It doesn't get a lot of coverage in our mainstream media, but South America, that land of American engineered coups, has been the scene mass uprisings across most of the countries in that area. Some have lasted months others shorter, the Covid19 bring many to a slow-down, or halt, that doesn't mean the anger has gone away or the problems have been resolved. Far from it, the anger still bubbles underneath the surface and will no doubt explode once more.
The Uprising in Colombia: “An Example of What Is to Come.
The streets of several Colombian cities have erupted into conflict in the last two days in response to the brutal police murder of 43-year-old Javier Ordóñez, a lawyer and father of two in Bogotá, the nation’s capital. Ordóñez was peaceably drinking in the street in front of his friends’ apartment when police arrived and, without provocation, beat him and tased him 11 times. By the time he arrived at the hospital, after a further beating at the police station, he was already dead.
Video captured by Ordóñez’s friends and shared widely on social media sparked widespread protests in Bogotá, Cali, Medellín, Bucaramanga, Popayán, Ibagué, Barranquilla, Neiva, Tunja, and Duitama. In Bogotá alone, 56 police substations, called CAIs (Comandos de Atención Inmediata) were damaged, most of them burned. Although mainstream news is reporting eight people killed by police or paramilitaries on the first night, images circulating in Colombia on Thursday claimed 10, all but one of whom have been identified. The numbers of wounded vary by source. The New York Times claimed that a further 66 had suffered bullet wounds the night of September 9, with over 400 wounded in total.
Colombia has an intense history of violent state and paramilitary repression, which has only intensified during the pandemic. Under current president Ivan Duque, widely seen as a continuation of former president Álvaro Uribe’s corrupt narco-administration, the Colombian government has failed to uphold its side of the peace accords with demobilized guerrilla forces, and murders and disappearances of activists, dissidents, and revolutionaries have increased significantly.
In the following report and interview, we explore the background and implications of the latest chapter in a global wave of revolts against police and state repression.
The 2019 Paro Nacional On November 21, 2019, taking inspiration from the Chilean revolt and uprisings across South America, broad swaths of Colombian society took to the streets. The protests, which often took a militant tone and lasted roughly a month, were not over any one specific grievance but in response to multiple factors that had made life in this war-torn country unbearable. Duque’s government was trying to push through an unpopular packet of austerity measures, students were demanding better funding for education, and murders of activists, Indigenous people, and ex-guerrillas by the state or paramilitaries had increased.
The month-long mobilization came to be called the paro nacional or national strike. More than the duration, its significance lay in the fact that it was the first time in decades that anyone had seen such an autonomous mass mobilization. For years, militant resistance had been monopolized by specialized, armed guerrilla groups such as the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia—People’s Army, the ) and the ELN (National Liberation Army). The strike represented the return of more generalized street confrontation that lent itself to much broader participation.
A Year of Revolt in South America
Colombia’s paro nacional should be seen in the context of the movements shaking other South American countries at the time. While the Chilean insurrection lasted longer and reached further in terms of self-organization and militancy, Ecuador, Peru, Bolivia, and Paraguay all saw widespread protests in 2019. In Bolivia, a complex and highly charged conflict led to a bloody coup by right-wing Christians.
As in Colombia, there were several longstanding causes behind the mobilizations. Latin America has suffered astronomical rates of violence and inequality for decades—really, for centuries. Thanks to austerity policies, the brunt of recent economic stagnation has been intentionally forced on the most marginalized.
The examples of revolt in other South American countries, as well as from Hong Kong and beyond, helped spark the month of protest in Colombia late last year. The new tactics popularized in Hong Kong and Chile were reflected in Colombian rebels’ effective use of the primera linea shield bloc tactic.
Chile’s months of unrest, which were only halted by the pandemic, provided an inspiring horizon for those in South America and around the globe. On the other end of the scale, the nightmare that Bolivia has lived over the past year is a sobering reminder that political coups and openly racist regimes pose as much of a threat as ever. The stakes are high, as Colombians know all too well from years of state and paramilitary violence.
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