ON 6 DECEMBER 1928, COLOMBIA WOKE UP SOAKED IN THE BLOOD OF THE BANANA PLANTATION WORKERS. THE STRIKE HAD LASTED NEARLY A MONTH. THE MILITARY HAD MOVED IN TO DEFEND THE U.S. UNITED FRUIT COMPANY (NOW CHIQUITA). THE MASSACRE CAUSED GAVE BIRTH TO THE NOVEL “HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE” BY GABRIEL GARCÍA MÁRQUEZ.
Today, the news and images coming to us from Colombia are just as dramatic.
From 28 April 2021, thousands of Colombians have been in the streets non-stop to oppose the policy of the right-wing in power. Those in the lead are young people expressive of others in the trade union movement, civic and popular sectors, indigenous peoples, peasants and democrats who no longer accept the arrogance of the Iván Duque’s government and of Uribism.
The most recent mobilizations were trigged by a government’s tax reform penalizing millions of families already impoverished by decades of neoliberal policies – families plunged in total precariousness by the social and economic crisis exacerbated by the pandemic. This horrible reform provoked not only great rejection and indignation – it became the fuse, the last straw to break the camel’s back.
What had started as an anti-tax protest then turned into an anti-government popular rising. This is why the protests continued after the government had withdrawn its reform and promised change. Street mobilisations then forced the resignation of the powerful finance minister Alberto Carrasquilla who now says that he no longer believe in the government’s word, let alone this reform.
42.5% of the population in poverty:
Colombia is one of the five most unequal countries on the planet, the second such country in Latin America – itself the most unequal region in the world. Violence has been the favorite instrument of primitive capitalist accumulation, along with the brutal policies of the conservative cave-dwelling oligarchy that has never had to live anywhere in the shadow of need. Out of its 50 million inhabitants, Colombia has 21 million in poverty (42.5% of the population) and 7.47 million in extreme poverty. The enormous social gulf is even more marked in the countryside, with its millions of poor farmers, in a country rich in oil, gas, coal, emeralds, gold …
Such a stark and prolonged inequality explains why Colombia stays mired in an intermittent civil war that has been raging from the assassination of the liberal caudillo Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, and the subsequent devastation of the capital in 1948, known as “el bogotazo” . Those acts of oligarchic murder became a turning point in Colombian politics. The Colombian people is made to pay a very high price by oligarchic intolerance. The Liberalism that developed in Colombia had to take refuge in the mountains, to save lives and prepare its own armed defence.
Since 1948, the oligarchy and the government have systematically resorted to unacceptable measures. They created paramilitary militias responsible for crimes against humanity: massive use of torture, the killing of innocents known as “false positives”, the brutal displacement of millions of Colombians forced to cede their lands to large proprietors – and last, the non-respect of the peace accord of 2016 with the systematic assassination of social leaders and former FARC-EP combatants (271 were killed soon after the accords). In the first few months of 2021, 60 social leaders were assassinated, bringing the total of such murders to 1,179 since 2016.
At the root of the enormous mobilisations, you find not only the growing poverty therefore, but the immense corruption, the forays of power, the continuous killings of social, indigenous and human rights defenders, the plunder of the environment, the fumigations with glyphosate. There are the massacres of the original peoples. There are violent military attacks against peasants and workers when they stand up to demand the respect of their rights. There is unprecedented despair in a youth given neither present nor future.
The shameless seizure of power by political sectors linked to the drug-trafficking feeds the growing outrage. The peace accords between government and the FARC-EP guerrillas were betrayed although they had contained some answers to the present demands. Accords were signed that no Colombian government ever honoured.
To counter the pandemic, the Duque government spent just 2.8% of GDP, nearly half of which did not go on spending, but on credit insurances for private banks. And – icing on the cake in the midst of the pandemic – part of the funds drawn from the tax reform [when it had started] became earmarked for the purchase of 24 fighter jets.
The courageous Colombian people are fighting:
All of this has exploded strongly. It may even explode more in the coming days. In this scenario, the government and the elites took the decision to crush the rebellion with blood-letting and bullets. In their usual and arbitrary manner, the police and the army visited their murderous violence on the demonstrators: to date, at least 40 people have been murdered by the “forces of order”; more than a thousand arrests and hundreds injured (several in the eyes). There are more than 400 missing persons, while complaints of torture and sexual violence increase. They want fear and terror to cower the popular movement.
