Colombia: Cali building occupation ends

A couple days ago I blogged about the heroic union SINTRAEMCALI’s attempts to stop the creeping privatization of the public utilities company in the city of Cali, Colombia. I noted that it was a high-risk maneuver, and they made a risk assessment yesterday after the National government responded with overwhelming repression and decided to call off the occupation. The assessment of the situation by Nathan Eisenstadt of the Colombia Solidarity Campaign in the UK is mixed:

The agreement is more of a short term pacifier to facilitate further negotiations with a commitment to reviewing the Government’s recent restructuring proposal and a continuing dialogue including public consultation regarding its implications. It’s not a full victory for either side and accordingly can be viewed as victory for both. On the part of the Government the CAM Tower is no longer occupied by the workers so victory could be claimed, but before the occupation occurred eviction was (obviously) not the Government’s goal. On the part of workers the issues surrounding the new proposal and its implications have been brought to the fore, negotiations opened and the people mobilized.

This is by no means the end, the threat of privatisation, increased tariffs, and removal of subsidies to impoverished sectors remains very real. What has been achieved is to show that in spite of his dogmatic stance and unremitting anti democratic tactics that the people are still ready to resist the President´s onslaught and present viable alternatives. Something that defined this battle from the last was the lack of build up, that few knew the implications of a rapidly imposed proposal with sufficient time for word to spread. Times change and effective methods one year, with one government, do not necessarily work in same way with the next. There remains much work to be done and this was the first step in a new process rather than the last in an established one…

When I hear about these struggles I wonder what it would take for movements in North America to have that kind of hard-headed strategy, that kind of sense of how to intervene in a principled and effective way, that kind of understanding of the forces at play. Circumstances in Colombia are incomparably more difficult than in North America. Repression in Colombia is in a completely different world from anything North American unionists (or any other activists) face. Why does it seem that they are able to accomplish so much more?

Justin Podur

Author: Justin Podur

Author of Siegebreakers. Ecology. Environmental Science. Political Science. Anti-imperialism. Political fiction. Teach at York U's FES. Author. Writer at ZNet, TeleSUR, AlterNet, Ricochet, and the Independent Media Institute.