Analysis: The Patriotic March

News from Colombia | on: Wednesday, 16 May 2012

By Hasan Dodwell

Since 2010 Colombian civil society has been working to develop a new social and political movement in order to give voice to people currently politically marginalised and ignored. Nearly 2,000 organisations, including peasant farmer, trade unions, Afrocolombian, indigenous and student organisations, came together to form the Patriotic March, a new political and social movement. It brings together this multitude of social organisations in order to ‘carry out the task of politics for themselves’. It has extremely pertinent implications for Colombian politics and any potential peace process since it represents broad sectors of Colombian society.

The origins of the Patriotic March date back to June 2010 when social movements decided that after 200 years of independence there was a need for a movement that would fight for Colombia’s ‘second and definitive independence’, since the first had only achieved a political independence severely limited by competition between elites and economic dependency. The movement continued to develop until the first National Patriotic Council was called for the 21st and 22nd of April 2012 and the constitution of the Patriotic March as a social and political movement was announced. On the 23rd of April this culminated in the march of some 80,000 people from across Colombia through the streets of Bogota.

The number and variety of organisations involved in the Patriotic March is indeed one of its most striking features. Forming part of the movement is the ACVC, an organisation representing 30,000 peasant farmers in the Magdalena Medio region of Colombia, the national FENSUAGRO agricultural workers’ trade union, the MANE students’ organisation (that recently led successful opposition to government plans for university reforms), and an array of other local and national organisations. The movement has also received the support from political organisations including the left wing faction of the Liberal Party fronted by the ex-senator Piedad Córdoba.

At the forefront of the movement’s proposals is the need for a political and negotiated solution to the armed and social conflict in Colombia. It has referred to itself as a ‘movement for peace’ and has declared its objectives as contributing towards necessary political, economic and social change in Colombia. It seeks to overcome the domination of politics by the ruling classes, to promote an agrarian reform, and it rejects the economic policies that have led to the concentration of wealth and the extreme inequality that characterise Colombia today.

The Patriotic March has already fallen victim to attempts to defame and slander it by state officials. The Colombian military has falsely accused the March of being organised and funded by the guerrillas, whilst the Colombian President, Juan Manuel Santos, has made implicit references to guerrilla involvement. Such statements from state officials are extremely problematic given the precarious security situation faced by many activists in Colombia. Already two Patriotic March leaders have been disappeared: Hernán Henry Díaz in Putumayo and Martha Cecilia Guevara in Caquetá. The accusations of guerrilla involvement have been rejected outright by members of the Patriotic March who point to the entirely public and open nature of the process, as well as outlining that it is entirely funded by voluntary donations and by subsidies collected by the organisations involved.

The Patriotic March is the latest in a series of efforts to mobilise an effective mass political opposition in Colombia. The most recent previous attempt to create a left-wing political force prior to the Patriotic March came in the shape of the Democratic Pole political party, a coalition of political parties. However, whilst the Democratic Pole is a political group which, according to Carlos Lozano the Director of the weekly opposition newspaper Voz, has adopted a predominantly electoral focus, the Patriotic March is a social movement representing the needs and concerns of the grass roots organisations that make it up. The movement has expressed its desire to work in alliance with the Democratic Pole as well as existing social and political movements working towards the structural transformation of Colombia. However, it sees the need for political activity above and beyond the boundaries of electoral competition in order to engage people in a debate over the future of the country.

The repression that targets the Democratic Pole, and which targeted the Patriotic Union has begun to take its toll on the Patriotic March. Participating organisations report an upsurge of threats, and in the last month two people linked to the March have been assassinated and two have been disappeared. Despite this, Colombian civil society holds high hopes that this new initiative will be able to help push for a peaceful resolution to the civil conflict, as well as helping to develop new, innovative ways of developing social and economic justice for a country where at least 40% of the population live in poverty, over 12% are internally displaced, where some 60% of the population works in the informal sector, where environmental damage and massive resource extraction go hand in hand, and where inequality and poor working conditions are a scourge of society.

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