‘The state wants to silence us’

By Ángela Forero-Aponte December 3, 2019

Steven Gutiérrez was an eyewitness to the fatal wounding of Dilan Cruz, a young student shot with anti-riot ammunition by ESMAD riot police during Bogotá’s national strike. Since denouncing the attack – and making an official statement – Gutiérrez has received death threats. He talks to The Bogotá Post.

People pay respect to Dilan Cruz at the place of the shooting.
People pay respect to Dilan Cruz at the place of the shooting. Photo: Lukas Kaldenhoff

The Bogotá Post: What happened after you saw Dilan Cruz shot during the protest march on November 23?  

Steven Gutiérrez: After Dilan was shot we went directly towards the ESMAD officers to confront, and to film their badge numbers with our phones; so they left and took us with them; we were not doing anything, just recording them. Then they took our mobiles, they erased everything from them, and threatened us saying they had taken our pictures. I’d posted [on social networks] what had happened that day. 

The Bogotá Post: You are saying you were taken by the ESMAD. Where did they take you to exactly?

Steven Gutiérrez: We don’t know exactly where because they put us in the truck, and they lowered the curtains.

The Bogotá Post: You’re saying they erased everything from your phones; did this happen inside the truck? How many more people were retained with you? Where did they drop you off?

Read all our coverage on Colombia’s national strike

Steven Gutiérrez: Yes, this all happened inside the truck. They erased all my videos and those of the people who were with me. That’s invasion of privacy; I also think it was illegal for them to take us that way, we had not done anything. There were five people, including me, young people. I’d decided that day to go march on my own, and I uploaded videos of what was happening; one of those is a video in which you can see ESMAD shooting at point-blank range. This video is on my Facebook homepage.

The Bogotá Post: When did you decide to make an official statement on what you witnessed when Dilan Cruz was shot?

Steven Gutiérrez: I started reading on these social networks people saying URIs – Unidades de Acción Inmediata [justice department Immediate Reaction Units] were receiving testimonies of what had happened to Dilan. I decided to go there and denounce what had happened. No-one knew I went to the URI, only members of my family who advised me not to tell anyone else.

Everything was fine, until I was sent a threat on Facebook which read: ‘We know you went to the URI…watch what you’re saying…,’. But no-one knew I had gone to the URI, only members of my family.

That’s why I took this threat very seriously. I was scared; as soon as I read the threat, I posted on my status that I had been threatened. People started posting saying they would support me. And since this happened, I feel people backing me up; I’ve received a lot of moral help and strength, and I know if something were to happen to me, there’d be proof of it, of what happened, and who did it.

The Bogotá Post: What made you go to the URI legal unit to give a statement?

Steven Gutiérrez: I did it because I feel it is my duty to tell the story of what happened so that Dilan’s case does not go unpunished. Besides, we saw what was stuck in Dilan’s head was a white cloth of sorts with pellets, ‘a recalzada,’ same as in Oscar Salas’ case which is unpunished ESMAD need to take responsibility for this [Salas was a student shot and killed by ESMAD in 2006 using anti-riot ammunition]. 

The Bogotá Post: You said you have received threats. Can you say more about what kind of threats you have received and how it has impacted you?

Steven Gutiérrez: On Facebook and on my mobile; I had to change my mobile number.

The Bogotá Post: The Fiscalía are interviewing witnesses – have you been called to give testimony? What do you think about the investigation?

Steven Gutiérrez: I haven’t been called by the Fiscalía.

The Bogotá Post: How have you been coping with everything that happened?

Steven Gutiérrez: I have been receiving legal assistance to denounce [the threat] to the Fiscalía, even though I don’t trust any institution of the state at the moment. I might leave the city as I am not living with my family here.

The Bogotá Post: Were you were friends with Dilan; did you know each other?

Steven Gutiérrez: No, I hadn’t met him. We were simply partners in the protest and struggle for a better future for young people. Our paths crossed at the same point. This has become a reason for me to go and march, so that we are not killed for our right to education.

The Bogotá Post: Thank you for talking to us

NOTE: the interview has been edited for clarity.