Thousands of peasants, rural workers, small producers and transport workers began a massive mobilization, blocking the traffic of the most important ways of the country and heading large local riots. The economic crisis produced by the Free Trade Agreement with the USA, and the apathy of the State towards the social demands made by various sectors of the national production, are reflected in the National strike: milk, onion and potato producers, the national federation of teachers, health workers unions, associations of health services users, indigenous and black communities and university students. Day by day, more Colombians join the marches, blockades and meetings in cities and roads in an unexpected rally of direct fight against government policies.
The answer from the State has been directed and represented by the ESMAD Squad of the National Police. ESMAD is the Spanish acronym of Anti Riot Mobile Squad, a special team created in 1999 as a reaction on increasing mobilizations by Colombian people. Since its beginning, ESMAD has been the main responsible of the murder of more than a hundred Colombian citizens. Typical examples of this bloody history are cases like the selective execution of the 15-year-old young anarchist activist, Nicolás Neira, during the 1 of May Manifestation of 2005 in Bogotá; and the murder of Johnny Silva, a 21-year-old disabled Chemistry student (he had problems of motor skills), killed by ESMAD agents on a university campus in Cali, 22 September of 2005. The numerous complaints against ESMAD include also the use of unconventional explosives, firearms and drugs during its interventions.
In the current strike, ESMAD has answered with brutal violence and unjustified excessive force to the pacific manifestations of the people. The police cruelty in the Boyacá department has been notorious. A lot of videos from the alternative media have certified the infamous actions of the State agents. Mutilated, wounded and dead protesters are daily bread. Their macabre actions have led to serious injured elderly people and children, and illegal intromissions in houses of people who are not even directly involved in the Strike.
The behavior of units from the ESMAD and the Colombian Army during mobilizations in Valle del Cauca has been remarkable, too. On August 20, at the road-blockade of the Pan-American Highway in Buga-Tuluá, ESMAD agents retained and hit journalists Lorna Bierman, Milena Ricaurte and Alexander Escobar, and human rights defenders Darnelly Rodríguez and Rodrigo Vargas. Moreover, they directed the extra-judicial detention of 20 peasant leaders and seriously wounded the young peasant Alejandro Vargas Niño with rifle bullets. In Palmira, around 400 local peasants from the Mountain Chain were illegally retained by ESMAD and Army units. They are still confined in the local Sugar Cane Workers Union house.
Day by day, the massive rejection to the ESMAD interventions is growing. On the 25 August at night, around 10.000 inhabitants of Tunja (capital of Boyacá) marched in a cacerolazo (a typical manifestation with pans and torches) repudiating the arbitrariness of the Police and expressing popular solidarity with the Strike. On August 26, a nocturnal march of cacerolazos will be hold in the main cities of Colombia. The question of the moment is: For how long will the Colombian people and the international community tolerate the criminal activities of the ESMAD police?