Communicators from FCINA spoke with Francisco Maltés Tello, president of the CUT trade union confederation of Colombia.
The president of the Central Unica de Trabajadores of Colombia emphasizes that the social unrest has allowed social problems to be laid bare, along with the incapacity of the right-wing governments to solve them, and he therefore finds conditions are favorable for the arrival of an alternative and democratic government in Colombia.
For decades, the Colombian population has been suffering from various afflictions, including internal war, forced displacement, obscene concentration of wealth, assassination of leaders with impunity, corruption, drug trafficking and military and diplomatic interference by the United States. On the other hand, massive impoverishment, job insecurity, unemployment, food insecurity, the pandemic and the constant violation of human rights have dramatically deepened the country’s structural crisis. In this situation, Colombia will face decisive legislative and presidential elections in March and May.
Is there a way out of the social and political crisis in Colombia?
Communicators from the Forum on Communication for the Integration of Our America (FCINA) discussed this with Francisco Maltés Tello, president of the Central Única de Trabajadores of Colombia (CUT – trade union confederation).
Vanessa Martina Silva (Diálogos do Sul), Mariano Vázquez (Colectivo Sangrre), Lautaro Rivara (Agencia Latinoamericana de Información-ALAI) and Javier Tolcachier (Pressenza press agency) participated in the conversation.
Maltés is optimistic about the future of Colombia, as the social unrest could create the opportunity for an alternative government, for the first time in the country’s history; however, he warns that the institutional conditions governing the election are problematic. “There are five million ID cards of people who are dead and are active in the electoral registry”, he denounced bluntly, while calling on the international community to monitor the electoral process and, particularly, the software, since “we have serious doubts about the company contracted”.
The institutional obstacles imposed by the powers that have historically dominated Colombia are correlated with a campaign of “stigmatization, blackmail and threats to the Strike Committee and the CUT. There are a significant number of threats, a systematic assassination of social leaders to silence social protest and cloud the elections”, hence, he insists, “electoral observation in Colombia is very important”.
Faced with the scenario of violent conflict and in absence of dialogue as posed by the institutional powers and the de facto powers of Colombia, the president of the CUT underlined the coordination among the struggles achieved by the Strike Committee thanks to the strength of the social outburst. “Thirty organizations of a national character have managed to put together a social agenda”, recalls Maltés, while stressing that they have even “achieved that the Coalition of Hope and the Historical Pact are working in lockstep, and that they are linked to the social struggles and support us without hesitation in all the processes since November 2019”.
The work between the two main opposition coalitions to the historical powers of Colombia and the CUT allowed for a historic event: the presentation of ten law bills before Congress. “Nearly 60 parliamentarians signed the bills we presented, something unprecedented in the social struggle in Colombia”. This joint action, which includes “the ten points of the emergency plea that [president] Duque refused to negotiate”, demonstrates the existence of a common horizon, over and above any formal differences.
Maltés does not hesitate to recognize that the political strength of such a partnership may simultaneously represent “some electoral difficulties”. For this reason, he reiterates the position of the CUT on the “need to go united to the presidential struggle, so as to win in the first round”. Maltés recalls a lesson that history has demonstrated to popular struggles time and again: “Unity makes us strong”.
The way out is through the left
The president of the CUT is emphatic in highlighting the distance that exists between the great majority of the people and the power groups that have historically dominated Colombia. The non-fulfillment of the Peace Agreement is perhaps the best example of this, since according to the data he quotes “only 16% has been fulfilled”. The agrarian reform, so necessary in a country of large landowners like Colombia, is still far from being implemented; meanwhile “today we import a third of the food we consume”, he recognizes. But even more worrying is the lack of respect for the lives of the signatories of the Peace Accord, “there have been close to 200 murders of FARC comrades”, he denounces.
If the lack of respect for the Peace Agreement is not sufficient, the contradictory dynamics between economic growth and poverty in Colombia is categorical. “Today Colombia is the third most unequal country in the world. Last year’s growth of 10.6% was accompanied by a growth in poverty. Seventeen million people go to bed without a third meal, and 40% of the population is in poverty. Faced with this, the candidates of the right wing are proposing the same as today”.
The recent decision of the Colombian Court authorizing abortion up to 24 weeks of gestation is presented as further evidence of the conservative management of the ruling political classes, who evaded their legislative responsibility. “This Congress is a deeply conservative Congress. They have been afraid to legislate on the issue of abortion, they refused for many years to debate the issue, so it has fallen to the Court to define everything that has to do with the rules of abortion.”
The possibility of overcoming this scenario that relegates the interests of the majority to the background seems closer than ever and, of course, it is not a strictly Colombian issue, because as Maltés underlines, this “will ratify the continent’s turn to the left and, undoubtedly, it will change Colombia’s relations of dependence with the United States and of having become a buttress for provocation and aggression against sister countries that have governments different from those the United States aims for”.