Tue Apr 23, 2024
April 23, 2024

Colombia’s Uprising: A Radical Commemoration

We are reprinting the same article that was originally published in Revista Izquierda (#114 – December). Meanwhile, the Socialist Workers Party (PST) is currently analyzing the depth of the changes that have occurred with the national strikes of 2019 and 2021, and the possibility that we are facing a new historical stage is still a matter of debate. We consider this material useful.

By Sergio Chaparro,
Professor and independent researcher
Professional in Philosophy (φUR)
Master’s Candidate in Social Studies of Science (UNAL)

What was the social explosion like in Colombia? Why commemorate it? In September and November 2023, in Cali, Puerto Resistencia, as well as in Bogotá, Suba La Gaitana, la Nacho, la Peda and la Distri, young people commemorated the upheaval with actions. The article explains and answers these two questions from the perspective of the working class.

The Three Moments and The People’s Rage

To begin with, the official version according to big capitalist media, usually refers to the uprising in Colombia as an atypical episode that occurred in April 2021 and the following months. They refer to it as a reasonable outbreak of social discontent made up primarily of youth where there was widespread vandalism aimed at destabilizing the government of Iván Duque. As the patriarch Álvaro Uribe Vélez said at the time, the famous “molecular revolution has dissipated.”

In addition, according to the Spanish newspaper La Vanguardia [1], the term “social unrest” (which is closer to “social explosion” in Spanish) was coined or popularized in two techno-scientific working papers written for the International Monetary Fund in which four researchers studied the contingent repercussions of the pandemic on the broader world situation [2]. Given the economic slowdown and the increase in social inequalities between capital and labor, in addition to the explosive cocktail of a health emergency and the deterioration of health systems, the IMF report warned that it foresaw a high probability that there would be a discontinuous series of social outbursts around the world. In fact, demonstrating the effectiveness of the social sciences, these outbursts occurred with an apparent cascade effect and relative synchronicity in Chile, Ecuador, Haiti, Hong Kong, the United States … and Colombia. Thus, for the imperialist agencies and their peon governments, the social outbreak represents a series of protests that will continue over time in different parts of the world, with the potential to destabilize governments and increase polarization, violence, and resentment. For the bourgeoisie, its intellectual cadres and think tanks, there is a latent fear that massive protests and social outbursts, rebellions, insurrections, in short … revolutions, may be brewing.

In order for the Colombian working people to commemorate the uprising in a radical way, it is unavoidable that we contrast our perspective with the distorted vision of the mass media, the IMF, the governments of capital, the slanderers of the strike, as well as a certain simplified vision of the left and the critical academies,  which have fallen prey to very short-lived views and hasty and fragmentary political analyses of specific situations. This is the case of the book Estallido social 2021. Expresiones de vida y resistencias (ed. Juan Carlos Celis, 2023) and other research titles [3]. In this article, we understand the Colombian social explosion as a discontinuous historical process of three moments and as the highest point of the national class struggle, following the National Civic Strike of 1977 and the National Agrarian, Ethnic, and Popular Strike of 2013.

As the Marxist historian Renán Vega Cantor has pointed out, the uprising is an unprecedented historical event, the most important republican social protest in the last two hundred years [4]. In this context, it should be noted that the Colombian uprising, even if it was the culmination of a pre-revolutionary situation, was nevertheless behind revolutionary processes of the magnitude of the War of Independence (1810-1819) and the First Colombian Azo, known as El Bogotazo (1948-1953). The Colombian social eruption is, in a recent sense, the closest we have come to a revolutionary situation, to an open class struggle of the people from below against the power of the bourgeoisie.

The Colombian uprising was a powerful mass mobilization with multiple repertoires of collective action. It was the product of an accumulation of plebeian rage and celebration by the poor, which generated a real historical turning point that put the Uribista government on the ropes. According to many, Duque was very close to resigning, as elites considered pressuring him to do so in order to contain the social outburst. At risk as well was the existing  dysfunctional and embattled political regime of the national capitalist class, with its armed forces, and its political and economic organs. It is under scientific, economic, and political debate whether the uprising in Colombia has opened a new national political situation, or even a new national historical stage, favorable to the correlation of the exploited and oppressed, that contains possibilities for winning reforms, putting the regime in check, and opening new areas of dispute. Colombia is changing, say the socialists [5].

