During the last month, Colombia has experienced moments of great hope, but also of great sadness and uncertainty: on the one hand, the greatest mobilization in the recent history of the country and, on the other hand, a unprecedented state repression.
The first mobilizations were organized to demand the dismantling of the reforms with a neoliberal profile that the government had proposed, such as tax and health reform – both fallen – and the demand for a universal basic income. These mobilizations sparked a violent reaction from the police, which led to demands for reform of the institution itself.
All this resulted in a governance crisis, with the resignation of three ministers (Finance, Foreign Affairs and the Peace Commissioner) in a few days and the withdrawal of Colombia by the Conmebol from the organization of the Copa América. , which was scheduled for June. .
Over the past month, in 763 municipalities – nearly 70% of the territory – there have been massive collective actions, according to the Defense Ministry. From massive national-level marches, local-level meetings and artistic interventions, to the creation of so-called points of resistance in which the community took to the streets of the neighborhood.
The working class gathered around the National Strike Committee, but there were also feminist movements, students, indigenous movements, Afro-descendants, peasants, taxi drivers, peasant organizations and landowners. small cargo trucks, blocking major highways. But it is the urban youth who have become the protagonists of the mobilizations.
At night, however, police and paramilitary violence takes over. Important military operations have invaded the roads and neighborhoods of Bogotá and especially Cali. So far, there have been 51 murders, 43 of which are believed to be due to police violence, according to the NGO Temblores.
Why a social explosion? What is behind the repression of the Colombian state? In an attempt to explain the situation, we present three hypotheses.
The uribism crisis
Uribism is a political project that emerged in the department of Antioquia in 1995 with the government of Ilvaro Uribe and was consolidated in 2002 with his election to the presidency of the country. Since then, Uribismo has participated in nine national elections and has lost only once, in the re-election of Juan Manuel Santos in 2014. However, in recent years this project has entered a social and political crisis.
The social policies implemented by the government of Iván Duque reduced poverty from 35.2% in 2017 to 42.5% in 2020, according to the National Administrative Department of Statistics (DANE), which implied a decline of ten years in poverty reduction.
This situation was compounded by the scarcity of policies to mitigate the effects of the pandemic lockdown, which focused on some subsidies for the popular classes and the creation of loan funds, but did not take into account the job protection or basic income generation for the most part. affected sectors. Added to this was an ineffective vaccination plan that ended up sowing despair and despair among the population.
On the other hand, there has been a political collapse of Uribism. The discourse that articulated society around a scenario of friends and enemies of the homeland in a context of war like that which Colombia experienced in its first governments lost its cohesion after the signing of the peace agreement in 2016 and the disarmament of more than 13,000 ex-guerrillas of extinct FARC.
This crisis was reflected in the ballot boxes of the 2022 presidential election, where, even before the social explosion, the left-wing candidate had 38.3% of the vote, while the candidate of the Uribist coalition, which he led, was only 11.8%. The unfavorable image of his political reference, former president Álvaro Uribe, was 66%.
A successful mobilization cycle
The demonstrations are part of a cycle of mobilizations that began in 2011 with university demonstrations. This was followed by the agrarian strike in 2013, indigenous Mingas throughout the decade, and further academic mobilizations in 2018.
November 21, 2019, when millions of people, mainly young college students and the middle classes, took to the streets, was the prelude to the current social explosion.
The start of this cycle coincides with the start of peace negotiations in 2012, which implied a democratic opening. The increase in mobilizations strengthened the various social movements that were building more defined agendas.
But in the absence of answers, the social actors saw in the strike an opportunity to pressure the government to comply with certain demands rejected for nearly a decade.
Social conflicts are not wars
Until 2016, police violence against demonstrators was overshadowed by the dynamics of the military confrontation with the guerrillas. But since the signing of the peace agreement, this has become visible. The Armed Forces, and in particular the police, which depend on the Ministry of Defense, maintain, despite the peace agreement, the doctrine of national security based on the doctrine of the internal enemy.
In the current situation, the police repression is undeniable, as denounced by organizations such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and the United Nations. But repression is not an accident; it is the doctrine of Uribism. A segment of the population – the poorest – is harshly repressed in order to provoke a violent confrontation and justify more exceptional measures.
In this context, repression comprises two mechanisms, one in the field of direct violence, which involves the elimination of neighborhood points of resistance and roadblocks, and the second in the field of information.
The massive dissemination of content showing the implementation of this violence is a strategy to generate collective panic and demobilize the middle class and the central sectors that initially joined the strike. This explains the repression in working-class neighborhoods but not in middle-class neighborhoods.
In the city of Cali, after the crackdown, public forces withdrew from various neighborhoods, resulting in widespread looting of commercial facilities. Suddenly, the neighbors asked the residents to organize themselves to defend themselves against the “vandals”.
The incitement to the use of violence among civilians was premeditated and materialized by social networks, WhatsApp groups, media and demonstrations by opinion leaders of Uribismo.
In conclusion, the repression not only seeks to contain the protest, but is an attempt by Uribism to revive its narrative. Images of war, the language of war and the escalation of confrontation serve to reinforce the idea that the state is not facing a social protest, but a “terrorist” threat. The use of propaganda is the way to keep the country in a state of war, even if the war is already over.
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