Colombia

People Take Action in Defence of Their Rights and Against State Terror


Youth on the streets of Bogotá protesting state terror and impunity, September 11, 2020.

On September 7, after a hiatus of several months and with the COVID-19 pandemic still a very real threat -- Colombia has the sixth highest number of cases worldwide -- members of unions and other social movements drove through the streets of Bogotá in a caravan for life. The caravan protested the Duque government's anti-worker labour and pension reforms and other punishing austerity measures. Millions of workers have been left destitute and abandoned, without protection from the effects of the pandemic and its attendant economic crisis.

Other demands of the caravan were that the state take action to stop what have become almost daily massacres of social leaders and former guerrilla members by paramilitary death squads, and in some cases by known or suspected government security forces, and that the government implement the peace accords instead of sabotaging them. As of September 9, it is reported that 218 persons were killed in 55 massacres since the beginning of this year. The gruesome record since the signing of the Peace Agreement between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and the Colombian state in 2016 is 240 unarmed former guerrillas and 1,000 social leaders killed in targeted assassinations.

The demand for the government to stop the massacres took on a whole new dimension two days after the caravan. Early on September 9, Javier Ordóñez, a 46-year-old engineer who was finishing a law degree and drove taxi to support his family, was for unknown reasons tasered multiple times and forcefully pinned down in the street by police as he pleaded, "Please, no more!" All of it was captured on video. Mr. Ordóñez was then taken to a police station where he was further tortured and beaten to death. Many have likened his brutal killing to that of George Floyd in the U.S. The reaction to his death was similar as well. Large numbers of outraged youth took to the streets, demanding an end to police brutality and for Javier Ordóñez's killers to be brought to justice. Demonstrations have been taking place in Bogotá as well as Medellín, Cali, Manizales, Armenia, Pereira and other cities. A number of buses and several police stations known as Centres for Immediate Attention were burned in Bogotá.

In less than two days of protests 13 more people were killed, the vast majority in their teens and twenties, shot by police in Bogotá and the nearby municipality of Soacha. Over 200 have been reported injured, with some estimates as high as 400, many with gunshot wounds. More than 100 have been detained. People's social media accounts quickly filled with videos of police shooting demonstrators as well as random people as they fired indiscriminately into the crowd. At times men in civilian clothes, some wearing hoods, can be seen shooting alongside the police and generally terrorizing neighbourhoods. While some protesters threw rocks at police, police were seen throwing rocks to smash the windows of people's apartments in targeted neighbourhoods.

In light of the most recent events, as well as the ongoing serious crisis gripping the country, there are calls for mass mobilizations. There is every indication that in spite of the difficult conditions -- COVID-19 still far from controlled, a severe economic crisis, and a long history of the use of state terror to drown in blood the striving of the people for freedom, democracy and peace -- the Colombian people will rise to the occasion. Family members and friends of those killed and injured, political personalities and organizations and many others are speaking out, denouncing the police and the government, demanding to know who gave the orders to shoot, and that those responsible at the highest levels be held to account. The youth in particular have shown they are in no mood to submit and continue to courageously demonstrate, knowing they do so at the risk of their lives.

On September 11 a large group of young people took over and transformed the space around a burned-out police station in one neighbourhood into a space for art and culture. In the ruins of a station that for some had served as a torture centre, they engaged in performances of different types and set up an outdoor "public library" full of books. They said they did so to pay homage to those whose lives were taken in the previous two days of police terror and as a way to show what it is the youth, who the president of Colombia, his Defence Minister and others of their ilk call "vandals," are fighting for.


Youth turn space around a burned-out police station into a place of culture and art.

(El Tiempo, teleSUR. Photos: Colectivo De Abrrogados, H.S. Barreto)


This article was published in

Volume 50 Number 34 - September 12, 2020

Article Link:
Colombia: People Take Action in Defence of Their Rights and Against State Terror


    

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