Geopolitics

Colombia Protest Violence: Stop Blaming The Victims

More than 20 people have been killed since demonstrations erupted against a government plan to raise taxes. Dozens more are missing, and yet some insist still on blaming the protestors.

Clashes between protesters and riot police, in Bogota, Colombia, on April 30, 2021.
Catalina Ruiz-Navarro

-OpEd-

BOGOTA — I recently heard someone liken the "acts of vandalism" taking place during the current protests against the Colombian government's tax reforms to a child's "tantrum" against its parents.

That comparison says a lot about how people see these protests. The state, in their mind, is a "father," and the protesters are "minors' exaggerating their methods to "get his attention." The assumption, then, is that if the demonstrators could only state their demands in a "mature" or "reasonable" manner — without shouting — it would all be easier. They would win the father's respect and he would reward them for their manners, treating them as adults!

But here's the thing: Protesting over human rights is no tantrum. For many, it is the only and last option because behind their hunger, illness or poverty, lies death. There is no benevolent father who wants the best for us. Instead, what we have in Colombia is an unequal concentration of power in certain groups who want even more of it, and hope to get it by exploiting the population. When this exploitation reaches intolerable levels, people come onto the streets to voice their rage.

The state sees stones, glass and bits of metal as more valuable than people's lives.

What must people do — peacefully — to bring about political change here, as people asked on an Instagram sequence (attributed to whatradicalized you, @literally.noam.chomsky and @socialstudies4socialjustice)?

It's a question based on the common belief that a "peaceful" protest is all that's need to bring about change. Except it doesn't work that way. No authoritarian or corrupt government was ever moved by the poetic sight of people marching in the streets to promise an end to extrajudicial killings! It's not that poems are useless or unnecessary. Artistic manifestations play a key role in strategies to bring about social change. But so does direct action, including breaking windows and daubing graffiti in protests.

protesters_colombia_riots

Demonstrators throwing stones at the police in Bogota, on April 28, 2021. — Photo: Daniel Santiago Romero Chaparro/LongVisual/ZUMA

Certain cultural actions, like images or songs, will help people understand and sympathize with the protests, or make protesters feel more visible and present. Direct action (which is also a cultural act) serves to disturb, makes the protest inevitable and highlights the fact that the state sees stones, glass and bits of metal, which are termed "property," as more valuable than people's lives.

The Instagram carousel provides a more realistic sequence of how social change happens:

1) People protest peacefully (in a way the government cannot ignore).

2) The state's repressive agents manhandle peaceful protests in public venues.

3) The wider population sees this, is angered and takes the side of protesters.

The carousel clearly explains what is happening in Colombia today. What people with cushy lives do not understand is that by supporting only "peaceful resistance," they are not actually taking a stand against violence. Instead they're just asking the rest of us to go out and expose ourselves to the state's violence and then do nothing about it, all for the sake of winning the government's approval.

It is senseless to compare the destruction of a cash dispenser with security forces beating an unarmed protester to death.

That is what happened with Gandhi's iconic protests, famous for their non-violent resistance. They were hunger strikes in fact, thus there was violence, but only against the protesters. And so again, when people say that they only support peaceful protests, what they're really saying is: "We only back protests where protesters are ready to be beaten in the hope of earning wider public sympathy." That, in turn, means that they only want demonstrations with no real power to bring about change. They support the people's right to protest, as long as it is useless.

This isn't to say that a protest must, perforce be violent. But it is senseless to compare the destruction of a cash dispenser with security forces beating an unarmed protester to death. Nor is it the case that the only effective protest is one with broken windows. The point, rather, is that differentiating between "good" and "bad" ways of protesting just serves to stigmatize protests in principle.

With the excuse of curbing "bad" protests, the army came onto the streets of Colombia to brutalize civilians, regardless of whether or not they were engaging in vandalism. This is not about good protests versus bad protests. It is about Colombians facing down a government that is authoritarian, exploitative and corrupt. And for that, we need all forms of protest.

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Thousands of migrants in Del Rio, Texas, on the border between Mexico and the U.S.

Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Bertrand Hauger and Anne-Sophie Goninet

👋 Сайн уу*

Welcome to Friday, where the new U.S.-UK-Australia security pact is under fire, Italy becomes the first country to make COVID-19 "green pass" mandatory for all workers, and Prince Philip's will is to be kept secret for 90 years. From Russia, we also look at the government censorship faced by brands that recently tried to promote multiculturalism and inclusiveness in their ads.

[*Sain uu - Mongolian]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• U.S. facing multiple waves of migrants, refugees: The temporary camp, located between Mexico's Ciudad Acuña and Del Rio in Texas, is housing some 10,000 people, largely from Haiti. With few resources, they are forced to wait in squalid conditions and scorching temperatures amidst a surge of migrants attempting to cross into the U.S. Meanwhile, thousands of recently evacuated Afghan refugees wait in limbo at U.S. military bases, both domestic and abroad.

