Colombia’s burning!
| Español | Français | English |

Submitted by Guerre de Classe on June 20, 2021

A Month of Incendiary Revolt in Colombia

In Colombia, the revolt that has taken over the streets since April 28, now more than a month old, shows no signs of stopping.

Submitted by Guerre de Classe on June 20, 2021

In Colombia, the revolt that has taken over the streets since April 28, now more than a month old, shows no signs of stopping. Conservative President Iván Duque, whose term ends in 2022, has tried a number of classic manoeuvres to appease the rioters, but nothing has been done: neither the suspension of the tax reform that had been the initial spark (including, for example, an increase in VAT from 5% to 19% on basic goods), on May 2; nor the resignation of the Minister of Finance who had carried it, on May 3; nor the opening of negotiations with the National Strike Committee on May 10 (followed by a pre-agreement on May 24 that is currently being validated); nor the rejection by Congress of the bill on the reform of the health system, which was modelled on the liberal North American model (this rejection was requested by many demonstrators), on 19 May; nor a few crumbs dropped on particular categories, such as the extension of free university education to the poorest for one semester, which did not calm the students; nor, of course, the police terror against the protesters.

In a Colombian context marked by poverty and the informal economy, the government’s blackmail of confinements and curfews against the spread of covid-19 has not worked for a long time to prevent protesters from gathering en masse either, so much so that the government even officially lifted many restrictions on May 19, which were not respected anyway (the curfew being maintained, however, with an anti-riot objective in Medellin and Bogotá, and all weekend in Santa Marta and Cartagena). For the past month, street blockades and roadblocks have been scattered throughout the country, with demonstrations and gatherings that are more peaceful during the day (nearly 10,400 in one month), often followed by riots, looting and looting at night.

Blockades throughout the country…

Concerning blockades, the Ministry of Defense counted, for example, on May 21, nearly 90 daily blockades at the entrances to major cities and on the country’s main roads (a total of 2,577 for the past month), regularly attacked or taken over by the police… before being reassembled the following days. Faced with shortages here and there (food, petrol, medicine), the army is now escorting long convoys of trucks across the country, as in the days of the territories controlled by the ex-Farc guerrilla (dissolved in 2016), while some mayors or governors are negotiating with some of the demonstrators to allow the passage of “humanitarian convoys” to maintain a minimum supply (supporting de facto the emergence of reasonable interlocutors and budding politicians). This is also one of the issues at stake in the tug-of-war between the government and the representatives of the National Strike Committee (composed of the main unions, CUT-CGT-CTC and those of truckers, pensioners or education), where the latter favors these negotiated convoys, while the State demands as a precondition for its signature of a pre-agreement the lifting of all blockades.

In the midst of this mess, the government is obviously quick to denounce the “false blockades” where some hooded men are robbing vehicles to let them pass; merchants and businessmen are crying over their accumulated losses (the country’s major seaport, Buenaventura, estimates, for example, that 270,000 tons of merchandise are currently blocked); while others are taking the opportunity to advance their own local demands, sometimes with unexpected consequences. A good example of this was the forced shutdown from May 24 to 29 of the largest open-pit coal mine in South America, in Cerrejón (northeast Colombia), due to the double effect of the blockade of the railroad line that supplies it by former workers who were laid off since May 5, followed by the blockade of substitute trucks since May 20 by residents of the nearby indigenous municipality of Media Luna demanding more jobs (and not its shutdown, which is devastating their lives). It must be said that this area of the fifth largest coal exporter in the world, La Guajira, is paradoxically considered one of the poorest in the country, so much so that there are even immediate problems of survival such as hunger, with the basic needs of 65% of the population not being covered.

And destructive attacks of all kinds…

In the urban riots, which affect the capital Bogotá, Cali and also many smaller cities, especially in the South, we are witnessing here and there, as in Chile at the end of 2019, the formal creation of a Primera Línea (First Line), that is to say, young demonstrators made of bricks and mortar, who are courageously and decisively confronting the anti-riot squads (Esmad) in the demonstrations. Alongside this “block against block” form of spontaneous collective self-defense, more decentralized, diffuse and mobile practices continue to develop (even farther away from police concentrations) in order not to focus all the attention on the guardians of order alone, but rather on what they protect, by multiplying looting, ransacking and burning of banks, buses or institutional buildings.

