Bogota (CNN) More than a month since Colombians first took to the streets this year to protest against a botched tax overhaul and the government’s handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, tensions across the country are escalating rapidly with more than a dozen deaths over the weekend — and a risky new government tactic.
On Friday, the southern city of Cali witnessed new scenes of panic when several people in civilian clothing appeared to open fire against protesters, social media footage shows. Colombia’s Attorney General Francisco Barbosa later confirmed that one of the shooters was an off-duty employee of his office’s investigative unit.
Preliminary investigations suggest that the man killed two protesters before the surrounding crowd lynched him, Barbosa said. Footage of the man beaten to death has since gone viral on Colombia social media.
In another episode, a civilian was photographed aiming his gun towards protesters while standing next to uniformed police officers who did not intervene. The man, Andres Escobar, later published a video on social media saying he was shooting non-lethal rubber bullets and asking for forgiveness for his actions.
In an interview with local radio station BluRadio, Escobar said he was prompted to action by seeing “vandals” running wild in his neighbourhood, and did not intend to kill anybody.
Colombia’s police director Jorge Vargas Valencia has announced his office is investigating the incident.
In Cali alone, at least 13 people were killed over the weekend, according to Colombia’s Defense Ministry. In response to escalating violence around the country, President Ivan Duque has deployed the military to thirteen cities to reinforce local police. Defense Minister Diego Molano even posted a video of 500 infantrymen on their way to Cali, set to triumphant music.
Duque said he was pushed to send the military in order to lift dozens of protester roadblocks that since early May have brought the country to a standstill — but critics and some analysts see the deployment as a risky bet destined to add fuel to the fire.