Santos government divides, rules and appears set to let loose the military on the remaining protestors

We have paused updating our blog due to the fact that the English media, and some blogs, reported that encapuchado’s kicked off the violence in Bogota last week, and were ultimately responsible for the chaos that ensured. The exception is this blog, from Bristol, UK, of all places, which brilliantly provides context and detailed reporting of what happened on 29th August and the outcome. It includes action that citizens can take to support the protests tomorrow, 4th September.

There was deeply biased reporting from the English-language media, where reporters and bloggers failed to place the violence in context and appeared to have conveniently ignored the fact that far more demonstrators were hurt, some seriously: i.e. they were killed. Immediately following the violence there was also not one single eye witness report from the side of the demonstrators who took part in taking on the riot police.

One organization suggested it was the police themselves who instigated the riot, and it is difficult to ascertain whether there were any people present who simply decided they had had enough of the horrific violence meted out to protestors and initiated an offensive or whether it was the police who went on the attack first and some protestors decided to resist by fighting back.

In their rush to condemn the encapuchado’s in the aftermath of the events of 29th August, nobody within the English-speaking press appears to have thought through whether these possible scenarios may be the case, less point out the harms that had been done to demonstrators who were not involved in any stone throwing, damaging or buildings, or attacks on the cops.

Even assuming there were attacks on the police by demonstrators, this has not been put into wider context. Given the lack of reporting of the side of the encapuchado’s in the English language press and blogs, and that we could not do justice to the Spanish language ones, we have held back and let time pass to give the events some perspective.

Much has been made of the lone woman who stood in front of riot police while they were attacked by protestors. Much less has been made of the footage where another group of riot police were cornered and a large groups of demonstrators successfully halted an attack on them. And even less has been made of a police riot in the backstreets, where the cops arrived on motorcycles and indiscriminately chased and tried to attack anybody within sight. We managed to locate a Spanish-language blog that shows these video’s [We urge caution in viewing the first video which shows a badly beaten young person; it is the second video that should be watched by all concerned citizens.]

The response of the government has been to send 50,000 troops onto the streets and into the provinces, and negotiate a deal with one group of workers to end their strike, leaving others more isolated – but continuing to protest. Bogota has been reported to have been effectively militarized. but far more worrying are the large numbers of troops who have been sent into Boyaca, the region that has seen months of resistance, not to mention human rights abuses against protestors.

As disappointing as it’s response to the violence in Bogota was, Colombia Reports at least has the decency to interview protest leaders in the department of Boyaca and report on the viscous actions of the riot police in the region, which has largely gone unreported by the press:

“Leading up to last Friday, protests in Boyaca were marred by widespread reports of police brutality and human rights violations. ESMAD forces across the department were accused of using excessive, indiscriminate violence in dealing with roadblocks and other protests, allegedly breaking into homes, gassing children and seniors not participating in the protests, destroying or stealing property, issuing death threats to farmers and journalists and preventing medical treatment from reaching protesters after violent encounters.

Now, after a presidential order brought a massive military presence to the department, Molina said she fears that a government crackdown is inevitable if protesters take to the streets again.

“[The government says it] sent 50,000 troops around the country, but looking around, you would think they’re all here in Boyaca. The roads, the public spaces, they are everywhere. And what will they do if the people of Boyaca try and take control of the highways like before? The highways are too important to [the Santos administration] for the army to let that happen.

“They are soldiers, all they know how to do is kill people.”

We support all forms of resistance and reject government attempts to taint the protestors as ‘terrorists’. That is merely a justification for the government, riot police and army to unleash further terror on an already battered and oppressed people.

Never before has the title of the Spanish blog we located been more apt: the heading is: ‘Lies and the Media [turn off the TV-shit]’ This protest is far from over yet.


More definitions: the encapuchados involved in the protests

We came across this Spanish term for the first time, thanks to Mike’s Bogota Blog.

An ‘encapuchado’ is a ‘hooded person’. Mike’s blog entry is chiefly an investigation in the farmer’s plight and why they feel hard done by. At the end of his report, however, he writes that yesterdays’ protests turned violent probably because the ‘hoodies’ took the initiative in attacking the police.

