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Is Colombia burning?
At the end of March, we highlighted the enormous social tension that reigned in this country (1). Already in September, the capital Bogotá had been shaken by riots after the murder of a demonstrator by the police, whose brutal arrest had been broadcast on social networks: the repression had then left 16 dead and dozens injured by firearms.
It didn't take long for this tension to explode again, for the volcano to erupt.
On April 28, dozens of social and trade union organizations called for a 24-hour national strike. The call was massively followed; the marches and demonstrations, which took place despite a court order banning them, were attended by tens of thousands of people; they were sometimes peaceful but more often violent. There were assaults and lootings of department stores and big brands, bus burnings, clashes with police for long hours, with the usual number of injuries and arrests. Throughout the night, while the government declared a curfew, "cacerolazos" (concerts of pots and pans) were heard throughout the country.
The demonstrations and clashes continued spontaneously in the days that followed, with the government deploying the army in the cities on May 3. To date, the crackdown has left at least 37 people dead and 800 wounded, with police firing live ammunition at demonstrators in the city of Cali, as well as 379 people missing, according to NGOs since May 1. NGOs have also denounced sexual assaults committed by police.
For their part, the trade union leaders condemned on 28/4 "the disproportionate use of force" (sic!) by the police and the anti-riot brigades (ESMAD) as well as the acts of violence and looting, affirming that they were not the work of the demonstrators...
THE REASONS FOR THE ANGER
What has angered large sectors of the population is the planned increase in taxes in the new tax reform, which almost entirely exempts the sectors that benefit most from this society, namely a handful of prosperous "oligarchic" groups. In Colombia, the clan of former president Uribe Vélez (under accusation by the Supreme Court for corruption and for his role in the massacres committed during his term of office), mentor of the current president, is one of the most powerful (2). The new reform, the third so far since the beginning of Duque's term, pompously called the "Law of Sustainable Solidarity", only taxes the big bourgeoisie at 1% or 2%, but it hits hard millions of workers who, until now, were exempted from declaring their meager incomes. Among the points of this new reform are the increase in VAT, the creation of a 20% tax on services and basic necessities such as water, electricity, garbage collection, gas, etc., which affects the entire population, including the petty bourgeoisie, but especially the poorest, who have already been subjected to a terrible economic crisis for years.
But the list of discontents and demands is long, among which the disastrous or non-existent social management of the pandemic, while the fiscal reform was presented as necessary to finance the fight against it (3). Colombia is the third most affected country in Latin America, after Brazil and Argentina. According to the Spanish website "La Tercera":
"... since April 19, the country has been reporting more than 400 deaths per day [for a population of 50 million-NDR]. In addition, hospitals are facing an intensive care unit (ICU) bed occupancy rate of over 80%, a significant increase from 61% at the beginning of April.
The government has not hesitated to use this tragic situation, for which it bears responsibility, to try to dissuade protesters: a government spokesman on the eve of the demonstrations threatened to send to prison those who would go out to protest, under the infamous charge of "endangering the lives of others," or to enforce the rules of "social distancing" in the marches. But "the government is more dangerous than the virus!" "the reforms are more frightening!", will answer the demonstrators the next day, disobeying the "advice" that the government has launched to the impoverished masses, its provocations and blackmail.
However, the root cause of the anger is the deterioration of social conditions, including among the lower middle classes. The economic crisis has led to an increase in unemployment: the latest published statistics give an unemployment rate of 14% in March, but this figure does not take into account the informal sector, which is the first to be affected by job losses: it employs more than 66% of the workforce! Proletarians working in the informal sector have no social protection in terms of unemployment, health, pension rights, etc., not to mention respect for the minimum wage: a truly bestial exploitation! It is not surprising that the poverty rate has risen to 42.5% of the population and that of "extreme poverty" (a condition that does not allow for the basic needs of food, medical care, etc.) has risen to over 15%. The country had already been experiencing a general strike and a strong proletarian mobilization in November 2019 against government austerity measures, before it was stopped by the measures against the pandemic.
Other reasons for the strike were the violations of the peace treaty between Farc-Fln guerrillas and the national government of former president J.M. Santos, signed in Havana in 2016: since then there has been a macabre toll of more than 450 (52 since the beginning of this year) signatories and other social activists murdered by paramilitary employer militias.
For all these reasons, and in spite of the pandemic, from 5am on April 28, an hour after the outbreak throughout the country, cities such as Cali and Bogotá were already registering strong demonstrations including blockades. In the middle of the morning, the Misak indigenous people demolished the statue of the conquistador Sebastián de Belalcazar in Cali, the city where the clashes were the most violent in the country. In Cúcuta, the capital of Norte de Santander, the days of protest began early. The demonstrators denounced in particular the increase in violence and murders in this border region. In some municipalities, such as Entrerríos and Santa Rosa de Osos, there were demonstrations punctuated by speeches and concerts of pots and pans. The demonstrators closed the Sogamoso - Belencito highway in order to block the multinational company Votorantim, which operates in this region. Hundreds of people gathered in Saravena, Arauca, to begin the days of protest as part of the national strike. In the municipality of Tibú, Catatumbo, Ecopetrol workers joined the national strike; they blocked the company's facilities at three points, calling on other workers to join the mobilization. Trenches were dug to block traffic at the portal Suba bus station, (Bogotá); in rejection of the policies implemented by the government of Iván Duque during the pandemic, the residents of the municipality of Cantagallo, south of Bolívar, blocked the mayor's office and the bank. They also protested against the possible return of aerial spraying of glyphosate (a carcinogenic herbicide) and the plans to produce shale gas by hydraulic fracturing in their territory, etc.
