4 May 2021
Since 28 April, hundreds of thousands of workers, indigenous peasants, Afro-Colombians, youth and women have started a popular rebellion against tax reform and an anti-popular economic package. They forced the Duque government to “withdraw” the announced reform. After this first triumph, the organising organisations announced the strike would continue for the withdrawal of the entire package, against repression and for Duque to go.
On 28 April, the National Strike Command made up of the three trade union confederations (CUT, CTC and CGT) and Fecode (teachers’ federation), called a national strike, which was also joined by student organisations, the indigenous Minga and organisations from various rural and urban communities.
The strike overflowed the leaders and spread beyond 28 April. In the major cities of the country, massive mobilisations took place. The epicentre has been the city of Cali, capital of Cauca Valley, where the protests have been massive and the strike is almost total, with roadblocks to the surrounding areas. On Tuesday 4 May, mobilisations, strikes and road blockades continued in Cali, Bogota and the principal cities.
Faced with the gigantic mobilisation, the right-wing government of Ivan Duque first tried to crush it with a violent military intervention, especially in the city of Cali, where organisations denounced the murder of 30 demonstrators, and hundreds were wounded and imprisoned. However, it could not get the demonstrators off the streets in Cali and other cities.
And after 4 days of massive protests, the government had to back down and asked the parliament not to vote for the tax reform bill it presented a few days before.
Hunger austerity plan
The starvation economic package, to make the people pay for the economic crisis and the foreign debt, included a tax reform with an increase in taxes on small businesses and peasants, taxes on water, electricity and even funeral services of 19 per cent, a tax (VAT) on products of the family basket, also a labour reform facilitating outsourcing and job insecurity, a health reform with more privatisation of health services and a pension reform. The Duque government made public that 73 per cent of tax revenues would come from individuals and only 27 per cent from companies, in a country where the financial sector in 2020 only paid 1.9 per cent of its millionaire profits in taxes.
Now the government says it is withdrawing the tax reform, which was the main, but not the only, demand of the strike. Its finance minister Alberto Carrasquilla stepped down. All this is a direct triumph of the immense popular mobilisation.
For years Duque’s government expropriated the peasants and indigenous people’s lands by fire and sword, handing over land to landowners and water sources and natural and mining resources to imperialist multinationals.
Duque is Alvaro Uribe’s man (president from 2002 to 2010), who led the most ruthless, illegal paramilitary repression.
Already in 2019, there were huge protests against the pro-corporate and pro-imperialist economic policies of Duque’s government and his finance minister, Alberto Carrasquilla.
The mobilisation weakened Duque
The organisation Colectivos Unidos (United Communities), an IWU-FI supporter in Colombia, is part of this great popular mobilisation and helps develop it. In a recent statement it points out:
“President Duque and all his officials who, until last week, spoke loudly on radio and television, today they hide their faces so as not to expose themselves to public scorn.”
Capitalist and reformist parliamentary parties, such as the former Liberal party, the U Party and Cambio Radical (Radical Change), signalled their opposition to certain aspects of the tax reform bill. Meanwhile, the Church and economic employers’ associations offered their “good offices” to promote a “national dialogue” with the “living forces”. Although they supported the austerity plan, now they are trying to stop the popular mobilisation with “dialogue”.
The struggle continues and is facing brutal repression.
Despite the government withdrew the bill, a big part of the workers and youth do not trust Duque and the parliamentary parties, and that is why they are again taking to the streets after the withdrawal of the tax reform. This victory has invigorated the rebellion and is confronting Duque’s repressive forces on the streets. The militarisation plan is failing and the popular mobilisation has not stopped, despite this criminal repression.
On Sunday 2 May this statement was released in Cali: “The social, student, trade union, indigenous, popular, women’s, neighbourhood organisations… that are promoting… the national strike in Cali and Cauca Valley… we recognise we have won the first battle as the government withdrew the Tax Bill, but we have NOT won the struggle until the ENTIRE Duque economic reforms fall, which includes the Labour Reform, Health Reform and Pension Reform, until justice is done for the people killed, injured and captured… and above all, until Duque resigns, the STRIKE in Cali and Cauca Valley will not cease”.
The National Strike Command (CUT, CTC, CGT and Fecode) declared: “With this announcement by the government the mobilisation is not deactivated, the people in the streets are asking for much more than this announcement of withdrawal.” And they are calling for a new strike and a big mobilisation from Wednesday 5 May.
For the struggle to continue, both the Popular Assemblies they are calling for in Cali, and a National Meeting where the organisations in struggle, representatives of the blockades and the popular assemblies can democratically discuss the list of demands and how to go on fighting to defeat the government and its “paquetazo (big programme of reforms)”.
The struggle must continue all over the country. Now the demands are the whole economic package to fall and that Duque must go. They are also demanding an end to repression, an end to the militarisation of the cities, the disbanding of the hated riot police, the Esmad, freedom for those arrested and punishment for those responsible for repressive crimes.
From the IWU-FI we stand in solidarity with the Colombian people and call for the broadest unity of international action, with protests in front of the embassies and consulates of the world. From the IWU-FI we call for international support and solidarity, so the great popular rebellion of the Colombian people triumphs.
International Workers’ Unity-Fourth International (IWU-FI)
4 May 2021