If we take only the day of yesterday, May 28, where the forms of self-organization and riotous experimentation remained multiple throughout the country, some enraged people managed to catch the authorities off guard in Popayán (in the south of the country), first by setting fire to a part of the city hall in the center of the city under the enthusiastic cheers of the demonstrators, and then to the huge municipal pound located in the Bolívar district, where there were almost 2000 motorcycles and cars sequestered by the authorities, provoking a huge blaze visible from almost everywhere.

To take another example, still only on Friday, if we go a little further south in the department of Nariño, bordering Ecuador, the clashes were also consistent in the city of Pasto. There, after having resisted for several hours to the anti-riot police forces thanks to an orderly clearing of several streets of the center, small mobile groups began to attack some specific objectives like police stations (CAI) left vacant, the parking lot of the municipal pound and its adjacent construction crane, which were set on fire in the Torobajo neighborhood, and the large central building of the ORIP (Oficina de Registros e Instrumentos Públicos), which serves as both the civil registry and the public land registry, containing the state archives of a dozen cities in the region. The archives and official documents were mercilessly reduced to ashes.

Some figures for the road…

In total, according to the latest assessment of the various types of destruction provided on 28 May by the Ministry of Defence (in Colombia this Ministry and the Ministry of the Interior are one and the same), nearly 1,175 “public transport vehicles” and “public transport vehicles” were destroyed. 175 “public transport vehicles” and 422 ticket machines were hit (burned or put out of service) in one month –a particularly popular target since the beginning of the revolt–, but also 399 businesses and 433 bank branches, without forgetting the whole of the urban furniture (like the 160 video surveillance masts that were shot down), nor the 28 highway toll booths destroyed (the last one on May 28 in Villa Rica, set on fire by indigenous groups who are at the forefront of the struggle against these infrastructures, and which was the last one still intact in the Cauca region) or the 112 police stations and police posts damaged entirely or partially.

The most recent example of the attacks and targeted retaliation that accompany all of these practices is certainly what happened on Tuesday evening, May 25, in Tuluá, a medium-sized city of 200,000 inhabitants located in the Valle del Cauca, about 100 kilometers north of Cali. There, as almost every day, demonstrators began to converge in the early afternoon on Boyacá Square, for another day of blockades and protests. Around 5 pm, the anti-riot forces of the Esmad (Escuadrón Móvil Antidisturbios) intervened to restore order and traffic, which they managed to do after several confrontations (stones against tear gas and charges), but at the same time provoked a scattering of demonstrators in the streets towards downtown. The latter, in small groups, then undertook for two hours to dismantle street furniture (such as the red lights used to set up barricades), to loot stores, and elsewhere to ransack banks (18 commercial establishments were officially “vandalized”).

In an attempt to contain the situation and facilitate the intervention of the police, the municipal authorities finally decreed a curfew around 10pm until 5am, allowing the uniforms to arrest anyone outside, while the local section of the National Strike Committee obviously denounced all this destruction. But it doesn’t matter, since much has already been done until early evening, including qualitatively, and no one will forget this signal to all the other cities, that of a courtroom destroyed from floor to ceiling (after the one in Facatativá, completely ransacked on May 2, a week before its inauguration).

Unfortunately, the next day, May 26, we also learned that a young student from the city, Camilo Andrés Arango, was murdered by the cops around 9 p.m. not far from the confrontation zone (and two others were wounded by bullets), and that nine demonstrators were arrested, three of whom were specifically accused of burning down the Tribunal and looting the motorcycle store, charged with “terrorism, aggravated robbery, and rioting” by the public prosecutor’s office and then incarcerated that night.

Bloody repression, and the retaliation of Popayán…

At the national level, to give an idea of the repression, let’s just say that according to the official figures of the different NGOs that count these exactions, in one month about sixty demonstrators have been assassinated by the cops, 51 of them have lost an eye, more than 2900 have been injured (sometimes by bullets or grenades), 1200 who are incarcerated (300 of them as a result of street blockades), and more than 300 who are still reported as desaparecidxs (that is, they have disappeared after being arrested by the police or after being kidnapped in the street by parastatal militias, such as the extreme right-wing militia of sad memory called Black Eagles) To all of this, we must unfortunately add another level of state terrorism, which is the torture of demonstrators by the uniforms, as well as the rapes and sexual abuses practiced in the neighborhood police stations (CAI, Comando de Atención Inmediata) and in the detention centers under the jurisdiction of the Public Prosecutor’s Office (URI, Unidad de Reacción Inmediata).

