Last Sunday, 9 May, armed civilians shot at the indigenous Minga in the Cañasgordas sector of Jamundí, to the south of Cali. They left more than nine people wounded. The attack took place with the complicit accompaniment of the army, the police and ESMAD.
Colombian Congress Representative JJ Hoyos, witnessed armed civilians
“…carrying out these attacks with covered cars, and they shield themselves by saying that they are neighbours of the area who are protecting us from the indigenous people… but what they [really] want is to unleash a confrontation and generate terror.”
Note that this eyewitness testimony, from a conservative politician, makes clear that the aggression was against the indigenous people, not by them.
The Minga is part of the ongoing national strike across Colombia from 28 April in rejection of President 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 has tried to use the crisis to launch a massive assault on civil society.
After the attack, Duque appeared on TV calling for the strike and blockades to be lifted. Rather than condemning the attacks, he insisted that the indigenous population should return to their reservations and avoid confrontations with civilians.
In this speech, Duque evades the problems raised by the General Strike Committee and removes its right to political agency by portraying it as unjustified blockages. He insinuates that the indigenous Minga are inciters of civilian confrontations and demands they return to their reservations, either by consensual agreement or by force. Rather than condemning the shootings, Duque justifies the attack by portraying armed civilians as ‘citizens suffering the blockades who feel threaten by intruding people’.
Thus, the president uses this attack as an excuse to deploy further repression against those holding up the strike and to end the blockades without really solving the economic problems facing Colombian society.
We have translated the speech for the international audience because it gives clues as to the official thinking driving current state repression against vulnerable people.
President Duque Speech 9 May 2021
“In recent days, we have seen very painful events throughout the country, including acts of violence that we strongly reject.
Today I want to say to all Colombians that the images that we are seeing in the City of Cali deserve from all of us to act with all prudence.
The national government has given all the security support to the local authorities to the Governor of Valle and the Mayor of the City of Cali. We have supported them with the reinforcements, cordoning, and security management according to the responsibility that they have territorially in matters of public order.
We have clearly said that we must overcome the acts of violence and, especially, the de facto pathways in the blockades that have affected millions of citizens. We have sent a delegation from the national government to address this problem also from a social point of view. The director of the DPS was there, the director of the ICBF, the youth counsellor, the regional counsellor and the Minister of justice. The Minister of the interior is also going there again. I also have given instructions to the Minister of Defence for managing the public order to protect citizens.
But we also have to make a clear call. All Colombians have freedom of movement in our territory, but the moment that the country is experiencing and, particularly the City of Cali, also requires that certain groups be prudent, for example, I want to make a clear call, to the members of the CRIC (indigenous Minga). We have seen that Citizens at this time have suffered a lot from the blockades and reject additional blockades, and feel their safety is threatened.
To avoid unnecessary confrontations, I want to call on the leaders of the CRIC to return again to their reservations. I have asked the Minister of the Interior to come into contact with them not to limit mobility, but to understand that this is not the time to generate provocations or confrontations with society.
I have also asked the Director of the National Police to strengthen all the capacities that are required so that we can attend to the situation of public order, but also with a principle of not fall, under any pretext, into the provocations that some have to generate violent confrontations with the public force. This is the moment where we must all say no more blockades, no more violence and that we can open a path for our country to move towards normality and the tranquillity that all Colombians deserve.
I have a great government team at the moment deployed in the City of Cali.
I have made the decision, out of prudence, not to make a presence that distracts the work of the public force that should be deployed throughout the city at this time, but I am constantly monitoring. I also call on the Mayor, the Governor, to bring this message to the indigenous communities. It is true that they have the right to travel through the territory but knowing this situation of public order currently in place; they must also send a clear message so that [the minga] return to their reservations.
The Ministry of the Interior will establish contact with them as it has always done and the conversations that take place. At this time, we cannot let provocations fuel violence and generate a situation that can be unmanageable locally when citizens come into confrontation with those who are arriving from other places and to whom they feel some kind of threat for one reason or another. What Colombia needs most is that we enter into a process of tranquillity. With the public force we have acted with prudence, but we have also been clear that to any conduct that is contrary to the Constitution and the law, we will apply all current regulations with total force.
This call is to the entire nation, no more violence, no more provocations, no more blockades.
The only thing they generate is damage, it is damage to society.
Today we need the City of Cali to begin to move towards tranquillity and normality. We have provided and will continue to provide all the support to the local authorities. We have had a government team deployed for several days and the local authorities are sure that we accompany them, but their role and their local responsibility in matters of public order must also be exercised.
On my part, I endorse my commitment to the entire population of Valle del Cauca. We have to move towards stability, and we all have to open a path this week for understanding. In the conversation, let us put aside any type of affectation on the rights of citizenship.
Today is the moment when we must all stop this situation. The authorities are deployed. The ministers are in the territory, and I have asked them for that accompaniment by the local authority.
The Cali community has suffered a lot from the blockades. They have been affected and society at this time has also felt threatened. We have acted forcefully, but also prudently because we know that there are some who want to provoke provocations at all times.
The public force is always at the service of this collaboration with the territorial entities. As supreme commander, I always have been in coordination with the local rulers so that they fulfil their role of public order, so that is why they must fully comply with it. I also want to say it in a diaphanous way; we also have to seek that communities that know they are generating a provocation avoid this clash and return to their places. At this time, the Minister of the interior is in contact with the Mayor and Governor, and the defence minister and the military leadership. I ask all citizens that in these difficult moments, we have clarity that it is not with violence that this will be resolved but with compliance with the Constitution and the law.
No one can trample on the Constitution and the law, and it is the duty of all of us to fully comply with it because it is the treaty of coexistence of Colombian society. I will be in permanent monitoring of all this deployment of the national government to accompany and provide tranquillity to Valle del Cauca’s population.”