The shocking actions of the Colombian government of President Ivan Duque in its response to public demonstrations against its proposed increase in the value added tax (sales tax), which would fall upon poor families especially hard requires us to speak out. The Duque Government, urged on by former President Alvaro Uribe Velez, whose policies and background contacts caused hundreds of thousands of deaths during his term as President, has militarized the response to legitimate social protest. When large numbers of Colombians in the cities of Cali and Bogota, and elsewhere, protested Duque’s tax and other policies which seek to curry favor with multinational businesses and deny poor and middle class Colombian families the basic resources they need to survive, President Duque’s response was totally inadequate. Instead of discussing these challenges with leaders of the protest movement in a time of an active pandemic— to which the Duque Government’s response has been utterly deficient—the President sent the ESMAD anti-riot police into the streets to quell the popular uprising. When the ESMAD’s heavy-handed measures failed to stop the protests, despite causing death and injuries to numerous protestors, Duque called upon the Colombian military to attack the protestors, with many being shot and dozens killed. When Colombians started to bang on pots and pans to show their disgust with Duque and his senior advisors, his response was to double down on violent repression, resulting in hundreds of persons being killed, many women being raped, persons being “disappeared”, and hundreds being injured by the combined forces of the ESMAD and the military. President Duque has refused to speak directly with the leaders of the popular organizations which have been protesting. We believe that this situation is intolerable and that the Government must discuss in good faith needed reforms with leaders of the people’s protests.
As an NGO dedicated to the encouragement of peace and social justice in Colombia since our founding in 1985, we now feel the need to speak out in favor of change to bring justice and peace for the millions of Colombians who for decades have been excluded from the economic and social benefits of their country by a narrow elite which has favored prostrating the country to the interests of multinational corporations which have taken coal, oil and other resources out of the country at bargain-basement prices, or for no net cost at all.
When the administration of President Juan Manuel Santos came to a Peace Agreement with the FARC guerrillas and a Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP) and a Truth Commission were established, we welcomed this major step forward, with its promise to focus attention on poor rural areas in the countryside. An important part of the Agreement was a commitment to end coca crop-spraying with cancer-causing glyphosate and to help poor communities transition from growing coca to producing legal crops through development of farm-to-market roads and technical training to those who wished to convert from coca-growing to producing fruits, vegetables, cacao and fish-farming, among other endeavors.
But the Duque Government, bent on protecting the privileges of the wealthy at the cost of developing the bases for emergence of a just society, has failed and refused to carry out the measures needed to insure the successful implementation of the Peace Agreement. As a result President Duque’s government will go down in the history books as one of the greatest failures of Presidential leadership in the history of Colombia.
But we as CSN have an obligation to do more than criticize Duque and his deficient government. For many decades our government in the United States has supported and approved the Colombian governments which carried out measures contrary to the interests of most Colombians. In recent years President Bill Clinton supported wholeheartedly Plan Colombia, which favored wealthy Colombians and their businesses, on the one hand, and helped establish the ESMAD riot police during Andres Pastrana’s Presidency, on the other hand. And the U.S. Government in the person of President George W. Bush bestowed its highest civilian honor, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, on Colombian President Alvaro Uribe Velez, whose government was responsible for thousands of civilian deaths through a corrupt Colombian military and paramilitaries formed under the guise of “convivires”, as well as alleged ties with drug-traffickers. It is up to us, members and friends of the Colombia Support Network, to inform and educate our leaders in Congress and the White House what the relationship between Colombia and the United States has been and how our country can best proceed with respect to Colombia now. Your comments and suggestions are most welcome.
Co-Founder and Program Director
Colombia Support Network