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The May 15 Mobilizations in Colombia

by Justin Podur; May 17, 2006

Colombia's peasant, indigenous, and union organizations called for a major mobilization on May 15, 2006. With elections on May 28, 2006, the organizations sought to demonstrate their opposition to the Colombian regime's Free Trade Agreement with the United States, its civil war, its relationship with the paramilitaries, and its proposed constitutional changes. The election is very quickly coming down to a contest between the current President, Alvaro Uribe Velez, and the political left candidate Carlos Gaviria.

In a straight political contest, Carlos Gaviria's candidacy would win. But Uribe's campaign has been very dirty. Uribe recently said publicly that the election is between his program, which he calls 'Democratic Security', on the one hand, and 'Communism in Disguise' on the other. Calling the political opposition 'Communism in Disguise' is another way of calling them guerrillas, which, in a country where paramilitaries murder 'suspected guerrillas' and their families with impunity, amounts to a death threat. The paramilitaries themselves made have made similar statements in recent days.

In addition to the filthy campaigning, according to reports that are coming in, the Colombian regime reacted to the May 15 mobilizations with a demonstration that the political opposition will not be allowed to campaign or demonstrate for its position, and that opposition to the Colombian establishment will be punished.

It began with the government claiming that it had 'proof' that FARC was behind the mobilizations. The 'proof' was never produced.

Next, the indigenous mobilizations were met with helicopters, military forces, and riot police, who used heavy doses of tear gas to clear the area of La Maria Piendamo. The riot police sprayed gasoline into the health centre at Piendamo and burned it.

The indigenous, who on May 16 blocked the Pan American Highway at Piendamo, agreed to negotiate with the government. They opened one of the highway's two lanes at 9am on May 17. The government told them their negotiators would arrive at Piendamo at 1pm. The indigenous assembled their leadership at the site. But instead of a government negotiating team, the government sent the riot police again. The police arrested two of the movement leaders who had come to negotiate - Jesus Lopez of CIMA, Southern Cauca's peasant organization, and Carmen Leon from CRIC, the indigenous organization of the Cauca region.

Before the May 17 government attack on the negotiators, Carlos Gaviria, in his capacity as a presidential candidate, phoned Colombia's Minister of the Interior and Justice, Sabas Pretelt. Gaviria demanded that Pretelt himself attend the negotiation. Pretelt told Gaviria directly that the government ministers would attend the negotiation once the highway was cleared. Pretelt also repeated the accusation that the FARC was behind the mobilization.

Pretelt, whose ministry is in charge of the riot police who shortly afterwards made a surprise attack to capture the opposition's leaders, was lying on both counts.

Reports are still coming in. At the main site of the indigenous mobilization in Piendamo, the police have charged repeatedly, driving the people off the site and into the fields, with some gravely wounded.

At another site, in Remolinos in Narino, there are reports of police snipers firing at protestors from trees. Protestors believe the police are acting on orders to disperse the mobilization everywhere.

In Bogota, activists peacefully occupied the government's human rights ombudsperson's (Defensoria del Pueblo) office at 4pm on May 17. Their demand is for a humanitarian commission to verify the truth of events at Piendamo. They want international observers and journalists on the ground in Colombia, and people following the situation outside to pressure the regime, with letters and at consulates.

Colombia's guerrillas have long made the argument that the only path to change that is left is war. They have reason to feel vindicated by the history of paramilitarism, by the fact that every time people tried to force a political opening, the establishment shut it with terror and violence.

In October 2003, when Uribe's referendum was overturned and left candidates won many local races, there was reason to believe a chance for political change had opened. Colombia is part of the Americas and its peoples have the same will to struggle for democracy as those in Venezuela or Bolivia. Its establishment, however, has been among the most ruthless in suppressing it.

But Uribe has not won yet. •

Justin Podur is a writer, translator and an activist living in Toronto. He has written for Z Magazine, Dollars and Sense, Frontline India, New Politics, and other publications. His website is here: www.killingtrain.com

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