From the July-August 2021 issue of News & Letters
Medellin, Colombia—A strike was called on March 28 involving the entire oppressed population of Colombia. The strikers opposed a new law taxing basic articles and services, while exempting big businesses, especially the financial sector, which had received state aid during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The health crisis and subsequent quarantine increased the hardships of informal workers. It also disrupted the protests that had begun in November 2019 demanding food and state aid.
The current situation in Colombia must be understood from the history of the last 40 years. From the accumulation of urban miseries came the current social explosion in the cities. The population is concentrated in big cities in conditions of extreme poverty, dispossessed of the land that supplied their means of work and income.
There has been violence, particularly against peasants, who have been dispossessed of their lands through massacres. This came as drug traffickers countered agrarian reforms in order to launder money, take land for large legal investments and carry out a dirty war against guerrilla groups.
RESISTANCE MET WITH REPRESSION
Mobilizations have taken place in 640 localities of Colombia’s 1,103 municipalities and 18 special areas. The government response has been brutal repression: attacks on homes, illegal arrests, deaths, disappearances and sexual abuse.
This provoked a huge social reaction with protest carried out mainly by young people, who live without a future. Whole families and neighbors joined, demanding a return of the disappeared, detained, injured and dead. They were demanding an end to the repression. These clashes have escalated.
The population has now organized into first, second and third lines with defined functions. The first line defends the neighborhood. The second is in charge of food, health and education. The third manages supplies. There are also managers of live transmissions and social networks. Decisions are made in the Outdoor Neighborhood Assembly.
Intellectuals, opposition members of Congress, alternative TV and radio channels, street and graffiti artists have joined these actions. The movement learned from struggles in Chile to use lasers to obstruct helicopter pilots and riot control personnel and to hurl paint-filled balloons at police tanks and agents.
The most violent confrontation occurred in the towns of Cali, Yumbo, Buga, Tuluá and Palmira. There the contradictions are most visible. In this region geography favors ranches and land invasions. Racism has marginalized the Afro-Colombian population. The region is close to Buenaventura, the country’s main port, where the main raw materials come in and can be blockaded.
CALI RESISTANCE UNION
In Cali, the inhabitants participate in popular assemblies that have declared themselves Autonomous Communes, forming the Cali Resistance Union, winning recognition by the mayor’s office as the population’s representatives.
In slums and densely-populated areas, people solve their own needs for food, health and education. In Loma de la Cruz (Hill of the Cross), now called Loma de la Dignidad (Dignity Hill), a police station was converted into a library. Puerto Rellena is now Puerto Resistencia, where people have created their own health center.
In La Luna, teachers carry out recreational activities for children and the general public. The University to the Street, led by university students, gives academic training in an open field. In the streets the impoverished population is building a new country.
For the future, uncertainty reigns. The unarmed population faces brutal repression. The popular movement might be defeated. Though the right-wing government is discredited, nationally and internationally, it has the option of a self-coup that would prevent the presidential election of 2022, which they will surely lose. The elites also fear that they will be brought to justice for their crimes.
INDIGENOUS AND PEASANT ORGANIZING
The countryside has been linked by agrarian organizations, but low-income peasants have 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 by the previous violence that the state, paramilitaries and drug trafficking groups that control coca planting and production have carried out.
For the Colombian people it is clear, from their suffering and struggle, that beyond Uribismo (from right-wing ex-President Álvaro Uribe) a better country is possible that includes democracy, peace, industrialization, education, healthcare, housing, food, sovereignty, and the end of corruption and abuse of the population. That society is the aspiration of us who are human beings and citizens and for whom this condition is unknown in the streets today.
—Praxis Colombia Team, June 10, 2021
Translated by Eugene Walker