Colombia. In Cali, the epicenter of the protest against Iván Duque’s right-wing government and the Uribist narco-state, the authority of the State is being questioned, while a collective conscience and real popular power are built. Indigenous peasants converge at places or points of resistance in the neighborhoods and the oppressed multitude appears, reclaims its territory. The foundations of a revolution are laid. Young people neglected by the State find recognition on the front lines. They are stepping up and risking their lives to defend the dreams of a more just Colombia, while the repression of State and parastatal forces intensifies. Every night, new cases of assassinations are reported and several NGOs have denounced the discovery of mass graves.
Since the start of the national strike, the city of Santiago de Cali, capital of the Valle del Cauca, in the south-west of the country, has become the capital of the Colombian resistance. On April 28, crowds converged from neighborhoods to the center. Banks and supermarkets were looted, protesters occupied the streets, toppled the statue of Sebastián Belalcázar, the liberator of Cali. They took over the city, if only for a few hours; a few hours that marked the symbol that Cali was to become, the epicenter of the national strike.
The response from the contested authorities was not long in coming. The mayor of Cali, the governor of Valle del Cauca and President Iván Duque himself demanded the full repression and judicialisation of the social movement. Within days, the army seized control of the city from General Zapateiro. A few weeks later, soldiers still stand guard at most street corners and in front of institutional buildings. It should be mentioned that so far the murdered, who number in the tens in Cali, and the missing, by the hundreds, have been at the hands of the police or Esmad, the riot squad.
“For the men and women who are on the front line, because there are also women, and it must be made clear, being on the front line gives them access to a totally new identity, which renders them visible and gives them recognition inside and outside of their neighborhoods. People who were previously excluded and invisible now have a purpose”, says Alexandra, a psychologist and resident of Yumbo, a suburb of Cali. Resistance was organised from the southern neighbourhoods. The meeting and struggle points have been renamed: Puerto Resistencia, Glorieta a la lucha, Portada a la Libertad, Loma de la dignidad …
At the forefront of demonstrations and within the framework of community kitchens, a chain of solidarity, a political and social consciousness, has emerged. The community organises itself, supplies the collective with donations of food, clothing, medical equipment, sometimes Molotov cocktails. “This is a spontaneous popular uprising, with no planning or prior experience,” Alexandra says. “Those who do not actually take to the streets have looked for other ways to support the mobilisation. There is a certain awakening. Neighbors come out and applaud from their doors and windows. They open the door for young people when necessary to help them escape the police.
In small shops or stalls set up in the streets, meals are prepared and distributed to everyone present. Queues form, as for many it is the only daily meal. Cultural activities and workshops are organised. A political consciousness is constructed and affirmed, around personal stories and the collective experience of the struggle. During a writing workshop in La Luna, Monica observes: “There is a lot of injustice, a lot of racism, a lot of discrimination, a lot of classism. These are things to think about, to remember. What we are experiencing is a historic opportunity. We are changing reality. This mobilization made it possible to achieve results that even Congress had never achieved before. Overturn reforms, ministers … “. “We have to demand that the Congress come to the different cities and listen to what the people are saying. At points of resistance, we must become primary constituents, where the sovereignty and power of the country resides, starting from the neighborhoods.”
Meanwhile, in the countryside, throughout the Valle del Cauca, the main roads are blocked. And as State violence moved from the countryside to the cities, in Cali, the Indigenous Guard came in to provide resistance know-how. The peasants, self-organised in an indigenous Minga and in the Indigenous Regional Council of Cauca (CRIC) for decades, have come to the city to support the strike and defend the repressed protesters. A convergence of struggles. “Minga is a word that comes from Quechua,” says Marlón, who left a village in the neighboring department of Huila two years ago to try his luck in Cali. “It is a collective gathering, community work for the common good, a self-organised struggle for the benefit of all.”
The Univalle campus, Santiago de Cali’s only public university, is located to the south of the city, and has become an essential space for uniting the struggle of the neighborhoods, a space for organisation and political awareness. It plays a key role in building popular power in Cali. At the many points of resistance and self-management, a neighborhood university was born: professors or students give courses in politics, sociology, history, biology … From the point of resistance known as a Luna, Santiago, professor at the Univalle, explains: ‘We are trying to recover the Open Agora, where education is relevant and functional for the development of our people. We must make it a constructive experience for all, by moving the lessons to the streets, where the classrooms are the points of resistance.”
Places in public universities are very scarce here, and there are many who want to study but who, due to their social status, do not have access to the university. Before the strike, many young people gathered at Univalle, even though they could not enter the lecture halls. These young people are at the forefront of the social movement, and the right to education is at the forefront of demands.
Like everywhere else in the country, in Cali and throughout the Valle del Cauca lives an extremely elitist minority. But here it also coexists with strong indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities. In rural areas, there is a deep-rooted conflict over land. “Some large families, the richest, appropriate hundreds of hectares, leaving them unused, uncultivated, while depriving communities of the full use of their territory”, explains Sebastián, a social science student at Univalle and a resident of Pichindé, a rural town in the suburbs of Cali. “The big landowners and the Creole bourgeoisie also co-opt the institutions, they govern and impose their interests, the police repress as they wish. They are openly racist and classist.”
In Yumbo, north of Cali, where some of the region’s more privileged spheres also live, police repression has been brutal to free the access roads to these golden ghettos. Bodies of missing demonstrators were found there in the rivers. And the Interfaith Commission for Justice and Peace warns of “the existence of mass graves in the municipality of Yumbo where the bodies of many young people in Cali are being taken.” They denounce “the responsibility of the police in operations of a paramilitary and clearly criminal nature” and call on the State to “carry out a technical examination with forensic experts and the participation of international observers.”
In Ciudad Jardín, another privileged neighborhood, civilians came out to shoot the peasants of the native guard, who after a few weeks decided to withdraw, in the face of these racist paramilitary militias. A month after the beginning of the national strike, on May 28, Iván Duque went precisely to Ciudad Jardín, to meet the inhabitants of this reactionary neighbourhood and to announce, again and again, the full deployment of the army, tripling the numbers already present in the Valle del Cauca. The government will protect their economic interests from poor young vandals and uneducated indigenous peasants who want to regain power over their own existence and their own territories.