Videos abound where police can be seen looting and rioting along with paramilitary death-squads, to then portray the people as vandals and justify the crackdown. As in Chile or Ecuador, the Colombian government also accuses ghostly Cuban or Venezuelan agents of having instigated the protests, and rumours insinuate the presence of guerrillas. The truth however is that the bloodshed is caused by a voracious elite and its guardians. The narco-paramilitary government of Ivan Duque (and his mentor, former narco-paramilitary president Alvaro Uribe) is at war with the peoples, and with the towns that demand radical change.
Government repression makes strategic experiments. It uses new models like “low intensity warfare” and military chokeholds on cities, as if there was an invasion. The government invokes the ancient “National Security Doctrine” made-in-USA, to apply against popular masses viewed as “internal enemies”.
To stay in power, the government, the oligarchy-sponsored paramilitaries and criminals have turned the country into the world’s largest producer of cocaine. They have collaborated with mafias to penetrate institutions, miring these in what is termed “para-politics”, causing dramatic increases in official military spending, transforming the homeland into a “warmongering country” – i.e. America’s staunchest ally. The sovereignty of the country is compromised by the secret presence of Israeli assessors, the installation of the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), the military bases from the United States and NATO. Colombia has now been a “global partner” of NATO since 2018. For years, the government and the oligarchy have hosted, trained and financed armed attacks against neighboring countries, as against the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela, recent provocations at the border included.
According to data from the Single Victims Registry, out of more than 9 million victims of the armed conflict in Colombia, 8,116,483 suffered enforced displacements. Half of this figure – i.e. 4,094,127 – corresponds to the individuals made to leave their territories and communities during (and following) the Democratic Security and Defense Policy (2002-2010) of Uribe, whose opposition to the Peace Process is notorious. The most conservative accounts report more than 85,000 disappeared in that process. This is more than the combined total of all the disappeared under the Chile, Uruguay, Brazil and Argentina’s dictatorships.
A United electoral front of the left has formed :
What the courageous Colombian people are fighting, therefore, is the forces of a criminal internal oligarchy, accustomed to the use of illegitimate and massive violence, and supported by the troops of imperial occupation. In April this year, the present government’s disapproval rating was 63.2%, but the government’s criminal response does not abate. The oligarchy fears this discontent which threatens its interests, electoral included, because such a great movement could defeat the official parties in the 2022 presidential, parliamentary and regional elections.
New ways and new democratic leaders have emerged :
With this social mobilization, a united electoral front of the left was born, linked to the social struggle. Whilst the Left candidate Gustavo Petro performs highly in the polls, the camp of Uribism struggles to find a candidate and looks increasingly like a political zombie dependent on repressive violence to stay in place. Uribe himself has several indictments against him for crimes against humanity. A case is pending against him at the International Criminal Court. It concerns the 6,402 “false positives” – murders of civilians duped by the promise of a job and passed off as guerrillas killed for a reward – committed during his administration.
Over this last period of resistance and popular struggle, new ways and new democratic leaders have emerged – young people and women in particular. Scale, unity, mobilization and organization are the elements to go forward. They are essential to defeat the attempts at division, the provocations and the sabotages of every sort that the Presidency of the Republic promotes.
The Duque government faces having to give immediate responses to the most urgent demands of the mobilizations: health, education, well-being, emergency universal income, agrarian reform, etc.
We join the urgent demand for the dismantling of the Escuadrón Móvil Antidisturbios (ESMAD) – a real death squad. We demand a structural reform of the police forces too reliant on complicities with the general prosecutor, the prosecutor’s office and the mediator, these latter shamefully bent to serve the government and produce impunity. The murders and the human rights violations committed by the government in the context of the recent national strike must not go unpunished.
We demand an immediate end to the repression and all measures necessary to ensure truth, justice and reparation for the victims.
What are the European Union and the Italian government waiting for, to suspend the free trade agreement between the EU and Colombia? There is still time for our [Italian] parliament not to ratify it.
In place of its complicit silence, the Italian government must also immediately suspend all military agreements and defense sector contracts with the murderous Duque government.
Today we must stop the massacres, there is no time to waste.
Marco Consolo for Rifondazione Italy – 10 May 2021 Photo: "If a people protest and take to the streets in the midst of a pandemic, it is because its government is more dangerous than the virus".