Colombia Military Moves against Popular Rebellion
Right-wing Colombian president Iván Duque has sent the army to the city of Cali, to repress the popular uprising there.
Cali, third largest city in the country, has been in the forefront of the nationwide mass movement which started as a protest against a regressive tax ‘reform’. That proposed reform aimed to make workers and poorer sections of the middle class pay the cost of the Covid-19 crisis. Although it has since been withdrawn, the mass movement against inequality and corruption it unleashed continues unabated.
Cali was the scene of clashes on 28 May in which the militarised police killed at least five people. Human Rights Watch claims 63 people have been killed by security forces since the movement began. Cali has also been the scene of battles in which indigenous protestors, a key part of the popular movement, have been attacked by narco-trafficking right-wing paramilitaries, used by the government in its 30-year war against the FARC[i] rural guerrilla movement.
Reports from international press agencies said army units were on their way to reinforce military columns already sent to other major cities.
Massive mobilisations on 28 May marked a month since the beginning of the movement. On that evening, Duque announced he was sending the military to the province of Valle del Cauca and to Cali, its capital. ‘From tonight begins the maximum deployment of military assistance to the national police in Cali and the province of Valle,’ Duque said in a televised message. He ordered 7,000 troops to clear street blockades and close down ‘liberated zones’ erected by demonstrators.
On 28 April, a national strike had started the movement amid mass mobilisations of insurrectional proportions. The government’s tax reform had one core objective – to make the poor and the popular classes pay for the Covid-19 economic disaster. It included putting VAT on basic foods like rice and pasta, disastrous for working-class living standards.
The protests against the tax reform were fired by outrage at poverty, inequality, corruption, and police violence. Since the onset of the Covid-19 crisis, working-class living standards have collapsed in Colombia. Official figures say 42% of the population are living in poverty. Colombia is one of the most unequal societies in the world, while tax breaks to international corporations and banks mean the state is systematically robbed.
The 28 April strike closed down the country and was accompanied by huge street protests and blockades in major cities like Bogotá, Medellín, and Cali. The strike was called by a National Strike Committee made up of the central trade unions (CUT, CGT, CTC) and the teachers’ union Fecode. But NGOs and local people reported that the unions were pushed into action by the mass mobilisation of people outside the union structures.
The breadth of the mobilisation has taken the Colombian elite and right-wing commentators by surprise. They had thought that the complete demobilisation of the FARC guerrillas in 2017 marked an end to significant rebellion in the country. Now it has re-emerged in a spectacular fashion.
The movement has been sustained by a huge coalition, but the dynamic forces have been youth, women, and indigenous people. In conflicts with the police, the youth of the protestors has been striking. This is a generational movement, another sign of the rebellion by the millennial ‘Generation X’, out in force in London and elsewhere in recent weeks in support of the Palestinian people.
Colombia is a key relay in the Global Police State. The country’s brutal right-wing politicians, paramilitaries, and police have received massive aid from the United States over decades. But not just the United States. According to freelance journalist John McEvoy, under cover of ‘the war against drugs’, Britain has also given military support to the army and right-wing paramilitaries. And of course, Colombia maintains strong political and military links with Israel.
[i] Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, a guerrilla organisation which waged war against successive regimes since 1964. Inspired by Marxism-Leninism, the organisation was highly authoritarian and frequently repressed popular organisations and leaders outside its control.