After a month of the National Strike, the Colombian people continue to take to the streets to fight back against a neoliberal government and violent state repression, report Lorena Arrieta R. and Victoria Guy
There has been a growing trend of violence in Colombia for decades in the form of state repression, narco-trafficking, para-military and armed rebellion. The presidency of Álvero Uribe Vélez (2002-2010) favoured a US-backed military campaign against leftist guerrillas and strong austerity measures. In an attempt to boost body counts in the war against rebellion, thousands of innocent civilians in indigenous and rural territories were tortured and massacred by military groups and declared combat kills.
In 2016, a peace deal was signed between then-president Juan Manuel Santos and FARC (revolutionary armed forces of Colombia) to which the UK was a pen-holder. As part of the deal, the JEP (Special Jurisdiction for Peace) was founded to administer justice, truth and reparations to the victims of the armed conflict. Earlier this year the JEP revealed that at least 6,402 civilians were killed and passed as “false positives” between 2002-2008.
Over the last few years, the Colombian population have taken to protest to express their opposition to detrimental reforms made to public services in the health, education, work and social security sectors. Although the Constitutional Court has banned the use of glyphosate, Colombia is currently the only country in the world to use the dangerous chemical via aerial spraying, endangering rural populations and destroying the soil.
There has also been an ongoing campaign of murder and disappearances of social activists in the Indigenous, Afro-Colombian, peasant and urban communities of which 1,140 have been recorded since the signing of the peace deal (INDEPAZ). For these reasons, the breadth of the Colombian population – students, health and education workers, Indigenous, Afro-Colombian and rural communities – have taken to the streets in protest since November 2019.
The pandemic saw a diminishing of the protests, as well as a health emergency suffered by a neglected health sector. Although the government had discussions and signed deals as a result of the 2019 protests, agreements were not being kept, and a growing indignation and fatigue purveyed the population.
Following the announcement of a neoliberal Tax Reform being processed in Congress that would lead to further deterioration of a society already bled, labour unions called for a National Strike on 28 April 2021. The government, now of Iván Duque but steadily continuing the disastrous legacy of Uribe, has responded with the militarisation of cities which have seen the biggest protests and a vicious media campaign to stigmatise the protesters and Indigenous organisations.
28 May marked a month of National Strike in Colombia, a month in which the country has shown relentless marches, artistic and musical displays of resistance, community pots (meals for 200 and more), murals that show the situation of the country.
Through the actions of anti-riot police ESMAD, the Police and the National Army, the government is responsible for 1,956 cases of violence of all kinds, including arbitrary arrests, torture, sexual assaults, 41 murders, 40 eyes lost due to tear-gas and more than 435 disappeared. There have also been some attacks on police stations and some armed ‘civilians’ infiltrating the protest movement, that the government condemn as paid leftist alliances, but video footage has exposed them accompanied by police officers, shooting from behind their guard.
Despite the urgency of the situation, the Colombian government denied a visit from the CIDH (Inter-American Commission on Human Rights) on 25 May while “some tasks were finished”. On 26 May the Palace of Justice was set alight in a controversial mystery to add to the list of things that need urgent investigation.
In Colombia, the people’s struggle is not just against the government but also against US imperialism which has long intervened to support right wing governments to maintain its interests. The UK, as a US ally, have been long-time supporters of the Colombian state.
As part of being pen-holders of the 2016 peace deal, the UK gave £2.1 million towards ‘Police Innovations for Stabilisation in Colombia’ in 2020 and the UK’s College of Policing have been training the Colombian police since 2018. This is the same police force that can be seen forcefully carrying off innocent minors (17-year-old Alison denounced sexual assault by 4 officers and committed suicide the next day), shooting into crowds of peaceful protesters, accompanying questionable armed civilians, throwing bodies into rivers. The UK must take responsibility for their role in these human rights violations.
At present protests continue despite fear, censorship and terror, displaying a great resilience and hope for change.
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