Open Letter to the Public About the Situation in Colombia


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COLOMBIA—June 21, 2021

Academics and intellectuals from several countries express our rejection and condemnation of the ongoing violations of human rights in Colombia in the context of the 2021 National Strike and its massive protests.

Since April 28th, different social sectors of the Colombian population took to the streets to demonstrate against a Tax Reform proposed by the National Government that severely affected the middle class and the most impoverished groups, and in turn favored large private companies and the ruling classes. Thousands of citizens flooded the streets and public squares of large cities and small villages throughout the country to peacefully express their discontent. The protagonists of these historical events are protesters, among whom the unemployed youths and those with few employment opportunities—people who do not see a good future for themselves in this country—stand out.

After one month of mobilizations, a social movement has emerged that gathers the voices of many Colombian citizens—whose motives and demands transcend the original ones— overcoming the opposition to the Tax Reform, and pointing to structural problems and social inequality exacerbated by the pandemic. These protests are the social outbreak of a generalized indignation, already evident since the previous National Strike of 2019. Such indignation—amplified by the historical debt of the government with those marginalized and impoverished social sectors—is the actual trigger of the current situation in the country. This is why—despite the withdrawal of the Tax Reform and other unpopular measures such as the Health Reform—the demonstrations continue. In response to the protests, the Government of President Iván Duque Márquez has deployed the Police forces, Mobile Anti-Riot Squadron (known in Spanish as ESMAD) and the Military Forces throughout the country, causing an alarming number of violent situations involving human rights violations. The government holds that the use of force aims at safeguarding citizens’ right to mobility and their private and public property from what it calls organized structures of “vandals” and “terrorists”, thus stigmatizing social protesters.

Videos and Images of these events have flooded social networks, allowing international media to report on the repression and violations of human rights happening in Colombia. These images, that come from all around the country, are the result of the desperation of thousands of Colombians who, faced with the misinformation and false statements of traditional mass media, find no other choice but to denounce themselves with their own means the police cruelty, censorship, electrical network shutdowns, and suspension of the internet service that are taking place. At the present time, some of the international media have been available in the country registering directly many of such human rights violations.

To this day, Colombian President Iván Duque and his cabinet insist that these events are isolated cases and do not constitute a systematic practice, despite the fact that several NGOs have documented more than a couple thousand cases of excess police force: thousands of reported arbitrary arrests and victims of physical violence, hundreds cases of fire arm use by the police and unknown civilians against protesters—collusion of the State with groups of private security to carry out actions that are exclusive to the public force—dozens of deaths, cases of sexual violence at the hands of armed forces, and eye injuries. In addition, other concrete forms of violence perpetrated by the State stand out, like displacement and persecution for racial reasons, harassment and attacks against the medical missions and journalists, illegal raids, and threats against social leaders.

Furthermore, some spokesmen of Iván Duque’s government—since the beginning of his mandate—have reiteratively stigmatized and criminalized human rights defenders, activists, environmentalists, young people, and former FARC-EP members who demobilized as part of the negotiations of the 2016 Peace Agreement. Thus, in a similar way, they have also accused current National Strike’s protesters of belonging to groups outside the law, such as drug trafficking mafias and leftist guerrillas, thus promoting and validating the use of excessive public force against them. It is striking how this stigmatization and criminalization, which also comes from prominent public figures, evolved into a call for civilians to take up arms against protesters giving them free license to make use of deadly paramilitary strategies with impunity.

The government’s militaristic approach reveals its alienation from, and disregard for those citizens who have legitimately taken the streets. Understanding the ongoing protests in Colombia requires recognizing that the current discontent is the result of decades of accumulation of profound and unresolved social problems—the result of current and past claims long contained through the emphasis in the historical armed conflict and State repression—which have finally exploded.

Although the national government has provided some spaces for dialogue with certain groups, they have been unsuccessful. On the one hand, the government’s staunch rejection of the blockades has hindered reaching consensus, for it neglects the brutal impacts of its repressive response—which it deems justifiable, proportionate and non-negotiable, as long as blockades exist—and also the centrality of the crucial economic, social and political problems that afflict a large sector of the country’s population. On the other hand, the so-called Coalition of Hope and the National Strike Committee have failed to articulate the various demands of the social majorities that call for a space to be heard.

