The CUT’s National Committee of 30th-31st January decided on its campaigns for 2003.
First and foremost the CUT will be fully involved in the Campaign for an Active Abstention against Uribe’s referendum, due to take place in May or August. Uribe has presented his 18 question referendum as a popular consultation on political reform. Certainly, everyone knows that official politics are highly corrupt but the CUT sees this as a pretext. The real issue is fiscal reform, not political reform. Cutting the state deficit, through raising taxes while drastically cutting expenditure, is what Uribe has agreed with the IMF as the condition for it extending a standby loan facility. But the cause for the state deficit is the ballooning public debt crisis. According to CUT President Carlos Rodriguez Colombia is paying out 50% of its revenues to service the domestic and foreign debt.
Yes votes in the referendum will endorse a package of highly regressive government measures: extension of the sales tax to cover household goods, freezing state workers’ wages, withdrawing pension rights and unemployment benefits, merging state departments and cutting the state workforce by up to 100 thousand. Since, according to the 1991 Constitution, a minimum number of votes are needed for the results to be binding, even ‘No’ votes will be useful to Uribe.
That is why the CUT, along with all popular organisations, is calling for an active abstention. They are challenging for equal access in the mass media for the Abstention position. The abstentionista camp is already winning the political argument, hence the paramilitary announcement of repression against its leaders. In Colombia if the establishment does not get what it wants, very quickly there is a turn to violent methods.
Carlos Rodriguez explained that Uribe’s government talks of a Plan B to satisfy the IMF, that will come into force if the referendum goes against him. Plan B involves more taxes, diverting oil royalties and savings funds into current expenditure.
The country is skirting the precipice of financial meltdown, which adds a note of desperation to all government actions.
There is a second dimension underlying the referendum questions, which is indeed to do with reforming the political structures. The effect of these will be to diminish Congress and centralise power in the president, another echo of the Fujimori project. Party lists will have to gain 200,000 votes before they can have an MP. In the context of the intimidation and assassination of left-wing candidates that characterises Colombian elections, this is a clear move to do away with any parliamentary representation for the popular movement.
The CUT’s other priorities are opposition to the Free Trade Area of Americas and the government’s reform programme. The CUT’s fourth campaign priority is defence of human rights, as Carlos Rodriguez highlights: “We want the world to know how many activists and leaders are being killed in Colombia.”