May 27 — Jhon Erik Larrahondo, 21, of Cali. Alison Meléndez, 17, of Popayán. Camilo Arango, 19, of Tuluá.
These are but a few of more than 60 victims confirmed dead of government terrorism against protesters by the U.S.-armed and funded Colombian Armed Forces, police and death squads since the national uprising against the regime of President Ivan Duque began on April 28.
Thousands have been arrested. Hundreds more have “disappeared” — and bodies have begun to turn up, washed up on the banks of rivers and buried in hastily-dug mass graves.
Colombia is called the Israel of Latin America, and like its counterpart in West Asia, the country’s brutal capitalist rulers loyally serve their masters in Washington, D.C. Colombia is a member of the U.S.-dominated NATO military alliance — the only one in Latin America.
The elite Mobile Anti-Riot Squad (ESMAD) of the Colombian National Police — established on the initiative of U.S. President Bill Clinton in 1999 to repress leftist movements — is carrying out murders, police brutality, sexual assaults, and, in the style of its Israeli Defense Force trainers, has blinded numerous protesters with shots to the eyes.
In Cali, the epicenter of state violence, a warehouse owned by the Éxito Supermarket chain stands revealed as a bloody torture center.
“When human rights organizations were finally able to enter to do oversight, they found pools of blood in the underground parking lots, blood even on electrical appliances in the warehouse, a nauseating smell. And they were totally prevented from visiting one of the floors of the parking lot,” according to reports compiled by Resumen Latinamericano.
“For two days, live protesters were brought to this shopping center, families and the community denounced in anguish, shouts were heard, repressive forces and garbage trucks circulated incessantly.” As of May 23, more than 200 people have disappeared in Cali alone.
In a statement demanding an end to the disappearances, the Legal and Humanitarian Team of the Inter-Church Justice and Peace Commission reported: “Since May 14, the first reports of the existence of mass graves were known in the rural area of the municipalities of Buga and Yumbo, where [the police] would take the bodies of many young people from Cali.”
“Since the start of the strike, the Colombian State has kidnapped and disappeared more than 600 people,” Resumen reported. “Some of them have appeared floating in the Cauca River, others buried. In recent days the police have been increasing the practice of enforced disappearance, taking away protesters who then do not reappear.”
President Duque and the media label the protesters “terrorists,” even while his government draws out talks with some groups in the leadership of the national strike movement, including the National Unemployment Committee (CNP) and Central Union of Workers (CUT).
Duque & Co. accuse Cuba and Venezuela, the FARC-EP and ELN guerrillas, even faraway Russia, of causing the uprising — anything, anyone but their own greedy, repressive policies that have left 42.5 percent of the people in poverty and a quarter unable to eat three meals a day, according to Colombia Informa.
The government decries protest roadblocks as an attack on human rights, even as its armed goons attack Indigenous groups working with protesters to ensure that food, fuel and medical assistance needed by the people can get through.
Even as his government assassinated the blind guerrilla Commander Jesús Santrich in neighboring Venezuela, in violation of international law, as a warning to those youth and workers who might move from rebellion to resistance, and take the path of social revolution.
Even as his government carries out crimes against humanity like those of Chile’s dictator Augusto Pinochet, installed by the U.S. in 1973.
According to Resumen, human-rights groups are advising protesters: “It is very important that detainees try to shout their names and surnames and that people in the neighborhood film the events, to try to prevent those kidnapped by the police from being victims of the state crime of enforced disappearance.”
And yet, amidst the terror, the people fight on.
Victories won in the streets
What began April 28 as a protest against the president’s proposed tax hike on the populace, despite widespread unemployment caused by the pandemic and the global capitalist crisis, has mushroomed in the past four weeks into a national uprising that has left no city, town or village in this diverse country untouched.
The movement first forced the government to withdraw its “tax reform.” Then, on May 19, it forced Congress to vote down a plan to further privatize the health care system. Now the national strike movement demands the firing of Defense Minister Diego Molano, who commands the National Police.
A congressional debate on Molano’s removal was broken up by the police on May 25.
Officials in Washington and Bogotá are betting on exhausting the people with merciless repression. But so far the protesters show no signs of slowing down, only drawing more and more layers of the populace into the streets.
In a development paralleling last year’s Black Lives uprising in the U.S., a group called the Front Line Mothers has taken to the streets of the capital with shields to defend youthful protesters from police attacks.
Whatever happens next, it’s clear that a new generation of activists has taken the stage in Colombia. Many of them are not content with piecemeal reforms, but want to see Duque’s government — and those pulling the strings — toppled for good.
They have seen their rulers’ betrayal of the 2016 Havana Peace Accords and subsequent slayings of hundreds of former guerrillas, activists and community leaders by right-wing death squads. They see clearly the bloody hand of U.S. imperialism directing, arming and financing their oppressors.
They are learning invaluable lessons, and many of those who survive will bring fresh energy and hard-won experience to Colombia’s revolutionary struggle for national liberation and socialism.
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