims of this repression: to instill fear, deter peaceful protest, and punish people who want a more just society.”

The fact that Cali, the colorful, energetic, and self-proclaimed birthplace of salsa dance, became a hotspot of violence and repression did not surprise some experts, who blamed the upheaval on a mix of societal tensions.