Sharpening contradictions between the opposing classes and the growing exposure of the real intentions of Colombia’s ruling forces are reaching levels that can only be resolved by a new stage of the struggle in 2014. Recent developments in that country — including the increasing participation of the peasant and Indigenous people in the resistance to the regime — if continued and increased — could finally deal an immense blow to Colombia’s neoliberal and neocolonial status. This status has kept the majority of the population’s poor and excluded people from sharing in the benefits provided by the country’s immense natural riches.
Before we look at the new developments, we must remember Colombia’s reality and examine those developments in context. Colombia remains the most dangerous country for union leaders — 60 percent of all unionists killed in the world are assassinated in Colombia. These treacherous acts are perpetrated by the state and the transnational corporations together with paramilitary forces.
Not only unionists are targeted. According to a report released in April 2013 by the Center for Research and Popular Education (CINEP), there were six civil rights violations on the average each day, including 565 attributed to the paramilitary, 268 to the police and 187 to the army. Ten Colombians were killed by political violence per week. The report also states that under President Santos, the killing of civilians, the so-called “false positives,” have increased, contrary to the version offered by the official propaganda. (rebelion.org, Jan 11)
Despite this scenario, activists among the country’s progressive forces have responded to recent serious attacks with courageous resistance.
‘Coup d’etat’ against Bogotá’s mayor
As part of an ongoing struggle, on Jan. 10 more than 100,000 people rallied for hours in Bogotá’s central Plaza Bolívar for a march called in support of Bogotá’s elected mayor, Gustavo Petro, and to defend peace and democracy. Petro had been removed from office on Dec. 9 by Alejandro Ordóñez, the inspector general.
The office of mayor of Bogotá is the second most important in the country after the president. This capital city of 8 million people is the economic and industrial center of the country, contributing 50 percent of the national income.
Petro is an ex-guerrilla combatant of the April 19th Movement, popularly known as the M-19, which laid down arms in 1990 in a peace agreement with the government. During his tenure in the Colombian Congress, first as representative and later as senator, Petro exposed the Álvaro Uribe government’s ties to the criminal paramilitaries, a development widely known as “parapolitics.”
This exposure was an important step in revealing the paramilitary’s crimes and led to the indictment and arrest of several politicians, mostly linked to Uribe’s grouping. It also provoked the hostility of Uribe and allies like Ordóñez himself, who represent the most vicious of the right-wing politicians and ruling oligarchy.
In a Dec. 29 op-ed column in the Washington Post, Petro explained why he was removed: Ordóñez had accused him of “mishandling the efforts to bring trash collection under public control,” and in so doing attacking the system of “free enterprise.” He also said that the accumulation of several thousand tons of garbage between Dec. 18 and 20 in 2012, “threatened public health.”
In fact, Petro tried to “nationalize” the trash collection that was being monopolized by private contractors, several of whom were allies of Uribe. But not only did Ordóñez remove him from office, he barred Petro from holding any office for 15 years!
This is the same Ordóñez who removed the courageous Afro-Colombian senator, Piedad Córdoba, from office several years ago.
Petro was elected in October 2012, and even though it has not challenged the capitalist economic base, his “Bogotá Humana” (Humane Bogotá) plan has challenged the old patterns of city administration. A reformist plan, BH has brought some social improvements: It reopened a closed hospital, reduced the main private bus line fares, created the Secretariat for Women, prohibited bullfights in Plaza de Toros Santamaría, created MobileCare Centers for Drug Addicts (CAMAD) and initiated several other social programs.
Since Petro took office, Ordóñez and other right-wing politicians have opposed him, but his attempt to bring the privatized trash collection back to the city’s control aroused them to take action.
Several Uribista politicians have been gathering signatures to hold a recall referendum, which will be held on March 2, depending on the inspector general’s final pronouncement regarding Petro’s removal. Petro welcomes the referendum, stating that it will show the opinion of the people of Bogotá.
As a signal of the reactionary ruling-class hostility towards any change of the status quo, a young follower of Petro’s administration, Gerson Martínez, a rap artist, was viciously killed last Jan. 5. A flag of Bogotá Humana was left beside his body. Martínez was responsible for organizing some of the December demonstrations supporting Petro.
State repression continues
The day before Martínez was killed, on Jan. 4, police arrested Francisco Javier Toloza, a leader of the growing social and political movement, Patriotic March. His arrest brings to three the number of PM leaders detained in less than two years. Toloza is part of the PM international commission and the National Patriotic Board. The other two arrested are Wilmar Madroñero and Huber Ballesteros.
The Patriotic March has grown steadily in numbers and political scope, representing a real challenge to the power of the oligarchy. Composed of hundreds of different grassroots organizations around the country, the PM is showing a decisive will to change the country on behalf of the poor and excluded. It is not surprising, given the history of Colombia, that the PM’s leadership is being threatened, arrested and even assassinated.
At a time when the Colombian government is holding peace negotiations with the FARC-EP in Cuba, it is important to analyze the significance of these attacks by the state on the peaceful social movements and progressive activists.
One of the stated purposes of the negotiations is the participation of the FARC-EP guerrilla members in political life. What guarantees will there be that they can peacefully exercise this right? If these attacks against social activists who are not in the armed struggle continue, what will happen to those who lay down their arms to incorporate themselves into the political life? Will there be a repeat of the massacre of the Patriotic Union (UP) in the 1980s, when around 4,000 of the UP’s members were systematically killed?
These and other questions remain and will be dealt with in upcoming articles.
International solidarity frees Julián Conrado
Before concluding, we must celebrate the recent freedom of Julián Conrado, the “peoples’ singer.” Conrado is a FARC-EP member who was detained in Venezuela in May 2011 and held there. He was released from prison on Jan. 9 after the Colombian government announced the suspension of the extradition request.
Conrado had joined the insurgency as many others did, because he faced political persecution. He was part of the “thematic commission” of the FARC-EP during the peace negotiations in 1998-2002 with the Andrés Pastrana government. Conrado had gone to Venezuela to seek medical treatment, but was arrested by request of the Colombian government.
That Venezuela’s Bolivarian revolutionary government arrested Conrado brings up some of the contradictions that many revolutionaries who support this revolution have expressed concern about. But it is important to state that as an ongoing process, revolutions are transitions from capitalism with all the dangers and problems brought about by imperialist and right-wing opposition attacks. Venezuelan revolutionaries, though, including the Venezuelan Communist Party and others, had shown strong support for Conrado and have demanded his release from prison.
Next: Santos and the role of the U.S. in Colombia.