COLOMBIA, the country that has been hailed by the US as the second most populous ‘democracy’ in South America and a key partner in US attempts to overthrow Nicolas Maduro, the democratically elected leader of neighbouring Venezuela, is on the brink of social revolution.
On Wednesday, trade unions along with student groups took to the streets again in mass demonstrations demanding social change following the breakdown of talks between Colombian trade unions and the government led by the extreme right wing president Ivan Duque.
The mass movement against the Duque regime began over a month ago after the government introduced a law which increased taxes for the working and middle classes, who were already reeling from the economic meltdown of Colombia accelerated by the Covid-19 pandemic. 1.5 million Colombian workers would have seen tax increases under this law.
With the country’s economy shrinking by 6.8% last year over 2.8 million Colombians have been driven into extreme poverty while almost a third of young Colombians are neither working nor in education.
The tax increase proposed by Duque proved to be the last straw and despite the fact that he was forced to swiftly abandon it in the face of mass opposition, it was the springboard for an uprising that has spread across the entire country.
Demonstrations continued and the demands expanded to include the withdrawal of health reforms (that strengthened the hold of private healthcare companies), measures to stop the increasing economic inequality and the de-militarisation of cities. Trade unions, students, farmers and truckers took to the streets in protest, clashing violently with police, blocking highways, and causing nationwide petrol shortages.
The weeks of protests have brought Colombia to a virtual standstill and protesters have been met with a brutal response from the police and army instructed by Duque to smash the demonstrations.
More than 10,000 troops and police attacked protesters to try and stop the mass movement that erupted but to no avail. The exact death toll of protesters at the hands of the police is not known but human rights groups put the total at around 50 with over 500 injured.
National strike committees, made up of major unions, student groups and others, emerged from the movement and have been engaged in several discussions with government representatives about the protesters’ demands. These informal talks were due to resume yesterday but they are doomed not to satisfy the demands of the masses of workers given Duque’s refusal to condemn police violence.
The economic crisis, accelerated by the initial lockdown measures forced on Duque at the start of the pandemic, has driven the masses forward and made them determined to bring down the government.
This revolutionary threat to the ‘stability’ of capitalist Colombia has in turn caused turmoil on the world capitalist financial markets.
Yesterday, the Wall Street banks JP Morgan and Morgan Stanley predicted that Fitch (the international credit rating company) would downgrade Colombia’s credit rating to junk before the year is out and spark forced selling of the country’s bonds.
This follows a similar move by S&P Global Ratings on Wednesday as the fear of revolution in Colombia grows within the US government and the speculators.
The influential financial news site Bloomberg wrote this week that: ‘Duque is right to scale back some of his proposed tax increases and meet with protest leaders – but he shouldn’t capitulate to all of their demands, which have grown to include calls for a universal basic income.’
In other words, Duque should make some concessions and engage in fruitless talks with the unions and students to avert the immediate danger but refuse to take even the modest step of alleviating the extreme poverty through implementing a basic income. Such a precedent would hit the profits of the ruling class and bankers and only encourage uprisings across Latin America.
Colombian workers and youth have gone too far and sacrificed too much to be bought off with this. The demand now must be to kick out Duque and his government and bring in a workers’ and small farmers’ government.
The immediate issue is to build a section of the International Committee of the Fourth International in Colombia and throughout Latin America to lead the struggle for the socialist revolution to victory.