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What Colombia is asking for is a different government

The dominant class in Colombia must be worried by the dimensions that the National Strike protest movement is reaching, as it entered its second month and shows no sign of fading.


Juan Diego García


 The government of Ivan Duque and of the far right of Alvaro Uribe Vélez has done nothing but repeat the by now traditional policy in Colombia of combining harsh repression with formally opening dialogues and negotiations. It is a strategy that seeks only to waste time and wait until the opposition movement loses strength and ends up accepting promises which, of course, are never fulfilled.

The more moderate parties of the right also seem unable to find different formulas and just seek to gain electoral advantage from their intervention. The political forces of the so-called centre do not offer a hopeful panorama either.

But, at least so far and nothing indicates that anything to the contrary will happen, this old tactic has not brought the expected results and the circles that decide (the big bourgeoisie) are debating reducing as much as possible the tactic of repression (which has sparked national and international condemnation from a wide range of groups and institutions) and, at the same time, broadening the space for dialogue in order not to lose control.

In a civilised country, in a modern democracy (as the dominant class like to think of theirs), the normal thing would be for Duque to bring forward the elections that are due next year.

However, that solution could give the forces of the left and the social movements the opportunity to gain a sufficiently broad parliamentary base and, above all, win the presidential election.

In other words, doing here what would be normal in a real democracy when the government loses its legitimacy could lead to a loss of power or at least a significant part of it, since the dominant class would keep the most important elements: the main levers of the economy and the support of the military.

If the tactic being applied does not bring the expected results and the protest movement does not achieve its principal objectives soon either but maintains its vigour, the situation will be prolonged until next year and would be a very risky lead in to the electoral campaign in which the left would be in a clear position to win.

Assassinations should not be ruled out, therefore, as happened in the past in Colombia when “mysterious hands” murdered progressive opposition candidates who had good chances of triumphing.

That is what happened to Jorge Eliécer Gaitán y Luis Carlos Galán, both of liberal extraction with reformist programmes, and Pizarro León Gómez, a candidate of the former guerrilla movement m-19 with a radical reform programme, and two candidates for the presidency of Patriotic Union, the political branch of the FARC-EP that was legally able to claim legitimacy at the time.

Nor must the possibility of another outrage against a popular victory be ruled out, similar to what happened when the presidency was stolen from Gustavo Rojas Pinilla, who clearly beat the system’s candidate at the ballot box.

The question is whether in the current climate any of these formulas would work or whether, conversely, they would only aggravate the situation.

The traditional military coup does not seem necessary since in Colombia for over half a century the barracks have performed the repressive role that is essential in the eyes of the dominant class, leaving the formal handling of the situation to politicians.

That is precisely what is happening at the moment: Duque calls for calm and offers to negotiate while soldiers and the police (as well as paramilitary groups and “upright people”) repress demonstrators indiscriminately, chalking up dramatic totals of deaths, disappearances, mutilations, arrests, injuries and raped women, as has been the practice in this country’s internal war for decades.

Given the role that Colombia plays in the strategy of the United States and its allies, Washington will only issue formal reproaches and calls for calm and will even take advantage of Bogota’s great weakness to extend its presence in this Andean country.

The protest movement faces more than a few challenges.

Firstly, the difficulties that it has to co-ordinate the National Strike Committee, which spawned the movement, with the many expressions of popular discontent that have arisen in the heat of the struggle and that at the moment cover practically the whole country.

What has happened, in fact, is that several million people have managed to paralyse the nation and force Duque’s government to sit down and negotiate.

There are many demands for this very reason and those who are trying to give direction to the movement face the task of setting priorities among the claims and, above all, analysing whether the real balance of power enables considerable advances since the thousands of demands that are now being raised, all of them very legitimate, very often require a change of system, almost a true revolution.

Fundamentally, they demand a different government.

The participants, both of the National Strike Committee and of the other organisations, need to generate mechanisms for internal dialogue, with the greatest possible element of democracy, to draw up those priorities and create the necessary organisational structures.

Today Colombia is reviving traditional debates of the left and of the popular movements that, almost always, have found themselves having to combine direct democracy with delegated democracy, since the former on its own would not guarantee the adequate management of the movement and the latter is not immune to poorly-handled bureaucracy.

The current movement can, without doubt, achieve many of its aims; in fact, it has won them already. In addition, it can be a breeding ground that generates a broad opposition front that sweeps to victory in the next election and enables all its current demands to become tangible realities.

The task will not be easy for the government either, but at least the sacrifices that reality imposes will have been worthwhile.

(Translated by Philip Walker – Email: – Photos: La Oreja Roja, authorized for publication.

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