The negative of the government to acknowledge its disproportionate use of repression, along with the representativeness crisis and the evident lack of real spaces for dialogue, are the main reasons that haven’t allowed the different interlocutors to find action paths to solve the main issues that fuel the protests. At the present moment, repression from police and other kinds of institutional violence intensify throughout the country, concretely due to president Ivan Duque’s non negotiable decree of “Military Assistance”1

Furthermore, the Colombian people have unsuccessfully raised to the Colombian government the legitimate demand to de-escalate State violence against protesters, cease the criminalization of the social protests and generate the public debates necessary to address the social, economic and political transformations that the country seeks.

We then urge the Colombian Government and President Iván Duque to comply with the demands for an end to the institutional violence against protesters and civilians in general. Additionally, we recommend promoting and guaranteeing spaces for public and concerted dialogue with all the sectors of society that are part of the current demonstrations, particularly those that are not represented in the few meetings that the Government has had with some organizations.

We also urge the Colombian Government and civil society to advance in the search for alternatives to this vicious circle of repression and structural violence. We encourage them to devise alternatives that help to transform daily life and to build new forms of peaceful coexistence, in the same way that many forms of solidarity have spontaneously taken place in these demonstrations.

Finally, efforts must be made to enable and guarantee the continuity of citizens’ political participation, in its call for demanding respect for fundamental human rights, both at local and national levels. Such efforts require transparent mechanisms that include citizen oversight, and the demand of an adequate and timely visibility of such participation by national and international mass media.

Sincerely,

Ada Acevedo Alonso, Northern Michigan University (USA) and National University of Colombia, Colombia

Adrian Johnston,  Distinguished Professor and Chair, Department of Philosophy, University of New Mexico, United States

Agon Hamza, Assistant Professor of Philosophy at ISSHS, Prishtina, Kosovo

Aldo Agunin, Licentiate, Argentina

Alenka Zupančič, Institute of Philosophy,  Scientific Research Center of the Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts, Ljubljana, Slovenia

Alex Taek-Gwang Lee, Kyung Hee University, South Korea

Aman Zutshi, Central University of Jammu, India

Andy Blunden, Writer and Philosopher, Australia

Anselm Jappe, Philosopher, Germany

Avital Ronell, New York University, Jacques Derrida Professor of Media & Philosophy, European Graduate School; United States

Camilo Pérez-Bustillo, Institute of Geography for Peace (Cd. Juárez, Chihuahua, Mexico); Witness at the Border/Testigos en la Frontera (USA/Mexico); International Tribunal of Conscience of Peoples in Movement (ITCPM) (Mexico City-Tenochtitlan), Mexico

Carlo Ginzburg, UCLA (USA) /Scuola Normale Superiore di Pisa (Italy), Professor Emeritus

Carlos Antonio Aguirre Rojas, Historian, Mexico

Carlos Eduardo Maldonado Castañeda, Full Professor, University of El Bosque, Colombia

Carlos Pérez Soto, ARCIS University, Chile 

Catherine Malabou, Professor of European Studies and Languages and of Comparative Literature, UC Irvine, USA

Cecil Winter, Writer and Activist, France

César Sánchez Avella, Professor, Department of Cultural Studies, Pontifical Xavierian University, Colombia

Chantal Jaquet, University of Paris 1 Pantheon-Sorbonne, France

Costas Douzinas, School of Law – Birkbeck, University of London, UK

Costas Lapavitsas, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, UK

Daniel Mesa Betancur, University of Antioquia, Colombia

David Higuita Olaya, Latin American Autonomous University (UNAULA), M.A. Constitutional Law University of Sevilla (Spain), Colombia

David Parra, Academic, Chile

David Pavón Cuéllar, Michoacan University of Saint Nicholas of Hidalgo (UMSNH), Mexico 

Diego Andrés González Cardona, Research Professor, PhD. in Social Sciences, Autonomous University of Mexico State, Mexico

Dorothea von Hantelmann, Bard College Berlin, Germany

Drucilla Cornell, Emeritus Professor, Rutgers University, USA

Edgar Barrero, Executive Director of the Cátedra Libre Martín Baró, Colombia

Eduardo Mendieta, Penn State University, USA

Enrique Dussel, Professor Emeritus of the Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana-Iztapalapa, Mexico

