September 25, 2007

"THE 1980S HAVE SEEN A REAL RESUR- gence of direct struggle. When the people decided to go on strike, to demonstrate, to mount barricades, to confront the power of the military, that's when they have won their demands. The oil workers' union was badly affected by the repression after the November 1981 strike when about 30 activists lost their jobs. An organization emerged to lead the movements of Barranca, the Coordinadora Popular, made up of all the democratic organizations, political and trade union bodies, peasants, workers and community organizations. When Barranca rises, the Coordinadora controls events. It has even run the town for short periods. It is with the Coordinadora that the state has to negotiate. "In 1987, a new level of struggle was reached after attacks against peasant leaders and leaders of the UP. There was a general strike and the people took control of the town. Barricades went up, tires were burned. We demanded respect for human rights, and we accused the military of being agents of the dirty war. Another new element was the support of the guerrilla organisations for the popular struggle in the town-notjust with a few leaflets or banners. Armed militias were seen in Barranca. The strike lasted two complete days. "Then when a little girl, Sandra Rend6n, who was a witness to the attacks on the compaiieros, was killed, another three days of struggle began with massive demonstrations of about 30,000 people. The guerrillas were present, particu- larly the ELN. Although there was no military confrontation, their presence gave us strength. The Coordinadora felt it had a military arm. This gave it much more power to negotiate with the state. "There were other important moments that year, such as on May Day and after the death of Pardo Leal in September. local ranchers' committee, political bosses, shopkeepers and traders to request their assistance in battling subver- sion. They agreed to provide financing for the armed group to work with the army. Initially designed to protect the ranchers against kidnappers, MAS soon became a movement against "subversion" in the widest sense. Army counterinsurgency theory gave ideological cohe- sion to the local ranchers' drive to regain control of the region. MAS first targeted members of the Communist Party, FARC, and their suspected sympathizers. Local peasants have reported that army bombardments were coordinated with MAS incursions. The wave of killings sparked a government investigation completed in February 1983. The attorney general located Puerto Boyaca as the center of the operations and identified the involvement of local ranchers and members of the Barbuld battalion. Three years later the attorney general told Congress, "MAS was an authentic paramilitary movement....The perverse habit of the military of relying on private citizens to carry out its counterinsurgency activities is spreading. In this way the military hoped to make up for its own limitations....What we are talking about purely and sim- The people of Barranca put up barricades again and took over the main streets. This is when they began to shoot at people indiscriminately. We were in the barricade of Haz de Copas, which we had held throughout the night, and at 7 a.m., when we were being interviewed on television, without warning the army began shooting at us. We had to save the journalists, run with them, help them with their equipment. We lost the barricade. At midday, about 30 counterinsurgency police began beating the workers, insulting us and shooting into the air. It caused panic at first, but then we fought back and won back the barricade. When the army returned the next day, they were surprised to find the militias there; after four hours of fighting, we won again. "On February 15, 1988 they murdered Manuel Gustavo Chac6n, a compafiero with a long history of struggle, a union leader and member of A Luchar. This was a blow to the popular movement. But now in Barranca there are permanent organizations, which don't depend on great leaders. When Chac6n was killed, the people went out onto the streets, declared a general strike and put up barricades. There were five days of fighting. Everyone knew who the assassins were; they were in a military car and they were members of the army. They killed Chac6n in the commercial center of the town and calmly got into their car and drove away. It was even photographed. The murderers were denounced by name and rank. "In the end they had to retire them from active duty. The local prosecutor bravely began a case against them, but he had to leave town soon after. With the murder of Chac6n, they struck at the backbone of the popular movement and also at the heart of its culture. He was a singer, a poet. He traveled to the villages with his songs. He was born a peasant in Charala, Santander, where Jos6 Antonio GalAn the leader of the Comuneros [Revolt in 1781] was born, and had come to Barranca in search of work."

Tags: Colombia, Drug War, guerrillas, paramilitary

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