We cannot, of course, verify this for a fact until we come across witness reports, but there is a good range of pictures showing the demonstrations that makes Mike’s Bogota blog worth a look-see.

Mike writes that: ‘One policeman was seriously injured by a rock blow to his head,’ What we also think is important to report, if it is known, is how many demonstrators were injured or hurt by the actions of the riot police? Our tagged reports give some figures there.

Photo’s and Video of today’s protest from Soacha, and Bogota

Photos of Colombia’s protests: tension in Soacha, gritty area near Bogota, from El Espectador, can be found here:

‘Soacha bloqueada por protestas’

The headline reads:

“The neighboring municipality awoke on Thursday to find the streets blocked by protests. No public transport was available and there have been acts of vandalism.”
If there are any ‘acts of vandalism’, one should first take a look at the actions of the riot police, the ESMAD,: see this report today by Colombia Reports: ‘Colombian government to answer for ‘excessive’ force used in protests’
Even the Wall Street Journal has carried a report, there’s a short video of protestors fighting back.

Update on news reporting on today’s day of action across Colombia

Colombian workers in rural and urban areas, students and many other sectors have held numerous protests across the country today. Unsurprisingly, the police have attacked the demonstrators, with reports suggesting the police have used live ammunition. People have courageously fought back with whatever they can.

In a headline ‘Anti-government protests in Colombia; Violent clashes with Police in Bogota and Medellin’, Colombia Reports starts:

“Tens of thousands have taken to the streets across Colombia in the biggest show of force from anti-government protests since agriculture workers went on strike last week. Violent clashes were reported, primarily from Bogota.

Protesters started arriving at the Plaza Bolivar in Bogota in the late morning, and by the early afternoon there were roughly 10,000 people assembled in the city’s main square. Caracol Radio, one of Colombia’s national media intensely following ongoing protests, reported that a total of 40,000 people were protesting around the city.” Read more here.

Al Jazeera reports: ‘Colombian President seeks calm amidst protests’.

Colombia Reports also writes that it appears Santos can no longer ignore the protests, albeit only referring to the ‘agricultural sector’, while students are threatening to join the action.

The indigenous Wayuu people are reported to have blocked the main road in the north between Colombia and Venezuela in the far northeast region of La Guajira, forcing the closure of several businesses in Maicao.

Human Rights abuses: a reminder

In light of the arrest and imprisonment of trade union leader Huber Ballasteros, The Guardian writes on the continued human rights abuses in Colombia, which the author terms Colombia’s ‘dirty secret’. It’s a reminder of the real risks, and courage, the people of Colombia take when they protest or become involved in organizations that organize to fight for workers and people’s rights:

“At the end of July, I found myself in sitting in the attorney general’s office in Colombia. I had spent the previous week travelling across the country with the NGO Justice for Colombia, and the idea was for me to meet the attorney general’s office and talk about the things I’d observed – the political prisoners I’d heard about, the state atrocities, the unsolved executions.” Read more here: ‘Human rights in Colombia: how bad do things have to get?

Tensions ahead of protests on Thursday reported

Colombia Politics tweet:

“Colombia, universities and schools closed tomorrow to protect students. Mass marches expected. Tension increases as strike grows”

We expect to see a flurry of reports in the coming days and weeks. Our intention is to report on what happens on the ground and how local communities, in rural as well as urban areas, are getting organized, involving more local people, resisting State oppression, and ensuring people do not go without food in the process.


City demonstrations planned for Thursday 29 August

Colombia Reports write:

“CUT General Secretary Tarsicio Rivera told Colombia Reports that demonstrations are scheduled to take place Thursday in each of the 32 departmental capitals, including Bogota, and all other large urban centers in Colombia.

The event seeks to highlight the national platforms of labor groups, such as health workers, truckers and teachers, whose movements have been somewhat eclipsed by the public clamor over the agricultural strikes, but the marches will also give sectors recently entering the protest fray an opportunity to spread their messages.

Entering large-scale protest activities for the first time since the start of the recent wave of civil unrest are the national oil (USO), student (MANE) and banking (UNEB) unions.”

Read the full report here ‘Colombia’s largest union calls for protests in support of strikes.’