Since April 28th, thousands of Colombians have participated in country-wide demonstrations fueled by long-standing grievances tied to corruption, income inequality, harms of neoliberal governance, and a deeply ineffective rollout of COVID-19 relief.
While the protests have largely remained peaceful, the government’s response has not: Colombians are being indiscriminately injured and killed by state forces. Exact numbers are still being verified, but the Colombian National Office of the Ombudsman estimates that 800+ people were injured in police escalations during the first five days of protests. The New York Times reports at least 24 deaths and 87 more missing persons.
At the time of writing, the United States embassy in Colombia provides the only formal acknowledgement of this issue by the Biden Administration, releasing a trite 108 words. Far more should be said.
From 2017–2020, Colombia held the title for being the number one recipient of foreign aid in the entire Western hemisphere, with the lion’s share of funding allocated to “International Narcotics and Law Enforcement.” When the Colombian militarized police unit, the Mobile Anti-Riot Squad (ESMAD), injures and kills Colombian citizens, it is U.S. coffers that fuel these instruments and tactics of repression.
The AAUP-AFT’s Executive Council stands in solidarity with the claims expressed by institutions like the United Nations (UN), the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), and Amnesty International—which condemn the disproportionate violence committed by state forces in Colombia.
International labor movements require international engagement. We express our solidarity with Colombian workers, students, and labor unions that have worked for months to call attention to the dual harms of neoliberal governance and inadequate coronavirus relief. We also recognize that union members in Colombia have been targets of historic levels of anti-union violence in recent decades.
Many of our members and members of allied unions migrated to the US as a function of the legacies of violence and inequality that characterize US interests and involvement in Latin America. We are sensitive to the complexities and political tensions that impact Colombian governance, economics, and civic life. As defenders of both labor rights and democratic governance, we stand in solidarity with grassroots and institutional efforts by colleagues and comrades to urge political and civil society leaders to publicly condemn state violence in all forms.
Passed May 13, 2021