On September 16th, only one month after Uribe Velez took office, over 800,000 people protested the Uribe governmentâ€™s policies of war and repression throughout Colombia. When the national mobilization was mentioned publicly, the minister of defense, Martha Ramirez, said that the guerillas were behind the mobilization and threatened numerous repercussions for those who participated. Despite this climate of state intimidation, the Colombian popular movement took to the streets in an impressive demonstration against the Uribe government and United States support for his policies, both financially and politically.
The day after the march the Colombian press and Uribe government was intent on downplaying the importance of this huge national mobilization. The press described the day as one without much turmoil, even though the state forces attacked numerous marches and arbitrarily detained and beat protesters throughout the nation while paramilitaries threatened campesinos in at least two departments. But what really happened? A strong popular movement demanding peace with social justice encountered repression imposed by a corrupt government directly supported by the United States government, economically militarily and politically.
The national mobilization was a conglomeration of different sectors of society, primarily workers, campesinos and youth. Each took action with a set of demands that spoke to their particular needs. Workers demanded the elimination of three economic reforms currently in Congress that set the stage for union-breaking, end pension privileges, increase the age for receiving pensions and eliminate government jobs. The campesinos demanded a repeal of the agrarian reform, which is not a reform but a continuation of the neoliberal policies that take land from the campesinos. And the youth demanded the right to state public education on all levels and the right to political and public participation in the practices of the State. Even though each had separate demands they supported the demands of the other sectors. Workers, campesinos, youth, and many others marched united under three main demands: against Uribeâ€™s plans of war and repression, which creates the conditions for fascism; for a politically negotiated solution to the armed conflict, not an expansion of war; and against all forms of U.S. intervention in Colombia, whether it be economic, military, or political.
Despite the strength of this popular movement, the justice of their demands, and the democratic and peaceful nature of their protest, the Uribe government carried out its threats of repression. In Bogota, more than 3,000 youth from all over Colombia marched from the National University to join unionists and campesinos in a march to the Plaza de Bolivar where more than 60,000 people gathered. They encountered continual state intimidation and police repression. Despite the peaceful nature of the protest, at least 70 protesters were arbitrarily detained and beaten. The police shot canisters of tear gas at the youth march twice and tried to split the joint march, unsuccessfully. In Bucaramanga 15,000 protesters took to the streets and over 300 campesinos took over INCORA, the Colombian Institute for Agrarian Reform. In the department of Tolima, 5,000 people blocked the roads. In the same department, the military raided a gathering of campesinos preparing to march to the blockade, stole all their food and arrested twelve people. In Cauca, paramilitaries stopped campesinos from demonstrating in the municipalities of La Vega, Argelia, Balboa, Corinto, Peindemo, and El Tambo with threats of death. In Caldas, 90 families from the indigenous communities were detained by the army for merely attempting to join the demonstrations there. These measures, of which the above are only examples, show that the Uribe government intends to repress the popular movements, which are a just manifestation of the social and economic conditions that his government perpetuates.
Uribeâ€™s policies of war and repression are only possible because of the billions of dollars that the United States has given to the Colombian government, furnishing it with the weapons it uses to repress anyone who speaks out for a more just society. Since the United States increased its military aid to Colombia in 1998, war and repression in Colombia have expanded greatly. In 1998, the Colombian military was a poorly trained conscript force that was underequipped and ineffective. After 2 billion dollars in mostly military aid from the United States, the Colombian military now has a trained force of 50,000 paid soldiers, fleets of U.S. made helicopters and advanced intelligence and combat equipment. The connection between the military and the national police is much stronger in Colombia than in the United States. The aid the United States government had given to Colombia has gone to both forces, which participated directly in the repression of the national mobilization on September 16th. This repression is not limited to that day but is common practice for both the national police and military and their paramilitary allies.
Because of the direct connection between U.S. tax dollars and the Colombian government´s widespread repression of movements calling for peace with social justice, it is imperative that people in the United States take responsibility for supporting the Colombian peoples right to self determination and demanding an end to all forms of U.S. intervention in Colombia.
Nathalie Alsop and Ramon Acevedo are members of the Committee for a New Colombia