The social explosion that has raged in Colombia for more than a month is part of a moment of change in the political cycle that began with the signing of the Peace Agreement with the FARC-EP in November 2016.
And not because this type of protest and its political significance have something to do directly with what the guerrillas are getting into. On the contrary, because its demobilization opens a window of opportunity, on the one hand, for social protest and, on the other hand, for the left in general.
According to the thesis of the famous French sociologist Daniel Pécaut, in Colombia, for decades, the social dialogue with the government was largely patrimonialized by the guerrillas. This reduced the possibilities for social mobilization outside of the armed conflict program.
In other words, without the guerrillas in the middle, a good part of the demands, unresolved and unfulfilled for decades, have found another scenario of problematization, visibility and politicization.
On the other hand, also for decades, the scaffolding of political parties gravitated mainly around the security / peace axis. As might be expected, and in addition to the difficulties hampering the implementation of the Peace Agreement, this opens up a very different space for political dispute.
In other words, issues such as education, health, housing and working conditions, long relegated to the background, have become politically central.
This leads to a left-right axis in the political contestation, which translates, for example, in that Gustavo Petro obtains the best result of the Colombian left in the presidential elections of 2018. This is because he is again the candidate with the greatest political support. – electoral.
In this context of changing cycles, the role of security forces and the very notion of social conflict must also be profoundly transformed. For the most recalcitrant political establishment, of which Uibism is a part, citizen protest has always been synonymous with violence.
This simplicity, which is no accident, in reality means the outright rejection of one of the rights that underpin democracy. In other words, you are not negotiating with violent people. Violent people are repressed. And, consequently, it reinforces the idea of a democracy whose foundation of rights, freedoms and guarantees is understood in terms of concession, but not of conquest.
More than a month of protests have also left images in oblivion. Police brigades who sometimes act more like contract killers than as guarantors of public order, arbitrarily shooting at citizens.
Likewise, “good people” who, armed, also came out to violently repel the demonstrations, imposing a sort of parapolice logic in force in Colombia for nearly three decades.
Moreover, the obscurantism of numbers cannot be ignored. At the beginning, there was already talk of more than thirty dead and a thousand injured. Weeks later, the tracking and transparency of the numbers is evident in their absence. In fact, some organizations that monitor social unrest are already reporting as many as 60 deaths, although the attorney general’s office reports 130 disappearances.
With abuse and disinformation everywhere, in any democratic country, in addition to the resignation of the Minister of Defense and much of the military and police leadership, they would immediately think of a profound transformation of the forces of security.
In any case, this social explosion risks being extinguished with more pain than glory. Firstly because of the growing media coverage that associates protest with vandalism – which is typical of the discrediting of any citizen mobilization – but also because of the need to show some kind of progress after a month of citizen strike. Indeed, this weekend there were massive mobilizations in favor of the release produced by the protest.
The social explosion must be endowed with formal elements that channel the feeling of being fed up with government in the form of clearly identified actors. It needs a roadmap and a well-defined agenda based on a legitimate and representative dialogue that succeeds in establishing cooperative exchange mechanisms that are mutually favorable to the parties. Concretely, it must be clearly defined on the side of the citizen who negotiates what, in whose name and for what purpose.
Perhaps the above should be done, in addition, without a short term. This government is taking its last breath and in 2022 a new Executive will arrive, far from Uribism, which must imperatively integrate a good part of these demands into its political agenda.
It is therefore important to avoid rushing and understanding that the time has come for far-reaching structural reforms and not for the specific concessions that are part of the current situation.
In conclusion, we are at a turning point for Colombian democracy. A point that requires institutional commitments and a mature political culture that can redefine a social contract that, in Colombia, for decades, was conceived as a minimal instrument at the service of certain political elites. An elite which, with a few honorable exceptions, was characterized mainly by not meeting the needs of its society.
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