Human rights organizations raised alarms on Thursday over the treatment of protesters in Buenaventura at the hands of ESMAD, Colombia’s riot police.
The predominantly Afro-Colombian city has been engaged in a civil strike for almost 20 days to demand the government improve living conditions and declare a state of social and economic emergency.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos responded to the protest by sending in armed anti-riot units in an attempt to control protesters.
“Some 320 people were injured, of these 167 were gravely injured and 10 with fire arms, a situation that deeply concerns us,” said human rights spokesperson Berenice Celeida at a press conference Thursday.
According to Celeida, even health care workers have been wounded by Esmad forces, which have been accused of targeting leading anti-government activists.
Shayo Mina, a fellow human rights defender, also expressed concern about the impact of the violence on the Colombian peace process.
“It is contradictory for the peace process of the country for President Santos to use violence against the community of Buenaventura, Black, Afro-descendants who have an ethnic chapter in the peace agreement.”
Buenaventura is Colombia’s biggest port and helps bring in millions in tax revenue. Little of this, however, has reached the people who continue to struggle with poor health care, nutrition and the threat of gang violence.