Sunday, 27th January 2002
The Occupation of the CAM Tower is about to enter into its most dangerous phase, and the possibility of military intervention to dislodge the occupying workers appears to be becoming a strong possibility.
From the optimism of the Day of Action, where the working class movement and local communities united in the defense of public services, comes the brutal reality of a state that appears to have no limits. In order to understand how this changed scenario has come about, we need to go back to Friday evening, and follow the events that then prevailed up to today, and all the different media and means of communication that have been deployed by the Colombian government to construct a new reality to the people of what is going on in the CAM Tower occupation, and what is the potential solution.
On Friday evening the Mayor announced that the FARC, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, had called for an armed strike in the South West of the country on Monday, and that this coincided with the Municipal Civic Strike being planned by SINTRAEMCALI, and the Municipal Strike Command. He called for a high level security meeting with the military and police, and the meeting led to a range of security measures being deployed from 6pm on Sunday evening until 6.am on Tuesday morning. These measures call for a ban on all alcohol sales, meetings, marches and demonstrations, the deployment of troops at all public buildings, the restriction of movement of vehicles, and a ban on the carrying of firearms. Two extra military Battalions will be brought in to the city. The effect of these announcements was to start to build a link between the armed insurgency of the FARC, and the working class movement in Cali, particularly SINTRAEMCALI. Quickly realising the trap that was being set up, SINTRAEMCALI and the Municipal Strike Command immediately postponed the Municipal Civic Strike, and made public statements refuting any link between the trade union and community organisations and the armed insurgency.
Despite these statements, the major newspapers in Cali ran stories the following day, which implied that the Armed Strike called by the FARC, and the Municipal Civic Strike were related. Two examples may help to illuminate this: In the daily EL PAIS newspaper on Saturday (26th January 2002) it stated that: "A terrorist plan to destabilise the city through road blocks, the occupation of churches, public buildings and other buildings as part of a civic strike endorsed by the EMCALI workers union was discovered yesterday by the authorities".
In the same edition, the commander of the Third Division of the Army, General Francisco Rene Perlaza, alleged that " … some trade union organisations and armed groups at the margin of the law are behind the calling of the civic strike…” These kind of comments appeared in many newspapers and on the radio and television. The imagery is clear, the popular movement is linked to the armed insurgency and there is a ‘terrorist’ plan. In the post September 11th world this seems to be justification to do almost anything, and it is to the speculation of what may happen that I now turn.
On Monday negotiations between the SINTRAEMCALI/Community alliance, the Mayor of Cali, and the national Government begin in Bogotá. This will coincide with the militarization of the streets of Cali, with any public gatherings, demonstrations or meetings forbidden. For that reason those inside the CAM Tower are going to be very isolated, and with the increased military presence outside the building tension is likely to be running very high. This tension was further increased when on Saturday evening the Mayor stated on television that either through negotiation or through force the occupation will end on Monday.
With the militarization of the streets of Cali, the increasing criminalization of those inside, and the prevention of any supporters from lining the streets outside the building, if the negotiations do break down in Bogotá then the use of force becomes a high probability. Inside the CAM Tower preparations are being made to defend the occupation, and various scenarios are being discussed calmly and in an atmosphere of dignified resistance.
This violent ending to the CAM Tower occupation, is not however inevitable. If it is to be avoided, then on Monday the 28th of January we all need to do what we can to pressure the Colombian government not to use military force. Wherever you are reading this from, you can play your part, sending letters to the Colombian authorities, contacting any organisations that may be able to highlight to the rest of the World what is going on, and to pressure the Colombian government.
I call for this in the name of all those heroic women and men that are today inside the CAM Tower. People whose dignity and selflessness are an example to us all. They are putting their lives on the line to keep basic services in the public domain, and affordable for all. But more than that, they are challenging an economic model that is destroying our planet, and condemning over two thirds of the world’s population to poverty and misery. Please do all that you can to help them.