A two-day strike planned in Colombia at the end of April to reject an oppressive tax reform has turned into more than a month-long nationwide protest, capturing the attention and solidarity of the world. The United States is the main supporter of the repressive Colombian government. It is the duty of those of us in the U.S. to join in revolting against this imperialist allyship. For over 20 years, the U.S. has been sending the Colombian government hundreds of millions of dollars annually for military funding and state tyranny. The funding is masked as foreign aid, counterterrorism, and money to fight against drug trafficking, but it has always gone to training and arming a violent military, waging a war against Marxist organizations, and abusing Colombian working people. The National Strike Committee was formed in 2019 through the long-standing struggle of Colombia’s working class against their oppressive capitalist government. This powerful organization of farm workers, union confederations, and student organizers launched the massive strike against far-right president Ivan Duque. The intense struggle of working people in Philadelphia against capitalist interests and a government which works for the rich is one and the same as the struggle in Colombia.
On par with his capitalist agenda, Duque introduced a COVID-19 tax “improvement” that heavily burdens the working class. The tax reform, deceitfully named “Solidarity,” includes a VAT (value-added tax) that would hike up the prices on basic necessities, gas, and public services, freeze wages in the public sector for five years, impose tolls on roads connecting rural to urban areas, and other measures that clearly target poor and working class Colombians. As historian William Z. Foster explains this antagonistic social contradiction between the capitalist and working class, “In economic crises the capitalists always seek to shift the economic burden onto the workers through wage-cuts, etc., and this still further strokes the class struggle”.
As a righteous uprising began in the streets, the masses of Colombia declared this “Solidarity” reform to be an aggression against the working class. Groups of human rights activists, indigenous organizers, working people from all across the country, and Afro-Colombian people gathered together in many towns and cities to show their disapproval of the government’s cruel profiteering.
Solidarity protests in Philadelphia have demonstrated the deep international unity amongst the people in Colombia, other Latin American nations, and in the U.S.. In Philadelphia, we too are in a battle to access healthy food, safe schools, affordable healthcare, and freedom from police terror. Money that could be put toward fixing the infrastructure of working neighborhoods is instead allocated to city police, wealthier towns, and to the oppressive and violent Colombian government.
Capitalist militarized police force brutalizes thousands of Colombians
The immediate response from right-wing Duque was to deploy mass numbers of police and military into the streets. Tens of thousands of cops have been deployed to Cali, a densely populated city, which has seen some of the largest numbers of protestors. Restrictive policies and practices such as curfews and kettling have been attempts to stifle and restrict protestors exercising their right to fight against their inequitable government. From brutal beatings, arrests, disappearances, and sexual assaults, to killing protestors with live ammunition, the Colombian police have been unspeakably cruel toward the working class who are, out of necessity, standing up and fighting back.
Within the first few days of this massive uprising in Colombia, plainclothes police officers shot at protestors in Cali and fascist paramilitary militias abused people by the hundreds. This is not a new phenomenon in Colombia: protestors who have organized around working people’s issues and against the disregard for human life have been killed over hundreds of years of colonialism in the country. In 2020 alone, 200 human rights defenders were murdered in Colombia. In the midst of this current uprising, police and the Mobile Anti-Disturbances Squadron (ESMAD) have reportedly killed at least 40 people, injuring thousands more. In just one week, almost 380 Colombian protestors were disappeared — without any explanation from law enforcement, people are going missing and never heard from again after going to demonstrate in the streets. The Colombian people are fighting back against this repression, often at tremendous cost.
Repression Abroad and at Home
Along with the people of Colombia, organizers all over the world have shared international solidarity against the brutal nature of the imperialist Colombian government and police. Excessive violence is the foundation of policing from Philadelphia to Colombia. The Philadelphia police are trying to use 2020’s righteous summer uprisings against police terrorism of Black people as an excuse for why the PPD’s budget, already $727 million, is not enough. They claim that a reduced PPD budget would mean reduced safety for Philadelphians. This savior language is indistinguishable from other mouthpieces of capitalist states — from Joe Biden’s “strong support” of law enforcement and the neoliberal police reforms that have come out of last year’s uprisings to his funding of the vicious state of Colombia in the name of protecting democracy. Have the police saved us in Philly? Since the Philly police budget grows every year, does that mean there is less crime every year? Does the U.S.-funded military in Columbia mean more safety for the Colombian people? The answer to both of these: of course not. All of these lies are an attempt to justify the grasp on power held by the ruling elite, enabled by the police state that protects them, whether here in Philly or in Colombia. But just like the uprising after the police murder of George Floyd, the people in Colombia are fighting back, and in Colombia, this has led to significant concessions from their ruling class.
Duque has already backtracked on multiple claims: that he wouldn’t withdraw the proposed solidarity tax reform and that costs for education wouldn’t be reduced. That Duque has been forced to concede these victories is a testament to the power of the people who have taken to the streets in an incredible show of people power. There is nothing more dangerous to imperialist right-wing profiteers like Duque than people willing to give their lives for the benefit of the people.
U.S.-Trained Military & The Neoliberal Order
United States taxpayer dollars go overseas to arm another country so that their working people can be attacked, oppressed, and killed. According to the U.S. Foreign Assistance portal, for the fiscal year of 2021, $412,900,000 was given to Colombia, of which $116,412,089 has already been spent. This money is written-off as foreign assistance, military aid, funding for “peace, respect for human rights, access to justice”, while it is primarily funding the violent Colombian police and military forces.
The U.S. has also trained the Colombian army, putting money towards ensuring self-determining groups will be sanctioned, starved out, and killed: the war in Colombia is state-sanctioned violence against the Colombian people. While funding to the military ensures that hi-tech weaponry will be constant, the level of underdevelopment in Colombia is extreme. Colombia is the most unequal country in Latin America and the Caribbean. People don’t have access to roads, hospitals, schools, and 60 years of armed conflict has severely devastated the population.
Former President Alvaro Uribe embodied the imperialist and neoliberal order with his brutal regime; current President Ivan Duque is his protégé and has the same goals of capitalist expansion in mind. Is it a surprise that the U.S. capitalist government supports him? Under Uribe’s leadership in 1993, a healthcare reform was passed which severely impacted working people all across the nation. 25% of the population was not eligible for coverage, and access to health care was based on income. Sick people could not seek attention. Many died. And inequality deepened throughout the country, public health drastically declined from where it already was, and the private, for-profit sector became much stronger. Both Uribe and Duque have waged a war on workers and peasants. Now, Duque and his government are desperately trying to end protests and slow down the spread of information of how truly impoverished the Colombian people are.
We need a new system created by the masses which works for the masses. We must keep fighting against puppet capitalist states, and we must demand the end of extreme repression and violations of human rights against the people of Colombia. When workers in Colombia are repressed with American weapons, it is time for radical change in our foreign policy. We will not stop until this brutal capitalist system falls!