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“They are working in search of impunity to protect police who have committed murders”: Yuri Neira This is how a father referred to the case of his son who was murdered during a protest, which has subsequently led to four attempts on the father’s life. The state has put mechanisms in place to inhibit social protest and dissident voices by way of physical extermination and impunity, denounced Yuri Neira, the father of Nicolas, a 15-year-old boy beaten to death during a May Day manifestation which was forcefully repressed by agents of the Mobile Anti-Disturbance Squadron (Esmad) more than four years ago. Neira, who became a defender of human rights following the murder of his son in 2005, determined that cases like this have been repeated in other cities in the country and not as a product of an excess of force but rather as the fulfilling of concrete instructions sent from higher ranks. It appears as though they ordered agents to replace ammunition used to disperse protesters with materials more harmful to humans and gave orders to shoot without discretion, in many cases resulting in the violent and instant deaths of various activists. In a conversation with, Yuri Neira recounted how he went from being a worker and consumer submerged in the dynamic of supply and demand to becoming a vehement fighter for social justice, and ending up devoting his life to it. Giovanni Gonzalez Arango: What has happened in the judicial process in the courts over the death of Nicolas? Is there any accusation? Is it being investigated? Is it in the preliminary stage, or what is happening with the process? Yuri Neira: It continues somewhere many Colombian victims of this violence have heard of before: in exhaustive investigation. Meaning nothing has happened. At this point nothing has been resolved. The chaos in the courts has been such that there are no investigators, this chaos has been of such magnitude that the first person that examined the cadaver, on the 6th of May, 2005 at 2:00pm, returned to the case after it had passed through the hands of three other investigators. There is a reason for all of this and it’s a macabre logic of the state and of the judiciary to continue protecting the police; it’s so that everything dilutes with time and they have time to murder and threaten witnesses and make them disappear. G.G.A.: So to establish what the motives for that murder were, have you yourself had to obtain evidence? Y.N.: I am not alone, I should clarify that; all the organizations, all the collectives, all the youth, the students, and, more recently the lawyers, have all been there working with me on this, but the entities of control like the courts, the lawyers, the investigators, and the CTI (Technical Body of Investigation) I can clearly say have done nothing. G.G.A.: What has been your ordeal with the investigations that has forced you yourself to go forward, in the company of people who are not the authorities? Y.N.: We have been threatened, we have been followed, our telephones are tapped. Now, casually, after the court announced its decision to dismiss two officials, there have already been threats on the house, the police had to be installed, though it sounds contradictory because it’s like getting a thief to guard a bank, but that’s the law and it has to be followed. In addition, it’s clear that the Ministry of the Interior is very behind with many things when it comes to my protection. All of us who have been working on this have suffered the consequences of saying “the Colombian State and its governors are working badly and in search of impunity, to protect police who have committed murders.” G.G.A.: That is to say, instead of finding protection and help on the part of the authorities it’s more persecution and irregular monitoring. Is that what you mean? Y.N.: Total anxiety. Before they murdered Nicolas, I lived like any Colombian, thinking about paying for electricity, water, the phone, schooling, buying school supplies, going grocery shopping, all that. Now my priority is being able to survive, to live to see another day, to continue gathering information. That’s been what I’ve had to do for the past 1,735 days since they murdered Nicolas. My life changed completely. I live in total anxiety, for denouncing, for saying that the National Police and Esmad are murderers. Of course there are good police officers, they go to mass and live normal lives, but they live waiting to receive a higher posting, a pension, and they know who the bad guys are, but they remain silent. That’s called complicity. G.G.A.: Also, you have saved yourself from many attacks from those who have been implicated in your son’s homicide. How have you arranged things so as to be able to go out in public when they may be around? Y.N.: In truth, thinking about Nicolas, I haven’t had time to consider them. I have saved myself four times; the last, after which I had to leave the country, I faced death from 20 centimetres away, face to face with two hit men who fortunately made an error which saved my life. The guy thought that Yuri Neira was a woman and asked me where Mrs. Yuri Neira was, saying that he was a friend of hers