Colombia’s national strike: a mirror of our collective soul

Marcela Guerrero Casas
4 min readNov 26, 2019

This morning I wept as I was cycling to a meeting. It was the first time I felt deeply emotional despite the collective emotion on the streets of the city over the last five days. I had just come across a young woman with a sign on her backpack that read: “Esmad, I don’t want to die the way Dilan did.” She must have been 18 years old; the same age as Dilan Cruz, a young protestor who died in hospital last night after sustaining a fatal head injury at the hands of Colombia’s anti-riot police unit (called Esmad) while they were shooting tear gas and stun grenades at protestors.

As I was relating what was going on in Bogotá to friends in Cape Town over the weekend, someone asked what had started the national strike in the first place. I regurgitated what I had read on mainstream media: labour laws increasing the retirement age and decreasing minimum wage, the killings of social leaders across the country and the failure to comply with the peace agreement by the government in power… That was the official version as far as I knew, but the origin, as all Colombians know, goes much deeper. It is the trauma of a country at war with itself for far too long.

While it was true that the national strike was convened by some unions, students groups and some opposition parties to express disagreement with particular policies, this quickly turned into a platform for many voices to express collective discontent; cutting across social class and, to some extent, even political lines.

My mother teaches at a public school and she often takes part in teacher strikes. Lack of public funding for education is an on-going battle and it is not surprising to see educators and students at the forefront of such protest action. But this year, university students seem to have reached an important level of public support when a few weeks ago, large numbers of people took to the streets to support their anger at the scandalous levels of corruption, which have meant an enormous cost to public universities.

Then there are indigenous groups who have been under attack for decades and who, because of where they are based, receive little support by the state, let alone by the rest of the citizenry who mostly located in cities, live in a bubble, protected and isolated from the rest of…

Marcela Guerrero Casas

I am passionate about cities, public space & community engagement. Born in Colombia, I have spent my adult life in the US & South Africa. Cape Town is home.