By Francisco Leal Buitrago, EL ESPECTADOR, May 27, 2021
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
In several Latin American countries—including Colombia—there have been protests at the end of 2019 and the beginning of 2020, interrupted by the pandemic. But the ones that began this year in this country have surpassed those. Some historical characteristics help in understanding this unusual situation. Added to that are the mistaken decisions by the government.
In proportion to the size of its territory, Colombia is the most regionalized country in the region, with more water resources and great biodiversity. Until a little more than a century ago, there were very few immigrations that were different from those of the colonization. And until less than a century ago, the nation’s population was relatively small, located in a dispersed manner in regions that were separated, and had little communication with one another. That brought a weak national form, and a government without legitimate presence in more than half of its territory. The population identified more with its region than with the nation. Its perception of the national administrations was distant. But the governmental fragility discouraged dictatorships and made the continuity of democracy possible, even though it was weak and had its failings.
That fragility led to civil wars in the 19th century, and to confrontations between the Liberal and Conservative Parties, along with the exchanges of one-party hegemony. Added to that was the undeclared civil war known as La Violencia (The Violence) (1946-1965). The agreement by the National Front (1958-1974) to halt that conflict never contemplated democratic opposition, and that facilitated the rise of guerillas (FARC, ELN, EPL, M-19…) and the prolongation of shared governments until 1990, along with the birth of the paramilitaries and the expansion of drug trafficking.
Dependent industrialization, based on exportation of raw materials, was delayed compared with other countries in the region: it started once the Second World War was over. That led to a greater increase in population and the permanent concentration of income and wealth, added to the longstanding concentration of land ownership. A little later on and due to the expansion of violence, the growth of the larger cities shot up because of migration from rural areas. Thus the informal neighborhoods surged and increased the social inequality, informal work, and unemployment.
The increased weakness of liberal democracy was added to all of that. The fragility of the nation’s education and its government contributed to the fragility of the administrations, and that facilitated political defects that kept increasing along with the concentration of income and wealth. The pre-modern tribalism turned into cronyism, to which was added corruption in both public and private institutions.
Among the recent administrations, the current one is the one that has counterfeited democratic principles the most, like the separation of powers (weights and counterweights), along with the President’s limited administrative ability and his lack of political experience.
In that way, the historical characteristics here described have facilitated the explosion of an unprecedented crisis, sparked by the administration’s persistence with the regressive tax reform bill, in the midst of obstacles to the implementation of the Peace Agreement, murders of social leaders, deterioration of the economy, and the pandemic. Besides that, the government responded to the demands for negotiation by the promoters of the Strike, only after it had been going on for 20 days. The most affected have been the young people.