The youth shape the future of Colombia

In Santander de Quilichao, in the Department of Cauca (Colombia), the youth take their destiny in their own hands. Tired of an eternally neoliberal government which has abandoned them and an armed conflict which started decades before their birth and whose root causes have never been tackled, they are taking action. I would like to share a few experiences that I had here, things that impressed me and gave me hope for the future and gave me pleasure in working here.

First, I have witnessed an 8th March like I had never seen before. Despite the small size of this town, and therefore of the manifestation, I have been truly astonished by the intersectionality of the revendications. If in Europe it took many years for different social movements to ally and work together, for the young Colombian activists of Santander de Quilichao it is an evidence. For the longest time in Western Europe, anti-racism, feminism, social equality and climate have been separate struggles, with for example black feminists complaining that their voices were not heard in the mainstream coverage of feminist manifestations. Fortunately, this has started to change drastically in the last years, especially with the Yellow Jackets and the Black Lives Matter movements. However, this intersectionality is completely and naturally integrated for the Colombian youth.

Feminicides, indigenous struggles, trans rights, economic difficulties, police violence, rape impunity, all subjects are taken up in order to paint the portrait of an unequal and violent society, that witnesses every day the effects of radical economic disparities and of a decades-long armed conflict. I cannot count the number of heart-wrenching stories I have heard of murders, sexual assaults and other kinds of abuse. However, this is not an event for self-pity at all, but rather for rage oriented towards action, denunciation, collaboration and joyful support of one another.

My favourite moment was the “Cagadero” (toilet would be a polite translation, sh*thouse would be more accurate). There was a toilet seat in the middle of the square, and people would sit on it and say in the microphone what they were metaphorically and illustratively defecating on. It went from patriarchy, rapists and men who don’t recognise their privileges, to capitalism, sexual abuse impunity allowed by the government, corruption, predatory energy companies and murderers of indigenous leaders. It was a very powerful moment, sad at times and hilarious at others. All in all, I have been touched and impressed by this event and by the intelligence of activists who have 10 times more social conscience than I had at their age.

After that, a colleague and I reached to them. We went to a reunion of one of the main groups participating in this event, called “Coordinación Juvenil”. There we have met students from 18 to 23 years old, smart and with an immense motivation. We discussed about formulating a project together, as they have already started developing some activities: education, taking care of children in small villages of the region, organising events, etc. With some colleagues at Alianza, we will support their activities, help them formalise a legal entity and formulate an articulated project. Indeed, one could not dream of a better implementing partner.

They have become friends and now it’s equal parts party and work. Colombia and Cauca in particular is a difficult context, but my motivation to go to work everyday is twice bigger now that I can use my competences to be part of a process of change and peace construction from the bottom-up, with young people who are bright, motivated and conscious of their role in Colombian society.

Besides, the youth of Santander de Quilichao is also active in the field of art, more precisely of street art. However, this art is just as powerful and full of social message than events and militant organisations. Two weeks ago, the collective “Muros Vivos Crew” painted an enormous mural in the centre of the town, which reads “TU GUERRA NOS DESANGRA” (Your war is bleeding us dry). It also mentions the “false positives”, which are extrajudicial murders of innocent civilians carried out by state forces and disguised as guerrilleros killed in the armed conflict, and asks “who gave the order?”.

The Colombian youth does not shy away from difficult topics, and hope to turn this mural into a symbol and a place of social change, as they want to occupy it in order to organise concerts, meet-ups and other events. I had the privilege to put my red-painted hand on the wall, and my friends were interviewed by a local news channel called ‘Proclama del Cauca”. Here is the link if you are interested: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1I5sZlcXPCQ

I am proud to be friends with all these people. They are empathetic, intelligent and very conscious of all the problems that Colombia is facing. The struggle will be long and difficult, because there are many issues to be addressed in this country, but I am absolutely convinced that this youth and the one of every Colombian city have the potential to bring radical change in the society.