Facebook Instagram Twitter YouTube

Protests in Colombia Spur Government to Hunt Down Youth

In the aftermath of the 2021 “National Strike” in Colombia, the Duque government is treating youth like terrorists and has launched a series of murders, disappearances, and prosecutions.

Begonia D

December 31, 2021
Facebook Twitter Share

Without a doubt, youth were the most significant force in the 2021 protests that swept Colombia. That explains why they are now the focus of repression by the government of President Iván Duque. Young people who protest in the streets are called vandals, terrorists, and guerrillas, and then they are brought to court, where the prosecutors and judges declare them a “menace to society.”

Young people who were on the front lines in Bogotá, Cali, Medellín, and Paipa have been taken into custody, even when a judge authorizes house arrest the Attorney General’s office rejects it. They have been charged with violence against a public servant, instigation to commit a crime for terrorist purposes, damage to the property of others, disruption of public transportation, throwing dangerous objects, and attempted murder.

In many cases, prosecutors have sought sentences exceeding 20 years in prison — essentially a living death sentence for these young people. Many of these young people have no defense attorneys other than those assigned by the court or family services.

Meanwhile, as young people are being labeled as terrorists, prosecuted, and given long prison sentences with no right to parole, the Attorney General’s office, Ombudsman’s office, and judges co-opted by the Duque government have all been working to hide the numbers of murders, disappearances, rapes, and all kinds of crimes committed against protesters, throughout the National Strike, by the police and the Mobile Anti-Disturbance Squadron (ESMAD). As the Institute for Development and Peace Studies (INDEPAZ) has stated, “The government and the Attorney General’s office want to limit the homicide cases to those with incontrovertible evidence in the midst of the demonstrations.” 

According to the Temblores NGO, 2,005 demonstrators have been arbitrarily detained.

All of this reveals the Duque government’s repression against the just demands of impoverished people who lack rights to healthcare, education, public services, work, and decent housing. Some 93 people are still missing, and the police and ESMAD killed 75 during the two-month period of the National Strike. The government stands for protecting the police while prosecuting, killing, and disappearing demonstrators.

Returning to the figures from Temblores regarding the National Strike, there have been 4,687 cases of police violence; 1,617 cases of physical abuse by the police; 82 victims who had an eye shot out; and 28 victims of sexual violence by members of the police. In addition, Temblores reports 228 cases of protesters being wounded with live ammunition; 48 cases of ongoing respiratory ailments from tear gas; and 784 violent interventions overall by security forces.

The government has taken further steps to criminalize protest, including the passage by the Senate on December 22 of a Citizen Security law introduced by the Ministries of Justice, Interior, and Defense. Since June, the Duque government had been trying to “regulate social protest” through this bill. Its provisions include toughening the penalties for hiding one’s face or otherwise hindering facial recognition, as well as for assaulting or killing members of the police force. It also legalizes certain methods of defending private property.

Iván Cepeda, a member of the Senate from the Polo Democrático party, described the law this way to the Colombian newspaper El Espectador:

It includes several provisions that affect the right of assembly and association … The bill spells out social protest as the origin of insecurity. It focuses on increasing the penalties for activities related to protest and strengthens self-defense actions under the concept of ‘privileged self-defense’ that recalls the strategies of the convivir [neighborhood vigilante watch groups] that were the legal prelude to paramilitarism.

It is common knowledge that passage of the law was rushed through with pressure from the president’s office. The opposition did not vote for it. As Senator Aida Avella of the opposition party Unión Patriótica put it in a tweet, “Three ministers, of Justice, Interior, and Defense, are the authors of the bill, which they call ‘strengthening citizen security’ — violating various articles of the National Constitution.”

It is also believed that the law was pushed through in consideration of potential fraud in next year’s elections for Congress, Senate, and the presidency, and in anticipation of the protests that could occur — given that the right-wing parties are at a low in popularity right now and so-called progressives are likely to win.

Considering all of the repressive and unpopular policies of the Duque government, it has become essential to organize independently of the bosses’ parties, as well as of the center-left and progressive parties — which while denouncing the current situation stop far short of calling for confronting it in the streets. It is also essential to organize independently of the union leaderships that put the brakes on this year’s protests, refusing to call workers’ assemblies in which a real plan of struggle could be spelled out for defeating Duque’s entire right-wing program.

In the face of the government offensive, it is vital to mobilize not only young people, but also workers, indigenous peoples, and peasants to wage a struggle that confronts and defeats the Duque government and the entire right wing.

First published in Spanish on December 31 in La Izquierda Diario.

Translation by Scott Cooper

Facebook Twitter Share

Latin America

Students at UNAM in Mexico raise the Palestinian flag in front of the university in May 2024.

“There Are No Separate Fights”: Interview with a Mexican Student at the UNAM Encampment for Gaza

We interviewed a participant of the student encampment for Gaza at the National Autonomous University of Mexico about democratic assemblies, anti-imperialism, and how Mexican workers and students are fighting to free Palestine.

Samuel Karlin

May 9, 2024

Argentina’s Far-Right President is Once Again Advancing Legislative Attacks on Workers

After a setback in February, Javier Milei, the far-right president of Argentina, is once again pushing a set of laws that would hurt workers. The union bureaucracies and center left parties are containing the ability of the working class to fight back.

Samuel Karlin

May 4, 2024

‘You Have to Change Things from the Root’: Interview With a Young Immigrant

Left Voice interviewed a 23-year-old immigrant, factory worker, and student, who told us about his experience crossing the border from Mexico to the U.S. and about the life of Latin American youth in the United States.

Left Voice

April 5, 2024
A square in Argentina is full of protesters holding red banners

48 Years After the Military Coup, Tens of Thousands in Argentina Take to the Streets Against Denialism and the Far Right

Tens of thousands of people took to the streets across Argentina on March 24 to demand justice for the victims of the state and the military dictatorship of 1976. This year, the annual march had renewed significance, defying the far-right government’s denialism and attacks against the working class and poor.

Madeleine Freeman

March 25, 2024

MOST RECENT

A group of masked protesters gather around a chair where a protester stands with a megaphone

What the Movement for Palestine Can Learn from the Rutgers Encampment Deal

The Gaza solidarity encampment at Rutgers New Brunswick ended in a deal between the administration and a negotiations team at the camp. It’s been a highly controversial decision. The experience at Rutgers shows the need for a truly democratic, bottom-up fight for Palestine.

Jason Koslowski

May 17, 2024

Victory for the UAW at Volkswagen Plant in Chattanooga Represents a Potential Turning Point for Labor

Following a year of strong union struggles, a Volkswagen plant in Tennessee has voted to unionize with the UAW. This victory, in the traditionally anti-union South, shows that the terrain of labor struggle in the U.S. is shifting.

Joey Eichler

May 17, 2024
Pro-Palestine encampment at UCLA in May, 2024.

“The Working Class has the Power to Stop this Genocide”: Interview with a UAW 4811 Rank and Filer

On Thursday May 15, 48,000 UAW Academic workers voted to authorize a strike, the largest academic workers union in the country to do so. Left Voice interviewed UAW 4811 member Peter Ross about what sparked this historic vote, and the labor movement’s fight for Palestine

Julia Wallace

May 16, 2024
A rally in Brooklyn, people hold up UAW signs

University of California Academic Workers Authorize Strike to Defend the Right to Protest

48,000 workers are one step closer to going on strike to demand that charges and academic sanctions be dropped for the students and faculty who protest the genocide in Palestine and UC’s financial and academic ties to Israel.

Madeleine Freeman

May 16, 2024