Enzo Traverso, Historian, Cornell University, USA

Eric Fassin, Sociologist, Université Paris 8, France 

Erica Burman, Professor of Education, Manchester Institute of Education, School of Environment, Education and Development, The University of Manchester, UK

Étienne Balibar, Anniversary Chair of Modern European Philosophy, Kingston University London, UK

Etienne Turpin, Philosopher, Anexact office (Germany)

Francisco Cortés Rodas, University of Antioquia, Colombia

François Dosse, Professor Emeritus of the University Paris 12 (France)

Frank Ruda, University of Dundee (UK)

Fredric Jameson, Duke University (USA)

Gabriel Salazar Vergara, University of Chile

Gayatri Spivak, Columbia University (USA)

Geoff P. N. Bradley, Teikyo University, Japan

George Ciccariello-Maher, Vassar College (USA)

Gerardo Ávalos-Tenorio, Universidad Autónoma Metropolitana (UAM), Mexico

Gina Paola Barón González, Licentiate and M.A. in Philosophy, Colombia

Giovanni Levi, Professor Emeritus in Early Modern History, University Ca’ Foscari of Venice, Italy

Göran Therborn, Professor Emeritus, University of Cambridge, UK

Guillaume Sibertin-Blanc, University Paris 8 (France)

Harold A. Ortíz Calero, Universidad Libre de Colombia, Cali Sectional, Colombia

Heather Davis, Eugene Lang College, The New School (USA)

Henry Giroux, Scholar and Cultural Critic

Ian Parker, Emeritus Professor of Management, University of Leicester, UK 

Ivonne Suárez Pinzón, Universidad Industrial de Santander, Colombia

Jaime Torres Buelvas, Professor, Faculty of Law, Universidad Cooperativa de Colombia

Jairo Gallo Acosta, Psychoanalyst, Full-Time Professor, Universidad Cooperativa de Colombia

Jairo Rodríguez, Pontifical Xavierian University, Colombia

Jan De Vos, School of Social Sciences, Cardiff University, UK

Jason Read, University of Southern Maine, USA

Jason W. Moore, Binghamton University, USA

Jodi Dean, Hobart and William Smith Colleges (USA) 

John D. Hernández Rey, Licentiate in Humanities – CECAR, Educative Research and Innovation Specialist – CECAR, Colombia

Jorge Alemán, Writer and Psychoanalyst

José A. Gutiérrez, Saint Thomas University of Medellin, Associate Researcher of the Institute for International Conflict Resolution and Reconstruction del Dublin City University

José Fernando Patiño Torres, Research Professor of the Faculty of Psychology – Federal University of Tocantins, Brasil

José Miguel Pereira, Colombian Association of Communication Researchers (Asociación Colombiana de Investigadores en Comunicación) – ACICOM, Colombia

Juan Esteban Villegas Restrepo, Research Professor of Literature

Judith Butler, University of California, Berkeley (USA)

Julián Camilo Riaño Moreno, Physician – El Bosque University and Universidad Cooperativa de Colombia, Colombia

Julián Casanova, Department of History, University of Zaragoza (Spain)

Kojin Karatani, Philosopher, Japan

Laurent de Sutter, Vrije University Brussels (Belgium)

Lorenzo Chiesa, Philosopher

Luis Eslava, Kent Law School, University of Kent (UK)

Manuel Preciado, PhD (c) Philosophy, University of the Andes, Colombia

Marcello Musto, Professor of Sociology, York University, Canada

María del Rosario Acosta López, Professor, Department of Hispanic Studies, University of California, Riverside (USA)

Mark Coeckelbergh, University of Vienna (Austria)

Martin E. Jay, University of California Berkeley (USA)

Matthieu de Nanteuil, Professor of Sociology, Catholic University of Louvain (Belgium)

Michael Hardt, Philosopher, USA

Michael Löwy, Emerit Research Director, CNRS, Paris (France) 

Mike Davis, University of California Riverside (USA)

Miran Božovič, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia

Mladen Dolar, University of Ljubljana, Slovenia

Mónica Muñoz Gallego, Doctor of Social Sciences, National University of La Plata (UNLP) (Argentina)

Nancy Fraser, The New School for Social Research (USA) 

