The great popular uprising that has been taking place in Colombia against the pro-Uribe regime presided over by Iván Duque is showing the world that when the peoples lose patience with the iniquities of capitalist policies, nothing can stop them. Not even the bullets of the Esmad and one of the most powerful armies of the continent. But it also reveals the ABC of dictatorial policies, such as the most brutal repression, in an attempt to terrorize those who struggle.
To discuss the current situation and its future, we interviewed the spokesman of the Peoples’ Congress, Jimmy Moreno, faithful representative of a youth that will not retreat and that continues to struggle every day in the streets of the country.
What are the fundamental reasons why the Colombian people are fighting?
Historically, Colombia has been immersed in a social and armed conflict that has placed the social and political movements and the people in general in permanent mobilization to defend their rights and to demand from the State the fulfillment of agreements and postponed demands.
We have been in a dynamic of rising struggles of social movements since 2010. Since then, the movement of peasants, indigenous people, Afro-Colombians, student, union and social sectors began to emerge. Then there has been a whole dynamic of negotiation processes, which concluded with the agreement with the Party of the Commons. In recent years, since 2016, the war on social movements has been escalating. A war that has meant the death of more than 1,000 human rights leaders, more than 230 peace signatories, more than 200 leaders prosecuted by the Colombian State.
On the other hand, neoliberal policies, tax reforms, fiscal reforms, privatization of health and education, greater militarization of the territories and the role of Colombia in the framework of foreign policy with the United States, being a spearhead against progressive governments and popular struggles, have deepened. And recently, the possible interference against our brother Bolivarian people of Venezuela.
In 2019 a great wave of mobilization was generated, although then the pandemic arrived and slowed it down, the social crisis worsened in this framework of a health emergency that we are experiencing in the world. This government has taken the opportunity to govern by means of decrees, thus deepening its model, deepening the gap, the extractivist policies and deepening the militarization of the territories and the genocidal practices of the Colombian State.
The organization and decision with which all the sectors of the people are moving at the moment when a resistance action is being taken, which is known when it begins but not when it ends, continues to attract attention. There is a powerful slogan that says “the strike will not stop”.
In this sense, in April we called for a national strike day from the unions, social movements and the people in general, a day that was multitudinous in spite of the restrictions that the Government would like to impose to generate social and political control. In spite of trying, by means of rulings, to stop the mobilizations and in spite of the threats to those who have been defending the dignity of the people.
In Colombia, this national strike is once again unleashed and is being held in different cities of the country; it has been important in Valle, especially in Cali, which is still resisting in a strong and dignified manner. In Cauca, the campesino movements, and since Monday, the indigenous movement and the transporters. Another point is Chocó, where road blockades are being carried out by the indigenous and Afro Colombian movements of the region.
In central Colombia, people have been resisting since the 28th and in this regard, Duque decided to deepen state terrorism. We have seen that every day the struggle increases in scale. On Saturday, the national government made a call to militarize the cities and not respond politically to what the people have been demanding in the national strike. Today we are talking about 30 homicides by the national police. More than 500 people have been detained, there have been many raids, there have been cases of sexual violence by the police in the detention centers, many attacks on human rights defenders and there are comrades who have had eye injuries. About 18 people, more or less. Here we see again, police brutality, through the Mobile Anti-Riot Squad (ESMAD).
On Sunday, as a result of this national strike, the government withdrew the tax reform that involved more taxes for the poor and more exceptions for the rich. It is a victory, but the Colombian people remain in the streets and on the roads. On Monday, the Minister of Finance resigned, along with his entire team, because the withdrawal of the tax reform is a defeat for the national government. But this is why we say “the strike will not stop”. The strike will continue, because we are facing a bad government, a corrupt, criminal government, that does not listen to the people and wants to continue strengthening what we call “Duque’s package” that aims to continue privatizing health, perhaps to present another tax reform, militarization, judicial criminalization and brutal repression.
What we are demanding is the dismantling of the ESMAD. We inform all of Our America that the people remain in a state of struggle, that they remain dignified and in resistance. Our slogan as social and political movements is to be with the people and demand the resignation of this bad government because the people understand that it only governs for the rich and that we the poor have proposals in terms of alternatives of popular power.
In the face of this variant that there is now, in which the government, on the one hand, is pretending to go back on the measures it wanted to take, clearly a popular victory, this challenge of saying “the strike will not stop”, or “we want the government to resign”, do you think there is enough strength left in the organizations and the people to raise the challenge and go for more? That is, to demand that Duque be removed.
Let’s say that basically when we carry out our analysis, we see that the government is afraid, when it calls for military assistance to the streets, it is because it is not capable of sustaining this dynamic of mobilization that is taking place in the country and that is why through fear and repression they want to contain the protest and the national strike. But unfortunately, for the government, when the people rise up, their dignity is unbreakable.
