The first to know were the members of his security scheme. “We are going to go see the CAIs,” President Iván Duque told them on Tuesday night. At that time, a good part of the team of officials from the Casa de Nariño who spoke in his ear had already finished the day.
Hassan Nassar, Senior Palace Communications Councilor, was coming home when he found out. “His decision was so spontaneous and natural that it didn’t surprise me,” he says.
(In context: Duque dresses as a policeman and visits CAI affected by protests)
However, there are voices that when they saw the President with a Police jacket in front of a CAI, they interpreted the intention of sending a direct message at a time when several members of the institution are seen with a magnifying glass after the torture and murder of the lawyer and taxi driver Javier Ordóñez and, hours later, the use of his firearms against protesters.
According to the Police Director, General Óscar Atehortúa, so far there have been 77 investigations against 101 police officers for shooting in protests, of which 10 have already been suspended. It is difficult to find in recent history such a serious situation for this institution.
(Read also: They take to the clinic a patrolman involved in the death of Javier Ordóñez)
However, Duque has not hesitated a second to show his support with an image that is worth a thousand words.
It’s not the first time. At the end of last year, when the echo of the saucepans was still clear in the protests of the national strike and there was a bitter discussion between defenders of the Mobile Anti-Riot Squad (Esmad) and those who demanded its dissolution, alleging that the crime of the 18-year-old protester years Dilan Cruz was the straw that had overflowed the cup, the President went to give them his voice of encouragement.
That December Sunday, Duque got up early and before several members of the Esmad who were clad in their dark and shiny special protective suits he said:
“As President, I am very proud of all that you do for this country. Thank you for your dedication, for your sacrifice, also for the sacrifice of your families. My love, my respect and admiration, and I want to thank you for being the police of Colombia ”.
(You may be interested in: ‘Today more than ever, Colombians are grateful to the police’)
As President, I am very proud of all that you do for this country.
Nassar maintains that the President understands the drama of the victims, but that he also wants to make clear his support for the country’s institutions.
The official says that in both cases, the head of state “deeply” regretted the loss of human life, but that he is also firm in the defense of the entities that make up the State organization chart.
“How many policemen are there in Colombia? How old is the National Police? ”Asks Nassar. “There are about 150,000 people with almost 130 years of history,” he answers. “So we are going to hold all of them responsible for the very serious actions of a handful? No. And in that the President is categorical ”.
(Can read: ‘We cannot let there be voices that stigmatize the Public Force’)
Daniel Mejía Londoño, an analyst and researcher at the Universidad de los Andes, is on this shore and explains that the image of the President with the police jacket sees it “as a message of support for the institution.”
“Personally, it does not seem contradictory to forcefully reject abuse and excessive use of police force, and ask those responsible to respond to the authorities, ”says Mejía.
“The institution is supported and surrounded and a message of unity is sent,” argues this analyst, who knows in depth the relations of the police with the community, as he was Secretary of Security for the mayor’s office during the administration of Enrique Peñalosa.
Nassar clarifies, however, that in the case of the images in which the President has the police jacket there was no intention of carrying a message of the dimension that it reached. “That’s why there were no photographers, it wasn’t going to be published, but they ended up getting to know each other,” he argues.
Either way, the visual impact can be read as more than just a stimulus as vandals destroyed 62 CAI with stone and fire and wounded 93 uniformed officers, including a young female agent who was brutally kicked by hooded men.
“In Colombia it will be difficult to reform the police force until President Iván Duque recognizes it, because the president is very reluctant and he defends it,” wrote the influential The Economist, in a post-photograph analysis.
As the British magazine slides, there are several sectors that believe that with this decision the President prioritized as “more serious” the attacks with stones on some CAI and the fires and damage to public property than “the murder by the police of 14 people , mostly young people who were protesting in Bogotá on September 9 ”.
“Hundreds of wounded and dozens of deaths as a result of the brutality of State agents are the notorious fact and symptom of the degradation of misnamed citizen security policies,” says an analysis by the Institute of Studies for Development and Peace (Indepaz ).
(Don’t miss out on reading: ‘Very careful with causing crowds’: Duque)
Its director, the former Minister of Health Camilo González Posso, says that “the conduct of President Duque of unconditional support and in any situation to the actions of the military and police in the aggressive response to social protest is a breach of his constitutional obligation to guarantee the use of the force of the State under the rule of law and respect for citizens’ rights ”.
For him, Duque has himself portrayed with policemen and soldiers supporting the use of firearms or weapons that are supposedly not fatal, but which kill if they are used deliberately to cause permanent damage. “On the other hand, he has not gone to a single funeral of the dozens of young people killed by members of the Public Force this year in the midst of protests.”
Nassar says that nothing could be more wrong to think that Duque is not hurt by the victims. “The President is very affected by what happened in Bogotá. He called several of the families of the dead boys, but he does not make it public because he is not going to get political benefits from that pain ”.
The President is very affected by what happened in Bogotá. He called several of the families of the dead boys, but he does not make it public because he is not going to get political revenue from that pain
The analyst Luis Sandoval believes that with this gesture by the President he opens other fronts of discussion, when one of his tasks should be to seek to reduce the pugnacity that Colombia is experiencing today.
“The country needs to bring them down to the levels of confrontation and violence on all levels,” says Sandoval.
“The Government and the President should be the first to understand it like this. However, the opposite occurs: it seems to follow a line of hardness in all fields that gives the impression that it does not want appeasement. Visiting Esmad and the CAI feels like supporting and authorizing those who abuse force, ”he argues.
Precisely, one of the loudest phrases of the President in the two years in office was when he was asked about the reason for his silence in the face of the death of seven children who had been forcibly recruited by Gildardo, alias Cucho, one of the commanders who allegedly armed himself with ‘Iván Márquez’ after the signing of the peace agreement, and who fell before an Army bombardment.
A reporter crossed him to ask what he thought of that and he replied:
“What are you talking about, old man?”
(In other news: A cabinet that maintains more technicians than politicians)
In this case, they respond in the Casa de Nariño, there is an incomplete reading on the part of some sectors that do not see the whole context or simply take out the fragments of the intense work that the President has.
In Palacio they give an example of the case of the murdered Ordóñez. “The National Government, in the mouth of its Minister of Defense and the Director of the Police, apologized in public and promptly.” And, they reiterate, the President, meanwhile, has demanded – as is his duty – the authorities to clarify and punish those responsible. The agents insist that they were seen in the video using the taser they are already responding to justice, how a democratic system should operate.
The issue is probably due to the visibility that some actions of the President acquire in accordance with the ideology of the citizens, who endorse them or not. In the House of Nariño, they reiterate, Duque is the President of all Colombians and “not of a few with a clear political interest.”
Óscar Useche, professor at the Minuto de Dios University, states that as a citizen he receives with concern what the President says. “President Duque’s message is to try to redress the legitimacy of the police institution, which was seriously damaged by the events of last week,” he says.
But “Use the symbols of a questioned police force, without first apologizing to the victims of the violent actions of the police Nor can announcing the willingness to study a possible major institutional reform be a risky gesture that damages his initial image of being a man open to dialogue ”.
For this reason, he tells the Head of State: “The citizens, in the fight against terrorism and vandalism, support him, but at the same time we demand a security that is not only security for the State, but security for the people.” .
EL TIEMPO Policy Editor
On Twitter: @armandoneira