COLOMBIA “For forty years, ministers, big bosses and narcos have been governing against the people”

Faced with the popular uprising of workers and youth, the government has ordered a military intervention in Cali. We publish an interview with Anna, an activist in Cali, a member of the National Union and Community Coordination. 

The revolution will educate its children

What are the root causes of the uprising? 

On April 28, mobilisation started against the reforms which we reject: the tax reform, the healthcare-, work-, and retirement pension system reforms. For the population, a majority of which are unemployed, it is not possible to go on tolerating this system. 

To give one instance on healthcare, we would have had to pay 5 million pesos for health insurance to have access to healthcare (a part of which is still free of charge). But the average wages are one million pesos (about €225). Meanwhile, Luis Carlos Sarmiento Angulo, chairman of the Aval company, the country’s largest fortune and who is one of former President Uribe’s cronies, intends to take over the only existing cancer-treating clinics available for the poorest layers of the population, and integrate them into his own private oncology hospitals! In this way, the poor would no longer be able to have access to any treatment. This too is what has led the people to say: “We want this to end!” 

Along with this mobilisation has arisen the youth mobilisation for the right to education. The capitalist State does not want youth who can think by themselves, who are able to reflect on their rights, to organise towards their own future and so on. Today, the younger generation has nothing to lose and is more than ever ready to fight. For years upon years, youth have been demanding that the “registration number” –which all students have to pay for in order to apply to any university (public or private), even before paying application fees – be provided for free. 

On top of these reforms, we reject the political assassinations of trade unionists, youth, students and the expropriations of peasants that have been going on for years. The balance sheet we draw is that we have overthrown the tax reform, the health-care reform and Finance Minister Carasquilla. We must remain firm and hold on until decree 11-74, which provides for workand retirementreforms, is repealed. 

How is the movement organised? 

Picket lines are called “resistance points”: there are some twenty-five of them in Cali. Those in the “front line” are mostly youth: picket lines have been turned into barricades and the youth have worked out how to craft make-shift shields to defend themselves against police attacks. The “second lines” protect those in the front-lines. I am part of the third-lines who provide logistics, first aid and food. What is most urgent for us today is to organise and to unify the points of resistance. We consider that the national strike committee, which is supposed to represent all the unions of workers, students and others, does not represent us. The third national assembly which, for the first time, regrouped representatives of all the “first-liners” across the whole country, representatives from regions and counties, met last week. Participating were local representatives of official and non-official labour organisations, of farmers’, students’, and teachers’ organisations, and organisations of different categories (truck-drivers, construction workers among others), and organisations of native peoples. It is a genuine popular assembly driven by the determination to end the corrupt representatives of the national strike committee. When, on April 29, the day after the strike started, the leaders who constitute this committee saw that the masses had not resumed work and that the picket lines were maintained, proposed to create “virtual picket lines” on the Internet! 

What is your analysis of the current regime? 

The parliament rejected the “Motion of No Confidence” against the defence minister who ordered the army commander in chief and the chief of the national police forces (who among others commands the ESMAD*, the mobile anti-riot squads) to step up repressive measures, which entail torture, assassination and abduction. Ivan Duque’s government is no democracy, it is a regime that assassinates and tortures opponents. Corruption has poisoned the institutions and, for forty years, big bosses, bankers, drug-traffickers and ministers have ruled against the people. During the pandemic, Ivan 

Duque’s government granted billions of euros to L.C. Angulo’s Aval group as guaranteed loans, while ISA and Ecopretrol companies, whose capital is 50% state-owned, are threatened by privatisation, which would cause tidal waves of lay-offs and still more job insecurity and growing economic precarity! It is for all those reasons that the large majority of the population feels solidarity for the movement.

* Crack police units which recycle paramilitary unit militia troops