Popular Resistance in the Age of Neoliberal War: The Case of Colombia

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      Since April 28 hundreds of thousands of Colombians have taken to the streets to demand the end to neoliberal reforms, chanting “el pueblo unido jamás será vencido”. Workers, women, students, unionists, pensioners, Indigenous and Afrocolombian campesinos, and youth began the strike in opposition to a regressive tax reform that disproportionately affected the poorest Colombians. Now, a month later their joint call has grown into a generalized rejection of the neoliberal and far-right government of Ivan Duque. His government is polled as the least popular in recent Colombian history, already a low bar for a State that has waged an ongoing war against its people.

      Shortly after the nonviolent protests began, the government tabled the reforms, but both the Finance Minister and Foreign Minister were forced to resign in response to the people’s pressure. The demonstrations rejected them for proposing austerity measures that burden the poor in the midst of a pandemic. This victory was followed by the decades-old government response to resistance: repression, outrageous lies, racist and misogynist violence, and sheer terror. At the marches most carry only instruments and placards, and are met with murderous state forces shooting indiscriminately or targeting community leaders who defend human rights and collective decision-making. In the face of this, the protests have grown stronger in number and location. They are now across the country, proving that the demands are shared by many more than those who can brave the streets.

      The right to protest is denied daily by the militarised forces that are well-equipped with U.S. funding. They shoot from helicopters, motorcycles, and from the massacres, forced disappearances, sexual violence, and real and constant fear. While the state and paramilitary focus their brutality with unprecedented intensity against the people, the protesters focus their demands on an alternative agenda that builds popular power. This agenda emerges out of the most poor sectors, and out of Indigenous and Afro-Colombia whose resistance is over 500 years old.

      It cannot be denied that the resistance is led by the youth. It is mainly impoverished young people from urban peripheries who are the leading force in the “puntos de resistencia” or points of resistance. Although they face the brunt of police terror, and have witnessed the police massacre their community members and forcibly disappear, rape, and torture their neighbours, they refuse to stop organising.

      Jesus: Hey, Dad? God: Yes, Son? Jesus: Western civilization followed me home. Can I keep it? God: Certainly not! And put it down this minute--you don't know where it's been! Tom Robbins in Another Roadside Attraction

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