A New Latin American Hope: Colombian People Lost Their Fear

Since 1977 Colombia has not experienced such an intense scenario of protests. Unlike other countries in the region, the development of social conflict in Colombia has had very unique channels. This has been due to two factors: the armed conflict and drug trafficking. Both have functioned as a repressive mechanism to keep at bay the different attempts at wide-ranging popular articulation. In Colombia, deciding to raise your voice or promote popular organization implies that your life begins to be at risk, since they will use the excuse of the conflict to accuse you, symbolically or judicially, of being a guerrilla, a terrorist or a drug trafficker. And, in the worst case scenario, assassinate you. It is through this mechanism typical of a dictatorship that the unions, student, peasant, indigenous and black organizations were destabilized. However, since the signing of the peace agreements this situation began to reverse. That is to say, it became conceivable in Colombia that social conflict could be dealt with through other channels. And that, therefore, social stigmatization would gradually cease. The younger generations, who only knew the Santos administration, grew up with the conviction that Colombia could be a different country and only knew Uribism as a nightmare of the past.

However, the triumph of Iván Duque in 2018 brought Uribism back to center stage. The nightmare of the past became a gloomy future horizon. Many of us warned that this could happen if Duque won the elections. But the Colombian business community, together with the official media and the elite liberalism of culture, politics and academia, were mainly responsible of promoting the absurd idea that Duque, although he represented Uribe’s party, was not a Uribista.

What did Duque’s triumph mean? To pull to pieces the peace accords, to return to the war agenda and to reactivate the ghost of the armed conflict and drug trafficking to go back to persecuting and assassinating the voices opposing his government. But to this was added a dreadful mismanagement of the economy and an unprecedented crisis in the country. Unlike the rest of the region, Colombia, thanks to the illegal drug economy, had had robust accounts and did not need to give in to the IMF blackmail. Why destroy the country economically if the armed conflict and drug trafficking already functioned as the perfect mechanism for social control and the neoliberal agenda?

Now, Duque returned us to the war agenda but the country had already changed and he and his boss, Uribe, did not realize it. What did this mean? An unprecedented social outburst, and in unison with the protests in Chile, in 2019. The Colombian youth took the reins of the protests, and they were joined by the indigenous minga, the black movement and other popular sectors of the country. But the pandemic interrupted this wave of social unrest until it resumed last week. The trigger was the generalized rejection of a tax reform completely detrimental to the middle and popular sectors of the country. But that reform is joined by another one, in 2019, which benefits the most powerful sectors. Both, added to an unprecedented loan requested to the IMF, left Colombia in a delicate economic situation and with a national government and a group of local governments incapable of providing solutions to the worst affected sectors. Currently, 42 percent of Colombians are at the poverty line.

Thus, the rejection of the reform was the inscription surface of a much deeper malaise: the rejection of the war and the generalized impoverishment of Colombians. That is why the withdrawal of the tax reform and the resignation of its ideologue, Finance Minister Carrasquilla, was not enough to calm social discontent.

To this must be added what is news today all over the world: the brutal police repression of the protests. But this repression must be understood in the context of a country trained for war. That is, the Colombian government has turned the people into its military target. The police shoot at demonstrators and terrorize, at night, the residents of the popular neighborhoods with different types of firearms. At the same time, the army has intervened in the main cities and today the Colombian people cannot enjoy their citizens’ rights. We have all become a military target. Anyone can die today in Colombia. It should also be added that former President Alvaro Uribe promotes in Twitter absurd theories about a dissipated molecular revolution (a term used by a Chilean neo-Nazi guru who trains the Colombian army and police to fight the “neo-communism of deconstruction”) and incites the public forces and the “good citizens” (his paramilitary and drug-trafficking cadres) to attack the people. And mayors such as Claudia López comply to the letter with the delusions of Uribism by not condemning these acts of violence.

On the other hand, they have created the figure of the “vandal” to justify the actions of the police and the army and have invented that the guerrillas have co-opted the protests. However, this outdated narrative strategy no longer works for them. In the first place, because the images circulating around the world show that the people are in the streets resisting peacefully. Secondly, because the guerrillas did do their part in initiating the peace process. And, thirdly, because it is public knowledge that it is Uribismo itself that infiltrates the protests in order to disrupt them and find a justification for police violence.

Uribism, represented by Iván Duque, is cornered. Centrism (elite liberalism) wants to create the theory of the two demons and insinuate that both the government and the people are to blame for the violence. The historical pact led by Gustavo Petro is the only one that is up to the circumstance and calls for a democratic negotiation table between the government and the organizations leading the protest.

It only remains to say that the Colombian government is considering the possibility of declaring a “state of commotion”: it is the last war-loving card it has left to disrupt the rule of law, postpone next year’s presidential elections and prolong the current mandate by means of a low intensity war against its own population and the threat of a war with Venezuela. It seems to me that this Uribista wet dream has little chance of coming true, as the post-Trump scenario does not seem to want to navigate these warlike waters between Russia (via Venezuela) and the United States (via Colombia). Colombia has entered an uncertain terrain to which it is not accustomed to and it is not implausible that, for the first time in the history of the 20th and 21st centuries, a Colombian President may be forced to resign from office.


* This text was originally published in the magazine #lacanemancipa on the Hypotheses platform.

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