If this terrible repression has not yet succeeded in weakening the determination of the demonstrators who refuse to return to normalcy and have not left the streets for a month, some news that is particularly odious due to its accumulation has also triggered offensives that were unheard of until now. Last May 12, in the early evening in Popayán, a young girl was filmed being picked up and dragged at arm’s length by four cops. What was then just another sad story quickly took another turn when the inhabitants of the city learned not only that she had committed suicide on her return home after being held for a few hours in the Unidad de Reacción Inmediata (URI), but that she had also left a last message online stating that she had been raped by the cops. Her name was Alison, she was 17 years old, and was one more since the beginning of the revolt.

On May 14, spontaneous rallies were held in the afternoon in front of various police institutions in different neighborhoods of Popayán, with cries of “cops [tombos, in slang], rapists, murderers”, but the most enraged crowd gradually gathered in front of the huge complex of the Public Prosecutor’s Office where the URI where Alison was raped is located. After a first assault repulsed by the anti-riot forces during which its facade is covered with vengeful graffiti and where molotovs fly against the building, a second assault is launched in the beginning of the evening (during which an umpteenth demonstrator hit in the neck by a grenade is killed) which finally succeeds in taking over the URI and then the whole of the disgraced seat of the judiciary institution. Needless to say, the building was then ransacked and burned to the ground without sparing anything, not even the adjoining forensic medicine institute.

On May 15, Francisco Barbosa Delgado, Attorney General of Colombia, rushed to the scene from the capital, and could only see the tens of thousands of euros worth of damage, including the incineration of a dozen vehicles of the Public Prosecutor’s Office, that of the forensic laboratories with the thousands of “proofs” kept in their buildings, the destruction of 22 of its offices, but also the plundering of all the drug seizures or that of the well-stocked armoury of the place..: it is of the end of the lips that the high civil servant will reveal thus that about fifty firearms passed in the camp of the rioters during this vengeful night in Popayán, of which about fifteen rifles.

The government sends the army as a backup…

Finally, to illustrate a situation in which the government is increasing its bloody pressure day by day, we can also turn to the third largest city in the country, Cali, which has been one of the main centers of the revolt since the beginning: yesterday, May 28, during another great national day of demonstrations, 13 people were killed, many of them by plainclothes henchmen. One of them, a 22 year old participant in the first line at the Campestre dam, was shot in the morning. Then it was the turn of two other demonstrators, shot at a blockade in the central neighborhood of La Luna, except that in this case their comrades managed to catch up with the assailant and identify him before finally settling the score on the spot: it was a plainclothes cop belonging to the armed corps of judicial investigators of the Public Prosecutor’s Office (Cuerpo Técnico de Investigaciones, CTI), which the government had to acknowledge. Finally, in the evening, a 22-year-old student from the Quechua-speaking community of Inga was shot and killed in the Meléndez neighborhood. The others have not yet been publicly identified.

On Saturday, May 29, President Duque reacted to the previous day’s uprising and especially to the events in Cali, condemning in his usual style “the acts of vandalism and low-intensity urban terrorism” of the demonstrators, and then declared that he was using the Law of Military Assistance to immediately decree the dispatch of a thousand soldiers to the streets of Cali; the creation of mixed police/army patrols in other cities such as Popayán; as well as the global deployment of 7,000 soldiers to put an end to the blockades in eight departments (Valle del Cauca, Cauca, Nariño, Huila, Norte de Santander, Putumayo, Caquetá, Risaralda) and thirteen cities (Cali, Buenaventura, Pasto, Ipiales, Popayán, Yumbo, Buga, Palmira, Bucaramanga, Pereira, Madrid, Facatativá, and Neiva).

In reality, it is nothing more or less than an ersatz declaration of a state of emergency (estado de conmoción interior) demanded by the leaders of his party, which would allow him to govern by simple presidential decrees for 90 days, and which he can do without for the time being, since the Ley de asistencia militar allows him to simply deploy the army wherever the police are in trouble. This measure has only been used in the capital Bogotá since May 5, at the request of Mayor Claudia López… to defend the police and prosecutor’s office buildings where protesters are locked up daily while waiting to be transferred to prison.

Finally, it should be noted that while some local authorities relied on this presidential decree (No. 575 of 2021) from Sunday, May 30, to support the sending of Kakia troops, others announced that they refused to use them (as in Bucaramanga or Caquetá), and that to warmly encourage his bloody Colombian counterpart, the new president of the United States Joe Biden decided on May 28 to give him a small increase, raising the annual sum paid to Colombia from 412 to 453.8 million dollars for 2021.

