“Stop Genocide” says a huge mural in the center of Cali, the city called the “branch of paradise” and now renamed the “branch of resistance”. The streets are engraved on dozens of walls with the marks of social revolt, with the faces and names of murdered youths, painted against the government of Iván Duque, former president Álvaro Uribe. They are vestiges of what were more than two months of protests, blockades, which had its epicenter in this city southwest of Bogotá, in the Valle del Cauca, close to the Pacific Ocean and its port of Buenaventura.
In total, there were 24 blocking points for what began as a national strikeme. Some are iconic, such as the “resistance gate”, formerly called the full gate. There was built a monument with a forearm and a fist with a sign that says “resist”, built by masons after hours. Across the street is a sculpture with a popular pot, and a police center that was taken over, which now houses a popular library.
The map of political violence
Most of the 24 spots were in popular areas. Some, like the former hill of the cross, now “dignity hill”, are located in the center of a city whose geography is the map of a history of political violence: west of Cali is the traditional elite, south of the class born of drug trafficking boom in the 1980s and 1990s, on the slopes are neighborhoods populated by centrally displaced people from the Andean region of Cauca, in the east the Afro-descendant population displaced from the coast of Cauca, Nariño and Chocó, and in the center part of the older working class of Cali.
It was in the southern zone, an area rich in drug trafficking and its so-called “dog washers”, where armed civilians shot with impunity on several occasions under police custody, such as before the arrival of the Minga Indians. The indigenous movement, with strong development in the region, was the most organized actor within the framework of an outbreak without leaders, with the highlight of the neighborhoods and its poor youth, who led the so-called front lines, in front of the police and military detachments.
It is there, in these neighborhoods, where persecution and death entered as the protest faded and the points of resistance were unlocked: young people from the front lines murdered, dismembered, showing up in rivers, streets, forced to flee. It was the last link in a repressive police, military and paramilitary response to the an uprising that resulted in the death of 80 people, according to the Institute for Development and Peace Studies.
The violence implemented by the government responded to a political strategy. The first to request the presence of military personnel on the streets was Uribe, head of the Democratic Center, the current ruling party. Both the former president and Duke followed the systematic repression with categories like “dissipated molecular revolution” or “low-intensity urban terrorism” in a narrative that placed Protestants as enemies. It was an expected response from Uribismo, in the context of a country hit by the violence that increased with the three years of Duke’s government: in 2020 there were 91 massacres, so far in 2021 there are already 65; 1,222 social leaders and 282 signatories of the peace accords have been assassinated since 2016.
State repression had already been the government’s dominant response to the large mobilizations of November 2019 and September 2020 with the so-called “massacre of Bogotá”. The 2021 outbreak, while surprising for its magnitude and duration, did not surprise him in the sense that it was part of a cycle of protests led by a emerging urban subject, young, precarious, impoverished, without political affiliation. During the previous decades and years, and until then, the center of mobilizations were the rural and indigenous sectors, with, for example, the agrarian strikes of 2013 and 2016.
The dimension of 2021 can be explained by this accumulation of past protests, the effects of the pandemic, the economic crisis with 42.5% poverty in 2020 and an unemployment rate of 15.1%. But there is one more element, the backbone of the protests and of the last 40 years of Colombian history: Uribe, uribismo, a story – narrated in the series Matarife – that began in the shadows in the early 1980s by the hand of the Medellín Cartel, deepened with paramilitarism, his government in Antioquia in 1995, his presidencies from 2002 to 2010, and the continuity through Duque and drug trafficking, paramilitarism, expressed, for example, in the scandal of the relationship between the current president and the farmer and drug dealer. Ñeñe Hernández drugs.
The protests of 2019, 2020 and the outbreak were a huge cry against this story of massacres, mass graves, displacements, systematic murders, false positives, drug cartels, paramilitaries, on a four-decade continuum with Uribe’s name at the center. “What a country that sows bodies reaps”, read a t-shirt at the mobilization last Saturday, August 7, in Cali, convened before the beginning of the last year of Duque’s presidential term, which will not appear again, within the framework of a political system that does not allow re-election.
The presidential campaign for the May 2022 elections takes center stage, simultaneously with the analysis of the outbreak. One of the questions is what will be the relationship between the protests and the electoral proposals that can be delineated in three main vectors: on the one hand, Uribe, without a firm candidacy, on the other, an alliance that presents itself as a center, called “Coalition da hope” with figures such as Sergio Fajardo, politicians from the government of Juan Manuel Santos and the Green Alliance, and finally, another progressive center-left, called “historic pact”, led by Gustavo Petro, which brings together forces such as the Alternative Democratic Pole, social leaders such as Francia Márquez and sectors of the Party U.
There are still several months to go before a dispute in a context of political instability, a delegitimized and particularly dangerous uribism, and an outbreak that, although it has left the streets, remains latent.