Such a far tradition of the social movement remains to be part of the current critical moment that Colombian nation is going through. Despite COVID-19 pandemic forced a social distancing and confinement since March 2020, workers, educators, young people, indigenous people and peasants decided to join in massive peaceful protests that began last April 28 within a decisive National Strike.
The protests have been extended for more than 8 days in several cities of the nationwide, highlighting fair social demands, which refer among other issues to remove the health bill 010, basic income, defense of national production, zero enrollment, non-gender discrimination, and blocking the return of aerial spraying with glyphosate to eradication of illicit crops, among other matters enhancing new demands.
The mobilization agenda submits a great social nonconformity in the midst of a health crisis that has highlighted the huge social inequalities exacerbated with a 5.4% increase of unemployment during 2020 against 2019 according to DANE data. Young people and women have been the most adversely impacted by lack of opportunities; according to NGO Oxfam Intermon figures, 5% loss to women’s employment has been estimated at a global level.
In order to perform an actual creation of our Colombian democracy, it is important that government guarantees an opinion-and-mobilization citizen freedom; however, demonstrations have been spoiled by strong police violence and excessive force that has been questioned by UN, European Union and several national and international organizations statements calling for respect by the state to human rights, particularly the right to life and personal safety. Despite accusations spreading through social networks over the planet, violence does not stop and even has been increased with re-emergence of military actions against population and attacks by mercenaries who shoot indiscriminately at demonstrators and then flee, such as at night of May 5 where three Universidad Tecnológica de Pereira’s students who were peacefully protesting were shot, and the student leader Lucas Villa was painfully wounded; a guy committed to defend public education and peaceful protest, whose fact is outrageous.
The government by President Iván Duque has not a strong message to the Colombian society to overcome the crisis; a wide wing of the government party resorts to failed proposals during the recent past of the Uribe administration, such as the statement of the state of internal commotion, which would give unusual power to the President of the Republic to control social demonstrations, take control of communications and enforce other measures despite their legality but would turn into forceful interventions worsening social unrest.
A dialogue willingness seems too softy by the national government through carefully selection channels carried out with political parties, institutions, university rectors and one or two social actors that don’t characterize the thousands of demonstrators who continue expressing themselves in the streets. Negotiated solutions to the conflict in the country are urgently required; the recent Colombian history taking into account the Peace Agreement signed in 2016 is a valuable experience for that. We must not hesitate any longer and every social sector participating in the mobilizations must be widely arranged through concrete round-table dialogues with clear issues and methodological routes contributing to discuss and solve the crisis our country is experiencing. It is necessary to build agreements with all the Colombian people, understanding their demands, and undertaking the economic and political changes required to resume the path of national reconciliation.
Choosing authoritarianism surely will only intensify violence and the country will be the same as other times: a painted-blood spot in the American continent. Dialogue is the way, it is the best option, but this discussion must be honest, truthful in face to all social sectors of the country. As Paulo Freire would say: “The dialogue as a democratic relationship is the chance, I have to be open to thinking of others, not to become extinct in solitude,” a relevant phrase during these times so the government does not choose for loneliness, despair and death.
* Rector of the Universidad Pedagógica Nacional