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.

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.’

Strikes set to spread as Santos arrives 6hrs late for negotiations and Quintana shows support

English language Colombian dailies Colombia Politics and Colombia Reports today continue to highlight the groundswell of support for the strike and protest movement, with teachers set to join in on 10th September and oil workers showing support. Even the famous cyclist Quintana has come out in support of the strikers.

‘The Week Santos Lost Colombia’ report by Colombia Politics.

‘Colombia govt delegation arrives 6 hrs late at meeting with farmers, strikes expand to oil sectors’ from Colombia Reports; and

‘Colombia cyclist Nairo Quintana publicly supports anti government protests‘.

Grassroots news and reports will be put up as soon as we can locate them, but for ongoing updates on the ground, you can go to this Facebook page. It is in Spanish but ‘bling’ provides translations of each message.

Social protest grows across Colombia as trade union leader arrested

Two reports early today highlight that the strikes and protests currently gripping the country, far from abating are, in fact, growing and spreading.

Other news of concern is the arrest of a trade union leader who is due to speak at the Trade Union Congress in the UK.

The first report is from Colombia Reports, headlined: ‘Social unrest in Colombia spreads as govt fails to reach out to strikers’

“As President Juan Manuel Santos’ government tries to calm the situation through localized negotiations, Colombia’s national strike movement is gaining momentum with shows of support from the citizenry and the addition of new groups to strike efforts.” Read More.

The second report is from The City Paper, headlined: ‘Strike: Boyaca‘s predicament’

“The normally tranquil roads winding through the mountainous department of Boyaca have become the eipcenter of Colombia’s agrarian strike over the last week as protestors block major highways and dump truckloads of tomatoes and milk onto the streets. Farmers protesting Colombia’s Free Trade Agreement with the United States and the price of fertilizer, among other economic issues, have succeeded in preventing the transport of agricultural products to the nation’s capital and in bringing Boyaca to a standstill.” Read More.

windin
The normally tranquil roads winding through the mountainous department of Boyacá have become the epicenter of Colombia’s agrarian strike over the last week as protestors block major highways and dump truckloads of tomatoes and milk onto the streets.  Farmers protesting Colombia’s Free Trade Agreement with the United States and the price of fertilizer, among other economic issues, have succeeding in preventing the transport of agricultural products to the nation’s capital and in bringing Boyacá to a standstill. – See more at: http://thecitypaperbogota.com/news/strike-boyacas-predicament/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+thecitypaperbogota+%28The+City+Paper+Bogot%C3%A1%29#sthash.XdTCnAgG.dpuf
The normally tranquil roads winding through the mountainous department of Boyacá have become the epicenter of Colombia’s agrarian strike over the last week as protestors block major highways and dump truckloads of tomatoes and milk onto the streets.  Farmers protesting Colombia’s Free Trade Agreement with the United States and the price of fertilizer, among other economic issues, have succeeding in preventing the transport of agricultural products to the nation’s capital and in bringing Boyacá to a standstill. – See more at: http://thecitypaperbogota.com/news/strike-boyacas-predicament/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+thecitypaperbogota+%28The+City+Paper+Bogot%C3%A1%29#sthash.XdTCnAgG.dpuf
The normally tranquil roads winding through the mountainous department of Boyacá have become the epicenter of Colombia’s agrarian strike over the last week as protestors block major highways and dump truckloads of tomatoes and milk onto the streets.  Farmers protesting Colombia’s Free Trade Agreement with the United States and the price of fertilizer, among other economic issues, have succeeding in preventing the transport of agricultural products to the nation’s capital and in bringing Boyacá to a standstill. – See more at: http://thecitypaperbogota.com/news/strike-boyacas-predicament/?utm_source=feedburner&utm_medium=feed&utm_campaign=Feed%3A+thecitypaperbogota+%28The+City+Paper+Bogot%C3%A1%29#sthash.XdTCnAgG.dpuf

The third is from Justice for Colombia, regarding the arrest of the trade union leader Huber Ballasteros:

“The CUT, Colombia’s largest trade union confederation has called for the release of Huber Ballesteros, one of the country’s most high-profile union and opposition leaders.

“Ballesteros was arrested on Sunday 25th August in Bogota. The arrest comes in the midst of mass industrial action taking place around the country in the agricultural, health, transport and energy sectors. Ballesteros is one of the leaders of the strikes and one of the 10 person committee set up for any eventual negotiations with the Government.

“He was due to address the TUC Conference on Wednesday 11th September as well as JFC Fringe meeting at lunchtime on the Tuesday 10th, as the official guest of the TUC. He also had several meetings with MPs in Westminster.” Read More