One of the first to be killed was 21 year old student Juan Diego Perdomo, who before his killing wrote on social media, “If I don’t come back, it was the State that killed me”.
Working class youth and popular movements in the city of Cali in south west Colombia are facing a huge concentration of army and police repression against them and have made an urgent call for international solidarity. By Friday 30th April 14 had been killed by the police in the two days previous, and on Sunday, as human rights organisations strive to compile reports of shootings and mass detentions, it was believed at least 27 people have been killed. There are over 500 people detained and dozens injured and sexually violated. The government of Iván Duque has imposed de facto martial law in effort to repress a popular uprising against his murderous neoliberal regime.
There was a national strike across Colombia on 28th April in rejection of Duque’s ultra-right package of ‘tax reforms’, also labelled the Sustainable Solidarity Bill (sic). The government is squeezed by debt in the Covid pandemic, but instead of demanding debt cancellation, Duque tried to use the crisis to launch a huge assault on civil society including:
- Increase VAT on staple goods and fuel
- Eliminate subsidies on public services
- Expand the tax collection base and increase taxes on agriculture
- Increase tax on pensions
- Freeze public sector wages for the next 5 years.
These measures will only increase inequality in a country where 20 million people have fallen into poverty in the last year.
The mobilisations were also against the violence against communities at the hands of the state and paramilitary groups. Social movements point out that the genocide against them is being carried out by paramilitary groups with the complicity of the state. Since the Havana peace accords of 2016 over 1, 164 social leaders, human rights defenders and demobilized members of the FARC have been assassinated.
The strike took place amidst government attempts to declare it illegal. The decision was widely rejected by trade unions and social movements. Of these the indigenous movement in Cauca, adjacent to Cali, launched an indefinite general strike. In an act of cultural resistance, on 28 April they toppled the statue of conquistador Sebastian Belalcázar that overlooked the city of Cali, no longer.
While supported nationwide the strike was particularly massive in Cali, where the outburst continued until Saturday 1st May. Over half a million people joined in popular assemblies across the city. Duque shipped 700 soldiers and 300 police into Cali and a colossal crackdown began that evening, most especially targeted against young protestors. The worst perpetrators are the loathed ESMAD, the ‘anti-mutiny’ Robocop squads backed with helicopters, and now tanks have been witnessed rolling in.
Duque withdrew his tax reform package on 2nd May, but he has lost all trust, and indeed has uses this as a cover to increase the repression. On 3rd May the National Strike Committee announced a further nationwide General Strike on 5th May. The strike’s central demands include an end to the massacres, demilitarisation, disbanding ESMAD and instead a switch of public funds into the health service for a massive and immediate vaccination programme.
The UK has a terrible record of supporting Colombian state repression. Its underlying motive is the huge profits that UK based oil and mining multinationals take out of the country, not least Anglo-American, BHP Billiton and Glenore who have profited billions from the El Cerrejón coalmine whilst leaving poverty and environmental destruction in their wake.
On top of this, British police have been shown to be complicit in the human rights abuses, insofar as they are deeply involved in training the Colombian police.
Stop Press: in Ibagué, Tolima department central Colombia, shockingly there are currently 25 people unaccounted for from 1st May, and 20 people “missing” from 2nd May.
Colombia Solidarity Campaign, London 3rd May 2021
With special thanks to People’s Dispatch
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