WORKERS, PEASANTS, STUDENTS AND INDIGENOUS ALL FIGHT
Domingo Tovar has participated in the social movement for 20 years, first as a student leader then as a trade unionist in education. He has experienced the various phases of Colombia’s dirty war.
After a series of threats he was forced to leave his northern home province of Sucre on the Atlantic coast. He was imprisoned for eight months with seven other trade union leaders on the charge of ‘rebellion’. Then he was forced to go into exile for two years. Since his return Domingo has survived being kidnapped and escaped an attempted shooting. He is Director of Organisation for the CUT and a member of its Human Rights Committee.
Q: How was May Day in Colombia?
A: The First of May was excellent. A categoric response from the workers and other popular against the war. We went onto the streets in marches. There were workers, peasants, students, and other people as well. The state’s forces kept trying to provoke us. In Bogot· they surrounded us and closed us off. In Medellin and in Cali they set up checkpoints at the exits to the square. Of course what they were trying to do is say that everyone on the marches were guerrillas, subversives. There were more than 30 arrests in Medellin. In Cali 13 students arrested. Seven were arrested for writing grafitti slogans.
They add charge after charge to criminalise the protesters. The Prosecutors Office collaborated with 15th Police Station to fabricate charges. The students were treated cruelly by the police, as always. Two trade unionists, Jesus Gonzalez and Carlos Gonzalez, were also targeted by the police in Cali.
The government has changed the Penal Code to make it more repressive. All actions that they believe might mobilise the people, for example a strike, have been defined as crimes, and most recently even as terrorism.
Q: What did you see when you visited the south west of Colombia recently?
A: We went to the Departments of Cauca, Valle de Cauca and NariÒo. The situation is scandalous, terrible. There was a massacre by the paramilitaries in Naya, which is a mountain range on the Pacific coast. According to the reports to local human rights NGOs the paramilitaries have killed more than 100 people, but the army has prevented the NGOs from going into the mountains.
Then in Popayan in Cauca the governor Floro Alberto Tunubala is an indigenous person, who has been declared a military objective by the paramilitaries.
In Nariño the paramilitaries laid seige to some towns for eight days. They didn’t let local people enter or leave, not even to get food or other basics.
The situation in the south west of the country is that the paramilitaries are intent on showing their power. The military is completely linked with this development. This is the same all over the country. Sometimes they capture one or two paras to say that they are taking action against the paramilitaries. But where there are paramilitaries, there are also military forces. That is what’s happening now in the south west, and has been happening in Antioquia and in the South of BolÌvar.
Q: What is the state of the trade union movement now – how threatened is it?
A: Our existence is threatened as a movement. This is to say that we have been declared a military objective and this includes the government and the military forces as well as by the paramilitaries. And other people are threatened, such as the indigenous communities and social organisations. Student organisations are completely smashed in some regions, because of paramilitarism.
Q: What have been the effects of the attack by the rich on the poor?
A: The imposition of neo-liberalism really started back in the 1970s. It was when Gaviria was President in 1990 that they were ready to push through ‘The Opening’, that meant we had to compete directly with the big developed countries. But Colombia did not have the capacity to compete. In the last 10 years 50,000 employers have disappeared, so that now there is not a national economy. The economy that we now have in the country is for the transnationals, the big multinationals. Colombia is being converted into the producer of specific raw materials.
What with the supposed modernisation, that is restructuring of the state and the loss of these businesses, there have been some 600,000 workers thrown onto the street. Now unemployment has passed above 25%. Of these 70% or so that are working, 60% work in the informal sector, in what some economists call the rubbish economy. 30% are sub-contracting, working below the minimum legal standards. So there is a real deterioration in the quality of life of the Colombian people. There are 60% of people living in poverty, these are really excluded people who don’t have enough to eat, nor do they have the minimum services that a human being should have.
Q: How is the movement resisting this situation?
A: The cutting edge of neo-liberalism is privatisation. In Colombia privatisation is presented as being synonymous with efficiency. It is argued that the public sector doesn’t work, so things must be done privately. Now what they want to privatise is health and education. They’re passing law 012 by which the government will pass responsibility for these services to local authorities, while cutting the budgets. Last year the government made an agreement with the IMF which has as its axis cutting posts in the state sector. Plan Colombia will cost $7.5 billion, and the government hopes to obtain $3.5 million from donors, the rest it will have to raise. And its this part that it wants to present as social investment.
The second part of the IMF agreement is to control inflation, which necessitates less money circulating. This has led to a new labour law and a new law for pensions. These three laws are the plan for cutting social investment. The government has shown it cannot get funds to invest, so to get this money it is cutting social investment, in the name of putting the money into social investment!
Q: There are people in Europe who think that we can’t support the military component ofPlan Colombia, but that the social investment component should be supported.
A: As far as the CUT is concerned there is one integrated Plan Colombia, or rather one Plan America. The US government developed a similar policy for Peru, it was the USA who was responsible for the barbarity of Fujimori. In Ecuador and Panama as well…
The Euroepean Community works as a block, and the USA wants its own block. Its main project for Latin America is dollarisation, that is how the US aims to break the national economies of quite diverse countries like Brazil and Argentina. But the US doesn’t want any opposition within its free trade bloque, hence Plan Colombia. It is a plan to crush all forms of social movement, and the geo-strategic position of Colombia lends itself to this.
So its absurd to speak of a military Plan Colombia and a social Plan Colombia. We say to the donor countries, we don’t want your investments in war.