5 May 2021
by Milena Rincón
Since 28 April 2021, Colombia has been on national strike. What started as a one-day strike opposing the tax reform bill is now a nationwide indefinite strike urging the Colombian government to drop two bills that will profoundly affect the future of the Colombians. But most importantly, the people demand the Colombian anti-riot police to stop their ongoing violent repression of the civilian population who are demanding real change. This national strike is the third one for this current unpopular government since President Duque took office in 2018.
On 2 May, the Colombian government dropped the very unpopular and orthodox tax reform bill, and on 3 May, the Minister of Finances resigned. The government's decision to remove the tax bill arrived the day after the president ordered anti-riot police units to militarize all cities and end all the protests. Cali, Bogota, and other cities have been heavily impacted by police brutality and violence since 28 April. Despite the devastation, especially in Cali, the president's order on the night of Saturday 1 May was a green light for the anti-riot police to use all violence and possible force and means against protestors all over the country.
Following the withdrawal of the tax reform, the government and their supporting parties started working on a new bill that most likely will result in very few changes to the original content. Colombians, tired of feeling disrespected and ignored in their demands, called for the strike to continue. It was painfully shocking to hear the bill was only dropped after six days of nationwide nonviolent protests where citizens were severely attacked by the Colombian anti-riot police. "¿Who gave the order?" the country asked. The answer is easy: “subpresident Duque and his mentor, former president Uribe,” in other words, the right-wing.
In different cities, Colombians have spent several days and nights hearing sound bombs and gunshots, watching people being chased and helicopters circling the skies and breathing the tear gas and smoke. For the last six days, the country has been hearing and seeing protestors and supporters screaming, "They are killing us,” a phrase that is still echoing in all of Colombia. “They” are the anti-riot police and the police, those in charge of protecting us from human rights violations and abuse.
The lack of response to the crisis and the recent presidential orders to quell the protests has caused Colombians’ frustration to increase who, in the midst of a severe socio-economic crisis, have committed to nonviolent, peaceful demonstrations as part of the national strike working towards a common good for everyone in the country. The voices of the strike affirm, “Rain or shine; the strike will continue.”
Several national and international organizations have condemned the police violence occurring against the civil population. Colombians in general, and social and human rights groups, have done incredible work accompanying the protests and documenting the ongoing human rights violations and violence exerted by the anti-riot police. Most of the victims of the current police violence are young Colombians, who keep asking in the marches, "Why, why are you killing us? If we are the hope of Latin America."
The national strike continues. The creative, energetic, very diverse and nonviolent social movement is far from getting tired, as they chant in the protests, "We must strike to move forward, long live the National Strike!” The Colombian popular demands include removing other bills, investigation and prosecution of the police responsible for the human rights violations, the president's resignation, implementation of the 2016 peace accords and, without a doubt, the Colombian anti-riot police reform.
"The people united will never be defeated!" We need more Colombians to join this strike. It is time for the change we want to see.
In memory of those killed by the anti-riot police.