#OpColômbia

Operations 30 de Jun de 2021 BR ES

Despite being the fourth largest economic power in Latin America, Colombia still suffers from great social inequality, as a result of the politics of the last decades. As its main activity is the export of commodities, its economy is also subject to impacts from the international prices of these products. One of the country's greatest difficulties is to remain reliable before international creditors, being subject to various forms of external economic pressure in crisis situations. With the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, the country felt a very big impact, which interrupted the growth expectations of the previous year and resulted in a delicate situation for the government.

Protest Motivation

On April 15, a tax reform bill was presented to Congress. The central objective was to increase tax collection to support assistance programs and ensure the country's reliability to external funders. The way in which the proposal was carried out, however, would have a disproportionate impact on the poorer classes and the middle class. The main changes involved a decrease in the minimum income for the collection of income tax, in addition to an increase in taxes on basic services. Faced with the dissatisfaction of various organized sectors of society, the government withdrew the proposal for a vote and committed to drawing up a project that would be more onerous for the upper classes, but other factors ended up giving strength to the protests. Among the main ones are police violence and the economic inequality already felt by the country. A third factor is also the truculent action of the current government in regions with greater interference from drug trafficking, which contradict a proposal for agreements and transformations towards a more peaceful society idealized 5 years ago. Alongside the street demonstrations, some strikes were started and there is a wide movement in digital media.

Reform contradictions

Although the proposal for the reform was motivated by the injection of public money into projects that would benefit the poorest classes, the population remained skeptical about how these benefits would be compensatory. The country follows an austerity policy, with current President Iván Duque being a great ally of the private sector. Still, part of the initial proposal, despite being more onerous for the middle class, would indirectly reach the entire poorest population, with the increase in the cost of services, many of them essential. An increase in gasoline, for example, directly impacts the final value of products in general. The reform was received as a juggling act to avoid reaching the richest nuclei in the country, as a redistribution of resources, but only among the poorest strata.

Immediate Reflections

After the withdrawal of the proposal four days after the protests started, the first change felt by the federal administration was the resignation of the Minister of Finance Alberto Carrasquilla, an orthodox neoliberal and a great representative of the current government's economic vision. It was not enough to appease the demonstrations, which target the political and economic clientelism of the entire government. The use of various state repression devices, especially police brutality, made the protests gain even more force.

Police violence

The protests started on April 28, when there was the first civilian death. The epicenter of the clashes has become the city of Cali, but episodes of violence spread across the country. Official records already show more than 30 dead and 800 injured. Other surrounding cities have also been recently militarized as a way to curb protests. Even in cities that refused to be militarized, such as Bogotá and Medellín, soldiers roam the streets by federal order. The violent reaction of the police, even to peaceful protests, was criticized internationally by several institutions related to human rights. As a justification, the government insinuated that members of organized crime were infiltrating the protests, classifying the protests as "urban terrorism". The strategy of criminalizing social movements is quite common to authoritarian governments, as observed in other Latin American countries, including Brazil.

Videos recorded situations of disproportionate police aggression even against women, children and the elderly. There is also occurrence of use of lethal weapons, with emphasis on the release of the video of the murder of a protester with two shots in the back. The police even reacted with gunfire against apartment balconies where people were supporting the protests. Among the reports are also fires in houses used as shelters against police forces and the reception of gunfire by members of councils and commissions called to verify reports of abuse. There are already more than 10 records of sexual assaults against women, another common strategy used by militarized governments against their populations.

Government contradictions

Not only at the federal level, but some departmental governors and mayors joined in the speech that national and international criminal organizations were behind the organization of the protests, which they classified as criminal acts. No evidence so far has been presented. People continue to be arrested and even deported on this allegation, and the escalation of violent repression is also increasing, triggering the processes of militarization in more regions of the country. It is possible that the government of Iván Duque found in this situation the opportunity to forge the need for a violent intervention aimed at sectors of society with which it already had friction. In regions where drug trafficking is influenced, the government was already acting violently with the population and above all with civilian leaders.

Not only at the federal level, but some departmental governors and mayors joined in the speech that national and international criminal organizations were behind the organization of the protests, which they classified as criminal acts. No evidence so far has been presented. People continue to be arrested and even deported on this allegation, and the escalation of violent repression is also increasing, triggering the processes of militarization in more regions of the country. It is possible that the government of Iván Duque found in this situation the opportunity to forge the need for a violent intervention aimed at sectors of society with which it already had friction. In regions where drug trafficking is influenced, the government was already acting violently with the population and above all with civilian leaders.

Direct impacts to society

Although many people are taking to the streets, the country is still facing the pandemic situation and a large part of the population remains at home, supporting the protests through digital means. However, in addition to the economic impact that the country was already suffering, movement restrictions caused a lack of food supply in some businesses. The escalation of violence driven by the government itself made people live a routine of fear that existed even before the tax reform proposal.

Censorship and Distortions

Major media outlets in the country publicized the protests as if they were support for reforms, trying to steer public opinion in favor of the decisions of the president and Congress. On the streets, the police have often operated without identification and wearing hoods, making their recognition difficult. The assault and defamation of journalists has been reported, as well as the seizure of material by the police. Amidst the growing number of complaints made by the population via the internet and the dissemination of videos or requests for help, the internet service was unofficially interrupted in the city of Cali, on the 5th of June, according to a report by NetBlocks.

Fascism is rising

Colombia also has organized right-wing conservative groups on its territory, which now support the government and police forces. One of the precautions established by most protests organized by civil society involves surveillance to prevent the entry of these groups, which reinforce police aggressiveness and attack protesters directly using weapons, or infiltrating people to initiate conflicts and justify aggressive police response.

Anonymous

International attention was attracted from social networks by the hashtag #SOSColombia, used as a tag for denunciations and videos recording the police's use of excessive and disproportionate force. Against this backdrop, anonymous collectives from around the world launched attacks on Colombian government systems, resulting in data leaks, including the government of Cali, the Constitutional Court and the Ministry of Justice. Updates of these actions can be tracked by the hashtag #OpColombia. Several accounts associated with Anonymous declare support for popular demonstrations, in opposition to police brutality and the far-right organized movements that also started to attack the population.

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EterSec é uma célula Anonymous baseada nas ações coletivas e na diversidade. Na era da informação, não podemos nos isolar, devemos nos unir na construção coletiva de um futuro mais livre.

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