Uribism has no articulated doctrine. However, as a “narrow ideology” it is a rambling corpus of subjects or clichés, simple but effective, the periphery of which contains elements such as nationalism or “gender ideology”, but whose core is generally stable: a very elastic anti-communism linked to the identification of all opposition and protest as a serious threat to “institutional stability”.
It is therefore not surprising that since a new round of protests began on April 28, Uribismo has tried to subsume it under the rubric of vandalism. Most of the mainstream media have served as a megaphone. Thus, as befits your favorite slogan – “lead is what is, lead is what is coming” – puts the mobilizations on the side of illegality and, therefore, legitimizes its treatment as a question. public order. Moreover, it is, as a puppeteer, Gustavo Petro, one of the leaders of the legal political opposition, to end up transforming him into a leader of thieves and “stone-throwing” militiamen.
A pro-Uribe blogger spoke of how “petrists ransacked Éxito (retail store) in Cali” and other co-supporters spoke of the so-called “petrist collectives” involved in the vandalism. The goal is, in the end, to create a synonym between “left”, protest and delinquency, then to be able to respond en bloc by repression. The authoritarian nature of this project could not be more obvious.
The script is repeated without much variation. After a day of protests, prosecutor Barbosa gave a press conference during which he announced the arrest of several members of subversive cells dedicated to “urban terrorism”. On the night of May 1, President Duque announced “military assistance” that will be provided by the army in towns to “protect the population”. Meanwhile, Uribe, the eternal president, promoted on his Twitter account – later blocked for inciting violence – the “right” of the security forces to shoot “vandal terrorism”.
The National Police and the ESMAD – Mobile Squad – Anti-Troubles as part of it, did not hesitate to take Uribe’s warnings seriously and, as on other occasions, used disproportionate force. and arbitrary. On social media, images of police firing savagely – and not exactly with rubber bullets – are circulating on protesters, as happened during the 2020 protests in Bogotá after the murder of Javier Ordoñez at the hands of the police . This same scenario, unfortunately, repeats itself. On the night of April 30, for example, police violently attacked protesters in Cali and, in events yet to be clarified, between 6 and 14 civilians were killed.
The marches were accompanied by criminal acts and, for many, supporters of the right or not, this justifies the reaction of the security forces. There is no doubt that public and private property has been attacked against them. The public transport system in Cali and Bogotá has been one of the most violated. And while the marches sang slogans against the defunct tax reform, in some places people ran out of a supermarket with a Smart TV, new shoes, or bags of beans or rice.
Damage to public and private property and theft are certainly crimes. The question, however, is not only whether the way to deal with them is to shoot someone who may or might be involved in them, as Uribe suggests, but whether their illegality is enough to reduce him to this category. I note two elements in this regard.
First, the destruction of private and public property has not been indiscriminate. The highly unpopular public transport networks of Bogotá and Cali, on the one hand, and banks, on the other, were the prime targets of the attacks. It is not a coincidence either. Colombian banks, or rather their owners, are seen as the beneficiaries of failed tax reform and, in general, favors from the national government. The destruction of the bank’s headquarters is indeed a crime, but with simultaneous political intent.
Second, the systematic mistreatment of protesters, the response to their demands through the militarization of towns, tear gas and, in some cases, the killing of protesters, is an aggravating factor in addition to an aggravating factor. The management of public order by governments is not extrinsic to the dynamics and level of escalation of a demonstration. It is, on the contrary, a constitutive moment of its evolution and, because of the persistence of memory, the evolution of future protests.
It is no accident that the police are seen by many as a threat or an enemy. Apart from events such as the death of Dilan Cruz, during the protests against Duke in 2019, the treatment of the police and, in particular, squads such as ESMAD towards young people has been particularly aggressive. Complaints abound and it is no coincidence that the student movement, along with many other civil organizations, has repeatedly expressed support for its dismantling.
In these words, when in scenarios of confrontation with the public forces, like the recent ones, attacks against the police officers occur – some serious, like those which occurred on the night of May 4 in Bogotá – it is not a question of ‘an attack by “vandals” hostile to the “heroes of the fatherland”. It is a violent response to violent law and order policies. The tax reform was a “moral shock” which caused a fire, but the police-military treatment of the situation is a “procedural aggravating factor” which made it a fire. It is a spontaneous response, in most cases poorly articulated with ideological content, but, in any case, endowed with political connotations.
If there is one thing that characterizes the contestation scenarios, it is that in them, like the carnival, there is a temporary suspension of certain rules and the regular functioning of the institutions. In the troubled river of mobilization, thousands of citizens who have had enough of this government, who act spontaneously – and not moved by a hand that manipulates them like puppets – with legal and illegal organizations interested in weakening the government and with several grays between political action and purely criminal behavior.
Being aware of the political dimension of certain illegalities is not to make a hero of a television thief or someone who stones the police. However, contrary to the interest of Uribism to assimilate all this rich turbulence to its dimensions of vandalism, it must be understood that political action evolves in gray areas between legality and illegality and that the limits of legality – understood here like respect for private property, public goods and public force – do not always coincide with the limits of political action.
Some create bombs and are surprised, with cynical indignation, when they explode in their hands.