Since April 28, hundreds of thousands of Colombians have been organizing and mobilizing across the country as a part of the national strike against the far-right government of President Ivan Duque and his neoliberal policies. The national strike was called for by the trade unions, social organizations and left-wing political parties against the Sustainable Solidarity Bill, a tax reform bill presented by the national government that sought to finance the fiscal deficit incurred due to the COVID-19 pandemic from the pockets of the working class.
After five days of massive protests, Duque announced the withdrawal of the bill. However, Colombians have remained on the streets demanding that the government address the broader issues facing the country.
On May 12, a multitude of workers, teachers, students, doctors, peasants, Indigenous and Afro-descendant communities, women and LGBTQ movements carried out various peaceful mobilizations, organized road blockades, held sit-ins, art and cultural events, among other protest actions, in different parts of Colombia in rejection of neoliberalism and violence, and in defense of life, peace, justice and democracy. Different sectors demonstrated with different sets of demands as well as in solidarity with each other’s claims.
La tarde de hoy las calles bumanguesas se tiñen de resistencia, cánticos y alegría.
SEGUIMOS EN LAS CALLES pic.twitter.com/Cd3OCcUDso
— Congreso de los Pueblos (@C_Pueblos) May 12, 2021
Workers demanded immediate measures to alleviate growing unemployment and inequality. Teachers and students demanded a greater budget for science and research and related infrastructure. Doctors and other healthcare professionals demanded the withdrawal of the bill 010 that further deepens the privatization of healthcare in the country. The peasants and agricultural workers demanded an end to the exploitation by big companies and an agrarian reform to guarantee food sovereignty and a dignified life for peasant communities. Indigenous and Afro-descendent communities demanded protection and security for their leaders, and respect and recognition of their rights. Women and diverse gender people demanded actions against femicides, assassinations of transvestites and transgender people. The former combatants of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the members of the Communes party demanded compliance with 2016 peace agreements and cessation of the genocide of ex-guerrilleros.
Collectively, these sectors, along with various human rights organizations and progressive political leaders, also demanded withdrawal of the army from the cities, end to brutal police and military repression against protesters, respect for their constitutional right to protest and thorough investigation into the human rights violations committed by the national security forces in the past days.
However, once again, the police and army violently repressed the peaceful demonstrations in various cities. In the capital Bogotá, the officials of the Anti-Disturbance Mobile Squadron (ESMAD) attacked the protesters with tear gas. Several people were injured and many were arbitrarily arrested. Additionally, various others reported that the police even harassed and assaulted the protesters, who were on their way back home.
#Atención🚨| Fuerte represión por parte del ESMAD en el barrio Chicalá. Hay varios motorizados deteniendo entre calles a los manifestantes. Nos reportan cuatro heridos, una mujer de gravedad. pic.twitter.com/jTy2Hxfi8b
— Colombia Informa (@Col_Informa) May 13, 2021
The countryside on strike
While the strike in Colombia has largely been concentrated in the urban centers of the country, since April 28 there has also been widespread participation of rural organizations of peasants, Indigenous and Afro-descendant organizations who have participated in mobilizations in the cities and organized road blockades of major highways in rural regions.
Members of the National Agrarian Coordination (CNA) an organization bringing together peasant movements across Colombia, told Peoples Dispatch that beyond raising opposition to the neoliberal tax reform bill they are also on strike to demand “the recognition of the peasantry as a subject of rights, and to take down all of the decrees and laws that go against our rights like the health reform, education reform, pension reform, labor reform.”
CNA has also raised several demands that have to do with life and survival in Colombia’s countryside which historically has been a battleground of the more than six decades internal armed conflict and seen as a looting ground by transnational companies for Colombia’s vast natural resources. Instead the peasant movement calls for the government to “invest in the Colombian countryside, in infrastructure and in guaranteeing to the peasants that their products are bought and commercialized.” They also highlighted the need to withdraw the decrees that call for the fumigation of the countryside with glyphosate and the “demilitarization of our territories, people should know that paramilitarism is intimately linked to the military forces in this country.”
En el parque principal de Sardinata, el Comité de Unidad del Catatumbo exigen garantías para una Vida digna y rechazan las fumigaciones con glifosato en el territorio.
Se demuestra que sin fuerza pública la movilización se desarrolla en paz pic.twitter.com/ZzaeSB8rY3
— Coordinador Nacional Agrario | CNA-Colombia (@CNA_Colombia) May 13, 2021
“We will also continue to be on the streets and fight so that there is an immediate renegotiation of the free trade agreements,” members of the CNA explain, referring to the free trade agreements that the Colombian government has signed with several imperialist nations such as the United States, Canada and the European Union. They explain that “these agreements are affecting the peasantry and the Colombian people. It is ridiculous that in a country with land that is apt to produce food, they are allowing the importation of thousands of tons of food that we can produce here. But this puts our own production at risk because the food that is being imported from other countries is much cheaper, and as peasants we lose out.”
Human rights violations
According to Temblores, a human rights organization, between April 28 and May 10, 1956 cases of police brutality were registered. These included 40 deaths, 313 victims of physical violence, 1003 arbitrary arrests, 418 violent interventions, 28 victims with eye injuries, 129 cases of shooting with firearms and 12 victims of sexual violence.
Social and political organizations from across the world have denounced the excessive use of force by Colombian security forces and have expressed their solidarity with the demands of the mobilizing citizens.