Colombia has warned Argentina against interfering in its internal affairs in a diplomatic row over the ferocity of the police response toward Colombian demonstrators.
President Alberto Fernández criticised what he called “institutional violence” against anti-government protests that flared up across the Andean nation in recent days.
With concern I observe the repression unleashed in the face of social protests that occurred in Colombia. I pray that the Colombian people return to societal peace and I urge the government, in keeping with human rights, to cease the unique institutional violence that has been carried out,” said the Argentine head of state.
Colombia’s Foreign Ministry said it “firmly rejects” the Peronist leader’s comments, and said that the state guarantees the rights of Colombians to protest peacefully. Fernández’s remarks are an arbitrary interference which seeks to increase polarisation, the portfolio said in a post on Twitter.
Argentina joined a wave of criticism of Colombia from governments and human rights organisations, including the US House Foreign Affairs chair Gregory Meeks, the European Union and Human Rights Watch.
Demonstrations erupted last week in protest against a plan by President Iván Duque’s administration to raise taxes. Even after the tax proposal was withdrawn, marches have continued as protesters aired a range of other grievances, including police brutality, corruption, and a proposed health care reform.
At least 26 people have died across the country in clashes between protesters and security forces since the marches began. Hundreds of police officers have also been injured, and authorities say that in some cases they have been attacked with firearms.
Some neighbourhoods of Colombia’s major cities descended into chaos earlier this week, with mobs torching police stations and buses, and looting stores. After widespread destruction on Tuesday night, Wednesday and Thursday were relatively calm, according to the Bogotá Mayor’s Office.
The United Nations on Friday called on the Colombian government to guarantee the right to protest, and said that Duque’s call for dialog with protest leaders is positive.