Colombia's incoming Defense Minister Guillermo Botero is planning to “regulate” anti-government protests by only allowing demonstrations if they are previously approved by authorities. The announcement was made by Botero during a summit attended by USAID director Mark Green and former U.S. vice-president Joseph Biden.
Also attending the summit, president-elect Ivan Duque, said that “opposition is important to scrutinize, make demands and to criticize. But the invitation is that we pull together for a future for us all.”
Botero, who will be in charge of both the National Police and military, seemed to agree, saying public protests should “represent the interests of all Colombians and not just a small group.”
Restricting anti-government protests, which appears to go in contradiction to some parts of the ongoing peace process, was the first proposal made by Botero after being appointed by Duque.
Outgoing president Juan Manuel Santos vowed to release jailed participants in protests that turned violent during major social tensions between neglected or discriminated communities and the authorities, according to Colombia Reports.
Over the past decade, the overwhelming majority of protests were held by historically neglected groups, mainly Indigenous groups and African-descendant communities. They also included labor unions, campesinos, teachers, as well as political opponents to the government.
Botero’s proposal comes amid a surge of assassinations and death threats against human rights defenders and social activists.
Opposition Senator Alexander Lopez, who earlier this year survived an alleged assassination attempt, took to Twitter to voice his concern over the restrictive measure. “Botero hasn’t even taken office and he’s already persecuting social protest. He wants us to just raise our arms for him to do what he wants with us.”
Colombia's inspector general, Fernando Carrillo, has accused elements of the country's police and military of collaborating with criminal organizations to assassinate human rights defenders and community leaders. “State agents are co-opted by criminal organizations that are eliminating social leaders,” the official said on Wednesday.
Carrillo's office is one of the state departments tasked with investigating the murders of at least 311 social leaders since 2016.