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Colombian General Strike

“Me han negado todo…they have denied me everything”* – Eyewitness of the general strike in Cali – Colombia. 7th May 2021

Pintadas de protesta en una avenida de la ciudad de Cali, el 8 de mayo. CAMILO ROZO - El País.

*Colombian youth on the picket line

Yesterday unidentified assailants attacked protestors gathered at the famous Pereira bridge. The mayor of Pereira had called for a ‘grand people’s front’ against the national strike. He called on people to join with the police and the army to fight the strikers. It was a call to paramilitarism that was responded to in the most horrific manner.  One of the protestors shot was a teacher who was a well-known peace activist. He was trying to be a mediator in these situations. There are pictures of him shaking hands with all the police offers.  Now he’s in hospital fighting for his life. 

An indigenous delegation of some 5,000 people has arrived in Cali and they have camped out in the grounds of the Valle University, which has been taken over by campuche tents. They’ve dispersed teams of the Indigenous Guard (Guarda Indígena) at different concentration points. They are really experienced in conflict situations. They have provided an important presence that gives a lot of reassurance to people. 

In Loma de la Cruz punto de concentración, two nights ago a huge number of shots were fired towards people on the picket line. Nobody was injured. It was more an attempt to intimidate and spread terror.  But the pickets held their ground. There’s since been a change in tactics, a sign of desperation. People who are either plain clothes police or who might be paid thugs are going in civilian clothing to shoot at protestors. 

Yesterday there was an incident at Portada al Mar in Cali; a lorry full of police officers arrived saying that they brought food and supplies. When the doors opened the disguised police opened fire on people. Luckily there were no serious injuries, but two people were shot.  The reason it wasn’t a worse tragedy is that there were some army there, and they didn’t realise that this was a police operation, so they responded to these civilian looking guys who had turned up with guns. Then the disguised police called out “Don’t shoot, don’t shoot! We’re police officers!”. And there were also some indigenous guards there who managed to capture the bag of one of the undercovers, it had police ID inside. So, because of that the police had to admit they has carried out the action. Then they claimed that they were responding to a cry for help from local neighbours because people on the punto de concentración are armed, but that was just damage control. This incident shows that the police are orchestrating the killing of protestors. 

We’ve got constant helicopters flying over, Black Hawk military helicopters and police helicopters. Cali really feels like a city under siege. 

The government has said it wants to start talks with the strike. But before the talks there is an issue of whose voices get heard. Particularly whether the young people who have been at the front of the demonstrations have their voices heard. One young guy at the punto de concentración told me, “Me han negado todo...they have denied me everything.” He continued, “from when I was a kid, the whole while I grew up, I’ve been given nothing. So I don’t care if I die here. I’d rather die here than at home hungry or shot in the street round the corner from my house”. 

The challenge now is for a process that expresses the needs of the youth and the base of the movement. See the Political Declaration that was issued this morning. The idea is to construct the movement up from the puntos de concentración, to hold Popular Assemblies over this weekend in a process that brings everyone together and agrees the movement’s demands as the mandate for any negotiations with Duque.  

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