Who arms the National Police of Colombia?
Social movements across Colombia are facing severe repression and violence from the police and military. The demonstrations began on 28th April 2021 as a general strike was called in response to an unpopular tax reform and the mishandling of the Covid-19 pandemic. The protesters were met by the ESMAD riot police, who used teargas, bean-bag rounds and batons. Dozens have been killed and three officers have been charged with murder.
The response to the protests have been led by the Escuadrón Móvil Antidisturbios (ESMAD) – Mobile Anti-Disturbance Squadron – who have repeatedly used highly militarised tactics and equipment to suppress dissent. They use a range of weapons produced by companies from Colombia and other countries around the world. For example, between 2015 and 2020, Spain exported over €70 million of weapons to Colombia's police and military.
The Colombian activist collective Sin Miedo has identified a wide variety of weapons and companies believed to be supplying ESMAD. In this article we have highlighted a number where there is photographic evidence of their use by police forces in April and May 2021, and other incidents.
Combined Systems, Inc
A number of twitter users shared images of weapons produced by Combined Systems Inc, whose products are often marketed under the brand name “Combined Tactical Systems” or CTS. Twitter users shared images of 37/38 Riot CS smoke canisters.
A media outlet based in Colombia shared images of what appear to be larger canisters similar to grenades designed to be hand thrown or fired from grenade launchers.
Others, based in Cali, shared images of used 7290M "Mini Bang" grenades.
A number of twitter users also shared images of a Venom grenade launcher. In some cases the weapon was mounted on armoured vehicles, in others fired from the floor. The Venom is designed to fire less-lethal flash bangs, tear gas grenades, and baton rounds.
Combined Systems, Inc. is a U.S.-based company (often marketed and produced under the brand name Combined Tactical Systems (CTS)), specializing in the manufacture of military and police equipment such as tear gas canisters, flash grenades, breaching munitions, and handcuffs. Weapons produced by Combined Systems, Inc have been identified as used against protesters in countries around the world.
In a Twitter post from 2019, the director general of the National Police of Colombia shared several photos displaying less-lethal weapons used by ESMAD. These clearly show a number of weapons sold by the US company Defense Technology. Defense Technology was owned by the company The Safariland Group - another manufacturer of less-lethal weapons and equipment used by police forces - but was sold to the management of Defense Technology.
The image clearly displays a number of weapons produced by Defense Technology, including what appear to be 12-gauge rounds, 40mm "speed heat" CS gas canisters, and "SAF Smoke" grenades, alongside weapons produced by Combined Systems Inc.
Weapons and equipment produced by Colombian companies have also been used in response to the protests. A twitter post from a human rights group in Medellin included a number of photos of members of ESMAD. One showed a "Poseidon" water cannon produced by a Colombian company called Kobe, based in Bogota. Kobe produces vehicles for the police and emergency services. There is little information about this vehicle on the companies website, but Kobe promoted a similar vehicle on its Facebook page.
Members of the ESMAD riot police in Cali were also photographed carrying weapons which appear similar to “non-lethal” weapons sold by Brazilian company Condor. The same weapons were listed in research conducted by Sin Miedo. The AM 637 produced by Condor is designed to launch 37/38mm less-lethal canisters containing tear gas, smoke, batons or other projectiles.
Twitter users also shared photos of gas canisters produced by Condor, in this case a GL 300/T.
Verint Systems, NICE Systems
PUMA is an electronic surveillance system used by Colombia's security services. According to Privacy International, the system "intercepts and stores potentially all communications transmitted on the high-volume cables that make up the backbone on which all Colombians rely to speak to and message each other". The system uses patented technology developed by Israeli-American intelligence solutions company Verint Systems, and distributed in Colombia by a company called Compañía Comercial Curacao de Colombia. In 2013, the Colombian police spent US$28m on a massive upgrade program, contracting Israeli company NICE Systems with the Colombian company Eagle Comercial SA. The project is known as "Super-PUMA".