For more than a month, there have been demonstrations in the streets of Colombia. The protest began against a tax reform bill, which the government ultimately abandoned. Then she continued, bringing together different banners: more jobs, more government aid to deal with the impact of the pandemic, the end of police violence, economic improvements, the end of discrimination against minorities, among others. . The wave has no end date. After all, at the moment the government is negotiating badly and with the wrong actors. Its meetings, during which no agreement has been reached so far, are held with a “national strike committee”, made up of unionized workers. That is to say by people who represent only a small part of the demonstrators. The bulk of those on the streets are unemployed, students, that is to say people outside the trade union system.
As the Colombian dilemma endures, the blog brings together some of the main movements that have filled the streets of the country during its recent history and which deserve to be known to help shed light on the present moment.
When the streets toppled a president for the first time
In 1909, the country was ruled by a soldier, General Rafael Reyes (1849-1921), who hunted down opponents, opposed the independence of Panama and showed his intention to remain in power. On March 13 of that year, thousands of people took to the streets of Bogotá to demand his resignation. The repression was great, there were clashes, arrests and deaths. Reyes then declared a state of siege. But the population did not obey and the demonstrators continued in the streets despite the bans. Reyes ultimately resigned.
A massacre immortalized by Gabo
In 1928, workers at the American United Fruit Company came together to demand better wages and labor rights. The company asked for help from the government, which in turn feared the protest would turn into a communist revolution. The army was dispatched to the La Ciénaga region, the epicenter of the protests, and opened fire on the strikers. Historians differ on the death toll, but there are talks in the thousands. In “One hundred years of solitude”, the famous “banana tree massacre” appears, in a literary treatment which gives the colors of the tragedy which affected the region.
In 1948, the country was polarized between liberals and conservatives. The leader of the liberals, Jorge Eliecer Gaitán, very popular and defender of workers’ causes, was assassinated at close range in central Bogotá. Unbridled violence broke out. To this day, no one is sure who ordered the murder of Gaitán, who had presidential ambitions. The assassin was killed instantly and dragged by harmonica players through the streets of the city. The demonstrations of violence continued for months and part of the city was completely destroyed.
When the streets toppled a president for the second time
Colombia lived a dictatorship between 1953 and 1957, commanded by Gustavo Rojas Pinilla (1953-1957). At the time, there was the persecution of opponents and freedom of the press. The students were the protagonists of the first demonstrations, which ended in violence, with the deaths of 10 civilians. The dead revolted the population, which reinforced the demonstrations thereafter. Rojas Pinilla responded with arrests and censorship of major newspapers. He began to rule in an increasingly authoritarian manner. In May 1957, crowds took to the streets again, during the so-called May days. On May 10, Rojas Pinilla resigned and went into exile.
Most of the Colombian unions gathered on September 14, 1977 at various points in Bogotá, where roadblocks were set up, tires and cars were set on fire. The crowd complained about the serious economic crisis the country was going through. Inflation was high and the increases for workers were not enough to pay their expenses. Among those who marched were industrial workers, professors and university students. Shops and supermarkets were looted and the death toll left over 20 people dead. Hundreds of people were arrested and, as the movement in the police stations was huge, they ended up being taken to El Campín football stadium and even to Plaza de Toros. In the end, there was an agreement to increase the minimum wage, which gradually dissolved the protests, after a few weeks.