May Day In Medellin, Columbia – Black Flag

Article from Black Flag #218 1999.

Submitted by Fozzie on September 6, 2020

It was all supposed to start at 8.30 am, but when we arrived we could already feel a heavy atmosphere building up as speech-making by local union bureaucrats held up the start of the march for at least an hour. In any case there was a real air of combativity: the young supporters of the CAP (People's Armed Commandos)1 were all masked up, giving the march a wonderful sense of insurrection about it. From the start the police weren't feeling too friendly, and the CAP gave them what they wanted - a volley of small fireworks. Further along, passing the main police station, the bombardment intensified, stones were thrown as well. The atmosphere was really charged because a few blocks back the police had cordoned off a major department store - as if it belonged to them. Someone then had the brilliant idea of throwing incendiary devices at the buildings and stones at the windows of all the business premises. Clashes between the demonstrators and police became more frequent as the march continued, with police baton charges. The atmosphere of the last few days had fired people up; parliament was about to approve the so-called `National Development Plan', which proposes 'fiscal austerity' to reduce state expenditure (while the president and his henchman take foreign holidays).

The clashes reached their climax at Berrie Park, where the march was supposed to end. Instead, there were continuous baton attacks (of which I had a taste), petards being thrown and happy tunes being sung to the police ("The police are also exploited, that's why they march alongside us!","Murderers!”, etc). Basically, a march that began with a festive atmosphere ended with who knows how many demonstrators injured, disappeared or even dead.

Now calm has returned - the autodefensas (the name the paramilitaries give themselves) groups kidnap, disappear and kill people; the guerrillas kidnap, make propaganda and strengthen their authoritarian military structure; the army is upset - more than half of its top brass resigned in solidarity with the Minister of Defence and then went back to work in exchange for who knows what perks; the president keeps travelling and has just come back from Canada etc.

Local press reports afterwards noted that the march followed a similar pattern to the last five years, that it was 'infiltrated' by 'rebellious young people' and that this time round 'the intense beat and length of the speeches at the start caused bad feeling among some demonstrators', resulting 'unknown persons' dis-connecting the sound system of the speakers and thus sabotaging the final rally.

  • 1The CAP are a relatively new and independent urban militia group operating in the city who profess a Marxist-Leninist ideology and sympathy for the national guerrilla movement (FARC/ELN) while remaining outside their structures. They grew out of the generalised militias' movement of the 80s in poor neighbourhoods of Medellin, which span off in different directions in the 90s.