Brave fighters continue to line the streets as we speak, and the struggle continues.

Source in French:
English translation:


Solidarity with the revolt in Colombia: Down with State genocide

Proletarians of all countries, unite!

Submitted by Guerre de Classe on June 20, 2021

Colombia is since some days the scene of a proletarian revolt with characteristics similar to the one that shook the Chilean region during the days of October/November 2019. The continuation of the cycle of struggle opened by the revolts in Ecuador and Chile is a symptom that capital, in its post-pandemic restructuring, is facing a crisis of historic dimension.

The impulse that drove the multitudes to the streets is a tax reform (income tax and VAT), which the proletariat in Colombia understood, in a clear-sighted practical criticism, as a way of directing the cost of the catastrophe towards the population.

The crisis of capital, which the pandemic has only accelerated, is a process that manifests itself in various forms, tax reforms being one of them, in addition to the accelerated and widespread destruction of nature and the expulsion of large masses of wage-laborers out of the production process – with the creation of a disposable population for capital – and its aftermath embodied in migratory waves and a growing organized crime fed by misery, among other manifestations that will become more and more common. In this sense, it is a priority to understand that any attempt at reform is only a mechanism to eternalize this genuine zombie that is capital, perpetuating the fetishist social relation, superposing the production of value over human needs, in short, destroying everything in its path on the altar of capital.

The response of the Colombian State – as that of the Chilean State and all the States in the world – cannot but be bloody repression against our brothers and sisters: at the time of writing these words of solidarity there are already more than 20 dead, many comrades imprisoned and wounded, as well as immigrants deported because they actively participated to the protests.

Cali, one of Colombia’s largest cities, has been militarized on April 30th. 3,000 policemen have been deployed: a real déjà vu of October 19th in Santiago de Chile. The problem is not only Iván Duque, it is the commodity production system, which has shown itself as it is, evidencing that the true face of democracy is nothing but the form assumed by capital to impose its domination, criminalizing those who struggle for the liberation from this nefarious form of social relation, and making them feel all its brutality.

The need to articulate the struggle at the international level, to consider it against all the separations imposed on us as a humanity with genocidal irrationality, is a reality that explodes in our hands: it is urgent to build links of mutual aid and continue the struggle in the territories to overcome this world. The movement of capital will only continue to produce misery and faced with this, the class struggle is raging and will continue to set their world on fire, in different times and spaces as a product of this movement: only the proletariat is able to stop this nonsense that this world has become.

Only the international communist revolution will set us free!

Source in Spanish:
English translation: Los Amigos de la Guerra de Clases


What the proletariat in Colombia is fighting for

In recent weeks, the working class in Colombia has firmly confronted the new attacks of the bourgeoisie, concretized this last time in a tax reform of the government that seeks to increase the extraction of surplus value by new means.

Submitted by Guerre de Classe on June 20, 2021

The proletariat in Colombia has been suffering continuous aggressions by the bourgeoisie, which are expressed in a progressive deterioration of living conditions, in strong social inequalities and the forceful use of violence (military and paramilitary) against the workers’ and peasants’ mobilization. The peace agreements with the guerrillas have simply represented a mechanism for the integration of their counterrevolutionary political apparatuses into the democratic institutions of capital, with the settling of scores against the leaders of the popular protests spreading throughout the country, while the landowning bourgeoisie relaunches its offensive against the rural proletariat. The circumstances generated by the new pandemic of capital, the covid-19, have further aggravated the situation, in terms of unemployment, misery and higher taxes. In fact, this tax reform has been the straw that broke the camel’s back for a social explosion of enormous proportions to take place.

But we would be mistaken if we tried to understand this social outburst in exclusively national terms. Quite the contrary. The response of the working class in Colombia to the plans of hunger and misery of its bourgeoisie is part of the recomposition of the world (and Latin American) proletariat, in its struggle to survive capitalism that has exhausted its possibilities of organic development. The radical forms of struggle in the streets of the main Colombian cities are a response from below to the world capital that is incapable of articulating value as a social relation, in its headlong rush under increasingly fictitious expressions, extracting surplus value through all kinds of mechanisms at its disposal and through the increasing use of force and violence.

