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What's going on in Colombia?

Recently protests emerged due to political situation in Colombia, police violences caused many deaths and injuries. Santiago, a SFW’s volunteer, shares his views in this article.
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214810873 506278863997117 5808514894381435045 nProtest June 12, 2021 (Paris)

Colombia has historically suffered from the atrocities created by violence, a cruelty that has taken so many innocent lives, dreams and destroyed many families. Despite being one of the world’s most beautiful countries with magnificent and breath-taking ecological diversity, our country has been damaged by individuals, by political parties and by the few who have consistently fuelled the war machine for their own benefit. Our ruling parties have always decided that the best response to every problem is to create and maintain a state of undeclared war on its own citizens, by controlling them through fear, winning elections through corruption by cheating and buying votes. This is a country where every single government has preferred to kill us rather than guarantee our civil rights. Our response as Colombians has been to resist this murderous trend; we’ve learned to survive in a country where ‘equality’ and ‘human rights’ seem weird ideas, but now the flame of resistance has grown until we said, ‘Enough is Enough’.

In 2019, this flame drove people to claim their basic rights; we decided that we deserved better government - our rulers had to be forced to do their job by actually working for the people and not for their own benefit. It’s a wonderful movement, driven by a Latin American uprising, a Latin America that truly wants to change its way of being. Not surprisingly, we have been confronted by a vicious repressive state apparatus wrought by centuries of impunity. This is a militarised mindset that sees all social movements as threatening, vandalising, terrorist, and criminal. In reality, we are just civilians who are tired of being repressed, battered, humiliated, ‘disappeared’ and killed. We have faced a police force that throws tear gas and stun bombs directly at our bodies, rubber bullets aimed at destroying our eyes; we have been subjected to our so-called ‘upholders of law and order’ retaliating by throwing 'recalzadas' (anti-riot missiles filled with nails or marbles) at demonstrators. We know from bitter experience that the police, the military - and their embodiment as the State - don't just want to repress our social movements and our rallies; their intention is to hurt, torture and kill us. We know this because we see the numbers of people killed by ESMAD (Anti-Riots Squad): more than 30 deaths have been officially confirmed, but the true number is likely to be much higher. These are only the numbers killed by ESMAD; the police and military death tolls are also shockingly high.

colombia situation“Heroes the students who fight”. Graffiti made in 2019 during the National Strike (Colombia)

The National Strike stopped when President Duque assured the population that he would establish a ‘national dialogue’. Moreover, the effects of the pandemic also played a part in the decision. Their terrifying impact revealed the appalling living conditions of many Colombians. However, in September 2020, the police killing of a law student prompted an explosive response from a people who could no longer stand any more violence from their own security forces. Police brutality immediately increased in response; we watched images of them shooting civilians. Vigilantes who grouped together as unofficial police-supporting militia were rewarded with guns and ammunition to shoot protesters. By 2021, social conditions in Colombia had degenerated even more; the pandemic and lack of vaccines exacerbated the already high poverty levels, with unemployment, daily massacres, children, and youth unable to access education. All these catastrophes were caused by a government that has consistently chosen to ignore its own citizens.

In March 2021, the Government announced a new tax reform bill to raise a paltry US$5.7 Million whilst planning to spend around US$ 4 Billion on fighter planes. As always, there's money for war, but derisory amounts for the people. This stark contrast lit the final spark to create the impetus for people to go into the streets to insist ‘we deserve a better life and a government that actually cares for its people’. The declaration that ‘Enough is Enough’ was launched and on April 28th 2021, the National Strike began.

It’s important to explain the context because I have heard people abroad asking ‘why are people demonstrating in the streets if the president has withdrawn the tax reform’? The fact is that many Colombians are not just furious about the ‘reform’. They are also incensed and tired of decades of violence and repression, of being ignored, of surviving instead of being able to live a decent life based on equality and rights. The police continue with their usual impunity to shoot, torture us and kill us. President Duque has shown that he does not want to listen to us. As usual, the only response is to mobilise the police, the ESMAD, and the military. We cannot even trust our national media since the reports are so biased. The only way we can know what's really happening is through social networks with live grassroots broadcasts and reports from NGOs.

colombia situation 2An anti-riots tank firing pressurised water at a protester who is protecting himself with his handmade shield during the National Strike (Colombia

After four days of rallies and police repression, President Duque thought that the police repression was not sufficiently severe, so he offered the option of "military assistance" for those Mayors who wanted it. That night, residents in San Luis (a neighbourhood in La Calera, outside Bogota), put on a street theatre show. The police and the military arrived, shots were heard, everyone ran for cover. Those who had taken an oath ‘to defend their people’ were instead shooting at them and closing the access road to prevent the human rights networks from entering.

The first city to be militarized was Cali, where public order was a particularly difficult problem. Such a step is very bad news for its inhabitants; historically, there have been so many human rights violations when this is imposed, as was the case with the extrajudicial killing by the military. Despite the fact that the military has invested heavily in advertising to whitewash their image, it is difficult for Colombians to trust an institution embodying so many dreadful historical episodes. The order given was to restore order in Cali by any means necessary. The result: first reports of more than 20 people murdered in the Siloé and La Luna neighbourhoods. It was a terrifying night; residents were left to fend for themselves as public forces cut power lines and damaged internet signals, with social networks being censored.

But these menacing actions did not end there. After the police and the military took control of the streets, only a single armed body remained: a paramilitary group. We were so afraid, watching ‘civilians’ in the streets shooting at selected targets because we knew that many of these included police agents disguised as civilians. These vigilantes appear quite routinely at rallies, and they have been observed many times. For example, in Cali, on May 6th, a dozen ‘civilians’ descended from a truck and started shooting at people in the rally. However, on this occasion the military acted together with the ‘Local Guards’, causing those "civilians" to flee, leaving behind police uniforms and weapons later found in their truck. In Pereira and Cali, there are so many imposters shooting innocent people at rallies. Of course, these assassins act with impunity, often accompanied by footage of police protection.

colombia situation 3An artistic intervention at the monument to the heroes in Bogotá, in response to the situation faced by the Indigenoues Guard in Cali (Colombia

It's a really difficult situation. Just over five days - April 28th to June 2nd - the latest figures collected by the 'Campaña Defender La Libertad' showed:
• 76 people killed, allegedly by public forces.
• 988 people injured.
• 346 people disappeared.
• 87 victims of gender-based violence by public forces.
• 2,395 arbitrary detentions.

Colombia needs help; we desperately need other countries to put pressure on our government to stop this massacre. We are seeing terrifying human rights violations and we're afraid of this deadly campaign which is targeting our youth.
We are not military targets, we're just civilians who are tired of living in terrible conditions. But our protests have always been answered by bullets designed to silence us.

Santiago Forero

Headquarters : Centre Quaker International
114 rue de Vaugirard
75006 Paris
Association loi de 1901 No. W751238358


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