Protests and strikes are taking on brutal state repression in Colombia.
In Cali—at the centre of the social explosion—security forces have "used live ammunition and beat and arrested protesters," according to a United Nations report.
The protests erupted across the South American country in response to right wing president Ivan Duque raising taxes on everyday items. They’re part of the government’s attempt to make ordinary people pay for the coronavirus crisis—while the pandemic still rages killing 500 people a day.
The reaction of ordinary Colombians to these attacks has been explosive. People took to the streets—and once protests began, wider issues came to the fore.
People are angry about the rise in poverty, sexual violence, increased police powers and human right violations.
And these protests are now spreading throughout Colombia and have been sustained for two weeks.
Reports indicate that the protests are a lot more diverse than previous ones and mainstream political groups aren’t necessarily leading them.
Public transport trade unions staging strikes and roadblocks in solidarity has caused massive disruption and boosted the movement on the streets. The levels of unity between trade unions and protesters terrified the state.
So Duque ordered for the police and military to be sent in to disperse protesters and to remove roadblocks. This caused a massive battle between the state and the workers—a confrontation that resulted in death and injury.
Latest reports say 37 people have been killed and as many as 89 people have gone missing.
Within Colombia the news cycles are avoiding coverage of the protests. They instead depict them as riots and describe protesters as “terrorists”.
Social media has played a massive role in organising and sustaining protests using the hashtag #SOSColombia. The state is looking to clamp down on this and there are reports of accounts and posts covering the protests being removed for violating “community guidelines”.
Colombia has the highest wealth inequality in South America and divisions between rich and poor are incredibly stark.
Throughout the pandemic the working class suffered the most and now the Colombian government is trying to make workers and the poor pay for the economic crisis. But Colombians have stood together and said, “No more, we want change,” a sentiment that is being echoed in many parts of the world.
Deepening the movement—and organised workers playing a central role and shutting down production—has the power to beat back Duque.