Colombia’s national strike has been ongoing for 13 days now and has managed to secure Finance Minister Alberto Carrasquilla’s resignation and the withdrawal of the tax reform. It is still going strong in the streets, its lungs filled with fresh air. The government attacks the movement in an attempt to destroy it, but it is all in vain; every injury it sustains arouses its fury, develops its consciousness and intensifies its resolve. It is a movement filled with the energy of change that draws strength from the dignity the people have been deprived of for so long.
Of course, all of this activity can lead to exhaustion. Every day is a new learning experience and the physical struggle is also tiring. To this we need to add the anxiety and distress that grips them on account of the death of their comrades at the hands of the brutal state. They are also tired of opportunism and the lack of direction. As a consequence, although the movement persists, its spirit has reached a kind of plateau. This has given the movement time to gain experience and mature. Now is the time to take advantage of it.
The forces of reaction have taken this opportunity to reveal their rotten and murderous face more brazenly. They continue on mercilessly. However, the political structure of the government is so weak that it has lost all credibility, which has forced it to open up the possibility for dialogue (on its terms), in order to try to diffuse the situation. Needless to say, it is still incapable of even acknowledging its real adversaries, much less confront them face to face.
Thus, the heart of the movement continues to beat and the balance of forces favours the masses, who are still undecided on whether to take the decisive step. The next few days will be the deciding factor, and a necessary learning experience for the people. Either way, the disadvantaged classes, especially the working class, have already gained a lot and of course, if they stay the course, victory will be in their sights.
The struggle continues
This has been a historic week. The strike persists and the government tries its best to hinder it. For example, there was an attempt by the Strike Committee to resume leadership after it had called for people to stay home on May Day, or the meeting of the government with the opportunists in the Revolutionary Independent Labour Movement (MOIR) and the Green Alliance (Alianza Verde) who are always ready to give the government a lifeline. The government attempts to engage in delayed and insincere dialogue, it has sustained its repression by all available means (plainclothes officers, paramilitaries, cyber censorship, indiscriminate shooting, alliances with lumpen elements) and it organises partial negotiations with different trade unions in a bid to divide the movement. Each attempt is as damaging as the last, yet still ineffective.
To date, 47 murders, 963 arbitrary arrests, 548 disappearances and 12 instances of sexual violence out of the 1,876 cases of violence perpetrated by the Public Forces (comprised of the Colombian Military and National Police) have been reported by the NGO Temblores. All this has fuelled the fire of popular indignation. According to the NGO, there has been a casualty every day except 5 May.
The march on 5 May was at its biggest, and the day prior, the whole arsenal of the state had been used to scare off the general public and to stop them from marching. It was on this day that protestor Lucas Villa was wounded; his life currently hangs in the balance. In spite of this, the day was not as violent as the other days of the strike, which demonstrates how the collective power of the masses instils fear in their oppressors.
Although in the last few days the number of protestors has decreased, their consciousness has started to become more radicalised. This is largely due to the clumsy and violent strategy of the state. The only method it is familiar with is complete barbarism. The rising tension threatens to bring about more violence and confrontation, but we doubt that the government will have the means to continue resisting this or offer anything as a compromise. Moreover, they have shown that they are unable to fall back on any form of support from the masses, as illustrated by the modest turnout at their political rallies.
In the reaction’s most popular rally in Cali last night on the 9 May (before the massacre carried out against the people) it was hard to find anyone younger than 40 amongst the 100 or so people present. In truth, the movement is just waiting for a signal to react or organise. But this signal will not fall out of the sky.
Contrary to its intentions, the government’s crimes have driven the outraged masses to become unified. They failed to notice this, and neither did they expect it. They still think we are inferior. Indeed, it is in the sectors of the perpetually ignored youth and the neighbourhoods with no brand new Toyotas where debates are underway about defence and other important issues.
The case of the truckload of plainclothes officers in Cali is an illustrative example of the mafia-like methods employed by the government. These armed plainclothes officers tried to ambush a protest, but ended up running away after being cornered by the protesters, who were defended by soldiers present at the time. This cowardly response mirrors those of the infiltrators captured by the Minga, a movement of rural indigenous communal workers, and those discovered in the demonstrations in Bogotá. Thanks to the online hacktivist group Anonymous, communication between these frightened and perplexed agents fleeing the people could be accessed on social media. The fear of all these scoundrels is more than clear. The government has forgone its appeals in favour of offers of money to hire assassins on Twitter.
Meanwhile, some soldiers have rallied in support of the protestors. One such soldier posed a particularly poignant question: “Who do you stand with? The people or the government?” The answer to this question came a few days ago. The video clearly shows that the soldiers are not prepared to take up arms against the people. Obviously, the movement is sceptical of their position. We are used to seeing an army and police force tasked with repression and defending the interests of the ruling class. One thing is true: anyone who wishes to join this popular mass struggle has no other option but to ask for permission beforehand. In this case, providing arms and teaching the public how to use them could inspire confidence.