Strikes and demonstrations continued spontaneously in the following days, to the point of forcing the National Strike Committee (NSC) to call, in an attempt to regain control of the movement, for a new day of mobilization on May 5, whereas it had only planned a new one on May 19.
The success of the strike and the days of demonstration, in spite of the dilatory action of the NSC, had first positive results; due to the seriousness of the social situation, the Duque government first announced that it was going to correct some aspects of the reform; sectors and pro-government parties took fright, such as the Liberal Party, which announced that it would vote against it, while others, such as the Democratic Center, demanded the outright withdrawal of the reform. Finally, on May 2, the president announced this withdrawal, at least temporarily.
But this retreat did not put an end to the mobilization: on May 5 the demonstrations were numerous; they continued on May 6 and 7 and it should be the same on May 8 with still blockades.
BUT THE PISTON-BOX IS MISSING
The Colombian Communist Party, as a good bourgeois democrat, in a declaration ending with "Fatherland or death, we will win! " launched on May 5 an "urgent appeal (...) to the national and international community to demilitarize the cities and provide basic guarantees for the protest and mobilization of the population"(4). What is this "community" to which this appeal is addressed, if not a bourgeois fiction to camouflage the national and international organizations and state structures of the ruling class?
The Socialist Workers' Party (Trotskyist) has criticized the action of weakening the mobilization played by the NSC, which seeks above all to negotiate with the government the end of the movement. But it cannot understand that this attitude is not explained by the "bureaucracy" of the NSC, but by its class collaboration and interclassism, because it suffers from the same evil: the declaration of May 3 of its Executive Committee puts forward as a central perspective "to strengthen the struggle" an "emergency national meeting" to "democratically elect a new leadership with the social and trade union organizations, [organizations] of women, youth, Afro and indigenous communities" - the same ones that are part of or support the NSC! And the declaration ends with: "for a workers' and people's government!" (5), without of course specifying what such an interclassist government would mean, by what means it would be instituted and what its purpose would be. The only thing that is clear in this confused verbiage is that the SWP is completely alien to Marxist revolutionary positions and the overriding need to fight for the class independence of the proletariat.
The NSC, which brings together with the unions, peasant and student organizations, in short collaborationist and petty bourgeois organizations, is in fact by nature incapable of giving a class orientation and direction to the struggle; it has already given proof of its attachment to class collaboration and to the defense of Colombian capitalism: its platform of demands gives pride of place to the "defense of national production (agricultural, industrial, handicraft, peasant)", a bourgeois demand if ever there was one!
It is not surprising, therefore, that on May 7 it decided to participate in the "national dialogue" proposed by the government to find a way out of the crisis, without, however, calling for an end to the movement: such a call would not be followed and the NSC is obviously counting on the struggle running out of steam; it will therefore go to "negotiate" with the government, employers' organizations, the Church, etc., its emergency plan that it has been working on for several months and its demands. But it is not new negotiations with this murderous government that threatens to decree a state of exception to stop the demonstrations, the strikes and the blockades and accuses the demonstrators of being paid by the narco-traffickers, that will be able to lead to positive results for the proletarians !
In 2019 the struggle had already been betrayed by the NSC, which had lent itself to negotiations with the government: the proletarians and the impoverished masses can see that this was only a masquerade that was useless. It cannot be otherwise today; only the determined struggle of the proletarians can wrest from the capitalists and their state new concessions, after the first governmental retreat.
This implies organizing the struggle on a class basis and for exclusively class objectives - and therefore breaking with the practice of class collaboration of the trade union organizations. It also implies working on the class organization of the proletariat, from the organizations for the immediate struggle to the political organization indispensable to lead the struggle towards the revolutionary conquest of power and the establishment of the dictatorship of the proletariat, an indispensable step towards the eradication of capitalism and the opening of the way to communist society: the class party.
Trotsky recalled in the preface of his "History of the Russian Revolution" that "Without a guiding organisation, the energy of the masses would dissipate like steam not enclosed in a piston-box. But nevertheless what moves things is not the piston or the box, but the steam " (6).
Obviously, the piston-box is none other than the revolutionary party that does not create revolutionary situations, does not create the steam, but directs them. The proletarians and exploited masses of Colombia give to their class brothers of other countries the example of their combativeness (the "steam"), but also the example of the betrayal of this combativeness in the impasse of "negotiations" with the representatives of the ruling class. The militants and the vanguards that are emerging and will emerge from the class confrontations in Colombia and elsewhere, confrontations that today preoccupy the ruling classes, not only in Latin America, will have to learn the lesson: this lesson is the irrefutable need to work to reconstitute the internationalist and international class party, in conjunction with the revolutionary proletarians of other countries, on the basis of the authentic communist program that synthesizes the lessons of the past class battles, thus making it possible to draw a solid orientation for the battles to come.
This result cannot be obtained overnight, but it is the only non-illusory perspective of proletarian emancipation.
(1) cf "Against the threats of war between Venezuela and Colombia, solidarity and international class struggle of proletarians! ", 3/9/2021
(2) Uribe, who is also president of the ruling party, said on April 30 in response to protests against the use of firearms against demonstrators: "we support the right of police and soldiers to use their weapons to defend themselves and defend people and property"!
(3) A European institute of geostrategic studies has discovered that Bogotá has spent - for the year 2020 alone! - 9,100 million dollars on the renovation of its aeronautical and military equipment: buying weapons is more important for the bourgeoisie than saving the lives of the proletarians, the ones most affected by the pandemic.
International Communist Party
May, 8th 2021
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