Colombia: the state murder of Dilan Cruz

by Gearóid Ó Loingsigh

It is late here in Bogotá, almost 11.30pm on Monday the 25th of November as I write this. The day began full of hope with yet more massive marches throughout the country, a mix of the International Day of Non-Violence Against Women and the National Strike. It ends, however, on the note that young Dilan Cruz, the youth from a very poor family who dreamed of going to university died, two days after he was shot by Colombia’s police. He took part in the protests demanding an end to austerity and educational opportunities and, like many others in Colombia, he paid the price for daring to dream.

Following his death the police and the Mayor of Bogotá issued statements blaming him for having protested and stating that it was necessary to attack the group of students he was with as they were going to attack the Educational Credit Agency (ICETEX). Those of us present at the scene all agree that the protest was peaceful and not heading in the direction of the ICETEX. When Dilan was shot he was running away from the police and, like many others, was running towards the Fourth Avenue to go north away from the ICETEX.

This is not the first death at the hands of the riot squad; they have a long criminal record in killing young people. By coincidence tomorrow, Tuesday 26th the trial begins against the police officer who killed Nicolás Neira in similar circumstances in 2005. Nicolás was even younger than Dilan, he was barely 15. It has taken his father 14 years to bring his killer to justice, facing death threats and exile along the way.

Having seen the youth after he was shot, I was never hopeful that he would live, his injuries were far too serious for that; I, like many, waited in expectation for the news of his death. I was alerted to his passing by the new sense of solidarity alive in Colombia today; pots and and pans rang out throughout the capital in a traditional protest known as a Cacerolazo. The bells don’t toll for the poor, but pots and pans do. I left my house in central Bogotá to walk the three blocks to get to the site where he was shot and already lots of young people had gathered, banging pots and pans, blowing whistles and writing on a cloth that was laid out on the spot where he fell, determined to show their anger.

There is a section of the trade union movement that wants to cosy up to the government but, with Dilan’s death, that option is most likely off the table for the moment. The protests will continue and it is not entirely up to the trade union movement to make the final decision in any case. A parliamentary debate on the repression has been tabled for this week. There is a need now for this to intensify or Dilan’s death will be in vain. The trade union leaders who want to make a deal are as much part of the problem as the police officer who shot Dilan Cruz.