Monday, 28th January 2002
Monday 28th of January, will be remembered by all those involved in the CAM Tower occupation, both inside and outside the building in Cali, in Bogotá, and abroad, as the most potentially dangerous day yet. That it ended without anybody being seriously wounded (one person was shot by a policeman but received only superficial injuries), was a welcome surprise.
The day began in an atmosphere of optimism. Alexander Lopez and Luis Hernandez, president and vice-president of SINTRAEMCALI left the CAM Tower with bodyguards at 5.00am to head for the airport for the short flight to Bogota. They carried with them the hopes and aspirations of all those inside and outside the Tower. At the airport they were joined by the two community spokespeople, and together they travelled to the capital. Upon arrival, they found out that the government was yet again backtracking on the negotiations, and the union leaders took the decision to escalate the non-violent direct action that had been taken thus far.
A coach load of SINTRAEMCALI workers and activists who had arrived in the capital several days before to build solidarity for the union’s cause amongst Bogota’s trade union and social organisations, occupied the headquarters of the Superintendency of Public Services at just after 10.00a.m. They were backed by both water industry workers, and telecommunications trade unionists in Bogota. Riot Police and army quickly surrounded the building, with snipers positioned on the roofs of the adjacent buildings and several tanks on the road below. In Cali, workers lined the streets outside the CAM Tower, and parked their EMCALI trucks and cars on the streets. Both of these acts were in clear defiance of the emergency regulations imposed by the Mayor of Cali from 6pm on Sunday evening until 6.00 a.m. on Tuesday morning.
In both Bogota and Cali the situation remained tense throughout the afternoon and evening. In Cali at around 4.00pm, two Cali Metropolitan Policeman, on a motorbike, began writing down the number plates of the parked cars. When challenged by EMCALI workers, one of them fired a shot, which wounded ARLEY GORDILLO, a water and sewerage worker. Fortunately, the wound was superficial, and he was later released from hospital. At the time it sent alarm bells both inside and outside the building, and the occupying workers went into a state of red alert, preparing themselves for an eventual attempt by the police to enter by force.
Meanwhile, in Bogota negotiations between the Superintendent of Public Services, and the SINTRAEMCALI/Community alliance broke down with virtually no progress, and the likelihood of both the occupations ending in violence became a real possibility. Frantic negotiations in Bogotá between human rights representatives eventually managed to avert the use of force. In Cali, the massive presence of workers and supporters outside the CAM Tower appeared to have a similar effect. By about 9.00pm things began to calm down a little, and an agreement was negotiated in Bogota to end the occupation at the Headquarters of the Superintendent of Public Services. The government pledged that it would begin serious negotiations with the SINTRAEMCALI/ Community Alliance on Tuesday morning. At 11.00pm, a coach entered the basement of the building in Bogota, and the occupying workers left the building, curtains closed to protect their identities.
Throughout the day contact was maintained with the solidarity campaign and British trade union representatives who were doing what they could to prevent the use of force by the Colombian authorities, with pressure being applied at the highest levels. Meanwhile, the inbox of SINTRAEMCALI´s email account filled up with copies of e-mails sent to the Colombian Government demanding a peaceful ending to the crisis. In the CAM Tower it is now 1.00a.m, and very quiet. Day 34 of the occupation began with optimism but quickly descended into despair. It now ends with hope that tomorrow’s negotiations will lead to an agreement. We all cling on to that idea as we try to get some sleep, for the alternative is too horrible even to contemplate.