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Tuesday, August 9, 2022

Tejada and the Colombian youth in resistance

Photo: Manuel Ortiz. José Alberto Tejada Echeverry, "Cucho Tejada", and cameraman Jhonatan Buitrago, "Papu", in Puerto Resistencia, Cali, Colombia. 

Peninsula 360 Press - Global Exchange 

CALI, Colombia? It's after nine o'clock at night. Microphone in hand, José Alberto Tejada Echeverry, "Cucho Tejada", walks through the dark streets of Puerto Resistencia, together with his inseparable cameraman Jhonatan Buitrago, "Papu", until he reaches a small esplanade illuminated by a spotlight.

Puerto Resistencia, a marginal neighborhood in the east of the city, formerly known as Puerto Rellena because of the sausages that were produced here, became the epicenter of the National Strike and the social outburst that began on April 28, 2021.

Tejada and Buitrago make their way through a crowded rally. They are greeted with applause and polite phrases: "Thank you, Channel 2. Tejada knows he is loved by the young people of the neighborhood, whom he defines as "the brave boys who took to the streets and have taken over the country?

According to Tejada, these young people are the children of the third wave of displacement in the last 70 years in Colombia. They are young people - between 17 and 25 years old - whose parents were displaced from the countryside and now they are excluded from the city," he said.

The entrances to Puerto Resistencia are guarded by young people who wear hoods to protect their identity. And no wonder. In the days of the strike, several of their fellow activists have been killed, disappeared, and even beheaded.

Photo: Manuel Ortiz. Valentina, 23, is one of those in charge of the popular library in Puerto Resistencia, which used to be a police station, known as CAI (Centro de Atención Inmediata de la Policía).

One of several cases is that of Santiago Ochoa, an activist from Tuluá, who was kidnapped while riding his bicycle and later had his head thrown in a bag near his home. Meanwhile, paramilitary groups, such as the Aguilas Negras (Black Eagles), distribute posters in which they point out the activists of the strike as "military targets" to be eliminated. 

That's why, they explain to me, you have to be careful with the camera. Not everyone likes having their picture taken. They are killing us," says a young Afro-descendant woman who prefers anonymity.

Puerto Resistencia is ?a meeting point for people to build utopias? says a smiling Valentina, 23, who is one of the people in charge of the colorful popular library, formerly a police station, known as CAI (Centro de Atención Inmediata de la Policía, or Police Immediate Attention Center).

In this CAI, Valentina assures us, ?it was used to torture young people and rape women, but since April 28th, when the National Strike began, the boys took over this space in order to give it a new meaning? 

? Some people call you "vandals", "violent" or "terrorists", what do you say about that?

Photo: Manuel Ortiz.

We are bald, young people who are no more than 25 years old, and the only thing we have here are books and shields to defend ourselves. They [the police] have weapons with which they murder and mutilate us. We're tired of not having a dignified life, we're tired of not having enough money to ?be someone,?" says Valentina. 

The next day, in the offices of Channel 2, at the end of the online television program, Informativo Nuestra Gente, hosted by Tejada, Liliana Valencia Agudelo serves the journalist and his guests black coffee with pandebono. Valencia is a friendly woman who both operates a camera in the field and coordinates Tejada's administrative affairs. 

While Tejada calmly eats his breakfast, which according to him is the best pandebono in Cali, he confesses: "I thought the boys were stupid, like they didn't think anymore and they weren't interested in anything".

But when they make this outburst, I open my eyes, I start talking to these kids and I find that they have an amount of information and a capacity for argumentation that I didn't have at their age even though I was a college student?

? You constantly say that the struggle of these young people is unique and meritorious, why do you think so? What is the difference between these young people and the young people of other social movements in Colombia?

Photo: Manuel Ortiz.

What I value most in those boys is that I have not felt in any of them a hate speech. In my time, we had a hate speech. We hated the boss. What the kids are saying is that we want them to open up opportunities. None of them have said that the rich should end, that the country should end, none of them are asking for anything for free, that's what I value most in them?

Another quality Tejada finds in the young people in resistance is their courage. They are possessed by the gods. I don't know what has happened to them, but you see, the bullets come from there to here, and they go from here to there. I don't know how they do it. They have an almost superhuman courage? it's as if they have no sense of mortality. That's what's happening to the boys today?

When Tejada goes to rallies, he first spends a long time listening attentively, then makes direct comments and sometimes gives his opinion on what he is told. 

Everything is broadcast live on the social networks of Channel 2, one of the few media outlets that has provided coverage of the social outburst from the neighborhoods, taking into account the version of the young people.

Do you consider yourself an activist?

Photo: Manuel Ortiz.

I am an activist and I am a journalist. I believe that every journalist is an activist, even with his or her silence. To remain silent is also activism. 

? You have received death threats, how do you live with that?

Photo: Manuel Ortiz.

A policeman [on June 4] told me straight to my face, this one is good to kill, to shoot him. He said it in public. That day I said to myself, it's true that I am uncomfortable. The night before last at midnight a car arrived at midnight, three guys got out and took pictures of the building?

In addition to these threats, for which he began to wear a helmet and bulletproof vest, the Inter-Church Commission for Justice and Peace (CIJP), a Colombian organisation that defends and promotes human rights, announced on 6 July that 30 million Colombian pesos - about 7,800 dollars - "have been collected" to "attempt against the life" of the journalist. 

And yet, Tejada does not interrupt his intense and committed work. Morning after morning, through the Informativo Nuestra Gente, he analyzes the situation of the country with his guests, always putting young people first. 

Photo: Manuel Ortiz.

My decision is to defend the children, the young people. I defend them from the shameful politicians, from the guerrillas who want to use them, from the drug traffickers who want to use them, from the paramilitaries who also want to use them. The boys are the only possibility that this country has to move forward, they are about to turn the Colombian mentality upside down, and we need them to turn it around? 

My voice goes out when I die," Tejada says serenely, before biting into his pandebono again.  

Photo: Manuel Ortiz.

Editor's note

This report was written, with the generous support of the international organization Global Exchange, in the context of the National Strike that mobilized communities in the poorest neighborhoods of Cali and other cities in Colombia as never before. We decided to include it in this print version because, unfortunately, the cases of brutal repression that Peninsula 360 Press documented at the time remain unpunished, while fellow journalist José Alberto Tejada Echeverry continues his tireless work on behalf of the youth.


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