archivos de los protestos globales

12 October Colombian National Strike

Mass Movement Says - No to Uribe! No to FTA!

Despite violent repression half a million workers went on strike against hard right President Uribe's re-election and his raft of neoliberal policies, most especially the Free Trade Agreement which is in its last round of negotiations with the US.

Two hundred thousand protesters marching through the streets of Bogotá is itself a great achievement, but the most striking feature of the day has been the passionate and varied mobilisations of indigenous, black and peasant communities who in many parts of the country were joined by trade unions and other working class social movements.

The state's clampdown has been building up for weeks, with an escalation of assassinations of activists and leaders. On the eve of the national strike, riot police and students battled for five hours on the campus of the National University in Bogotá, at least four students were taken to unknown destinations... Then police raids started early morning on the 12th, again targeting young people in the working class district of Bosa.

By breakfast, four hundred people who gathered at the Samaritana hospital preparing to join the protest were totally surrounded by police and not allowed to leave. And at a remote spot called El Mango, on the road between Mariquita and Ibague, state forces detained a whole demonstration.

But the activity coming up from below couldn't be stopped. The entire public sector closed in the Caribbean city Barranquilla, as three feeder marchers assembled from 7am before converging on the city centre at midday. Despite a massive police presence in Santa Marta, thousands of workers took to streets.

Twenty thousand people joined what became the biggest march for 20 years in Neiva, capital of Huila province. Around fifteen thousand indigenous marched 40 km over two days through the cities of Pereira and Manizales in the coffee region

Five thousand Zenú indigineous people marched for 10 kilometres to Sincelejo, where they were joined by three thousand trade unionists and students. Referring to Columbus' 'discovery' of the Americas on 12 October 1492, the Zenú banners commemorated 513 years of "Resistance against the invasion of our territory". Only half of the indigenous people are entitled to state health care, and further protest days are planned to fight cuts in public services.

Following a similar pattern, in Popayán 3,500 indigenous marches were met by other social movement protesters. The united demonstration took over both carriageways of the Pan-American Highway and marched to support health workers union ANTHOC in occupation of the department's headquarters. Also in the south west, four thousand peasant and indigenous people marched from Mallama to Ricaurte in Nariño departament.

Five thousand members of the Process of Black Communities and other social movements marched in Buenaventura, on the Pacific coast.

As well as the marches in provincial capitals, there have been reports of peasants taking action in their localities, blocking roads to mark the day. At around 5pm riot police and the army attacked peasant actions with teargas and live ammunition in Corinto and Miranda in Cauca department. At least two indigenous leaders were assassinated.

A special ceremony took place in the San Lucas mountains of South Bolívar as hundreds of men, women and children gathered to reclaim the land that is being seized from them by the gold mining multinational Kedhada. The army declared a state of siege in the oil province Arauca that borders Venezuela, banning all demonstrations.

Compiled from reports by correspondents embedded in the social movements, and posted on the Indymedia Colombia website.

Medellin strike and march

Eyewitness report from Frontline Latin America correspondent

In Medellin, more than 10,000 people marched through the city before filling Parque Berrio, the "town square", during two separate marches. Many teachers, university staff and students and public sector workers joined the national strike.

The first march left the Teachers Association of Antioquia (Adida) at 10am, and saw around 8,000 people including workers, pensioners, university students and secondary school pupils throng some of the city's main arteries. The crowd's many vivid banners unequivocally rejected the Free Trade Agreement being negotiated between the USA and Colombia, the possibility of President Alvaro Uribe's re-election, and the state's mistreatment of Colombia's indigenous communities.

All three protest themes carried a particular poignancy on this date, as it was the 513th anniversary of Christopher Columbus's landing in the Americas. The crowd's chants and banners drew parallels between the neo-colonialism of the FTA, the violation of democratic process in the re-election campaign, and the last half-a-millennium of genocide, discrimination and marginalisation suffered by the nation's indigenous people. "Globalise resistance, not capital," was one of the chants.

More than 300 riot police failed to dampen the crowd's festive mood. A massive group of students from the University of Antioquia and the Medellin campus of the National University brought up the rear of the demonstration.

In the day's other march, at least 2,500 people left from outside the Teatro Pablo Tobon Uribe at 5pm and also made their way to Parque Berrio. The mood was again festive, with marchers dancing, singing and chanting: "It's coming down... it's coming down... this corrupt system's coming down". In another chant, university students honoured "Comrade Jhony Silva", who was killed by riot police on the Universidad de Valle campus in Cali last month. At one point along the route heavily armed and body-armoured riot police emerged and surrounded the student group, most of whom were wearing masks to protect their identity and who were spearheaded by a huge "Stars and Stripes" with skulls in place of the stars and the message: "Imperialism OUT of Iraq, Colombia and the whole world".

Just before reaching Parque Berrio the students burned another large Stars and Stripes, this one with swastikas in place of the stars. The riot squad focussed their intimidating attentions on the students for the rest of the march, but the event passed without any violence. However, at least one marcher, Carlos Eduardo Arroyave, was taken away by police.

A marcher from the Sinaltrainal trade union, who asked not to be named, said the march was so that the world would know that working Colombians rejected the FTA, as it would destroy livelihoods: "This agreement is in the interests of the USA and multinational companies, but it will be terrible for ordinary workers here. The FTA is just the latest in the long history of US imperialism in Latin America."

A piece of history was also made at the event when SINTRAONG, Colombia's brand-new trade union for workers in NGOs, made its first-ever appearance in a demonstration.

Indigenous dancers who entertained marchers arriving in Parque Berrio underlined the message of leaders from the Indigenous Organisation of Antioquia, who told the crowd: "This is our land and always has been, and we will not be intimidated into silence."

12 Oct Photos

Heavy policing targeted students in northern city Bucaramanga

'A human sea' in Manizales

Protesters fill the streets of Popayán, in the south west

Trade unionists on Bogotá demonstration

Characters on the Bogotá demonstration - El Turbion newspaper

More images from the protest in capital Bogotá

A section of the 40km march in Risaralda coffee region

Union Delegation and Protest Outside Colombian Embassy in London.

Colombia Solidarity Campaign, Justice for Colombia and Hands Off Venezuela held a picket of the Colombian Embassy in London from 4pm to 6pm which was addressed by Soraya Gutierrez, President of the CAJAR Human Rights Lawyers Collective in Bogotá.

A delegation including Frances O'Grady Deputy General Secretary of the TUC and Jeremy Dear General Secretary of National Union of Journalists met with embassy officials to express their concerns.

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