• COVID update: Italy is now the first European country to require vaccination for all public and private sector workers from Oct. 15. The Netherlands will also implement a "corona pass" in the following weeks for restaurants, bars and cultural spaces. When he gives an opening speech at the United Nations General Assembly next week, unvaccinated Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro will defy New York City authorities, who are requiring jabs for all leaders and diplomats.

• U.S. and UK face global backlash over Australian deal: The U.S. is attempting to diffuse the backlash over the new security pact signed with Australia and the UK, which excludes the European Union. The move has angered France, prompting diplomats to cancel a gala to celebrate ties between the country and the U.S.

• Russian elections: Half of the 450 seats in Duma are will be determined in today's parliamentary race. Despite persistent protests led by imprisoned opposition leader Alexey Navalny, many international monitors and Western governments fear rigged voting will result in President Vladimir Putin's United Russia party maintaining its large majority.

• Somali president halts prime minister's authority: The decision by President Mohamed Abdullahi Mohamed marks the latest escalation in tensions with Prime Minister Mohamed Hussein Roble concerning a murder investigation. The move comes as the Horn of Africa country has fallen into a political crisis driven by militant violence and clashes between clans.

• Astronauts return to Earth after China's longest space mission: Three astronauts spent 90 days at the Tianhe module and arrived safely in the Gobi desert in Inner Mongolia. The Shenzhou-12 mission is the first of crewed missions China has planned for 2021-2022 as it completes its first permanent space station.

• Prince Philip's will to be kept secret for 90 years: A British court has ruled that the will of Prince Philip, the late husband of Britain's Queen Elizabeth who passed away in April at 99 years old, will remain private for at least 90 years to preserve the monarch's "dignity and standing."

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

With a memorable front-page photo, Argentine daily La Voz reports on the open fight between the country's president Alberto Fernández and vice-president Cristina Kirchner which is paralyzing the government. Kirchner published a letter criticizing the president's administration after several ministers resigned and the government suffered a major defeat in last week's midterm primary election.

#️⃣  BY THE NUMBERS

€150

An Italian investigation uncovered a series of offers on encrypted "dark web" websites offering to sell fake EU COVID vaccine travel documents. Italy's financial police say its units have seized control of 10 channels on the messaging service Telegram linked to anonymous accounts that were offering the vaccine certificates for up to €150. "Through the internet and through these channels, you can sell things everywhere in the world," finance police officer Gianluca Berruti told Euronews.

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

In Russia, brands advertising diversity are under attack

Russian sushi delivery Yobidoyobi removed an advertisement with a Black man and apologized for offending the Russian nation, while a grocery chain was attacked for featuring an LGBTQ couple, reports Moscow-based daily Kommersant.

❌ "On behalf of the entire company, we want to apologize for offending the public with our photos..." reads a recent statement by Russian sushi delivery Yobidoyobi after publishing an advertisement that included a photograph of a Black man. Shortly after, the company's co-founder, Konstantin Zimen, said people on social media were accusing Yobidoyobi of promoting multiculturalism. Another recent case involved grocery store chain VkusVill, which released advertising material featuring a lesbian couple. The company soon began to receive threats and quickly apologized and removed the text and apologized.

🏳️🌈 For the real life family featured in the ad, they have taken refuge in Spain, after their emails and cell phone numbers were leaked. "We were happy to express ourselves as a family because LGBTQ people are often alone and abandoned by their families in Russia," Mila, one of the daughters in the ad, explained in a recent interview with El Pais.

🇷🇺 It is already common in Russia to talk about "spiritual bonds," a common designation for the spiritual foundations that unite modern Russian society, harkening back to the Old Empire as the last Orthodox frontier. The expression has been mocked as an internet meme and is widely used in public rhetoric. For opponents, this meme is a reason for irony and ridicule. Patriots take spiritual bonds very seriously: The government has decided to focus on strengthening these links and the mission has become more important than protecting basic human rights.Russian sushi delivery Yobidoyobi removed an advertisement with a Black man and apologized for offending the Russian nation, while a grocery chain was attacked for featuring an LGBTQ couple, reports Moscow-based daily Kommersant.

➡️ Read more on Worldcrunch.com

📣 VERBATIM

"Ask the rich countries: Where are Africa's vaccines?"

— During an online conference, Dr. Ayoade Olatunbosun-Alakija, of the African Vaccine Delivery Alliance, implored the international community to do more to inoculate people against COVID-19 in Africa and other developing regions. The World Health Organization estimates that only 3.6% of people living in Africa have been fully vaccinated. The continent is home to 17% of the world population, but only 2% of the nearly six billion shots administered so far have been given in Africa, according to the W.H.O.

✍️ Newsletter by Hannah Steinkopf-Frank, Bertrand Hauger and Anne-Sophie Goninet

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