estallido social

The National Strike of 2021 in Colombia unleashed violence and abuses, especially in Cali. Impunity persists as a People’s Tribunal seeks justice, highlighting the case of Michael Andrés, a young victim of police repression.

By Juan Carlos Díaz


April 28 is a day that is marked in the recent history of Colombia. On that date in 2021, thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in dozens of cities in what became known as the National Strike, later termed a ‘social explosion’. The protests, which extended until June 12 of that year, are nearing their third anniversary.

Various actors and social sectors, mostly young people, mobilized in response to dissatisfaction with the measures adopted by the Government of then-President Iván Duque.

It was in this scenario, where numerous protests occurred, leading to intense clashes between authorities and demonstrators. There are multiple reports of the overreach of the Public Force in this regard.

Interest in: Buenaventura, from war weariness to the first laboratory of ‘Total Peace’ in Colombia

According to the report of the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, IACHR, among many other international organizations that visited Colombia during June 2021, during 2021 in Colombia, there were more than 12 thousand protests in 862 municipalities of the 32 departments of Colombia, and at least 1,038 demonstrations presented cases of disappearances, deaths, injuries, and sexual assaults as a result of the illegitimate and disproportionate use of force, particularly in cities such as Cali, Bogotá, and Popayán.

Social upheaval in Cali

Cali – the third most important city in Colombia, after Bogotá and Medellín – was the epicenter of the protests of this social upheaval, concentrating around 25 points of resistance, particularly in the eastern and hillside areas of the city, where operations were carried out by the Public Force, particularly with the Mobile Anti-Riot Squads, ESMAD, and Special Security Operations Groups, GOES of the Police. However, there are reports of participation by armed civilians and military personnel dressed in civilian clothes without identification, who allegedly acted in coordination with members of the military force.

These actions, particularly by some members of the Police who are now on trial, left numerous victims, especially in the western hillside of Cali, in the Siloé neighborhood, a neighborhood with high levels of poverty, with a history of violence, social and economic inequality, as well as popular resistance and struggles.

«Operation Zapateiro»

Siloé, which stands out amidst the mountains between the Farallones and the Cristo Rey hill, with numerous houses stacked between the mountain and, above it, a giant star that illuminates it at night, is part of commune 20 of the city of Cali, which is composed in total of eight neighborhoods and three urbanizations (Belén, Belisario Caicedo, Brisas de Mayo, Lleras Camargo, Pueblo Joven, La Sultana, Siloé, Tierra Blanca, Urbanización Venezuela, Urbanización Cañaveralejo, Urbanización Cortijo).

It was in this sector of Cali, which began as an invasion, created by violence-displaced people, including a large number of indigenous and Afro-descendant people, where «Operation Zapateiro» was concentrated, personally commanded by General Eduardo Enrique Zapateiro, commander of the National Army, who implemented President Duque’s order to «stabilize and recover the city of Cali» in the face of the protests that were taking place in 2021.

Areas such as the Siloé Roundabout and La Nave were among the first points of resistance that were subjected to what many now denounce as state repression.

Social organizations documented 18 cases with multiple types of human rights violations between April 28 and June 13, 2021, identifying 159 victims, of whom 16 people were killed in Siloé allegedly at the hands of the Public Force, in what they called «The Siloé Massacre».

Violence balance

According to the Prosecutor’s Office, during the strike, 29 people died; more than half in Cali. There were 25 civilians, three police officers, and one member of the CTI (Technical Investigation Corps of the Prosecutor’s Office).

The Prosecutor’s Office has accused three police officers and one patrolman of cases related to homicides and has arrested 119 demonstrators for assaulting police officers.

For its part, the NGO Temblores speaks of 40 cases of homicidal violence attributed to the Police and the ESMAD, without any convicting judgment.

In turn, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Colombia says that, of 46 verified cases, in at least 28 the alleged perpetrators would have been members of the Public Force and in 10 non-state actors.

The massacre

On the night of May 3, 2021, residents of the Siloé neighborhood gathered in a peaceful vigil in memory of the dead, in the vicinity of the neighborhood roundabout. There they were lighting candles in memory of Nicolas García Guerrero, a young graffiti artist murdered the previous day – May 2 – in the Paso del Comercio sector, northeast of Cali.

It was at that moment that the Military Forces carried out «Operation Siloé», against the people gathered there. The disproportionate police action allegedly caused the death of three men: Kevin Anthony Agudelo, José Emilson Ambuila, and Harold Antonio Rodríguez, and 22 people were seriously injured.

These cases, which are being investigated by the People’s Tribunal of Siloé, a unique instance in Colombia and emerged after the protests and driven by social organizations and human rights defenders, both national and international, seek to clarify the truth, concluded that during the 46 days of protest of the social upheaval, there were 16 murders in Siloé, in which two of the victims were minors aged 15 and 17.

The tribunal, which issued a non-binding verdict and symbolic condemnation of the Colombian state for these 16 murders, documented 136 injured due to the disproportionate use of force, 74 who suffered cruel and inhuman treatment, 73 arbitrarily detained, and 48 injured by firearms.

Justice in the Shadows

After 33 months, nearly three years, these cases remain in impunity. With no one convicted.

This documentation exercise was the focus of what would later become the trial, accusation, and indictment hearing, held on September 10, 2022, and finally the reading of the Judgment of the People’s Tribunal in Siloé, which was presented at a public hearing in Cali on February 20, 2023, by judges from Portugal, the United States, Germany, Cuba, Argentina, Bolivia, Mexico, Ecuador, and Colombia.

