For several days now, in Colombia, popular mobilizations have expressed the anger of a very large number of Colombians. Despite a very violent repression, the pandemic and the bad press, the strike continues and the mobilization increases every day. Various polls indicate popular support of over 70% of the population. The widespread violence used by police forces and the military, especially in Cali (the third largest city in the country), has greatly increased the anger of people, who accuse the current government of large-scale rights violations. In several localities, people from working-class neighborhoods are hungry. According to the Colombian Institute of Statistics, 42.5% of the population (21 million people) live in poverty. In Cali, it’s 65%.
The roots of anger
We can understand the outrage: the Colombian government arrived last month with a so-called tax reform bill that increases taxes and creates new ones on basic products like chicken, coffee, chocolate, sugar , salt, etc. The popular layers are the main targets of these new taxes while the economic and political oligarchy is spared in an unequal logic put forward by Minister Alberto Carrasquilla, who has since had to resign.
In the face of popular anger, the government withdrew this bill, but it should be remembered that the reiterated practice in this type of unpopular situation is to withdraw the project, wait for the mobilizations to dissipate and reintroduce a new project that preserves vision while removing a few items. For example, in the health sector, Carolina Corcho, vice-president of the Federación Médica Colombiana, tells us that the project proposes to suffocate the health system and dismantle what remains of public hospitals. In particular, provision is made for a reduction in services, the application of new restrictions on the medical procedures that may be performed by general practitioners, etc. One of the completely unjustified measures is the intervention of the National Institute of Oncology.
To come back to the question of repression, it must be said that the violence does not date from yesterday. Two months ago, Colombians learned that during the government of Alvaro Uribe Vélez (2002-2010), of which the current president, Ivan Duque, is the heir, 6,402 young civilians were murdered by the Armed Forces and presented as dead in combat. The sinister and revolting character of these assassinations is linked to the fact that the assassins were rewarded with vacations and ascents in the military hierarchy. Despite all this violence, what perhaps highlights the situation of terror in which Colombians are living is the fact that this country has the highest number of internally displaced persons in the world, at eight million people, in large majority of peasants, Aboriginals and Afro-descendants.
Social sectors mobilized
All Colombian social sectors are mobilized, starting with those which are traditionally so, such as students, unions, women’s and feminist organizations, peasant, indigenous and Afro-descendant organizations. For the Aboriginals, the mobilization is part of a pivotal moment in their struggle for decolonization and reconstruction of memory and defense of the territory. In this context, the Misak people brought down the statues of colonizers Gonzalo Jiménez de Quezada in Bogotá and Sebastián de Belalcázar in Cali. But there are also people who are not organized and who are rarely seen in the streets, like the poorest people from the poorest neighborhoods, who march for the redistribution of wealth like all other sectors.
Canada has very strong trade links with Colombia. A bilateral free trade agreement with Colombia was signed 10 years ago. The economic and humanitarian consequences that this agreement has had for the Colombian population have been rather negative. Canadian companies have sometimes prospered there by benefiting from human and labor rights violations and damaging the environment. Other times, they have benefited from reprehensible acts such as the forced displacement of populations to operate mines or by taking part in processes of criminalization of the population who demand decent living and working conditions where companies are present. . The Canadian government has supported the action of several of these Canadian companies in Colombia through grants and political intervention. Canada must therefore assume its share of responsibility in the current conflict and unhesitatingly condemn the current repression, while ensuring that the democratic process is truly assured in view of the general elections due in 2022.