from many years ago and that he wanted to help her out in respect to the raid that had happened 24 hours before. And the guy, with an accent from Antioquia, with his hand in his belt, finger on the trigger of his revolver, and the other guy comes running up saying “do it, it’s him, do it, it’s him.” I was saved because it wasn’t my time, maybe because Nicolas left me here to keep working in search of the truth, but I was saved because I’m lucky. G.G.A: How did it go with that cultural space, the Salmon House, that you directed and that, we understand, was raided by the authorities without a judicial order? Y.N.: We are closing Salmon Cultural in order to protect the people and the collectives that went there, because the people that went there would tell me the next day that when they left “they arrested me, they searched me, they asked me why I came to this place, if I was a leftist; they told me they knew me and that you told me that explosives were being sold there,” which was, as such, the motivation for the raid. The arguments were that I was a cell of FARC, that I made explosives and distributed weapons. What they found there was a cell of thinkers; we were making new ideas, what we were distributing were smiles, love, and solidarity; that was all they found. We realize that the district attorney, Claudia Ester Perez, who has been dismissed, first for ineptness and second for getting involved where she shouldn’t have, she defends herself, saying that what she did was in accordance with the law, but it wasn’t, because she was involved in the raid of the Salmon House. G.G.A.: So, you were also victims of that persecution that began with the G3 Group of DAS (the Colombian intelligence agency) and which extended to the courts? Y.N.: Of course, because they take our phone calls, they take counter-intelligence information from DAS, being that we as civilians shouldn’t have counter-intelligence about them or of the Judicial Police. They take information from third parties that are not around and they take diverted information, for which the court defends itself, saying that it was assaulted while remaining in good faith, that those who should be investigated are the members of DAS. G.G.A.: How do you receive the court’s decision to dismiss the two Esmad agents over the death of your son Nicolas? Y.N.: For me, it’s a token gesture. Justice has still not been done. It’s the minimum that they have had to do; they made the ruling after 1,710 days. They wasted all that time demonstrating something so transparent and so clear, like that the police murdered him and that the officers fulfilled their duty. The only thing they did was defend their officers, against the life of Nicolas and against the lives of all those that were marching. However, they continue alleging that the protesters and social protest in general were at fault, though at this moment it has been demonstrated that the police are responsible for Nicolas’ murder. The sanction is only a first step towards exposing the impunity that protects the police, by way of its National Director, Mr. Naranjo, by way of the Ministry of the Interior, the Ministry of Defense, and by way of the President of the Republic. G.G.A.: How do you and all those who have accompanied you in the struggle to expose the truth about Nicolas’ murder feel about safety? Y.N.: I think I’m less safe than I was yesterday, because now, with what the court has come up with, it’s very possible that the other members of the police, in solidarity, are attacking me. Now, counting on that there be a declaration by a police officer who belonged to Esmad, who came from Cali, and who was there when they murdered Oscar Salas, which warns through orders those who act in such a barbaric way as to order the loading of ammunition and the shooting at protesters—as in the case with the Colonel Granados Avaunza, and also the Captain Torrijos Davia, and the case of Nicolas. I am one of the few who has directly denounced the police and I am playing with my life against hundreds of civil police and others in uniform. With all this impunity, my security, day by day, is more in jeopardy. G.G.A.: Today you are leading a new campaign against police brutality, as you have done for years. What is this initiative about? Y.N.: At the Nicolas Neira Foundation for human rights we began “Nicolas Neira Week” for the dismantling of Esmad. It’s about uniting all the groups: men, women, children, street people, prostitutes, students, journalists, NGO workers, and all travelling vendors, because we are all victims of the National Police. We are inviting them so that we may work together on a campaign of direct action, of no more violence and to expose the impunity that exists in that organism. That’s why I’ve always said that there should be no mandatory service in the case of the police, but rather that the police should concern themselves about those who want to join the police on their own initiative, and who truly work for the police. Now we see that the majority of cases of police brutality are committed by recent graduates, because the officials tell them, “We hit you when you were a student, now you can get even.” By Giovanni Gonzalez Arango