The protest marches that have been going on since the end of April continue the social protests unleashed in December 2019. For almost a year and a half, the Colombian uprising seemed “calmed”, but it was a deceptive impression. To all appearances, he did not lack the influx, but the popular anger was contained by the “social distancing” of the Covid pandemic. Calculated, the Iván Duque government tried to use the pandemic mobility restrictions to make a fresh start on the adoption of the third part of its tax reform package announced at the end of 2019, but suspended due to the protests and lawsuits at the time. However, Duque calculated poorly and reaped a new storm of protest amid the rampant pandemic, which the conservative and erratic Duque administration does not control with extreme police violence either.
Eleven days after the ongoing mobilizations and brutal police operations – which, according to the public prosecutor’s office, claimed at least 27 dead and more than 350 missing – young people and women in particular are continuing the public street protests, which are surrounded by courageous candlelight vigils, artistic and cultural performances. The world-famous musical title theme of the Salvador Allende era – “El Pueblo Unido” – was carefully interpreted by the Russian-German pianist Igor Levit and played on the street in Medellín with a moving performance by the local philharmonic Orchestra, conducted by the young Susana Boreal. The performance earned the honorary title of “Ode to civil courage”, as it took place in the third largest city in Colombia, which is described as a stronghold of the drug mafia, but now also as a center of police violence – including the infiltration of protests by police officers from the ESMAD Death Squadron, disguised as civilians and shooting at demonstrators.
The cold figures of tragedy
However, the most recent surveys by the National Statistics Administration indicate that the planned tax reform and protests against it are only the tip of an iceberg, the actual mass of which is a tragedy floating beneath the surface of Colombia’s recent history. With 21 million people, poverty currently affects 42 percent of the population. The number of displaced persons, which reached the unimaginable figure of 7.2 million in 2016, has risen to almost 8 million under the Duque government. During the same period, 900 leaders of the social movements and at least 270 unarmed ex-FARC guerrillas were systematically hunted and executed, 79 of them in the first four months of the current year 2021 alone. The outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic in early 2020 exacerbated conditions: the majority of the Colombian population lost or did not get a job, remained without income, food, vaccines and rescue from virus death. Duque’s tax reform plans, which have since been partially withdrawn – which aim to place 75 percent of the tax burden on the shoulders of the middle class, but especially the poorest, while the entrepreneurial side is almost spared with the remaining 25 percent – were the missing spark that sparked the fire of protest.
Protesting does half the world politics but that was it too
Although most of the people reported" missing " may have been detained by the police, local human rights organisations, Amnesty International (AI), the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and individual governments have urged the authorities to speed up the search and ensure that those affected are alive. Amnesty also warned that the Colombian police had not only used indiscriminate and disproportionate violence, but was responsible for alarming numbers of sexual violence. The Human Rights Organization recalled that the “abduction or abduction and sexual violence perpetrated by authorities constitute crimes under international law that each state must investigate and prosecute.” The sexual violence charge was triggered on 30 April by a complaint from a woman who was sexually abused by an ESMAD agent.
For the EU, their foreign policy spokesman Peter Stano came forward. He called for an end to the escalation of violence, but expressed the EU’s “confidence” in the Colombian institutions to “hold accountable and imprison those responsible for every abuse and violation of human rights.”
🇨🇴📢 "La UE condena los actos de violencia, que apuntan contra los derechos legítimos a manifestarse, a la libertad de reunión y de expresión", dijo sobre la situación en Colombia el portavoz del Servicio Europeo de Acción Exterior, Peter Stano ➡️https://t.co/NbrfXG2Ve7 pic.twitter.com/sreHTHrRd2— FRANCE 24 Español (@France24_es) May 4, 2021
With all due respect, the silence of the German Foreign Office remains incomprehensible. In the last entry of the online official journal was read, Foreign Minister “Maas secures Colombia further support for peace”. But the entry is two years old, it dates from 01.05.2019 and ends with “Venezuela in focus”. “Germany supports, especially Colombia, but also other neighboring countries of Venezuela financially in the reception and care of refugees, and is active in the international contact group for a peaceful, political solution in Venezuela, free and fair presidential elections. It remains clear for Maas: the legitimate interim president of Venezuela is Juan Guaidó,” says the statement. In addition, not a word about the atrocities on Colombian territory against social movements, environmentalists, indigenous, unarmed ex-guerrillas and the boycott of the peace process by the Iván Duque government.
