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Student Activism In Colombia, An Untapped Force For Change

Quality higher education in Colombia and vigorous student activism - not student rioting - will shake a complacent elite and help cleanse public life of its longstanding corruption

Students in Bogota march for more resources
Students in Bogota march for more resources
John Anzola

- OpEd -

BOGOTÁ - I occasionally like to return to the first text I read when I entered the National University of Colombia. It was an extract from Elogio de la dificultad (In Praise of Difficulty), a 1980 essay by Colombian teacher and thinker Estanislao Zuleta . The text was in a beautiful booklet given to students beginning their university courses in the second half of 2000. I go back to it especially to find one sentence that has stuck in my mind since: "... our misery is not so much in the frustration of our desires, as in the way we desire, we do it badly."

The saying began to make sense in my very first week at university, which is also when I began forming an impression of the hooded radicals on campus (capuchos) that has, in fact, changed very little over the years. They were never difficult to identify, in spite of their efforts to wrap themselves in mystery and anonymity, as I attended the same lectures and seminars as most of them (though outsiders did appear specifically for violent protests ). Fellow students did go out to throw stones sporadically, some even for fun, but almost all of them would gradually distance themselves from the more combative lot, as they realized the changes they wanted in our society would not be attained by throwing bricks (no doubt from university corridors) at police vans.

The most radical students were always the ones who stayed the longest. Excessively ideological, they could not imagine their lives outside their particular organizations, and were often tasked with recruiting heedless novices, flattered at being sought and accepted into a group. They might have said that they have both easily won and fleeting.

Their common denominator was a desire to show themselves as the most capable at interpreting political theory, which would give them a leading role in fighting social injustice. They were ready to fight as the brave rebels they presumed themselves to be, in a society with no awareness of the abuses of the oppressive establishment, often reinforced by a conniving media that were accomplices of the powerful and tools of alienation. Radical students considered themselves to be the vanguard, the owners of truth, and the chosen.

The enemies of these radicals were state power co-opted by the elites (but almost always represented by the riot police), the yankee empire, the oligarchy, mass media, the petite bourgeoisie, and so on. In short, those who did not share their ideas. But they were few, very few. All I could see in them was frauds playing a cat-and-mouse game with the police, wanting to stand out in the easiest way: by using violence.

For decades, the civil war in this country gave the ruling elite the perfect excuse for distracting people from structural problems in the country like corruption, wealth inequality and the development model. Now our society can freely debate on such issues, thanks to the end of the pretense that the communist-inspired Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas were the cause of all our miseries.

Students have enough strength to convene thousands around them.

That is why it is a shame to see hooded radicals turn student-led marches into riots and clashes, as seen in the mass protests recently at our nation's capital. These have caused immense harm to the student movement and their rightful demands for quality education. Not only are they useful scapegoats for an establishment looking to keep things unchanged in an unjust, class-divided education system, but they have also decisively fortified the negative impression already afflicting public university students.

Students have the capacity to summon thousands around them. Let them summon the citizens (just not on public transport), take over other causes and win over the support of ordinary folk. Let them march for education and while they are at it, demand the Attorney-General's resignation (regarding the Odebrecht bribery scandal). We need more and better public education, to strip corrupt people of their long-held power. To achieve this, students do not need hooded radicals, and nor opportunistic politicians with messianic airs. Please do not let anyone snatch from you what belongs to us all.

You must keep up hope to build a new and inclusive national project that can fit everyone, regardless of one's political position. Everyone. Because as Zuleta said, "the most difficult, important and necessary thing, or what must at least be tried, is to preserve the willingness to fight for a different society without falling into a paranoid interpretation of that struggle. to positively value respect and difference, not as to lesser evil or inevitable fact, but as something that enriches life and drives creation and thought. " Do not give up.

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Longyearbyen Postcard: World's Northernmost Town Facing Climate Change — And Russia

The melting of the sea ice in the Far North has accelerated in recent years. The Norwegian archipelago of Svalbard has become the focal point of the environmental drama gripping the Arctic as well as the geopolitical tensions it is causing there, with Russia in particular.

A statue of a coal miner stands in the center of the photos with houses surronding it, draped around their shoudler is a Ukrainian flag. The environment is snowy and the sky is white from clouds.

A Ukraine flag placed on a statue of a coal miner in the center of Longyearbyen

Steffen Trumpf/dpa/ZUMA
Laura Berny

LONGYEARBYEN — The Longyearbreen glacier, which once unfurled to the sea, is now a shadow of its former self. Only the name of Longyearbyen’s Isfjorden now conveys the idea of something frozen.

“Last January, during the polar winter, the temperature was between 0 and 5 °C. When I went for a walk by the fjord, I could hear the waves. This was not the case before at this time of year,” says Heidi Sevestre. The French glaciologist fell in love with Svalbard as a student, so much so that she now lives here for part of the year.

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Compared to Siberia, Canada’s and Greenland’s High North – the Arctic archipelago, located just over a thousand kilometers from the North Pole – has historically benefited from a slightly more benign climate despite its extreme latitude. Temperatures here range between 5 °C and 15 °C in summer and usually not below -30 °C in the coldest of winter. This relatively “mild" weather has its origin in the Gulf Stream — the marine current which rises up from the Caribbean and runs along the west coast of Svalbard.

But the situation has now changed.

“There has been a lot of talk about the rise in atmospheric temperature for at least 20 years. But in the past three years, ocean temperatures have also risen significantly. This is what is causing the increasingly rapid retreat of the ice pack,” explains Jean-Charles Gallet, a glaciologist who has worked at the Norwegian Polar Institute (NPI) since 2010.

“The sea ice acts like an air conditioner for the ocean, so the more it decreases, the more the ocean warms up. This causes a chain reaction which ends up accelerating the warming process,” adds Eero Rinne, a Finnish specialist on the topic and a researcher at the University Centre in Svalbard (UNIS). Rinne is working on the CRISTAL sea ice satellite mission, slated to go live in 2028 as part of the European Space Agency’s Copernicus program.

Beyond the alarming disappearance of glaciers and ice packs and the threat to polar bears (of which there are still around 300 in the archipelago), global warming is also causing cracks in the infrastructure of the territory, which is covered by permafrost. Landslides are increasingly frequent, and all recently constructed buildings in the region are on stilts.

“It used to rain very little in Svalbard, but now it is getting wetter and wetter, which is weakening the soil,” explains Hanne Hvidtfeldt Christiansen, a Danish-Norwegian scientist and specialist on permafrost at UNIS.

Norwegians kept a low profile about Svalbard's growing crisis, until 2017. That was the year when the Svalbard Global Seed Vault was flooded, less than 10 years after its foundation. The facility, dug near a mine in Longyearbyen, the capital of the archipelago, was built to preserve more than a million seeds from a possible cataclysm. The disaster didn’t affect the seeds but left a scar in people’s minds. Even this close to the pole, permafrost is thawing.

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