Privatizing EMCALI

Internationalists and activists will remember with pride the heroic 36- day occupation carried out by public service workers in Cali, Colombia against the privatisation of EMCALI. One year after the agreement signed by the Colombian government and the local community, the threat of privatisation has returned with the passing of Resolution 000141, which has removed any doubt from the minds of SINTRAEMCALI that the government is going to fulfil its legal obligations.

There only possibility now is to try, by all means necessary, to force compliance through social struggle, and they are ready to do it. This does not mean that the 36 day occupation failed, it has achieved a great deal: there were no price increases last year of basic public services, and the company remains in the hands of the state – without the occupation this would not be the case. But it does reflect a sad reality, that those who make the laws in this world of ours are normally reluctant to follow them when they go against their interests.

Five months into the Uribe government and the conditions under which this new battle will be fought are different. The ‘Estado de conmocion’ (a type of ‘State of Emergency’) signifies that a new occupation would represent an act of terrorism, and is likely to be dealt with accordingly. Mobilisations and social protest have been severely curbed, and the economic situation in the city is much worse for the vast majority of people trying to survive in subhuman conditions under a state that long ago gave up any pretence of responsibility to the mass of its citizens. Busily strengthening the army and recruiting a one million-person network of informants to fight ‘terrorism’, the Uribe government is gearing up for a war that outside of Colombia is often misunderstood. From a war on drugs to a war on terror the US/Colombian propaganda strategy has been based on lies and deception, and this has been projected both internally and externally. The truth is that this is a social war, of rich against poor, and despite attempts to hide this many people across the world are slowly waking up to this reality.

Colombia remains a vital piece in a neo-liberal jigsaw which is slowly being unravelled across the continent by ordinary people rising up and resisting: in Brazil, Argentina, Ecuador, Venezuela, Bolivia, and many more countries and regions the rhetoric is wearing thin, and the gloves are off. Neoliberalism, as a political/economic/social model is aimed at the mass transfer of wealth from poor countries and poor people in rich countries, to rich countries and rich people in poor countries. The massive regional growth in inequality and the gap between Latin American Countries and the wealthy North bear testimony to this assertion.

Neoliberalism is not a term used by those carrying out the policies these days, but the politics remains the same. The new Colombian government, with its own brand of authoritarian neoliberalism, uses a language to explain its policies that could have been drawn directly from George Orwell’s doublespeak glossary at the end of his classic novel ‘1984’. Uribe talks of the creation of a ‘Communitarian State’, but the politics of repression that he is applying across the region can only serve to destroy any sense of community that has remained after more than a decade of harsh economic policies which have stripped the state of social functions and left a bureaucratic elite licensed sell off anything that is left, and a military complex armed to quell the inevitable social chaos that has resulted.

EMCALI, is a long awaited jewel in the crown of this strategy, and the governments latest attempt to do this fits in with the new language of his mythical ‘Communitarian state’. This is not a ‘privatisation’ process; this time the company will be ‘socially capitalised’ by raising prices and transferring creditor debt into shares, which would supposedly resolve the fiscal crisis. According to the government this will increase both accountability and transparency. The government’s legal commitment, in the agreement signed last January, to assume responsibility for the financial crisis is nowhere to be seen, nor is the pledge to investigate and prosecute those corrupt politically appointed managers of EMCALI that have bled the company dry for decades. What we are left with is a plan that sounds humanitarian but lacks substance, and just as a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, so a process of privatisation remains a process of privatisation even if you call it a ‘Public Private Partnership’ or a ‘Social Capitalisation Fund’.

The World Bank has been leading the way in this shift of discourse over the last few years, and its major texts are filled with references to ‘social capital’, ‘participation’, ‘transparency’ and ‘democratisation’, but the neoliberal model remains intact, and the recipe much the same as before: selling off state industries, devaluation of currency, reducing tariffs on imports, and floating national currency on world markets at the mercy of powerful investors who can make or break an economy at the click of a mouse. All of this , is of course, backed up through the barrel of a gun, as the looming war in Iraq so clearly highlights.

But before all of this sends us into depression we need to take a look at our own resources, and our own possibilities. Whatever else this horrific economic model has done, one of its side effects is the fact that a growing tide of people across the world are united in opposition, and ready to struggle against a model that we all know is totally unjust. The millions who marched against the war last week are testimony to this phenomenon, and through the spread of communication technology we are able to maintain contact with our brothers and sisters across the world as never before, and take part in their struggles in a range of ways.

