Huge numbers of protestors have taken to the streets of Colombia over the last week after President Duque attempted to pass a bill that would further increase inequality in the country by making the working class pay for the covid-19-induced fiscal deficit. A general strike began on the 28th April in response to Duque’s presentation of the ironically titled ‘Sustainable Solidarity Bill’. The proposed bill has intensified grievances about the state of inequality in the country, with 2.8 million people having already been pushed into extreme poverty during the last year alone. The bill proposes increasing VAT on staple goods, increasing the tax on pensions, freezing wages in the public sector until 2026, eliminating subsidies on many public services and imposing a toll tax on roads connecting the countryside to cities.
The government attempted to prevent the strike and subsequent protests by curbing the right to public protest on the 28th April and 1st of May. However, the leaders of the National Strike Committee said they would go ahead with the strike as planned. Following 5 days of protests in 600 of the 1103 municipalities, finance minister Alberto Carrasquillawas forced to withdraw the bill and announce that he would draft another one with the help of other parties. Protesters have been met with major repression from the security services of the Colombian state, with the government has labelling them as terrorists. More than 37 people have been killed by the army and police since protests erupted, whilst over 89 people have disappeared and more than 1000 have been victims of police violence.
Protesters have also demanded the dismantlement of paramilitary groups aligned with the state and an end to decades of state-sponsored violence against social movements in the country. They have also called for the withdrawal of the army, the end of repression against protesters, the guarantee of fundamental rights to the population and the investigation of human rights abuses carried out by security forces. In over 60 years of armed conflict within the country, more than 80,000 people have been forcibly disappeared.
The Colombian security forces have been trained and armed by the US government for decades, ostensibly to help carry out the War on Drugs and the War on Terror. Of the $412.9 million in foreign aid that was sent to Colombia in 2020, $322.9 million was earmarked for Peace and Security Assistance, the vast majority of which is for ‘counter narcotics’. This security assistance has done very little to quell the overall production of cocaine in Colombia. Paramilitaries working in league with the security forces are still able to traffic large amounts of the drug without facing legal consequences.
As we have seen in the last week, this aid has been used to violently crush resistance to neoliberal economic policies. This military aid has also allowed the US to destabilise the neighboring Venezuela, whilst the displacement of villagers under the guise of combating narcotrafficking groups in the country has often been used to open up new land for multinational corporations to invest in. Since the Havana Peace Accords were signed in 2016, over 1,100 people have been assassinated, including social leaders, demilitarised FARC militants and human rights defenders. Of this total, 700 have been assassinated since Iván Duque was elected President in 2018.