Colombia is experiencing days of strong popular uprising against the evil government and especially focusing on the unrestrained repression unleashed against the popular sectors. To talk about this process of struggle and its consequences we interviewed Erika Prieto, a young representative of the People’s Congress in the area of human rights.
How do you, from the Peoples Congress, view this new popular uprising that the Colombians are carrying out daily? We are also interested in knowing the analysis that you make of the level of police repression that is being seen during these days.
We emphasize that the process in Colombia has taken many years of accumulation and resistance, an exercise that has been very strong at the level of persecution by the state. It is mainly aimed at everything that is opposed to its economic and political interests. What is currently being experienced in the country is a depletion of institutions, a depletion of hope that the institutions can deliver justice, of belief in the public security forces, or of belief in order. In this uprising of citizens and peoples in struggle and resistance, we have to take history into our own hands and transform the country from its foundations.
The situation of repression is not different from what we have experienced throughout the history of our country. This is a country where all the dissident voices have been murdered on an ongoing basis and during these last few days what is happening is that everything is in the eye of the hurricane and the evidence is clear. We have a police force that works with drug traffickers, with paramilitaries, that extorts, steals, rapes. This is a permanent and systematic issue. On the other hand, justice does not function, it does not act, there is no truth, there is no reparation and there is no guarantee of non-repetition of any of the acts that the public forces commit against people in the country.
So this compilation of reasons exhausted people’s patience?
Actually, what happened was that the people grew tired and decided to exercise legitimate and direct force, telling the national forces, “we will not allow it anymore”. What is happening is that these institutions are opening fire on people who have no weapons, which is clearly a crime at the international level. But the Colombian government continues to act with impunity. Thus, we have a Ministry of Defense proposing a reward for the arrest of those responsible for the serious events that have occurred, but we all know that the police are responsible.
This began with the assassination of a lawyer, Javier Ordoñez, who was begging not to be subjected to any more violence, while he was being electrocuted with a taser gun and simultaneously asphyxiated. The lawyer was taken to a CAI (Comando de Acción Inmediata) facility, which was later burned down by the community, becauubsequently burned by the community because they no longer wanted a police presence in the neighborhoods.se they no longer wanted a police presence in the neighborhoods.
We eventually found that the lawyer was killed there. Forensic specialists have stated that he had more than 20 fractures in his skull. After we saw this man beaten, electrocuted, asphyxiated, and on the floor begging “please no more,” they took him to the CAI and continued to beat him with blunt instruments. This can be determined now, because it was recorded at the time, but it is the common denominator of the country’s public forces. This is how they conduct operations here, and they are not normal procedures; everything is outside the legal framework, everything is an abuse of power.
When it became known that the lawyer had been murdered, did the anger explode on the streets?
Yes, when the video was released, there was already a significant number of Colombians who identified with that situation. Moreover, during the pandemic, from March to here, the public forces acted with total impunity. They were used to the fact that the streets were empty, that no one was recording and that the State security monitors were not going to report them.
So, the people know, the people understand the reality of the country and what the methodology of the national police is. The police not only attack demonstrators, they are involved in all the country’s criminal affairs. It is because of the police and the army that drug trafficking has the strength it does. The same is true of the paramilitaries and trafficking. It is an institution that is corrupted from its very roots.
Coinciding with this popular uprising, we also saw images of women protesting in the streets against the violations that the police also carry out. Tell us about the struggle of women in this context.
Women in the country are constantly attacked by the public forces, it is common for them to protest against the rape. For example, I work as a representative of human rights and women’s rights, we are surrounded by men and they make macho jokes which make you feel really uncomfortable.
What happens in the context of these protests is that three cases of sexual abuse of people who were demonstrating have been reported, they were taken to the CAI, police stations, and then raped. Moreover, not only do these rapes occur, but also the national army is involved in the pandemic, with the case of the indigenous girl who was raped on multiple occasions by different members of the public forces. It is a situation in which the woman’s body is used as war booty. Colombia is experiencing a social, political, and armed conflict in which women and their bodies are part of the conflict that the army and police have revealed. In this way we can feel the terror of what this means.
We reported on a protest by an organization there, the Juventud Rebelde, who state that they have been accused by both Caracol TV and the police of being part of the guerrillas. Again, the accusation arises that this is being directed by the guerrillas. Nobody denies the existence of these guerrillas, but whenever a popular mobilization appears, they want to demonize them with this accusation. How do the population respond to these lies told by the government and the media?
In the case of what you’re saying about the youth, it’s not just aggressions that the media makes against this sector of the national and popular movement of the country. They are also directed at other sectors, such as the Congress of the Peoples, and other centres of political dissidence, where the media serve big business and the national government, and reproduce the discourse they dictate to them. What they are trying to do is to undermine the strength and legitimacy of the struggle that is taking place in the streets.
It is not true that it was a plan orchestrated by the FARC or the ELN; what really happened was an exercise in popular uprising because we are tired, the people cannot stand it any longer, the people know that the police really do not care for them. What is happening is something that is outside of any control or plan, it is not systematic. The people began to feel indignation after the assassination of this lawyer, and later they convened a demonstration at the CAI where he died, filled with dignified popular rage. An exercise by the public forces began, to take care of the CAI. That CAI should have been burned down from the beginning, because it was the only way for the people to express their rage. There was nothing to be done, Javier’s life was not going to be returned.
What the police decided to do was to start attacking the protesters, to generate actions that would spread to the rest of the city, and the other neighborhoods saw how they were attacking the people with whom they agreed and felt the same indignation, and what the citizens decided to do was to spread it everywhere. But there is no system, because it did not happen at the same time, nor in the same way, nor did they have the same logos. They have said that there is an organization here, but it is a decision of the youth, who have decided that all the police are bastards because they always behave this way. The Ministry is trying to take that path, the media lend themselves to that, they are servile to their interests.