If the Cali community and SINTRAEMCALI are to resist Uribe’s latest attempt at privatisation then the collective resources and solidarity of this international movement are absolutely fundamental. For this reason the union, backed by community leaders and the CUT (Colombian equivalent of the TUC) have called for a one week ‘International Public Audience’ in Cali, between the 10th and 16th March (see letter of invitation).

Just as the international solidarity and support provided a cordon of protection and support for the Zapatistas when they threw off the shackles of history in Chiapas, Mexico, so now this movement needs to rally round the Zapatistas of the Colombian trade union movement who, during the next few weeks are about to engage in a battle of similar proportions against the collective power of the Colombian state, the World Bank and the IMF.

Across the world a new militarised phase of the neoliberal globalisation process is underway, attempting to put out the fires that it has fuelled over the last twenty years of antisocial policies, and secure its grip on precious natural resources. We need to turn their war on terror into a war of our own: against greed, oppression, and inequality. Supporting the struggle of SINTRAEMCALI is one concrete way of being part of this war: the only war that is worth fighting for. Mario Novelli SINTRAEMCALI, Human Rights Department




Santiago de Cali, 17th of February 2003

Comrades and friends, we send you warm and fraternal greetings on behalf of the Trade Union of the Municipal Enterprises of Cali, SINTRAEMCALI.

All of you, are important members of the World family that struggles on a daily basis for the integral respect of humanity, and you are witnesses to the lengths that the workers of EMCALI E.I.C.E. have gone to in the aim of searching for permanent solutions to the constant threat of privatisation that EMCALI E.I.C.E. has faced. Likewise you have witnessed the systematic abuse of our social and trade union rights.

The Colombian state via successive administrations has implemented a range of strategies to liquidate our company, change it from being a State Industrial and Commercial Enterprise, and finally to offer this national patrimony of the Colombian people to Multinational capital. With this goal, the government has used all kinds of human rights violations including the violation of the inalienable right to life, death threats, constant persecution, arbitrary detention, attempts at forced disappearances, and most recently, through the use of violence it attempted to sabotage a legitimate and massive action in defence of the company carried out on the 29th of January 2003. On this day, the Public Forces used explosives and tear gas to break up a demonstration of more than six thousand people that was taking place outside the Central Administration, the CAM Tower, to protest against Resolution 000141 issued by the Superintendent of Public Services, which sought to send the company into liquidation.

The Colombian president ALVARO URIBE VELEZ, in his 197 days of government has made four attempts to privatise the company and via his proposal for the ‘Communitarian State’, has attempted to turn EMCALI EICE into a shareholder Society or more recently a proposal to create a ‘Social Capitalisation Fund’ whereby the biggest beneficiaries would be multinational corporations. This plan would detrimentally affect the more than two and a half million Cali citizens, and the fundamental rights of the Colombian people.

Faced with the liquidation and privatisation of EMCALI E.I.C.E, we have pledged to continue our Strategic Plan for the Defence of the Public. For this reason we invite you to participate with us in the “Public Audience against Impunity and the Liquidation of EMCALI E.I.C.E.” which will take place in the city of Santiago de Cali on the 10th to the 16th of March, 2003.

This audience has been given broad support from sister organisations throughout the country, the Central Unitaria de Trabajadores CUT- Nacional, and members of the human rights campaign against privatisation, corruption, and the criminalisation of social protest.

It is now or never, if they privatise EMCALI, they will take the final step towards privatising all public and state enterprises. SINTRAEMCALI has been a protagonist in one of the most courageous struggles taken on by workers across the world against privatisation, globalisation and the submission of the people to an unjust international economic model. For these reason many of our comrades have been assassinated. SINTRAEMCALI has denounced the massive corruption of highly placed members of the government, and local and national politicians. This entire process was made possible by your solidarity, because you have accompanied us in a range of different ways: through international delegations, international delegates who have spent months accompanying us, being present in your countries and acting as overseers and observers of our struggles, sending letters to international organisations that oversee the situation of workers across the world.

We have shared together important triumphs such as the agreement signed with the Colombian government that has allowed us, up to now, to maintain this important resource of the people of the Valle de Cauca and Colombia. For this reason it is crucial for us to have your in attendance at this important Public Audience.

Please send confirmation of attendance, and direct any enquiries to the following fax, telephone and email accounts:

Tel: 005728839613 Fax: 005728891414 Email: ,

A fraternal embrace,

LUIS HERNANDEZ MONROY President Sintraemcali

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