The process of the Colombian social explosion took place in three discontinuous moments, only a few months apart. Its glorious beginning, on November 21, 2019, took place when the National Unitary Command, made up of the CUT, CTC, CGT labor federations, together with social organizations, were pressured into calling a strike against the Duque-OECD-IMF-World Bank package and in favor of life and peace,  and in support of the National University strike for education, and the Colombian Non-violent strike. Days before, the government and businessmen, as in the story of Gabriel García Márquez, frightened their subjects with the premonition that “something very serious is going to happen in this city” [6].

November 21 marked an anti-government political strike in the form of strikes in the public sector, massive demonstrations in the main urban and rural centers, businesses and educational institutions closing early, disruptions to public transportation, and road blockades, etc. The day ended with a powerful “cacerolazo” (banging of pots and pans) in the popular and middle-class neighborhoods in support of the strike. At the end of November and beginning of December, the mobilization initiatives were repeated and at that point there had been at least three deaths -among them the young Dilan Mauricio Cruz Medina, who was murdered by the ESMAD-, 250 had been wounded, and there had been more than 100 arrests. As an alternative newspaper reported in its editorial “National Strike: Something is Changing” [7].

The second highlight of the Colombian uprising, in the midst of the health catastrophe of the COVID-19 pandemic and its strong economic consequences, occurred on September 9 and 10, 2020, with an event of police brutality and subsequent protests. A group of police officers beat and electrocuted a taxi driver and law student, Javier Ordoñez, causing his death. This aroused the fury of young people from the popular neighborhoods, who protested in front of police stations and Immediate Attention Centers (CAI), causing the burning and vandalism of between 40 and 80 stations, replicating the uprising in the United States after the extrajudicial murder of George Floyd. On that day, the spokespersons of the regime stigmatized the youth. And although some guerrilla militiamen may have participated, the protest was spontaneous and massive, the fruit of social ferment, and therefore not fabricated at a desk or engineered in the mountains. In this second moment of outbreak, the Unified Command Post (PMU) of the National Police and the Mayor’s Office of Claudia López, in an attempt to contain the mobilization, orchestrated the extrajudicial murder of 13 civilians by the bullets of police agents, known as the Bogotá Massacre [8], which remains unpunished to this day.

The third moment of the uprising, its massive climax, was on April 28, 2021, when the National Strike Command (CNP) called to take to the streets in response to the government’s attempts to increase the VAT (Value Added Tax) to get out from under the economic strain caused by COVID, and the more than 142, 000 deaths in Colombia, by taxing the basic basket of working families and the popular sectors. This papaya was served by capital, its presidential plaything and his retinue of ministers, and the social opposition split it, causing a national historical break and a new and irreversible stage of the class struggle.

Then there were social mobilizations that turned into massive assemblies, concentrated points of resistance, and the demolition of colonial monuments and new icons were encouraged. This is where the first battle lines were born, and the communal assemblies were built for two turbulent and fascinating months, and there were the cacerolazos and massive rallies in front of Duque’s house, with the majority rejecting the capitalist political faction of Uribism that had ruled the country for almost 15 years. Those convulsive months, at the height and at the end of the uprising, left a dramatic toll of more than 80 dead, 1,200 wounded, 103 with eye injuries, 1,380 arrested, 129 disappeared, and 28 sexual assaults against women participants in the strike.

