by Praxis Colombia Team
The current situation of protests in Colombia must be understood from the march of Nov. 21, 2019, and the history of the last decades. In the last 40 years, there has been violence particularly against the peasant population, which has been displaced and dispossessed of their lands through cruel massacres. This dispossession came as a counter to agrarian reform, advanced by drug traffickers as the main actors. Its purpose was to launder their money, take land for large legal investments and carry out a dirty war against the insurgency of guerrilla groups.
The population has concentrated in the big cities and capitals in conditions of extreme poverty as they have been dispossessed of the land that was their means of work and income. The Zapatistas are right when they say that capitalism is dispossession, exploitation, repression and humiliation.
From the accumulation of urban miseries came the current social explosion in the cities. A strike was called on March 28, 2021, to oppose a new law taxing basic articles and services, while exempting big businesses, especially from the financial sector to which state aid was directed during the COVID-19 pandemic. The strike involved the entire oppressed population, including the ones feeling most affected by a harmful reform.
The health crisis increased the hardships of people who live from informal work, such as street sales, due to the quarantine that closed the movement of people in the streets. This same health problem interrupted the protests that began in November 2019, but with scattered popular actions, demanding food and state aid.
Colombia has 1,103 municipalities and 18 special areas, for a total of 1,122 administrative areas, with mobilizations taking place in 640 localities. The response of the government: brutal repression that has caused deaths, illegal arrests, disappearances, eye injuries, sexual abuse, attacks on homes. This has provoked a huge social reaction of protest carried out mainly by young people, who live as youth without a future. Mothers, fathers, brothers, relatives, and neighbors joined, demanding a return of the disappeared, of detained, injured, and dead. They were demanding an end to the repression. The clashes have only escalated.
As a result of these shocks, the population has organized itself into first, second and third lines with defined functions. The first line fulfills the tasks of defense of the neighborhood territory. The second is in charge of food, health and education services. The third manages supplies. In local workshops, 55-gallon metal cans are turned into shields. There are also managers of live transmissions and communications on social networks. Decisions are made in the Outdoor Neighborhood Assembly.
All these actions have been joined by intellectuals, opposition members of Congress, alternative television and radio channels, TV and street artists, graffiti artists. The movement has also learned from struggles in Chile: actions such as the use of lasers to obstruct the vision of helicopter pilots and riot control personnel; plastic balloons with paint on police tanks and agents.
The most violent confrontation has occurred in Valle del Cauca, the towns of Cali, Yumbo, Buga, Tuluá, Palmira. In this region the contradictions are most visible due to several aspects: its flat and extensive geography that facilitates the construction of ranches and land invasions; warm weather; the concentration of the Afro-descendant population that has been the most marginalized due to racism; its proximity to Buenaventura, the country’s main port, where the main raw materials come in, with smuggling. An activity that regional drug traffickers use to launder and increase their money, with retail and informal sales.
The arrival of a good number of displaced people from the Pacific region, the proximity to the Indigenous reservations of Cauca, high unemployment, the existence of large estates used in the production of sugar cane with an oligarchy that boasts a venerable lineage and therefore retrograde, racist, classist and exclusive attitude—all contribute to an explosive reality.
In Cali, the inhabitants remain in popular assembly in several points of resistance. They have declared themselves as Autonomous Communes, forming the Cali Resistance Union, winning recognition by the mayor’s office as the only representatives of the population in the streets. By municipal decree there is a call for the police force to suspend their repression since they are constitutionally dependent on the mayors. But for now they obey the directives of the national police department, which constitutes a local coup.
In places of popular concentration, the inhabitants try to solve the needs of food, health and education. The place known as Loma de la Cruz (Hill of the Cross) is today called Loma de la Dignidad (Dignity Hill), with a police station converted into a library. Puerto Rellena, so called because this typical food is sold, is now known as Puerto Resistencia, where they have created their own health center to attend to the injured and the needs of the population.
In the sector of la Luna, teachers are summoned to carry out recreational activities for children and the general public. At this point, the call of the University to the Street stands out, so that academic training is given to the population in an open field, an initiative led by university students from the sector.
According to reports from people in the third line, who are in charge of the supplies, the boys in the first line, who even lack clothes and shoes, are now eating better in the community spots of the neighborhood assemblies than they previously ate in their homes. In the streets the impoverished population is building a new country.
For the future, uncertainty reigns. The unarmed population faces brutal repression with nothing stopping it, and thus the popular movement could be defeated. It is also true that the right-wing government is quite discredited, both nationally and internationally. But it has the option of a self-coup that would prevent the presidential election of 2022, which they will surely lose. The other fear of the elites is being brought to justice for their mass of crimes and offenses.
There is no one political organization directing the movement, other than the union strike committee, which first called for a strike, but which has been overtaken by the community, to the point of ignoring it as the spokesperson for the negotiations with the government.
The countryside has been linked by agrarian organizations, but the low-income peasant has not spoken much. However, they support the strike and the routes are open for the transport of food. The Indigenous minga (collective organization and action) remains active, since they have been the most affected in their spaces by the previous violence carried out by the state, by paramilitaries and drug trafficking groups that control coca planting and laboratories.
The movement does not seek socialist objectives and the revolutionary Left has little prominence, due to its atomization and ideological and organizational weakness. The insurgent movement has been on the sidelines and only a few pronouncements have been produced in rejection of the repression and in support of the Colombian people.
But for the Colombian people it has become clear, in the suffering and in the struggle, that beyond Uribismo (named after former right-wing authoritarian President Uribe) a better country is possible: democracy, citizen peace, industrialization, education, health, housing, food, sovereignty, the end of corruption and abuse of the population. That society is the aspiration of we who are also human beings and citizens and for whom this condition is unknown in the streets today.
The country understands that, under the leadership of drug traffickers, it is not possible to build a democratic society, nor a social state of law, nor a constitutional republic. Whether they win elections or buy or steal them, those people will never humanize the country. It is necessary to overcome the society in which the state becomes a family business and a criminal association.
June 10, 2021
Translated from Spanish by Eugene Walker