FunCulturalWhy Cali?

Why Cali?

We present an analysis of the historical reasons that explain the social outbreak that Cali is experiencing, in the midst of the current National Strike.

Little or nothing remains of the recurring image of Cali as a civic city in Colombia that characterized it, especially between the 60s and 80s. An urban image supported by a call to order, good customs, cleanliness, which the established sector made the newcomers (the marginalized, Norbert Elias would say), just at the time when this city was expanding and growing exorbitantly, at the cost of invasions, especially on its eastern (Aguablanca District) and western (Siloé and the hillside area), with a population from different corners of the country’s geography, who sought better living conditions, which many would not reach.

By then Cali had a local society, in which its elites moved from the public to the private sector and vice versa, and acted in a somewhat compact way, thanks to which they managed not only to position it as a civic city, but as a sports capital thanks to the resources of the tax that in 1967, during the government of Carlos Lleras Restrepo, allowed the execution of various works, including roads, sports and ornamentals, within the framework of the realization of an event of international stature: the VI Pan American Games.

However, this vertiginous process of modernization and the urban images it projected did not hide a broad, complex and convulsive reality: a growing student movement that left many victims in clashes with the police; poverty, unemployment and, in general, social exclusion that became evident from the streets of the center to the continuous subnormal settlements about which Andrés Caicedo failed to refer in his literary work; the arrival of European pastors and laity from China, apostles of liberation theology and founders of the first parishes of the Catholic Church in the Aguablanca District; the appearance of graffiti on the city walls and in the same local press, with the sign “Eme here”, which gave an account of the appearance and presence of the M-19 in Cali; the co-optation of the slogan of the institutional cleaning campaign, “Cali clean, Cali beautiful”, at the hands of organized crime, among others, to name their operations of “social cleaning” (…) the gradual and increasingly visible presence of drug trafficking in all social and institutional spheres, with all that this implied in matters of crime, the scene of the cartel war, and the assumption of an urban social sense around sudden enrichment for rising social layers.

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It was clear then that the power bloc was definitely fragmented in the 1980s and that an oligarchic elite gave way to a professional political elite, in which members of the middle and popular sectors, taking advantage of the popular election of mayors, emerged and acceded to the direction of local and regional politics. However, as a World Bank report for Cali points out in 2002, the relationship between the public and private sectors continued to be utilitarian. Furthermore: “Neither under the leadership of traditional families, nor under the new underground leadership of the drug lords, was the city prepared to transform a culture of closed circles into other formal and transparent rules and procedures.”

And so Cali came to the period between centuries: drug trafficking continued after the collapse of the cartels and decidedly took over the domestic market, flooding various public spaces for the retail product, redefining territories, marking borders, making the streets, once festive and boisterous, increasingly dangerous and armed (…) condemning lives (…) with the complacency of the Public Force.

Meanwhile, the popular sectors grew on the sides of the city, with dissimilar characteristics, mestizo, of migrants from all over the country, especially from the Pacific, which, according to the population rate, led to making Cali the second city with the largest presence of Afro-descendants in Latin America, after Salvador Bahía. This growth was made palpable in the creation of numerous social, community and cultural based organizations that have managed to articulate their network operation to date, fostering solidarity, redefining spaces, reflecting through workshops on issues of gender, ethnicity, of city and citizenship; proposing aesthetics and ways of life around salsa dance, Pacific folklore, street theater, hip hop: popular tactics hand in hand with art seeking re-existences despite and on purpose of a deeply stratified society.

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Cali, not only a geographical crossroads of the country, where the indigenous caravans of Cauca come and go, claiming ancestral rights that are always hidden, knocking down one statue or another, leaving a certain trail of community sense and organization; also from the continent, where drug trafficking continues, now spread to multinational organized crime companies; Migrants from neighboring countries also pass by, many of whom do not follow: they remain, for the most part, in situations of precariousness and misery. And, in the end, Cali is a “carrefour” of the world: the city has become a center of attraction for tourists motivated, among other things, by the frenzy of salsa and the cultural industry that dances around it.

That Cali continues to this day with another intersection, between symbolic and real: on the one hand, that of a group that persists and installs itself in the discourse of citizenship of duties, conduct, behaving well, that of civility, promoted by conservative sectors of the middle and upper strata of society, compared to another, coming from the depths of society that speaks and demands rights, visibility and social justice, made up of an extensive critical mass of the population.

What we already know had to happen for the bulk of the population to unite. It is not necessary to study Tilly to recognize that this fermentation of indignation and social frustration would find an escape valve through the protest against any senseless measure proposed by instances of power: some so-called pension, labor and educational reforms, on November 21, 2019; an inequitable tax reform, on April 28, the latter, to health, in the midst of a global pandemic that only contained for a time the public fury finally unleashed: we witnessed for the first time the largest act of massive civil disobedience in history from the country.

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Incredibly, young people from the neighborhood, with no other future than the corner, even barristas from the two teams in the city, also participated, got together and found on a front line, an opportunity to, for the first time in their lives, directly interpellate to power, to have hope of life … or to be killed. Why Cali?

* Journalist, director of the program ‘La Chicharra’ of Univalle Estéreo and university professor

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