Wednesday, 30th January 2002
Today in Cali, the neo-liberal model, based on impoverishment of the many for the benefit of the few, has again been dealt a serious blow. Through the courage, dedication, and imagination in resistance of thousands of people, the CAM Tower occupation came to an end, and EMCALI EICE ISP remains in state hands, will fulfill its social role by not increasing prices to people who can barely afford to eat, and now has the power to root out the corruption that has plagued the company for years.
Last night I spent my last night in the CAM Tower, with people whose dignity and courage has changed many peoples lives, including my own. Many joked and laughed, others cried tears of tension and joy. For everyone the immensity of what they had achieved was understood, and people chatted about how the ‘model’ can be broken, and of how public services such as education and health could be defended. There were lots of hugs, and special moments, and signs that friendships forged in these situations will never disappear. But most of all there was talk of the ‘salida’ (leaving the building).
We had been preparing for this possible day of victory for several days, with hundreds of Colombian flags being sewn, and the new SINTRAEMCALI flag and symbol being designed. The CAM Tower has become the new symbol, with the faces of workers and communities surrounding it. The colours of the flag represent the ideas of the movement: Green for hope, White for honesty, Red for the struggle, and Black for all the members that have been assassinated. Around the circular perimeter is written SINTRAEMCALI : Por la Vida: Hasta la Vida Misma, a rough translation would be ‘for life, even if we have to give up our own lives.’
The ‘salida’ fulfilled all the expectations, with thousands of people filling the streets, the Internationale playing, and the workers filing out in military parade, faces covered with balaclavas, flags held high, and the force and power of what had been achieved present for all to see. Before the ‘salida’ began the new four metre by three metre flag of SINTRAEMCALI was lowered by ropes from the 17th floor. The streets filled with the roar of the crowd as they watched it slowly reach the ground. Everybody outside had been told to wear blue jeans and white or yellow t-shirts, and as the hundreds of workers filed past the barricades, they entered the crowd, took their balaclavas off, and merged with the masses. It was a special moment for all.
After several interventions by the strike command, community leaders, representatives of SINTRAEMCALI the time came for Alexander Lopez, president of the union to make his speech, and the crowd fell silent. He thanked everyone who had built this victory from the local community, the workers, the people who had occupied the Headquarters of the Superintendent of Public Services, and of course the women and men who had been in the CAM Tower. He urged everyone to celebrate this victory of the people, but only for today. Tomorrow everyone had to carry on in the struggle, to build in the communities a spirit of resistance which would drive out the corrupt oligarchy that has bled the country dry, and give back to the people what is rightfully theirs: everything. As the sounds of SINTRAEMCALI PRESENTE ended the speech, we began a march around the city’s streets, and those who had been inside the CAM Tower for 35 hard days, slipped away, silently, and as planned, to protect their security and identity.
The occupation was over, but the danger of state and para-state forces taking their revenge is not. This was a big blow to the ruling class in Colombia, and we all need to stay alert for when they begin to strike back through the selective assassination of the activists and leaders involved, a practice which has made them notorious. One battle has been won, but the dirty war continues.