Among the main achievements of April 28 and all the discontinuous moments of the Colombian uprising, we can mention the resignation of five ministers, the withdrawal of the tax and pension reforms, the withdrawal of the “paquetazo,” the partial implementation of the budget item, and new items for zero enrollment in public universities and the decision not to hold the American Cup football tournament in Colombia. The nobodies were the protagonists of history in the streets. But the greatest conquest of the outbreak was, above all, the advance of consciousness and the organizational strength of thousands and millions. This mobilizing issue was expressed and transferred to the electoral struggle, with a historic defeat of the Colombian bourgeoisie and its traditional parties. In synthesis, the social eruption configured and combined a series of complex phenomena that led to the contradictory opening of a new historical stage.

After the Uprising, the Future of the Colombian Revolution

The Colombian social explosion, as part of collective memory, expressed the fundamental demands at the moment of the closure of the old stage (in my hypothesis, the last one goes from 1991 to 2018, that is, from the Constituent Assembly to the peace process with the FARC-EP) and the opening up to a new historical stage of the national class struggle, with all its lights and shadows and the presence of tendencies and countertendencies between the old and the new.

From the point of view of the present, the tasks of the future include the need to materialize the changes of the National Strike, and the uprising’s program. The art of commemorating this uprising from below in a coherent and radical way lies in achieving, in the next five and ten years, a permanent Colombian revolution against the anti-democratic regime of all the bourgeois and petty-bourgeois factions (Uribistas, Santistas, Lleristas, Charistas, Fajardistas and Centristas, etc.). It consists of building an insurrectionary movement, an insurrectionary Colombianazo, a Colombian spring for a second and definitive independence from the imperialist power of the U.S. and the Creole oligarchy. This historic process of change will not be able to achieve a lasting triumph without a great workers’ and socialist party in Colombia. Here, we list five central tasks for a new uprising for dignity and freedom.

One. There is the cultural challenge of ending the armed conflict and living in peace with greater democratic freedoms after the demobilization of the majority of the historic FARC-EP, a process without which a social explosion of the magnitude that has taken place in Colombia would not have been possible. Today, in the face of the escalation of regional violence, the peace process with the ELN and the dissidents of the Central General Staff (EMC) is pending, so that these armed apparatuses will no longer be a regional obstacle to the social and political construction of workers.

The November 21, September 8-10 and April 28 were, among other things, a response to the indiscriminate bombing by the army of guerrilla camps and other areas in Caquetá over a period of two years, which, according to El País, resulted in the death of 29 defenseless children (“war machines”) who had been forcibly recruited [9].

Similarly, widespread social dissatisfaction was expressed in the rejection of the assassinations of social leaders during the Duque era, with the desire for the dismantling of paramilitarism, and the purging of the security forces for their brutality. The demand for truth, justice, and reparations for the trade union and social movement, and for the victims of paramilitary and state genocide, is still valid. The social demand for Uribe to be imprisoned and not to accept the impunity of the former genocidal paramilitary chief Salvatore Mancuso, as supposed peace manager, and the military leadership, as proposed by the new progressive government, is unavoidable.

Two. The agitation of the partisan chant of “Duque Chao,” the official song of the uprising, as well as the slogan “We say never again to Uribism,” was expressed in the 8 and 11 million votes for Petro (2018, 2022) and the emergence of the first reformist government of class reconciliation, the Historical Pact. In a distorted way, the new government is the historical product of the social outburst, plebeian rage, and nonconformity of the last decades. The social movement and the working people cannot bow down or trust in Petro’s progressive capitalist project and its limits, nor allow the arrival of the old, right-wing continuist governments, as happened in Argentina with Milei and in Ecuador with Lasso. Rather, the working class and its popular allies must advance independently with the seizure of the streets, methods of social pressure, and demands for reforms, as well as demands to win a revolutionary workers government.

Three. There is a just desire -a thirst for justice- to reverse the entire legislative package of counter-reforms that have affected the living conditions of workers and popular majorities for 30 years with the neoliberal opening and its vicious governments. However, in the processes of negotiation with the trade union and political actors of capital in Congress, in the Casa de Nariño and in bureaucratic meetings, the reform projects of the Historical Pact are being curtailed, which runs counter to the radical nature of the yearning for change of the Colombian social outbreak.