In this sense, this week more sectors joined, who have understood that this is the moment for unity and to unite the social struggles. That is why the indigenous movement has joined the strike. Also the transport workers, the cab drivers’ sector and the peasant movements and the more organized sectors such as the National Strike Committee. It seems to us more important the strength, the sense of struggle of the people who, in spite of the repression, continue in the streets. They are giving us an important lesson, when the people speak and rise up we have to be there, raising those levels of struggle. There will be a national strike for a long time, and the people are not going to allow them to continue mistreating us.
The people will continue to raise the political slogan “Out with Duque”, “Out with the government” and out with those neoliberal policies that have impoverished those sectors that today are marginalized and impoverished. The spirit of the youth and student forces and that of the territorial forces of these sectors that have been suffering for years from this model, are the ones that are carrying the banners and the vanguards of the social struggles.
Is there no doubt that the Colombian regime has always been extremely violent in the repression of popular demands, but it is clear when seeing images of what has been done by the police and military in recent days, there has been a decision to wound and kill with absolute impunity. Why do you think that a large part of this state violence has been centralized with greater force in the city of Cali?
Because the strike is centered in Cali and in the whole department of Valle. Because people are blocking roads in the center, which connect with Cauca, and the government cannot allow this strike to strengthen. Based on the character of this criminal and militaristic regime, which uses full military force, the president made the call to “kill people”, by sending the army to the streets.
Thus we see how the army, during these days when the mobilization was maintained in the streets, shot at the protesters with rifles and bombed them from helicopters. What the Colombian state wants is to sow fear and contain the dynamics of mobilization, because it knows that this is going to spread throughout the country. That is why cities like Cali, Manizales, Popayan, Pereira, Bogota and Medellin have sustained days of strong struggle and also repression. Ironically, most of these departments are governed by “alternative governments”, as is the case of Cali, Bogota and Medellin. But they are obviously aligned with the government’s national policy of stigmatization and criminalization of social protest and the military treatment that has always been applied.
In the framework of the national strike, how have the trade union confederations responded?
There have been many pressures. From the trade union movement there are many views on how to carry out this national strike. For the May 1 days, there have been discussions because there were sectors that called for virtual marches when the people were calling to go out to the streets and to maintain the national strike. That is why we continue to insist, from the spaces of confluence, that the organized sectors such as the social and trade union movements, we have to struggle together with the people, fighting the fight, and that was the dynamic of the national strike.
A large part of the trade union movement of this class-conscious sector has been there, alongside the people, fighting in those cities. We believe that the people themselves are leading these organized sectors to join in the permanent strike, understanding that today in Colombia we have a very special moment in which we can intensify this crisis of governance and present a different proposal for the country.
We have seen in the streets of Colombia, a phenomenon that also occurred in Chile with the revolt against Sebastián Piñera: thousands of young and very determined people. In the Chilean case, the youth of the revolt are characterized by their weariness and repudiation of bourgeois politics, of traditional politicians, including those of the left. That left-wing pact that opts for a small position or a seat in Parliament. Is that also the case in Colombia?
In fact, the great mass that is expressing itself is of young people, against those politicians who are apathetic to this form of construction in politics, especially in electoral politics and liberal democracy. They are young people who have had to suffer the consequences of these policies, and they are young people whose hopes of life have been taken away, because there is no possibility of work, no possibility of study, nor of a decent pension.
In this sense, they are the hope of our country and they have understood that it is in the streets where we must demand their rights and not allow them to continue to be taken away from them by political parties and the different governments, both local and national. In this regard, we believe that we have constructed an understanding that the electoral struggle is a path that will allow us to advance with transformations. But, at this moment, it is through the construction of mechanisms of popular power, where the peoples can advance in terms of sovereign projects and create a different vision of the country.
A framework where we recognize all the sectors and all the peoples that historically have been beaten by this regime. I think it is very important that this struggle and this national strike allow us to organize and politicize the mobilized people. In this sense, to generate what we at the Peoples’ Congress have been calling the construction of popular power and our own forms of government.
I wanted to offer you this space for you to make an appeal, to tell us what this Colombian popular movement that today is fighting in the streets needs from the international solidarity.
It is important for this moment in Colombia that we should have the opportunity to speak on the role that the international community, the Latin American peoples, the social movements, with which we have been joining forces, can play. It is necessary to make visible the repression and state terrorism, the genocide that is taking place in our country, and also to shed light on the demands and proposals that have been raised in the framework of the national strike. We believe that, although solidarity is an important element, we are also calling for unity of action.
What is happening in Colombia and in the struggles of the continent are problems shared by all countries and all peoples. It is the moment to look at how to coordinate struggles against this empire, against this model, against this militarization that is being strengthened daily in our countries, against the repression that we see every day. We have to continue consolidating this popular internationalism expressed in the struggle, in the unity of action and in the possibilities of thinking not only of a Colombia under a project of dignity and buen vivir, but also of uniting Latin America in a united struggle that brings together our peoples and aspires to build a continent for the dignity of our peoples.
We would like to make an appeal at the outset expressing our gratitude for the expression of solidarity that has been made by our brotherly peoples towards our country. We are grateful for this and we hope that it will continue and that we can look jointly at this common enemy that we have in each of our countries.
Translation by Internationalist 360°