Colombia Faces Further Political Upheaval as Protest Ensue

Colombia Faces Further Political Upheaval as Protest Ensue

Date:

A March Met With Gas:

The annual International Women’s Day march, which occurs in countries around the world, was faced with forced dispersion tactics by Colombian police in the nation’s capital, Bogotá, on Friday.

Many women marched in support of abortion, gender equality, the lack of political representation in Colombia, sexual violence against women, and against femicide, a crime that has plagued a number of countries within South and Central America for decades.

Protestors took up positions in streets across Bogotá, where they reportedly constructed barricades that impeded the flow of traffic. Police stated that protestors had damaged several TransMilenio, Bogotá’s bus system, stations, which led to the deployment of tear gas in order to disperse the protestors.

Despite the reported attacks on TransMilenio stations, a number of spokeswomen and protestors claimed the forced dispersion was to end the demonstration due to the nature of the march rather than the reasons authorities reported.

The Ministry of Labor expressed their support for those who attended the march before denouncing the actions of the police.

“As the Ministry of Labor, we reject the disproportionate use of force on International Working Women’s Day 8M (8th of March). It is up to institutions to care for and save the lives of women, not to be the cause of more violence.” The Ministry stated on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter. “As institutions, we must reduce the context of violence. For this reason, we reject the excessive force that was deployed in the march and in the Plaza de Bolívar, where the commemoration of 8M took place; there were children and older people there.”

President Gustavo Petro was also quick to denounce the actions during the march, stating that “the demonstrations do not disperse before proceeding to dialogue. Gas is only used as a last resort and if there is violence. It is not possible to have one treatment for the extreme right and another for the social movement.”

The “extreme right” the president mentioned was a reference to recent large-scale protests against Petro’s presidency, which broke out in Bogota and across the country on Wednesday.

The “Extreme Right:”

The protests broke out in Bogota as well as a number of other cities after opposition leaders called for Colombians across the country to take to the streets against President Gustavo Petro’s controversial “total peace” policy alongside several other reforms the President seeks to pass.

The protests remained peaceful as Colombians marched down the streets waving their nation’s flag while chanting slogans such as “Petro out” and “No more Petro!”

Protests in Bogota converged on the Plaza de Bolivar, a square that houses key cultural buildings as well as the nation’s Congressional building, with one congressman, Miguel Polo Polo, claiming that 60 thousand Colombians had gathered there for their voices to be heard. Protestors can be seen with signs demanding that Petro be removed from office, signs against abortion, and banners spreading awareness regarding recent disappearances alleged to be connected to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

Other cities, including Cali and Medellín, among others, also saw protests, while police estimate that nearly 52,000 people have taken action in these protests nationwide.

While the protests covered other policies such as Petro’s aim to reform the healthcare, pensions, labor, and education systems, many stated their opposition to the President’s “total peace” policy, one which has seen fierce criticism in recent days.

Total Peace:

President Petro has made it his top priority to bring an era of “total peace” to Colombia, seeking to end the 60-year civil conflict within the nation, which has led to the deaths of an estimated 450,000 people. Petro’s key goal is to reach a peace and eventual disarmament agreement with the various political guerilla groups that have turned to crime to finance their operations.


President Gustavo Petro (Photo – Wall Street Journal)

While Petro has seen success in negotiating ceasefires with the FARC and the National Liberation Army (ELN), many have alleged that these ceasefires have done little to help Colombians. Despite the ceasefire and terms in place to protect civilians from violence, there are still many cases of abduction and murder with traces of the FARC.

This, along with the FARC’s recent announcement of an alliance between them and the ELN, has left some worried about an increase in violent crime targeting rural Colombians as both groups attempt to “raise funds” for their goals.

The Man Behind the Policy:

Before he was President, Gustavo Petro was a member of the Colombian communist rebel group known as M-19, a group that, much like the FARC, practiced kidnapping and extortion in order to fund their war against the government.

M-19 was founded following the 1970 presidential election, where the left-wing populist party known as the National Popular Alliance was defeated by a coalition of moderate left and right parties. Allegations of electoral tampering were widespread after the defeat, leading to M-19’s formation. The group carried out various attacks on the Colombian government before eventually stealing Simón Bolívar’s sword, a national treasure, to symbolize their fight for what they deemed a fairer Colombia.


The Sword of Bolívar during President Gustavo Petro’s inauguration. (Photo – AP/Fernando Vergara)

After their eventual disbandment after reaching a peace deal with the government, Petro started his career in politics, becoming an Ombudsman for Zipaquirá in 1981, a government official who investigates complaints. Petro would eventually rise to the position of councilman from 1984 to 1986 under the M-19 Democratic Alliance, the political party founded by the organization of the same name.

Petro has been a controversial figure in Colombia since his election in 2022. While many have rallied behind his idea of “total peace,” critics point to his background as a communist guerilla fighter under the M-19 movement as the true reason for his support of organizations such as the FARC and ELN. Political opponents have been especially critical of the president’s policies and peace efforts, accusing the president of “destroying Colombia” through his reforms.


M-19 militants in Havana, Cuba (Photo – AP/Jaques Langevin)

However, despite the criticism leveled against Petro, the government reached a peace deal with the FARC-EMC with the aim of not only ceasing the skirmishes between the government and the guerilla groups but also of limiting the violence that rural Colombians face during the ongoing conflict.

In a peace deal signed in January, the FARC-EMC agreed to limit the impact the group had on civilians, a first under the presidency of Petro.

“The cease-fires we have seen (during the Petro administration) so far have really only limited the clashes between the government and the rebel groups, but haven’t had a real impact on the lives of communities,” Elizabeth Dickinson, a Colombia analyst at the International Crisis Group, told AP. “What we get to see now is whether this ceasefire can change that paradigm.”