The “letter from Colombia”
Víctor De Currea-Lugo, a Colombian intellectual, chose the personal letter form to refer to the conditions in his country. His flashback to recent history is a moving description with an appeal that the German federal government and the EU should take to heart and make them rethink their contemplative Colombia diplomacy.
Lugo studied medicine at the National University of Colombia, of which he is currently a professor, obtained a Master’s degree in Latin American Studies at the University of Salamanca and a doctorate at the Complutense University of Madrid with a dissertation entitled “Right to Health in Colombia”. His postdoctoral work dealt with the peace process between the Colombian government and the former guerrilla organization FARC and its failure. As a doctor, Lugo has served on multiple international humanitarian missions of the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) and Doctors without Borders (MSF), including Colombia, Palestine, the refugee camps in Western Sahara and Darfur, Sudan. At the ICRC, he created and coordinated the Medical Mission Protection program.
The pacification of Colombia, systematically undermined by Duque’s assumption of power, is at the centre of Lugo’s description of the social grievances. “The problems of this unfulfilled (peace) agreement continue to be our daily pain: agricultural policy, lack of political participation, violence against millions of people, the lack of social justice and drug trafficking, for which we are most known out there and which serves as food for a corrupt and remaining class in political power. I guess you remember, Colombia has been at war for decades, it is one of the longest-running armed conflicts in the world,” Lugo recalls, outlining the complex scene of the atrocities and humanitarian catastrophe.
“Here they have killed many people. Hundreds of thousands. In addition, they have displaced several million and even murdered civilians as alleged guerrillas. During the Uribe government alone, 6,402 innocent people were killed-6,402! The most moderate figures speak of more than 85,000 disappeared. In other words, if we add up the most cruel dictatorships in Chile, Uruguay, Brazil and Argentina, we would beat them in numbers and brutality. The pandemic has not united us. Here, as in other parts of the world, the rich have become richer and the poor poorer. The health system does not provide fair treatment, because its logic is that of the market”. With these clues, Lugo goes on trial with Uribismo – the cold - blooded, right - wing, business and landowner-friendly clientele-and “shoot-down"policy of ex – president and duque patron Álvaro Uribe-against which dozens of murder, bribery and corruption charges have been filed, which is why the senator in office since 2017 was put temporarily under house arrest, but was acquitted by the prosecutor’s office due to his influence.
After a detailed flashback, from the mass protests of November 2019 to the Covid pandemic, which can be read [multilingually on his website](https://victordecurrealugo.com/colombia-paro-nacional/"Carta desde Colombia sobre el paro nacional”), Lugo ends his chronicle with the justification of the current protests.
“Every moment I get videos in which policemen attack civilians for no reason, detain them arbitrarily and shoot at them. As if that were not enough, this corrupt government has decided to spend 14 billion pesos on warplanes. Here we have some public institutions that should control the government, such as the Attorney General’s Office, the Office of Audit and the Institution of Public Defenders. But these institutions are firmly in the hands of the president’s friends and there is no hope that they will act fairly. … This is the sum of the clientelistic politics of individual elites who fight against the people with paramilitary associations and gangsters. It is probably no exaggeration to say that there is a clear class struggle in Colombia, but as a US billionaire mused, the rich win it. And the war against the people continues. At this moment in which I am writing to you, you can hear the sirens in the streets, the ambulances, the police cars, the blades of the helicopters, the screams in the streets and the potters in the windows of the house. I do not know if you can imagine it, it is like a military coup without the usual sight of a military coup,” Lugo laments, criticizes the US and the EU, and ties hopes to individual international sympathy and protection for the Colombian democracy bleeding to death on the ground.