Nick Srnicek, King’s College London (UK)

Noam Chomsky, Institute Professor (Emeritus) MIT, Laureate Professor University of Arizona (USA)

Óscar Barroso Fernández, Titular Professor of Philosophy, University of Granada (Spain)

Óscar Carpintero, University of Valladolid (Spain)

Óscar Guardiola-Rivera, Professor of Political Philosophy and Human Rights, Birkbeck College, University of London, Fellow of the RSA (UK)

Oxana Timofeeva, Sc.D., Professor at the European University at St. Petersburg, Russia

Pablo “Manolo” Rodríguez, University of Buenos Aires, Argentina

Paola Gandolfi, University of Bergamo (Italy)

Peter Burke, Emmanuel College Cambridge (UK)

Peter Hallward, Professor of Philosophy, Kingston University (UK)

Peter McLaren, Chapman University (USA)

Pierre Dardot, Philosopher, France

Renán Vega Cantor, Professor, Universidad Pedagógica Nacional (Bogotá), Colombia

Ricardo Espinoza Lolas, Cathedratic of History of Contemporary Philosophy, Institute of Philosophy, Pontifical Catholic University of Valparaíso, Chile

Robert Pfaller, Philosopher

Rogelio Acevedo Oquendo, Philosopher, National University of Colombia, M.A. in Latin American Philosophy 

Roger Bartra Murià, Sociologist and Anthropologist, Mexico

Samo Tomšič, Philosopher, Slovenia

Sandino Nuñez, Philosopher, Uruguay

Santiago Patarroyo Rengifo, Philosopher and Universitary Professor, Colombia

Santiago Zabala, ICREA Research Professor, Pompeu Fabra University (Spain)

Sara Mazuera, Social Anthropology MA Candidate, FLACSO – Argentina, Colombia

Saskia Sassen, Columbia University, New York (USA)

Sebastián Hincapié Rojas, University of Antioquia, Colombia

Sergio Andrés Rueda, Translator, Colombia

Shlomo Sand, History Department, Tel Aviv University (Israel)

Silvia Federici, Philosopher (Italy/USA)

Slavoj Žižek, Philosopher, Slovenia

Soledad Platero Puig, Journalist and Literary Critic, Uruguay

Susan Buck-Morss, Professor of Political Science, CUNY Graduate Center (USA)

Tariq Ali, Writer (UK)

Tulio Elí Chinchilla Herera, Full Professor of Constitutional Law, Faculty of Law and Political Sciences, University of Antioquia, Colombia

Vanessa Donneys Valencia, Psychologist – University of Valle, M.A. in Intervention on Disability and Dependency – Universidade da Coruña (Spain), Colombia

Vladimir Safatle, University of São Paulo (Brazil)

Yannis Stavrakakis, Political Theorist (Greece/UK)

Yuli Angélica Pinzón Rico, National University of Colombia


Notes

[1] The Decree 575 of may 28th, 2021, whose objective was to restore public order through the use of the Public Force in Valle del Cauca and 7 other departments of Colombia. This decree has already been considered by numerous experts as unconstitutional. Additionally, the government carried out a modification to Decree 003/2021, which had arisen in response to ruling STC-7641-2020 of September 22, 2020, in which the Supreme Court of Justice ordered the Government to take measures to guarantee the right to social protest and also offer apologies for the abuses of the ESMAD (Anti-Riot Mobile Squadron of Police). In turn, this ruling of the Supreme Court of Justice arose in response to a tutela action (constitutional injunction) instituted by organizations and attorneys-in-fact for victims of police violence in the 2019 National Strike. The recent amendment of the Colombian government to Decree 003/2021 establishes that any type of deliberate road or infrastructure blockage, with a temporal or permanent character, does not constitute a legitimate form of peaceful demonstration by the protesters, thus limiting the right to social protest, criminalizing said forms, and endorsing the use of the Public Force to dissolve them. These recent modifications to Decree 003/2021 seem to legitimize, strengthen and justify Decree 575/2021, in such a way that the militarization of the entire country ends up being explicitly based on the alleged illegal and illegitimate nature of the forms of social protest that emerged already from the 2019 National Strike, and it becomes, ironically, the legitimation of the already habitual excesses of state violence, and a deepening of the limitation of the right to social protest.

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