The Colombian authorities are managing the country’s severe crisis with the same methods they always use: prolonged and sterile negotiations which seek only to weaken the opposition movement and harsh repression of the demonstrators for the same purpose.
Neither tactic appears to be working on this occasion, at least not based on what has been seen until now, with the National Strike lasting a month and a half already.
There is no sign of the exhaustion of the protest that the government is hoping for, nor does the extreme repression by the police, military and paramilitary forces seem to have made an impression on the movement.
From a political perspective, in terms of legitimacy the Duque government is losing ground and the public rejection of its management of the crisis could not be broader, while the domestic and international repudiation of official and paramilitary violence is growing.
At the moment, in the Duque government the harsh voice of the far right seems to be dominant, demanding a ‘firmer hand’ and more repression. Several sectors of society consider that Duque’s decision in favour of the militarisation of a large part of the national territory is, in fact, an undeclared military coup and they demand not just that the current legal rules are observed but also that a negotiated outcome is offered to the protest movement.
Duque still seems to trust in his strategy of delay and repression but nothing indicates with sufficient certainty that that policy will bring results.
The far right that put Duque in government and whose leading light is Uribe Vélez trusts that repression will be successful and thinks that its intensification and an atmosphere of generalised violence are the most favourable factors for winning the next election in which it hopes to stay in government and retain control of the central institutions of the state.
A country in chaos is very helpful for the far right’s ‘firm hand’ narrative which traditionally it has used to obtain considerable advantages at the ballot box.
And such a scenario is not difficult to create in a country like Colombia with its discredited institutions and a government that is inane in so many senses. The ‘moderate’ right, probably more sensible from the point of view of the interests of the system, trusts that the repression will diminish and favours a process of negotiation with the National Strike Committee to satisfy, at least partially, the protest movement’s thousand demands and at the same time find some candidate of the ‘centre’ who will prevent the left from getting into government at the next election.
The polls give the left’s candidate, Gustavo Petro, such a lead over his rivals that his winning in the first round cannot be ruled out.
But the far right trusts in its traditional formula that combines excessive violence and the fraudulent exploitation of a primitive and dishonest electoral system with the support of the major newspapers and of the powers that be against the risks to its interests that a new progressive government would represent.
The civilised right, that would consider it more intelligent to make some concessions to the popular movement with a moderate government of the ‘centre’ than to increase through official violence the existing, already very high, social tensions, does not seem to be prevailing at the moment.
The big bourgeoisie, which sees the political parties of the right and ‘centre’ simply as instruments to be dispensed with as required, is likely waiting for those traditional parties to demonstrate the effectiveness of their strategy before maintaining their support.
If that does not happen, as appears to be the case so far, it would not be out of the question for the real powers to then opt to search for candidates of the so-called ‘centre’ (something which is not at all difficult) and in that way try to prevent a popular triumph at the ballot box next year.
The current panorama is the most complex that Colombia has faced for many decades and if the system’s traditional formulas do not work it is not impossible that the militarisation decreed by Duque in part of the national territory (the areas where the opposition movement is strongest) is extended to the entire country and that the ideal conditions for manipulating the forthcoming election are assured; it would not be the first time it has happened.
There exists a factor of great importance that must not be overlooked: Washington.
So far there have only been formal expressions of support for Duque but more than a few official voices there are showing their disagreement with the way Bogota is managing the crisis.
Senior officials in the Biden administration have expressed their desire for dialogue to be front and centre; over fifty parliamentarians have asked their government to demand that Bogota puts an end to the most brutal forms of the repression and seeks agreements with the opposition.
The unions’ national federation has sent the federal government a demand in the same vein and even large media groups, without any leftist tendency, have noted Colombia’s situation in their editorials as something that calls into question the traditional description of this country as a democracy.
This factor is of great relevance given Colombia’s role in the regional strategy of the United States with its military bases, its hundreds (if not thousands) of officers and soldiers who act with practically no oversight by the local authorities, the undefined number of foreign mercenaries in the service of the Pentagon and naturally the DEA, which plays a key role in the so-called “war on drugs” and which is also not overseen by the local authorities.
Equally significant is the high percentage of Colombian officers who receive military training in the United States compared to the rest of the continent; in fact, they do not seem discomfited at having been turned into a sort of extension of the United States armed forces in the region.
In the case of Colombia, Washington is not trying to claim any natural resources of special interest as happens with Venezuela’s oil, but it is trying to use the country as a military strike base in a possible attack on Caracas. Mr Trump announced it in his time and Biden has not yet ruled it out.
It would not be the first time, either. It happened in the Korean War; Colombia was the only country in the region that accompanied the gringos in that military adventure.