DSA denounces state violence suppression of national strike Colombia

* Updated May 5, 2021, to reflect co-sponsorship by DSA AFROSOC-Chicago, additional details, demands, and updated numbers as of May 4, 2021, 5pm EST, indicated by a preceding asterisk below.

The Democratic Socialists of America International Committee (DSA IC) * and DSA AFROSOC-Chicago condemn the Colombian state’s use of deadly force during the ongoing National Strike that has mobilized large sectors of Colombian society since April 28, 2021, and expresses solidarity with the popular mobilizations as they manifest the democratic right to protest. The full toll of this repression is still being verified but official sources are investigating 14 deaths between April 28 and May 1. However, human rights NGOs have tallied much higher figures, identifying nearly 1200 cases of police violence and 26 murders by the police. 

The context of the ongoing strike, which at the moment of writing has entered its seventh day, took place in virtually every major Colombian city and towns throughout the country, with tens of thousands participating. It is a continuation of the November 2019 National Strike, called for by the “Comité de Paro Nacional,” made up of the leading movements and trade unions. The current strike carries forward some of the 2019 strike demands, but specifically added a rejection to the government’s proposal for a tax reform, which many feel would have inordinately punished the poor and weakened the middle class while protecting the rich. On May 3, due to the pressure of mass mobilizations, the tax reform was withdrawn and both the Minister and Vice-Minister of Finance resigned. This is an important partial victory but the struggle remains.In the context of the economic hardship imposed by the pandemic, in which 2.78 million additional people entered poverty and pushed the percentage of the poor to 42% of the population, Colombian civil society is expressing a general dissatisfaction with the mismanagement of the pandemic, an increase in unemployment and inequality, and in general, a deterioration in the quality of life. * The latter is particularly true in the majority Black and indigenous regions outside the capital of Bogotá, where state violence is often most egregious and less visible. 

Despite these legitimate demands, the strike has been systematically repressed. First, the Cundinamarca Tribunal retracted permission to hold the protests on the 28th of April, a dangerous precedent by the judicial branch to attempt to deny the constitutional right to protest. On the third day of the protests, former President Álvaro Uribe—who is undergoing proceedings before the International Criminal Court for 6,402 extrajudicial killings  his administration—tweeted that “We should support the right of soldiers and the police to use their weapons to defend their integrity and to defend people and goods from criminal terrorist action.” The protests were then faced with violent repression, resulting in 1181 cases of police violence, which include up to 26 murders by the police in the context of the protests, as well as * 216 victims of physical violence, * 814 arbitrary detentions and * 10 victims of sexual violence by the ESMAD riot police.

This violence occurs in the context of a long history of state-sponsored and paramilitary violence in which the armed forces have been implicated, and which served to legitimize the militarization of state responses to social protest. By financing the Colombian armed forces through military aid packages such as Plan Colombia, the United States government has been directly implicated in the human rights violations that have ensued. 

DSA IC and DSA AFROSOC-Chicago stands in solidarity with the Comité de Paro Nacional, social movements and Colombian civil society. We echo their demands to immediately demilitarize the streets, to investigate the wave of violence in order to hold perpetrators and intellectual authors accountable, and to undertake a structural reform of the police in order to prevent massacres such as this one from occurring again. We call on U.S. elected officials and the Biden administration to denounce the state repression and demand accountability as well as political guarantees to protest. Furthermore, we call on U.S. elected officials to:

  1. Pressure the Duque administration to implement the full Peace Agreement.
  2. * Suspend all sales of military and crowd control equipment to the Colombian security forces– including all sales of equipment, training, and services to the ESMAD.
  3. * Encourage the Duque administration to dialogue with the Comité de Paro Nacional and other representative groups of protesters, chosen by the main organizers of the strike, and reach consensus on commitments.
  4. Lastly, we encourage DSA members to join the National Strike by amplifying the strike with the tags #ElParoNOPara #ColombiaResiste #ColombiaProtesta and continuing to engage in political education events around Colombia.

¡El pueblo no se rinde, carajo! [The people never surrender, carajo!]