The position taken by the Strike Committee who have agreed to meet with the government today, Monday 10 May, is disappointing. Their stance goes against that of the public, who have made it clear that they will not stop until Iván Duque and Alvaro Uribe Vélez’s government falls. It’s worth noting that Vélez is Pablo Escobar’s former employee and son of drug trafficker Alberto Uribe Sierra. For better or worse, the only one of these traditional leaders who has been consistent is Gustavo Petro. Although this consistency hasn’t led him to a correct analysis of the situation, he has at least not fallen into the opportunism so prevalent among the main branch of traditional leftist leaders and the trade union movement.
Up until now, the biggest defeat has been the attack against the Minga on Sunday 9 May. Following Uribe’s orders, which Duque subsequently reiterated, the activity of elements of narco-paramilitarism, carried out in collusion with the Colombian National Police resulted in the indiscriminate murder of the indigenous population who were protesting peacefully.
“Civil war”, brayed the criminals, believing themselves to be some sort of legitimate force. They are no such thing. The images, testimonies and the aftermath of the attack show that it was an operation of terrorist repression carried out with the support of the state and in favour of the interests of drug traffickers and the financial sector. Witnesses reported how a Banco de Occidente van was in the hands of the narco-paramilitaries, which demonstrates the unequivocal alliance between the financial bourgeoisie and the mafia. This operation was yet another terrible decision by the Sarmiento clan, the owners of Banco de Occidente. Their shares, which fell to USD 5.38 on Tuesday, today barely reached USD 5.95. What more can we expect from a failed engineer turned house thief and speculator?
The images are terrifying. As if that weren’t enough, they even sabotaged a press conference by the Indigenous Guard (an organisation formed to defend indigenous territory through civil resistance) and the launch of a video with the Guard’s anthem. But, despite the fear felt by some, their spirit did not falter. If they seem less daring in their actions, it’s because solutions are being discussed. An organised response is needed, that much is clear, and we sense that it must come quickly. There is still a need for leadership.
Our future is now
Our future prospects are murky and we would be ill-advised to draw conclusions under pressure. We can be assured, however, of the fact that, after 12 days of struggle, the consciousness of the people has undergone a transformation. This is the best foundation for us to have if it leads to a revolutionary situation.
The Minister of Labour says that his main worry is the 20bn pesos lost every day as a consequence of the strike. It is here, therefore, where we must apply more pressure. What the ruling class fears the most, even more than losing power, is losing money. The resulting insolvency has caused the split among the elite to become even more pronounced. With all this, and the attempts from the National Business Association (ANDI, the industrial bourgeoisie) to extend their economic support to the president and the Public Forces, while acting as a negotiator, its leadership has, beyond a doubt, lost credibility among its members and they are beginning to take a step back.
Chancellor Claudia Blum, who on Sunday morning published a falsified video condemning the protests and pointing the finger at Petro, was literally forced to leave her post by day’s end due to pressure from workers within Colombia and internationally. This speaks volumes. Semana, previously a bastion of journalism, has fallen into moral decline following its acquisition by the Gilinski group. The magazine has tried to suggest that this crisis is a hangover from the last cabinet. The truth is that, since Vicky Davila, champion of narco-paramilitarism and member of the Gnecco clan, assumed management of the publication, its credibility has been lower than that of any sensationalist tabloid.
This is a severe blow, since Mrs Blum left the post that she got after her husband, José Barberi Ospina, became one of the most prominent investors in Iván Duque’s presidential campaign. Her brother in law, Juan Manuel, also invested. Francisco José Barberi Ospina is president of Tecnoquímicas, a huge pharmaceutical company that was controlled by drug traffickers Rodriguez Orejuela and the Cali Cartel bosses in the ‘80s. He, in turn, took part in the toilet paper cartel and was sanctioned for price fixing on these products five years ago. This is not just any ordinary resignation. It comes from a section of the bourgeoisie that launders drug trafficking assets and is losing its footing on the political scene. Thus, the people have managed to wrest power away from two dreadful ministers within 12 days of strike action. Now we have to go straight for the end goal.
This morning began with a call for more protests, various sections of the proletariat are gathering at special meetings, and some of them are considering disobeying the Strike Committee and encouraging a work stoppage. Many popular councils and grassroots committees have started to propose ideas. This initiative must be maintained and brought to a national conference with the participation of all the councils that arise from the people’s initiative. This is the only organ of power that we must acknowledge.
For the time being, we must carry on the fight and call on every comrade possible with the following question: “Do you stand with the people or the government?” We must appeal to our comrades to support us in the councils organised by the people and ask them to develop defence strategies using the learning experience gained by the indigenous population and the soldiers in revolt. The most conscious workers among us, the workers better able to give up their time and energy, must push for the creation of our own party, a worker’s party. Every political effort of the bourgeoisie has brought them into disrepute. It is our time to provide Colombia with a socialist alternative.
As the insurgent soldiers chanted: All power to the people!
The strike goes on!
Listen to the people’s council!