We who are involved in U.S. popular movements must recognize the links we have with Colombian protesters. Our own taxes support repression in Colombia. More importantly, our struggles for labor rights and peace, and against violent police repression, are intimately and intricately linked.
Today, November 19, 2020, under the direction of the Confederations of the Workers Unions and the Confederations of Retirees, the Colombian people are holding a National Strike with mobilizations in Bogotá, and the capitals and municipalities of the country. Among the objectives of the strike are:
- Life and Peace – an end to the killings of social leaders and the repression of popular movements, fulfillment of the peace accords;
- Democracy – Respect for civil liberties and the right to protest, independence of the judiciary;
- Repeal of Decree 1174 and negotiation of the Emergency Document – The Emergency Document contains points related to the defense of sovereignty and national food security, compliance with the agreements signed with Fecode (Colombian Federation of Teachers), the defense of employment and basic income. President Duque has refused to negotiate.
Saturday marks the anniversary of last year’s National Strike that lasted for weeks, and turned out hundreds of thousands of people across Colombia in the largest demonstrations since the 1970s. The protests were violently repressed by Colombia’s Armed Forces, and especially by the ESMAD riot police, who were co-created by the U.S. government through Plan Colombia, and who receive U.S. weapons and training. Since last years mobilizations, the National Strike committee has stayed together, and there have been a series of subsequent national strikes and other activities in support of the demands. The response of the Colombian government has been to refuse to negotiate in good faith while labor rights continue to be abrogated, the peace process languishes, and killings of social movement leaders soar. Meanwhile, the White House has advocated against key components of Colombia’s peace accords, and the U.S. Congress, with ample support on both sides of the aisle, passed the highest military and security aid package to Colombia in nine years.
We are especially concerned about the safety of today’s participants in the strike. A little over two months ago, ESMAD and Colombian police massacred 13 people in one day who were protesting police brutality and the beating death of Javier Ordoñez for a curfew violation. ESMAD forces are currently attacking rural protesters in the Department of Putumayo. Yesterday, just in time for today’s National Strike, the Tribunal of Bogotá revoked a ban on the use of tear gas against public demonstrations. We support the calls of Colombian popular movements to disband ESMAD and we call on the U.S. government to end all funding, training, and arms sales for ESMAD.