They also endanger the national and popular movement. Because this minister, and the previous one, have always said that the national and popular processes are related to the insurgency. But they never emerge to protect us when other actors in the conflict begin to kill us. We have no relationship with them, we have no way to defend ourselves. That is why they assassinate the social leaders of the country. More than a thousand leaders have been killed.
What is your opinion about this house trial that is being held against Uribe Vélez? There is evidence of thousands to put him in jail, but this has become a light sentence. Do you think it will prosper in anything else?
We in the country live with the impossibility of safeguarding the truth; the number of people tortured, murdered and disappeared is the highest in the continent. In part, Uribe and his paramilitary project are completely linked to this reality. For us, what is happening is that the house arrest is a disappointment, but in part, it gives some hope. Nothing ever happens here with former presidents. This country has always claimed to be a democracy when they had us locked up 365 days a year with a curfew, but “we were a democracy”.
So, there is a complex exercise, what we are saying is that there is a possibility that Uribe is the subject of justice. By saying that he is the object of justice, all his allies and all the people who offend with him have reason to fear. There are also other things people can say that they would not dare to say. He loses power to the extent that any other official in the country connected to Uribe Velez assumed that he was guaranteed, that he could do anything and nothing would happen to him. At this moment, that story is being modified through a very simple situation, such as this one. Because he is not even being prosecuted for the murders, for the massacres, for everything that is in the background, which, as you say, is clear that there is more justice to be done in this case.
They are prosecuting him because he decided to buy witnesses, the process that brings him to house arrest is the manipulation of witnesses. But this has other implications that we read as positive, such as taking away the strength of something that was thought to be untouchable. We believe that the only thing that can reveal the truth in the country is that we advance in a journey of truth, of struggle and of popular power, where at some point the story of so much suffering is allowed to be told. But that experience does not happen because we sit back and wait, but rather as an exercise in maintaining the struggle, in resistance.
With respect to Iván Duque and the presence of North American forces in Colombia, I refer not only to the bases, but to these soldiers and advisors who have now entered the country, with the authorization of the Colombian government. That continues to be a factor of pressure on the popular movement, since there is always that sword of Damocles, marking the US presence, there is also the possibility of aggression against Venezuela. Do you take that into account every time you go out into the streets, because you are not only confronting the police or the military, but you are also confronting the US presence in the country?
Of course we are aware of the sad role that the struggle of the Latin American peoples played for history, that presence in our territory. We are a bastion of the U.S. empire, we are a bastion of the United States in the territory, we know that from here a plan is being made against the Venezuelan people, we know that from here there have also been incidents in what has happened in Bolivia, in Ecuador and that to do something here is to interfere with an issue that they are very concerned about. This means that there could be a large margin of impunity here.
There is no way that the international community can pronounce itself against Colombia because it has a lot of power, the United States is saying “nothing happens here” and also because the intelligence, the forms of torture, the forms of aggression against the social movements, the forms of organization and reorganization of the paramilitaries are advised by them. We know this. Because the history of the country is a history that is transmitted from generation to generation, assuming the struggle and saying that we are going to victory. To that extent we are facing a very powerful enemy and that is not only the Colombian government, but also the interests of the United States in Latin America. From here they are planned and deployed to other places.
One last question, referring to your integration in the Congress of the Peoples: What is the situation of the militancy in relation to the repression?
We as the Peoples Congress have had more than 200 people deprived of their liberty. It is important to understand that it is a mechanism that they use against the social movements. In the country, the criminal law works with preventive measures of deprivation of liberty, while the person is being prosecuted. It then allows the prosecutor’s office and everyone else to have control.
It is important that people understand that the executive and legislative branches are controlled by Uribism. In other words, power also belongs to the interests of the paramilitaries. In addition, the other controlling bodies, such as the prosecutors’ offices, the public defenders’ offices, and the prosecutors’ offices, are all subject to the same control. So there is a powerful exercise of control. This means that the prosecutor’s office, for example, acts according to the interests they have. Since they want to silence the popular movement, the prosecutors act against the interests of the Congress of the Peoples.
They carry out a series of assemblies that never lead to convictions, but throughout the time since the beginning of the process and when the sentence is given, the people are deprived of their liberty. This deprivation of liberty is aimed at ending the social movement, at making the other people who are left free afraid or to break away from the mobilizations.
We are proposing that in the country there is a genocide against the opposition and against political dissidence. Through homicides, through assassinations, through pressure, threats, and judicialization. They are seeking an end to any raising of voices in the country. The reality is that there are a series of strong assemblies, these assemblies are systematic when they occur, and an event that has become a media boom in the country.
After that, they take a leader of the social movement that they have previously watched and studied, and they use an alias for them. Then they initiate a process that begins in the country, the media strengthens it by identifying those responsible for the events. They take a large group of people and set up the entire judicial process around them. Or they hold trials for people they couldn’t capture, these are investigations that go back many years, then during the last three or four months, they bring in social leaders and they go to the media to say that they have captured a social leader after years of searching. And the truth is that that person was never in that investigation. What they do is to take advantage of the process and attack the social movement.
There are also false witnesses, people who are invited to attack the social movement and who will say anything to avoid being arrested. These are people who were caught committing an illicit act and say they were with someone from the social movements and that they were arrested when the events took place. That person is not prosecuted and does not go to jail. This was the case of Julian Gil, Technical Secretary of the Peoples Congress. Surely, there will be a series of mass arrests and judicial assemblies, because of what is happening. However, the people are stating with transparency and tranquility that prison is another stage of struggle where we are willing to be and to generate from there another stage of popular power.