The Groups of the Struggle:

FARC-EMC:

The FARC, otherwise known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, were originally leftist guerillas dedicated to bringing class revolution to Colombia during a period in the nation’s history known as “La Violencia,” otherwise known as the Violence. This period followed the assassination of the Liberal Party’s leader and presidential frontrunner, Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, in 1948, an assassination that would throw Colombia into chaos.

After his death, leftists in Bogota began what is known as the Bogotazo, a massive riot that quickly expanded across Colombia, leading to La Violencia. A number of right-wing paramilitary organizations and leftist guerilla groups would be formed during this period of Colombian history.

One of the most well-known was the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC. The group would find its formation after a failed attack in 1964 by the Colombian military on what was known as a self-defense community, one of a number of communist-held areas in rural Colombia. Despite the communists only having 48 active fighters opposed to the 16,000 Colombian soldiers, the group would survive the attack and escape to the nearby mountains where the FARC would be formed.


Nestor Gregorio Vera Fernandez (right), also known as Ivan Mordisco, head of the Estado Mayor Central faction within the FARC dissidents, attends a meeting with peasant communities in Yari, Colombia April 16, 2023. (Reuters/Mario Quintero)

Since then, the FARC has operated as rebels, launching guerilla attacks on military convoys and strategic targets. Despite originally being made up of only 48 fighters, the group’s ranks would swell to the hundreds in later years. For much of its early history, the FARC would be limited to small-scale guerrilla encounters with government forces, but after what has been coined the “Coca Boom,” a period in which the production of cocaine skyrocketed, the group found itself with more funds to allocate to their operations.

The FARC would expand their operations into urban Colombia following the Seventh Guerilla Conference in 1982, largely due to their increase in funds. The group would also begin to send promising troops to the USSR and Communist Vietnam for advanced training.

The FARC would eventually agree to a momentous ceasefire with the government in 2016, which would see the bulk of the FARC disarmed and disbanded. Despite the ceasefire, however, a number of members of the FARC continued their operations against the government and the people of Colombia. This group would be known as the Estado Mayor Central, or EMC for short.

ELN:

The National Liberation Army, or ELN for short, was founded in 1964 by a group of Colombian communist rebels who were formally trained in Cuba. The group would later be led by Catholic priests who practiced Liberation Theology, a belief system focused on addressing wealth inequality within Catholic teaching and through priests. A number of similar theological methods would also be adopted by Catholic priests in nations spanning from the United States to South Africa and even South Korea.

The key difference between the ELN and the FARC is the background of the members. While the FARC was composed largely of rural peasants and farmers, the ELN comprised a number of leftist students and academics who sought to change life within the urban centers of Colombia.

The ELN would finance their operations through the taxation of the drug trade, extorting Colombian civilians, ransoming individuals of various stature, and arranging payments from various corporations in exchange for not attacking their operations.


Members of the ELN (Photo – Luis Robayo/Agence France-Presse)

The first real peace talks with the ELN would begin in 2002, when the Colombian government would approach the group and eventually agree to meet in Mexico to conduct peace negotiations. The discussions would be moved to Cuba following a falling out between the ELN and the Mexican government before negotiations would eventually fall apart in 2007 due to disagreements regarding the conditions of the agreement.

Talks would eventually be restored, but with no permanent ceasefire; however, a number of ceasefires would be negotiated throughout the years until 2022, when Gustavo Petro was elected President of Colombia.

Petro, a leftist, managed to arrange a long-term ceasefire with the ELN following his election win in 2022. This ceasefire would go on to be renewed throughout Petro’s presidency.

Clan del Golfo:

Clan del Golfo traces its origins back to another right-wing paramilitary group known as the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), who in turn were a merger of various other right-wing paramilitary groups, the most notable being the Peasant Self-Defense Forces of Córdoba and Urabá (ACCU).

The original group was founded by the Castaño brothers following the capture and subsequent death of their father, a prominent landowner and supporter of the right-wing parties within Colombia.

The ACCU would eventually merge with other right-wing paramilitary groups into the AUC, led by one of the Castaño brothers who trained in Israel in anti-guerilla operations, Carlos Castaño.

Following the merger, the AUC became the premier right-wing paramilitary group and would go on to effectively maintain control of Northern Colombia, keeping both rival paramilitary groups and communist guerillas like the FARC out of the region.

In 2003, the AUC would begin the process of disarming and disbanding through a government deal. The deal was controversial at the time, as disarmed members were allowed to keep their illegally won assets as well as evade prison time on lucrative private farms.

The group would fully disband by 2006, leaving dozens of successor groups in their wake, one of whom was Clan del Golfo, led by none other than one of the Castaño brothers, Vincente.


Members of Clan del Golfo (Photo – Colombia Reports)

Clan del Golfo would inherit large portions of land in northern Colombia, a key region of the AUC. The group would continue many of the AUC’s methods to raise funds, including extortion, kidnapping for ransom, and, most importantly, producing and trafficking cocaine.

Clan del Golfo controls a vital smuggling route into the United States. With their control of Northern Colombia and its coast line, the group can easily smuggle cocaine and other contraband through the Caribbean directly into the US or into eastern Mexico for the various cartels to smuggle across the southern border.

In recent days, the AUC has been hit with some blows following the arrest of their leader, Dairo Antonio Usuga David, also known as “Otoniel,” in October 2023. Following the arrest of Otoniel, Chiquito Malo, a key lieutenant in the organization, would take over the reigns of Clan del Golfo. Colombian authorities have maintained the operation that saw the arrest of Otoniel in order to bring down Clan del Golfo.

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