“We are alone here, the international community like the Lima group, which is so concerned about what is happening in Venezuela, has said nothing about what is happening in Colombia and will not do it. The USA, which likes to act as the guardian of world democracy, has also been silent; Joe Biden, who was a hope for many naive people, is silent. The European Union and other countries that contributed to the signing of the peace agreement at that time … and they fall short of expectations compared to what happens. I admit that I do not know what will happen tomorrow. … The truck drivers of the country have decided on a road blockade, the natives are marching towards Cali and it seems that the country is on the verge of explosion. It is possible that this government invents a self-coup to recycle itself and remain in power for many years to come. It is not out of the question that the military tries a maneuver, although there is no militaristic coup tradition here. It is possible that the same elites will send Duque into the desert and present themselves as the saviour of what they have caused. The government has just decided to rush the army into the streets. Every day, Uribe and Duque take another step to set the country on fire, and then cynically present themselves as an option to save us. We are eagerly listening to the opposition leaders, known here as the “Coalition of Hope” and the “Historic Pact”, who are called to bring about a change with the rest of the country, such as the brave indigenous peoples of Cauca and many other communities. … It is not a question of demanding “rest” so that everything stays the same, that would be a terrible betrayal. It is now a question of calling the country to a real change. I do not know why I am telling you all this, why I am sending you this letter. It is possible, however, that you or your neighbours, having learned this, will tell you why our national strike continues. In this sense, I thank you with a friendly hug”.
Democratic turn, or “neoliberalism with a human face”?
Surrounded by the cemetery silence of the pandemic quarantine in Chile and the shootings on the streets of Bogotá, we talked to Lugo about the characteristics of the conflict in Colombia. One of these features seems to be warlike operations instead of dialogue.
Question: Did the Iván Duque government actually decide to militarize the social conflict with a warlike offensive?
**Lugo:This is an aspect that needs to be explained. The Colombian police is not a citizen or Republican police in the European sense. Rather, it is enormously militarized. It has special / elite commandos, participates in military guerrilla warfare and has heavy military weapons. These circumstances have “qualified” the police for the confrontation in internal conflicts, so to speak, so that the use of the military is not even necessary. So when we talk about militarization, it means that the police have reinterpreted the concept of public order militarily and answered social conflicts with military force.
Question: The US operates at least five military bases in Colombia. What can we expect from the hitherto silent administration of Joe Biden?
Lugo: Joe Biden should pay attention to the US House of Representatives, which has been encouraging and approving military aid to Colombia for some time. This is undoubtedly a strong symbol of the US attitude towards Colombia so far. It would be desirable for Biden, with these military ties in mind, to address Iván Duque directly to the need for the immediate cessation of the brutal police operation he commanded. Biden should urge Duque to engage in social dialogue in Colombia, but this is a step that can only be imagined as a dream.
The final question that tickles a large number of readers: are the days of the neoliberal system now numbered?
Lugo: The neoliberal system in Colombia is not a banalized euphemism, but permeates all institutional spheres, such as governmental economic policy, the distribution of resources and money, the legal system, etc.It follows and organizes itself according to the spirit and timetable of the so - called consensus of Washington (Note. F. F.: Instructions for debt restructuring, structural adjustment, privatization and market opening enforced by the International Monetary Fund/IMF and the World Bank from the 1980s onwards, which are regarded as the introduction and expansion of the neoliberal agenda in Latin America). This so - called” consensus " meant an immense attack on the health and education system, as well as on the retirement system and labour rights-in a word, it meant the dismantling of the elementary satisfaction of the needs of the people, which was granted by a welfare state, albeit weak, yet available. However, Duque now wants to intensify this dismantling in the middle of the Covid pandemic. What the government did not expect is that the people declared the end of their patience and filled the streets again with mass protest. How this conflict will end cannot be foreseen. The pressure of the social protests is directed at the withdrawal of the announced measures. If they are taken back, this alone is almost a revolutionary step. If it does not happen, we will continue to live under this system, whose continuation with a “neoliberalism with a human face” is not excluded.