A week of protests in Colombia

Text and photos by Gearóid Ó Loingsigh

Colombia has lived through one week of protests against the economic measures taken by president Duque. What looked like a protest that would fizzle out after its first day on November 21st is still going strong.

Part of the reason for the continuance of the struggle was the decision taken by the specialised riot police (ESMAD) to attack the crowd in Bolívar Square on that day. This was compounded by the decision to attack another mass protest in the Square on Friday 21st, followed by the murder of Dylan Cruz on Saturday 21st; he died from his wounds late on Monday night. The reaction of the president and political establishment calling for sympathy for the police officer involved who fired an adulterated shotgun cartridge directly at the youth inflamed passions even further and made the youths, who form the majority of the mass protests even more determined. It was a foregone conclusion that we would reach the landmark of a week of protests.

The protests have broadened out, with workers from the judicial system announcing their decision to join in. Even the workers at Congress staged a protest in congressional buildings banging pots and pans and chanting “Dylan didn’t die, he was murdered”, a reference to main newspaper articles that talked about the youth as if his death just happened and was not the product of a murder.

The regime has lost further legitimacy in the eyes of the population. On the 27th itself, protests took place throughout the country and the transport system in Bogotá couldn’t cope with the blockages, many shops have not opened and the city centre, normally a bustling area, is very quiet. Crowds have gathered everyday almost for the entire day at the spot where Dylan was murdered, effectively blocking the 19th Street, one of Bogotá’s major thoroughfares.

The Strike Committee sought a meeting with Duque, but given that Duque was not willing to discuss anything they were forced to cancel the meeting with him. The student bodies refused to meet with him as long as the ESMAD still exists. Just like Chile, the number of demands is now growing beyond just the reversal of the economic measures taken and one of the top demands is the disbandment of the ESMAD which has murdered at least 19 people since its creation, including one journalist. Duque’s response however, has been to refuse to discuss the issue and he has stated that the “reforms” will go ahead and be approved in the next few days.

Interestingly, a new body in Bogotá, calling itself the People’s Strike Committee (Comando Popular de Paro) has stated that with the exception of the teachers’ union in Bogotá and the oil workers’ union (USO), the unions do not represent the people and that the unions should go to the poor neighbourhoods in educational activities to explain the reasons behind the strike. It remains to be seen how much real influence this committee actually has but it is clear that the mobilisations are being organised by forces other than the decrepit union structures.

New mass mobilisations have been called for on December 4th and, with or without official approval, a major concert is to ahead in Bolívar Square on December 8th, with further mobilisations planned for International Human Rights day on December 10th. It is clear though that protests will continue, though maybe on a smaller scale between these dates. Every night whole neighbourhoods engage in noisy protests and across the country the picture is pretty similar. Colombia is changing and a new generation is staking out its claim. Time to sweep aside those who are too comfortable in the bureaucracies to really struggle. Whether we win this time around or not, it is too early to tell, but a new leadership is being formed.

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