neil birrell (neil@lds.co.uk)
Tue, 16 Jan 1996 04:35:31 +0100

The following article comes from the current edition of the Colombian
anarchist journal CORREO A

Cali is the third biggest city in Colombia. A city which is in the
process of becoming a major metropolis, a process which is at once
aggressive, violent and dehumanising. It has a population of 2,000,000
40% of whom live in absolute poverty (800,000 people). Another 40% are
poised on the edge between the middle and lower classes whilst 20% have
to work outside the area. 10% of those who can work don't have any (the
figure doubles when related to young people) and 50 % survive on the daily
leftovers selling everything and consuming dreams.
There were parliamentary elections followed by more local ones. Of
every one hundred people who were eligible to vote 70 didn't. Of the
other 30 one has to take into account the votes that were bought, those
that were stolen, those that were sold and those that were swindled, those
that were forced to vote and those deceased voters who still registered
their votes. Such are the miracles of Colombian democracy.
Here folk listen to salsa - good, bad and indifferent - at all
hours and in every place. The people are dark-skinned, fun-loving
and dancers who keep at it until they drop. The bursts of music mix
with the bursts of machine-gun fire. The average killing every weekend
is between 30 and 50 - mainly the young and women. Here to be young and
poor is to invite death. Death squads stalk the streets shooting,
kidnapping and 'disappearing' girls and boys. Nobody says anything,
nobody knows anything, nobody hears anything. Fear closes the eyes,
the mouths and the ears whilst the government washes its hands and
promises exhaustive investigations which generally come to nothing.
The local council in Cali recognised that in 1993 68% of the murders
that took place went unpunished. Nobody can explain how it is that these
murderous squads can pass along the streets which are full of armed
police, detectives, soldiers, secret police agents, ordinary police agents
and military barracks. Perhaps they don't see them? Or perhaps...
The blue sky is dotted with clouds of polluted air: from the west come
rivers and streams of pollution; the people are as warm as the climate;
football and frivolity gain the attention of thousands of people every
weekend; the population growth is intense and overwhelming... urban chaos
is on the way.
And so it is in Cali just like so many other places in Our America: an
inhuman product of the development policies of Big Capital. Cali is a
paradise for the TNCs who came in the 50s and 60s and seized the best
lands, the greatest riches... Standing beside them, hand in hand with
the powerful, are the drug traffickers who are simply another strain of
the bourgeoisie and who have contaminated the whole political and
economic environment. Much of the aforementioned violence has its roots
in the drugtrafficking world and its roots. A veritable narcotragedy.
But the consequences of the drug dealing are not just the bloody ones.
It is a whole subculture which proclaims easy riches, ostentation,
fiddles, machismo and frantic consumerism, dragging down with it into the
mud thousands and thousands, especially the young, with the approval of
the ruling classes shamefully enjoying the fruits of the drug trade.
The opportunities for living a life with dignity become fewer and
fewer. Industrial restructuring, privatisation and neoliberalism have
added to the increasing number of closures of factories and companies,
hyper commercialisation of education, health and recreation, the growing
numbers of women and children who work either in subhuman conditions and
for any salary they can get or fall into delinquency and prostitution.
Official figures show that 61% of those who commit crimes are under the
age of 21 many of whom are in prison for having tried to get a few pesos
to survive. Government statistics are eloquent: whilst a simple diet
costs in the region of US$300 per month the income of poor families only
comes to about US$90 if indeed they are lucky enough to have an income.
Such a state of affairs has sharpened the peoples ability to survive
and resist. Here we call it 'the gleaning culture' - those strategies that
people adopt in order to live from day to day always looking for ways to
acquire the necessary pesos which will allow them to eat in the daily
struggle to survive: parks, traffic lights and the streets themselves
have become commercial areas where a small business can be set up in order
to cheat hunger. Thus there you will be able to buy a hot dog, a coffee, a
newspaper, a loaf of bread, a red rose or a quick fix.
Although libertarian and alternative groupings are weak and marginal
there do exist thoughts, discussions and practices which are linked to
social projects which give rise to new ideas and new ways to live. Lack
of co-ordination is, however, one of the greatest weaknesses. Nevertheless
in the teeth of the neoliberal storm and the ferocity of the regime, the
building of a new society is making progress along with setbacks and
fears, threats and successes progress is being made, slowly but surely
as it advances hand in hand with hope..