In the uprising are the yearnings for an effective reduction of the working day to less than 40 hours a week for all, with more employment opportunities, decent contracts with stability, and labor rights, including the ability to form union associations. In turn, the people want free and quality access to education and a public hospital network, without the commercialization of the EPS. Similarly, they have voiced their demands for lower taxes for salaried workers, and progressive taxes in relation to the profits of large national and foreign companies. They also want democratic political reforms so that those from below can participate in elections and develop their political parties, and a reduction in the salaries of the high bureaucracy of Congress and the State, harsh punishments for corruption, etc.

Four. Today it is our duty to express solidarity and demand the unconditional release of the political prisoners, especially the more than 300 young people who participated in the uprising. We mustn’t accept the reduction of sentences, nor the figures of the peace managers, but rather demand they are released, because the children of the people. The dismantling of the ESMAD, an unfulfilled promise of the self-proclaimed popular government of change, is still to be implemented; we do not accpet its cosmetic adaptation under the name of National Unit for Dialogue and Maintenance of Order (UNDMO), which fulfills analogous repressive functions, while public violence continues with the violation of human rights, as impunity reigns.

Five. It is indispensable to make progress in the union and political organization of the nonconformists, the children of the uprising,  and the new generations of struggle. As in Chile and Argentina, it is necessary to build powerful victims’ organizations and national assemblies, independent of the JEP and institutional domestication, of all those who have been affected eye and other physical injuries, detentions and false trials, and persecutions and disappearances, etc. The Associations of Mothers of False Positives of Soacha and Bogota (MAFAPO) and the Movement in Resistance against ESMAD Eye Aggressions (MOCAO), among many other organizational initiatives, show the way to freedom.

The radical and springtime spirit of the social uprising is still alive among its anonymous protagonists.

The regime will fall and a new Colombia for the workers will be born!



1. Robinson Madrid (2021). An IMF study predicts a wave of social unrest after the pandemic. Available in La Vanguardia: https://www.lavanguardia.com/internacional/20210221/6256996/protestas-paises-impacto-social-pandemia.html

2. Tahsin, S.S. & Rui, X. (2020). A vicious cycle: How Pandemics Lead to Economic Despair and Social Unrest, IMF Working Paper No. 2020/216, SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3744683, Barrett, P. Chen, S. (2021). Social Repercussions of Pandemics, IMF Working Paper No. 2021/021, SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3799613.

3. Some examples: Dialectics of the social outbreak in Colombia 2021 (Bohórquez, 2022), El Paro nacional del 2021 en Colombia (Álvarez-Rodríguez, Adrián, 2022), Notes on a “social outbreak” in Colombia. El paro nacional 28A (Cecilia García and Santiago Garcés, 2021), etc. etc. etc.

4. Estrada Álvarez, Jiménez Martín et al. (2023). La rebelión social y popular de 2021 en Colombia: elementos para su comprensión. Buenos Aires: CLACSO – En movimiento. p. 11. Available in digital format: https://biblioteca-repositorio.clacso.edu.ar/bitstream/CLACSO/248495/1/La-rebelion-social-y-popular.pdf

5. Briceño, D. (2019). 21N: New historical stage and cycle of protests in Colombia, https://litci.org/es/21n-nueva-etapa-historica-y-ciclo-de-protestas-en-colombia/

6. García Márquez. (2010). Yo no vengo a decir un discurso. Mexico: Vintage Español, p. 8.

7. El Turbión (2019). National strike: something is changing, https://elturbion.com/17054

8. Solano (2020). No olvidamos la Masacre policial de 13 jóvenes: ¡Fuera Duque y su Ministro!, https://blogsocialista21.wordpress.com/2020/10/05/no-olvidamos-la-masacre-de-13-jovenes-fuera-duque-y-su-ministro/

9. Oquendo, C. (2022). Minors killed in bombings: a tragic record of the Duque government. Taken from El País: https://elpais.com/america-colombia/2022-07-31/menores-muertos-en-bombardeos-un-tragico-balance-del-gobierno-duque.html

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