This People’s Tribunal persists in its struggle to have the murders of not only the youth of Siloé, Cali, but of the entire country recognized, as the genocides were carried out systematically in Colombia.

Family members of the victims.

Crimes Imputed During the Social Uprising

In the Judgment, collectively crafted by the team of judges of the People’s Tribunal in Siloé, it was determined which crimes were attributed to the members of the Public Force implicated in the 16 murders in Siloé during the social uprising in Cali, following a rigorous process that involved observing, listening, contrasting, verifying, analyzing, and understanding both the contexts in which the violations of the human rights of the population of Siloé occurred.

  • Continued genocide against youth and inhabitants of popular sectors and crimes against humanity
  • Massacres, selective homicides, and attempted homicides
  • Arrests, forced disappearances
  • Torture, cruel and degrading treatment
  • Arbitrary detentions and judicial setups
  • Threats and intimidation

Accused or alleged perpetrators

  • State of the Republic of Colombia led by: • Iván Duque Márquez, President of Colombia (2018-2022).
  • Diego Andrés Molano Aponte, Minister of National Defense (2021-2022).
  • Retired General Eduardo Enrique Zapateiro Altamiranda, Commander of the National Army of Colombia (2019-2022).
  • Clara Luz Roldán González, Governor of Valle del Cauca (2020-2023).
  • Jorge Iván Ospina Gómez, Mayor of Santiago de Cali (2020-2023).
  • Retired Brigadier General Hoover Alfredo Penilla Romero, Deputy Director of the National Police (2020-2022).
  • Brigadier General Juan Carlos Rodríguez, Commander of the Metropolitan Police of Santiago de Cali (2021).
  • Colonel Edgar Vega Gómez, Operational Commander of the Metropolitan Police of Cali (2021).
  • Brigadier General Juan Carlos León Montes, Commander of the Metropolitan Police of Santiago de Cali (2021-2022).
  • Lieutenant Néstor Fabio Mancilla Gonzalíaz, Commander of the Special Operations Group (GOES) of the Metropolitan Police of Cali (2021).

In Cali, the Prosecutor’s Office accused two officers and one patrolman as alleged responsible for «several homicides.» In the case of Siloé, Lieutenant Néstor Fabio Mancilla Gonzalíaz, commander of the GOES, and Colonel Édgar Vega Gómez, then operational commander of the Metropolitan Police of Cali, are under investigation.

«Waiting for justice someday»

Michael Andrés Aranda Pérez was a young man of only 24 years old, who was killed in the second massacre in Siloé on May 28, 2021, as he was heading home. He was hit by a gunshot in the back, near La Sorpresa bakery, and managed to be taken to the Siloé health post and then to the University Hospital of Valle.

On the way, he managed to tell his mother, María Italia, before passing away, that he had been shot by the police.

«Mom, I’m okay,» he told his mother, who added that when she touched him, he felt very cold.

«When I touched him, he felt very cold, and I asked the paramedic, and he told me that was normal. Then he told me, let’s go quickly, let’s go quickly,» recalls his mother.

María Italia cannot understand why there have been no arrests for the young people who were killed so far.

Read also: The three wars in Buenaventura: a snapshot of how violence has plagued the Colombian port

Aftermath of the Social Uprising

«I don’t see the difference between a policeman and my son. They are both human beings, and both lives should have been respected. The police should not have responded to the young people with bullets, and even less with rifle bullets, while they had a shield and a stone. It wasn’t fair,» María Italia said.

For Andrés’ mother, the impunity prevailing in her son’s case, three years after the events, is because «bureaucracy is always in favor of them (the Police).»

«We, the poor, never have anything in our favor. So we have to continue fighting against that impunity and hope that someday there will be justice,» she added.

María Italia says she has many beautiful memories of her son. «I remember he always told me he loved me. I knew that when I came home from work, even if it was just a glass of water, it would be waiting for me on the table. He wanted to get ahead for his family. He left us a five-year-old granddaughter. He wanted to get a little house. He wanted a motorcycle. He wanted to study because he wanted to get ahead.»

Siloé, in Cali, does not forget the people who died in the social uprising.

The Lawyer

In the case of Michael Andrés, on July 26, 2023, a Imputation Hearing was held before the 32nd Municipal Criminal Court with Guarantees Control Function in Cali, which provided formal and material legality control to the prosecution’s indictment against Colonel Edgar Vega Gómez, who was then the operational commander of the Metropolitan Police of Cali, as the author of the crime of Aggravated Homicide in homogeneous competition against Andrés, but no preventive measure was issued.

On January 30, 2024, an Accusation Hearing was held, but the judge determined to combine all the processes against the officer to demonstrate that the actions were systematic.

Herwin Corzo Laverde, one of the lawyers handling Andrés’ case, said that no case is beyond the preparatory hearing. The vast majority are in absolute impunity.

«In the case of May 3, 2021, we requested preventive measures for the police operational commander, the Esmad, and the Goes, but they were not granted. For Michael Andrés’ case, we made the same request for the operational commander. It was also denied. In both cases, our argument focused on the fact that the commanders have the possibility to manipulate the evidence before the trial,» the lawyer said.


Por favor ingrese su comentario!
Por favor ingrese su nombre aquí