By: The campaign against the criminalization of protest and the popular struggle.


The criminalization of social protests and popular struggles are a strategy of all the states of the world, applied by governments-of the right and the left,-that involves the modification and the use of laws to detain and condemn social activists to high sentences. These measures are, in their great majority, outside of the law and include indictment, persecution, incarceration, torture, abduction, and the assassination of those whose actions are motivated by a desire for a different kind of life. The state compares these people to delinquents or terrorists.

In Colombia the strategies and measures which criminalize social protest have been the order of the day. It has occurred to the Colombian state that, before the increase of mobilization as well as social and popular protest, motivated by the increasing political, economic, and social inequality, the politicians have in turn looked to create new crimes, increase the penalties of others and generate detailed reforms to the penal code. These are changes that don’t look to improve the socio-economic conditions of the Colombian people but generate the appropriate situations to indict, persecute and incarcerate, all in all, to criminalize.

The strategies and practices they have adopted in the first period and that go to the second of the Santos government, set up the criminalization of protest, and they have used the same excuse as always: increasing citizen insecurity. But in reality we know that, for whatever “good intentions” the politicians have to combat citizen insecurity, developed and fed by the state and the bourgeoisie, what they look for is to generate social immobility and in large part prohibit social and popular protest as an indispensable tool of social transformation.

In the last four years the government of “national unity”, in addition to resorting to its own practices of state terror, have promoted legislative initiatives that in their contents openly lay out the criminalization of social and popular protest, that is to say: the Law of citizen security and reform of the police code.

Law of Citizen Security: “A club to punish those that violate the law”

On the 24th of June 2011 the law of citizen security was approved (1453 of 2011). This law alters more than 100 articles and modifies the penal codes, the penal procedure for infants and adolescents, the rules about expiration of incarceration, it pretends to fight against organized crime and terrorism, increases the effectiveness of penal procedures, the expiration of control, juvenile penal responsibility, and ties in the community in the prevention of crime. In the moment of the bill’s approval the word of the president Juan Manuel Santos were clear and telling: “A club to punish those who violate the law.”

Three years after its approval and implantation, this club has not lacked for poor Colombian people to be used on, on the contrary it has had many. Farmers, indigenous people, workers, and students have suffered the full weight not only of the law’s implementation but also the macabre actions of the state death squads whose actions and violations of human rights are respected and accepted by the law.

The state violence is not just represented in its death squads but also in its laws. The law of citizen security is without a doubt a law made like those of a totalitarian regime and with the constant threat of the penal law restricts and prohibits all mobilization while institutionalizing its criminalization. For better clarity we read article 44 of the law: “He who by illicit means incites, directs, compels or provides the methods to obstruct in a temporary or permanent manner, selectively or generally, the roads or the infrastructure of transportation and in such a way that threatens human life, public health, food security, the environment or the right to work, will be punished with 24 to 48 months in prison, and a fine of 13 to 75 current legal monthly minimum wages and loss of rights and public functions  for the same form of punishment as prison.”

In Colombia it is a known truth that in the territories dominated by the Colombian state the population suffer at first hand the misery, the economic inequality, the repression, the systematic elimination of the poor, and when they break under the unfounded fear of the state and they dare to subvert the established order they are quickly labeled as violent and terrorists. However it is worth the effort to ask ourselves: How come it isn’t violence and terrorism that we reject the opportunities to live more dignified lives? Is it not through violence and terrorism that the rich of the country continue accumulating riches by their action of dispossessing the most poor of their lands? Isn’t the imposition of forms of life that benefit a “powerful few” violence and terrorism? Is it violence and terrorism to protest against the economic, political and social violence generated by the state and the bourgeoise?

The New National Code of Police and Coexistence: “more power to the Police”.

To the Colombian state it was not enough to act like a murderer and be complicit with paramilitaries, the creation of death squads like the ESMAD, nor much less the application of laws that stigmatize, condemn and criminalize social non-conformity. A new gem that the Santos government gives is the new National Code of Police and Coexistence. In effect, on the past 29th of September, the minister of defense, Juan Carlos Pinzón, and the director of the national police, General Rodolfo Palomino, went around the ministry of the senate in such a way to ensure the passage of the new National Code of Police and Coexistence, which should replace the one that has existed for 44 years. The actual project has more than 200 articles and pertains to the rules for civilian conduct and behavior. Besides being a genuinely prohibitionist code, it has new high new economic sanctions for those who break the rules from $82,000 to $625,000.

In its presentation minister Pinzón, like president Santos, guaranteed that this project is made in the search for the prevention of crime and the endowment of new tools for conflict resolution to the police. As if the club and the pistol not sufficient already?

Between the many prohibitions contemplated in the new code what stands out are various articles that without a doubt look to generate immobility in the actions of protest:

1 – it prohibits the participation of people younger than 14 years of age in public protests without the accompaniment of their parents. Furthermore, adolescents between 14 and 18 years of age that want to protest can only do so with the written authorization of their parents.

2 – It contemplates the prohibition of doing graffiti in good cultural areas or zones that are not authorized for such artistic and political expressions. The violator of this rule is mandated to clean and leave the surface in the same conditions that it used to be in. Was the crime of the state against graffiti artist Diego Felipe Becerra not enough to send a clear and forceful message to anyone who with art expresses their sentiments of opposition and critique against a system that promotes inequality, injustice and terror?

3 – Every public gathering or parade that threatens or puts at risk coexistence, free movement or the fundamental rights, especially those of the under-aged, will be dissolved by the national police. In this form, this will impede the realization of public gatherings, marches or parades that have not been opportunely announced or when they don’t meet the conditions set by the authorities.

Everything prior is not meant to fill us with fear and make us hope with our hands together than the situation changes. We know that Colombia is one of the most unequal countries in the world, with a dominate assassin class which is the enemy of the public; and an extensive absence of social, political and economic rights. A place where social protest is not only a legitimate form of vindication, but a necessary one.

From the Campaign against the criminalization of protest and the popular struggle we make a call to resume direct action as an individual or group initiative, focused to give prompt responses to concrete situations, or for the creation of more favourable conditions, using the means available, that which has been a tool historically of Colombia’s poor to dispute the unfair supposed order of the powerful of the country.


Translated by William Ginn