Colombian activist explains the country’s current ‘humanitarian emergency’

Colombian activist Martha Alfonso

Colombia is currently going through a human rights crisis. In recent days, the state has brutally repressed protests, resulting in dozens of deaths.

Phoenix Media Co-op spoke to a Colombian teacher and activist to find out more.

“A humanitarian emergency”

Martha Lisbeth Alfonso Jurado is a social scientist, teacher, feminist, environmentalist, cofounder of the Colectivo de Mujeres del Tolima and the Red Departamental de Mujeres, and activist with the Red Nacional de Mujeres. She told Phoenix Media Co-op about the state’s violent repression of mass protests in recent days.

Alfonso explained:

The country is currently going through a very delicate human rights situation – a humanitarian emergency.

And she added:

This is a country where social unrest is the product of deep structural and historical inequality, which people can’t bear any longer.

She also spoke about the impact controversial former president Álvaro Uribe and his movement (‘Uribism‘) have had on the country. Some have called him the country’s “most powerful politician“. He has faced accusations of links to both drug cartels and far-right paramilitary groups. And current president Iván Duque is a “close ally” of Uribe. Alfonso argued that:

corruption has eaten away absolutely all our political and state structures

Alfonso also stressed how the current protests are “unprecedented in the history of politics and social movements” in her part of Colombia. She said these days of protest have been:

massive, diverse, colourful, with people in the streets saying ‘no more Uribism, no more poverty, no more abuse of power, no more disadvantages for people when the government keeps legislating and governing for the wealthiest people’.


Phoenix Media Co-op‘s John McEvoy has written extensively on Colombia. And he summed up the background behind the current situation as follows:

Colombia’s political system neatly fits into what Uruguayan historian Eduardo Galeano once termed a ‘democratatorship’. Though formally one of Latin America’s longest running democracies, the Colombian state has never allowed the formation of radical popular movements, and we’re seeing this play out in its brutal response to the recent general strike.

Over the past week, Colombia’s notorious ‘security’ forces have killed roughly 30 protesters, injuring hundreds more, and arbitrarily imprisoning thousands. The closure of democratic spaces finds roots in the country’s civil war, beginning in the 1960s when peasants fleeing partisan violence were attacked by US-backed state forces.

Also of concern is the Colombian government’s lack of respect for its fragile peace deal with the FARC, signed in 2016. Over recent decades we’ve seen peace deals followed by the brutal annihilation of left-wing political groups looking to find representation through official means – the most obvious case being the devastation of the Patriotic Union during the late 1980s, with roughly 3,000 former guerrilla combatants being murdered.

Since the 2016 peace deal, hundreds of demobilised combatants and social leaders have been murdered by faceless paramilitaries that often enjoy either active or passive backing from wide parts of the state security apparatus. The current violence in Colombia has horrific historical precedents, and Colombian social movements still require international solidarity.

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