Tue May 28, 2024
May 28, 2024

Colombia Needs a Constituent Assembly

On March 13, the southwestern indigenous mobilization began as a political expression of the centuries-old demands of the indigenous and Afro-descendant peoples that are still unresolved. Their demonstration ended in Cali, in Puerto Resistencia, a symbolic place for the National Strike of 2021, where President Petro received them with an eloquent speech.

In his feverish speech, Petro spoke directly to the people in the public square saying what they want to hear: he called for the centennial indigenous, peasant, and Afro struggle, the popular struggle of the National Strike of 2021, and the need for a “revolution” and “peace” for Colombia; he criticized the “centrist” politicians, the media, the “oligarchy”, and the corrupt authorities of the regime such as the Attorney General’s Office; he acknowledged what he considers to be his mistakes and successes during his time in government and ended by raising the need for a national constituent assembly.

We could go deeper into each one of these points in particular to clearly present our similarities and differences regarding the content of what the government has been saying to the people. However, for this occasion, we would like to dwell in particular on the issue of the National Constituent Assembly, since we consider it to be the most important one. As we have analyzed in previous texts and in the content of El Socialista 752, currently Petro’s government is a prisoner not only of the limitations of its reformist program, but also of the very institutions of the regime. The latter of which is particularly authoritarian and has allowed the bourgeoisie to exercise its power over the whole of Colombian society, even when it does not have total control of the government.

This regime was born from the Constitution of 1991, which created and defined the institutions and laws -under the guise of the Social State under the Rule of Law- which are useful for sustaining capitalist exploitation through the neoliberal model. Although this constitution is loaded with “progressive” rhetoric and euphemisms such as the defense of human rights: life, work, health, housing, etc., in reality it is nothing more than a tool of oppression. In practice it is unable to respond to the needs of the workers, popular sectors, peasants, indigenous peoples, Afro communities, etc. Even so, it has been defended by both right-wing and left-wing politicians -and by Petro himself- precisely because it serves the bourgeoisie and its exploitative strategy.

Petro is a son of the ’91 Constitution, since he was also a product of the negotiations and demobilization of the M-19, which, like other guerrillas, demobilized renouncing the armed struggle for a position in the regime. In his speech, Petro let us see that he has realized that the regime is a great obstacle for change, even the change he proposes, which is not radical or revolutionary at all, just some liberal reforms to try to contain the crisis. Although he does not mention it, it is evident that his policy of Total Peace is tending towards to stagnation and failure; the sinking of the health reform in the parliament and the uncertain future of the others has closed off a way forward for the government; and in this way the possibility of change has begun to retreat. Petro has collided with the limits of the political regime; the room he needs for maneuvering within the institutional game is running out and if he wants to keep alive the core of his program of reforms and capitalist development, he will have no other way but to confront or modify it.

Unless Petro calls for a true socialist revolution (which he is not going to do), he has only the path of reform under the rules of bourgeois democracy. That is why, within these limits, the most he can aspire to is a Constituent Assembly that allows democratizing the regime, that opens the space for some reforms without abandoning the framework of capitalism.

A Broad, Free, Democratic, and Sovereign National Constituent Assembly

We agree with Petro on the need to change the Colombian regime. As we have said before, the working people, oppressed, and exploited of Colombia, need – at the very least – a profound democratic revolution for the regime under which they are trying to survive. It is not just a matter of exchanging a corrupt prosecutor for another with training in human rights, or of changing the name of ESMAD[1], or creating new ministries with politically correct names; it is a matter of overthrowing the whole rottenness of the legal and illegal institutions that the bourgeoisie has configured in these more than 30 years, and handing the reins of government to the workers and the people.

Within the framework of bourgeois democracy, the constituent assembly is the most democratic of its mechanisms of political participation, however, this democracy has its limits; not all constituent assemblies are equal and not all are democratic by nature. Surely it is here where we have differences with Petro, because for us a true democratic constituent assembly must be broad, free, democratic, and sovereign, which is not simply a slogan. It means that it must be supported by grassroots and popular assemblies in each neighborhood, factory, workplace, etc., where the demands of the people are discussed openly and democratically. Although Petro has called for the formation of popular committees, these will not be able to fulfill a democratic character if they are not sovereign, that is, if they do not have freedom from the government to deliberate and vote on the demands of the people. It is useless for them to behave like the recently concluded Congress of the CUT [2], where everything was defined from above by government officials and the government’s plans are simply approved by acclamation, without any discussion or criticism.

Likewise, the constituent assembly that we demand and propose must be based on the broadest mobilization of all the exploited and oppressed sectors. It is of no use that a few hundred or even thousands meet to make definitions, while there is no one in the street shouting that the demands of the workers, exploited and oppressed, are above any aspiration or individual or private interest. This is nothing more than resuming the National Strike, that is, a permanent mobilization of struggle and demand, not a mobilization controlled by the government to be used as a bargaining chip with the most reactionary sectors of the bourgeoisie, such as Uribism, for example.

Finally, a constituent assembly must be sovereign, that is, it must have the authority to discuss absolutely all aspects of society. There can be no room for prior agreements on “the fundamentals” to veto the real questions of substance, as for example the economic model of production, the character of the armed forces, and the sacred bourgeois right to private property. This must be imposed by the struggle and mobilization itself, since as the current failure of the reforms in Congress and in the bureaucratic tangle of the State demonstrates, the bourgeoisie will use its power, in the first place to prevent the convocation of the constituent assembly itself, and if necessary, to impose on it ground rules and an agenda controlled by themselves.

A truly democratic Constituent Assembly cannot take place under the current electoral rules. Its composition must be representative of the population, not of the current corrupt parties and electoral enterprises. It must be filled with workers, indigenous people, Afro-Colombians, peasants, etc.; while the bourgeoisie is relegated to its rightful place: only 1% of participation.

Dismantle the ESMAD now!

Special mention should be made of the reference Petro made in his speech regarding the repression carried out by the UNDMO -formerly ESMAD – against the marches of March 8, International Working Women’s Day. The president questioned these acts and made a commitment to the people to carry out the corresponding investigations and sanctions for the improper use of the Unit by some officials. However, this is absolutely insufficient: we must demand Petro fulfil his campaign promise to dismantle the ESMAD, not just change its name, but enact the immediate dissolution of the repressive body. While it is true that the direct culprits of these particular acts are local officials like Mayor Galan in Bogota, it is Petro who bears the responsibility for the fact that in practice the ESMAD continues to exist and is at the disposal of the worst of the Colombian bourgeoisie.

Executive Committee of the Socialist Workers’ Party of Colombia

March 18, 2024

Originally published at: https://www.magazine.pstcolombia.org/

Translated by: John Prieto

Translators Notes:
The special anti-riot division of the police.
[2] The largest union federation in Colombia.

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