Unions strive to ‘defuse’ protests in Colombia


On Wednesday, another “national strike” took place in Colombia, involving protests across the country and partial closures of workplaces, small businesses and public transport. It was the 35th day of protests and continued roadblocks against social inequalities and mismanagement of the pandemic by the far-right government of President Iván Duque.

Despite the continued activism of the protests, which saw the participation of millions of people, the so-called National Strike Committee led by the main unions is working to shut them down.

Official shooting in civilian clothes at demonstrators in Cali (Twitter, Comisión de Justicia y Paz).

On Tuesday, the committee called for a “de-escalation” of roadblocks, including the lifting of 40 “resistance points”. During a press conference, the head of the teachers’ union Fecode, Nelson Alarcón, explained that with this de-escalation, “the national government today has no excuse not to sign the pre-agreements”.

The committee’s demands include a police reorganization, free tuition for the poorest college students and a basic income during the pandemic. By themselves, these measures would not even begin to cope with the enormous social crisis and anger towards the repressive forces behind the protests; however, these “pre-agreements” have been broken by Duque after every wave of mass protests since 2018.

“Normalcy in Colombia is terrorizing because people are hungry, thousands of young people are unemployed,” said Pipe, an activist who manned roadblocks in Cali, the epicenter of the protests. Efe. “While the president talks about dialogue during the day, in his favorite networks, people go out at night in fancy cars to shoot kids down.”

While working hand in hand with the discredited unions, whose “de-escalation” only serves to isolate remaining blockages and facilitate massacres, the Colombian ruling class and US imperialism are stepping up repression.

In a brief report, the NGO Commission for Justice and Peace explains that on Tuesday, protesters at roadblocks were shot dead by plainclothes paramilitary forces at 2 p.m. and then by motorcycle police at 3 p.m. At 4:30 p.m., men in unmarked vehicles took pictures of the protesters as military helicopters continued to intimidate them over their heads.

the Efe The report notes that protesters fear that the end of the protests could give way to a wave of persecution and killings.

In a heartbreaking interview, a young woman recounts that her 16-year-old brother, Daniel Esquivel Sánchez, was captured by police on his way back from working on a construction site and killed. “They took him in this armored vehicle and my brother arrived burnt. We could hardly recognize him. His hands are soaked so they can take his fingerprints – a 16 year old boy!

As of May 31, the Institute for Development and Peace Studies (Indepaz) had documented 71 murders in connection with the crackdown. In addition, the Justice and Peace Commission reported testimonies from mass graves, dismemberment sites and torture centers where paramilitary groups acting in concert with the police took protesters from Cali, presumably among the “disappeared”.

The bourgeois press sought to justify the crackdown by claiming that, without the roadblocks, the country’s economy would experience a dramatic recovery due to rising commodity prices. “Without roadblocks, coffee and oil would already be the engine of reactivation,” reads a headline in time, owned by Luis Carlos Sarmiento, who has already seen his net worth jump from $ 2 billion to $ 11 billion during the pandemic.

This comes from a venal ruling class whose social spending accounts for just 2.4% of its GDP, compared to 7.8% in Honduras, the second lowest in Latin America.

Meanwhile, US imperialism, the main sponsor of Duque and the Colombian state, also sees the protests as a threat to the interests of US banks and businesses, and a potential spark for similar uprisings across the country. continent.

Washington exposed the brutal repression in Colombia. Last Friday, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with Colombian Foreign Minister Marta Lucía Ramírez and expressed “the concern and condolences of the Biden administration for the loss of life during the recent protests in Colombia and a reiterated the indisputable right of citizens to demonstrate peacefully ”.

On the same day, the Biden administration made a request to Congress in 2022 for $ 453.8 million in aid to Colombia, including $ 41 million more than Trump’s last request and $ 140 million for Colombian police. .

That followed a call May 24 between US Secretary of Defense Lloyd Austin and his Colombian counterpart Diego Molano, during which Austin “congratulated Colombia on its progress as a global partner of NATO [the only one in Latin America], and expressed appreciation for Colombia’s contributions to international and regional security.

That Friday, with the backing of the Biden administration, Duque announced a tripling of his military deployment in the streets to 7,000 troops across the country, mostly in Cali. This was accompanied by a curfew in the Valle del Cauca department where Cali is located, which began at 5 p.m. on Saturday.

The Ministry of Mines said roadblocks left $ 81.6 million in losses for coal exports, while oil production fell to its lowest level since the 2009 crisis, with losses estimated at $ 41 million, on top of the $ 92.6 million in losses for local gas stations. Significantly, the Asopartes employer group estimates losses of $ 272 million for the entire automotive supply chain, which directly employs around 52,000 workers. Besides trade, however, the sector most affected has been coffee exports, with 700,000 tonnes crippled and losses of around half a billion dollars.

These products represent about 70 percent of the country’s exports. Added to the 21.4% drop in exports for 2020, the roadblocks have dealt a major blow to the profits of the local ruling class, which explains the brutality it uses to eliminate them.

However, with the exception of coffee, losses represent only a small fraction of total production in Colombia, not to mention the ability of large transnationals to offset the impact on global markets.

As COVID-19 cases and deaths continue to reach new heights, the ruling class has made clear the intransigence with which it will use social misery as a ram to force workers to work in workplaces dangerous and to provide further tax cuts, cheap labor and other incentives for foreign capital.

The uprising in Colombia triggered by these policies demonstrated the incompatibility between the interests of the capitalist class and those of workers in Colombia and abroad, who ultimately control the levers of the global economy. This urgently raises the need to build a genuine revolutionary leadership under a socialist and internationalist program – a section of the International Committee of the Fourth International, which publishes the World Socialist Website.

At this critical juncture, this leadership must fight for the protesting youth and workers to send delegations to major factories, mines, warehouses and plantations and to mobilize workers in these key sectors around a common set of demands, regardless of unions and all other pro-capitalist and nationalist organizations and parties. Simultaneous efforts must be made to coordinate this movement with the expanding international class struggle.

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