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Colombian General Strike

‘The National Government Blocks Negotiations With Militarisation And Violence’ – Communiqué Of The National Strike Committee – 30th May 2021

Photo: Colprensa

32 days after the start of the massive protests throughout the country, in which Colombians are urging a solution to the needs that afflict us and demanding democratic ways to be heard, the national government continues to turn a deaf ear. To date it has not wanted to establish a process of negotiation with the social sectors that bring together some of the demands that are being shouted in the streets. It has remained silent not only in the face of the valid demands of the citizens, but it has also been inconsistently delaying the signing of a basic agreement of guarantees that would open the way for the establishment of negotiating tables, as a reasonable way to open the way to listen to and resolve the just reasons for the mobilisations.

The national government has prioritised hate speech and stigmatising statements and military treatment against those of us who exercise the legitimate right to protest. Thousands of people have been arrested, hundreds have been injured, including 51 with eye injuries, and more than 70 people have been killed. 14 of them on Friday night in Cali, by the police and by people in civilian clothes accompanying police officers, are proof of the horror unleashed, which is unacceptable in any democratic state. Likewise, the President of the Republic and the government continue to maintain a complicit silence with the excessive use of force by the police, the ESMAD, as well as the attack by civilian groups acting alongside state agents against those of us who exercise the right to protest.

In the last two days, the simulated willingness of the national government to negotiate, as a result of the forcefulness of the social protest and international pressure, has completely vanished, its expressions are multiple and clear: the Minister of the Interior disavowed two vice-ministers who had already signed an agreement to alleviate the road blockade in Buenaventura; in a speech in Cali the President announced the largest military deployment in the south west; the Minister of Justice, Wilson Ruiz, affirmed that this was a strategy of defamation against the Colombian state and that the deaths of demonstrators had been isolated incidents such as street fights, thefts, etc. ; and the Advisor for Stabilisation, Emilio Archila, stated in an interview that the blockades are illegal and must be lifted immediately in order to begin negotiations.

At the end of Friday night the country was informed of decree 575 which imposes military assistance on 8 governors and 13 mayors. This is a partial and de facto [state of] internal commotion. It circumvents constitutional control, involves the military in the management of protests and subordinates civilian authorities to military commanders, thus constituting a coup d’état. In this regard, the latest declarations of the IACHR are very enlightening: ‘Reiterates the international obligations of the State in the area of internal security, and the American standards that provide that the participation of the armed forces in security tasks must be extraordinary, subordinate, complementary, regulated and supervised’, and ‘States must respect, protect, facilitate and promote the right to social protest, and that all legitimate use of force must observe principles of legality, absolute necessity and proportionality’. The escalation of military and police measures aggravates the already very delicate human rights situation, blocking and wasting the efforts made to initiate negotiations, unnecessarily prolonging and at very high costs, a solution, which in any case will be through negotiation.

After six days, in the early hours of this morning, the national government sent us observations and adjustments to the pre-agreement on protest guarantees that we had managed to reach after 9 days of exploration and consultation since last Monday 24 May. With these ‘adjustments’ the government is trying to get us to start the discussion all over again, taking out crucial issues on which we had agreement such as demilitarisation and the non-use of military assistance for protests, the autonomy of local authorities in the management of protests, the non-use of firearms in protests, the exceptionality and limits for the intervention of the ESMAD. In addition, they include a demand to the National Strike Committee that we condemn and criminalise temporary roadblocks, ignoring the position that we have made public and the decisions that have been taken in various territories to reorient the roadblocks, and the fact that we have made a public statement condemning human rights violations and stigmatisation of the protests, and the commission of guarantees that would monitor the agreement, among other things.

It is not about adjustments in the wording as they had announced, it is about undoing the pre-agreement reached and thus closing any possibility of negotiation. It is important to remember that the government commission headed by the peace commissioner included the participation of the ministers of labour, housing and the interior, the human rights council, the sub-directorate of planning, officials from the ministry of defence and the National Police and a large number of advisors from various ministries, and that every word, every line and every paragraph agreed upon was thoroughly discussed and consulted by them. This leads us to conclude that the alleged willingness to negotiate expressed by the previous peace commissioner no longer exists in the national government and that a policy of war against the National Strike has been imposed.

All this coincides with the statements made by the former president Uribe in an interview with a Spanish newspaper where he said that President Duque lacks firmness in the handling of the strike and with the declaration of the governing party, the Democratic Centre, in which they request militarisation and reject any negotiation with the National Strike Committee.

The National Strike Committee agrees with and appreciates the declarations of the UN Secretary General’s special representative when he points out “the need to strengthen dialogue as a fundamental instrument to resolve conflicts”, and the declaration of 17 ambassadors of the European Union stating “we support dialogue and negotiation as the only way to find a sustainable solution to the crisis”. We also welcome and support the governors and mayors who have expressed their rejection of decree 575 and the announcement to continue seeking the path of dialogue.

We are convinced that within the framework of the social and democratic rule of law we will be able to resolve this conflict through dialogue and negotiation and we demand that the pre-agreement of guarantees reached on 24 May be signed by the national government and those accompanying this process of dialogue. Héctor Fabio Henao of the Episcopal Conference, Carlos Ruiz Massieu, head of the UN Verification Mission, and Julieth de Rivero, head of the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Colombia, persons and institutions that have been accompanying this process.

The National Strike continues, and therefore we will call for the largest organised and peaceful mobilisations in our history, to promote a great dialogue with the youth and society on the agendas for change that citizens are demanding in the streets and to call for a social and political summit in defence of democracy.




Bogotá. 30 May 2021

(Translation by Colombia Solidarity Campaign)

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