Globally, we are observing how the proletariat has been confronting capital since the beginning of the 2008 crisis. At first, as it happened with the Arab revolutions of 2011 or the 15-M in Spain, with many democratic and citizens’ illusions, of regeneration of the system. In these social mobilizations, the middle class and its postmodern culture wars played a hegemonic role. But, over time, the working class has radicalized its struggles, confronting more directly the material conditions imposed by capital’s plans of exploitation. In 2019, the social outbursts in Chile, which were triggered by the rise in urban transport prices, and in Ecuador, which were also triggered by an aggressive fiscal adjustment, represented a change of scenario in the class struggle in the Latin American subcontinent. They opened a phase of greater radicalization in the workers’ struggles, producing a more direct confrontation with capital and its governments. What has been happening in Colombia in recent weeks cannot be understood without alluding to this more global framework of greater social radicalization.

As it happened previously in Chile and Ecuador, the proletariat in Colombia has shown great bravery and radicalism in the streets, even confronting paramilitary groups that have ruthlessly fired live ammunition at the demonstrators. In Cali, the epicenter of the protests, the communes (neighborhoods) on the outskirts of the city have organized collectively not only to confront the violence of the repressive forces. They also had to organize food supplies, protection from infiltrated agents, collective transportation, care for the wounded, etc., as the government has tried to starve them out and cancel basic services. The response of these communes, like Puerto Resistencia, is an example of the capacity of our class to build social relations at the margin of those imposed by capital and its States, where at the same time that the material living conditions are reorganized, a revolution in values and human relations takes place. The world ceases to be inverted, as it happens in capitalism, and social needs become a priority over any other criterion (such as the accumulation of capital without limits) in the decisions that the communes make in the uses of the available resources and in the efforts that are dedicated to achieve them. Everything is changed, no longer upside down. Thus, for example, an activist in the environmental struggles, who until then needed an escort in the face of multiple threats and assassinations committed by the paramilitaries, now walks free, without fear, among her neighbors. The proletarian mobilization has given her back her security; it has stopped the violence of capital in those spaces where our class has imposed its logic of life (against the logic of death of capital).

These are glimpses of a new society, these are insights of communism, and these are the infancy, the beginning, of the revolutionary constitution of a class that refuses to succumb alongside a dying capitalism. Communism will not emerge from the head of any genius, nor from the exogenous directives of any enlightened vanguard. It is a historical movement that emanates from the entrails of society, that arises in the heat of the struggles of the proletariat to guarantee its conditions of existence, when capital, in its desperate attempt to continue increasing its profits, leaves our class no other option but to organize itself socially in an alternative way to guarantee its living conditions. Certainly, it is still insufficient what we are seeing in the communes of Cali or Medellin, or in the neighborhoods of Santiago in Chile; these new social relations can only impose themselves on the logic of capital at the global level. But, undoubtedly, they show the way forward, these are experiences where our class is learning to fight capitalism on a real, material level, without being satisfied with the cultural and democratic illusions whispered in its ear by the postmodern left.

But, as we said, we are at the beginning of an enormously complex process, fraught with dangers. The Colombian left itself, both at the political and trade union levels, is trying to divert the struggles to the electoral terrain and to that of negotiation with the government, entangling thus the proletariat into the technocratic labyrinth of the cosmetic reforms of a capital that can only offer catastrophe and greater exploitation. The false hopes of social democracy, expressed in Colombia in the presidential candidacy of Gustavo Petro or in the mayor of Bogotá Claudia López, represent the greatest danger for our class in its struggle for a better life. In its attempt to manage the crisis of capital, in its gross attempt to shape a friendly or inclusive capitalism, social democracy irremediably ends up becoming one more puppet of the logic of value. If capital is endangered by proletarian mobilization, there is no doubt that these figures of Colombian social democracy will not feel any remorse in acting with violence and the same determination with which President Iván Duque is acting today. In Colombia, as in the rest of the world, the revolutionary proletariat will search for its own path, as Karl Marx said in the Communist Manifesto of 1848. The proletariat is the only social class that has at its disposal the material conditions to build a society outside the logic of value. It is necessary to fight with all our energies against social democracy, against the democratic illusions that promise a benevolent management of capital, against the opportunist currents that pretend to put our class in the dilemma of choosing (with special effort in the electoral terrain) between the most progressive and the most reactionary forms of capital. It is a false choice. We can expect nothing from capital in its various forms but misery and desolation. The workers of the communes in Colombia show us an alternative and real way: that of proletarian self-determination through class struggle.

Source in Spanish:
English translation: Los Amigos de la Guerra de Clases