Geopolitics

Next Up, Colombia: Why Latin American Protests Keep Spreading

Colombians are the latest in Latin America to take to the streets, in what may be the 'first clang of the bell' of many aimed at President Ivan Duque.

Protest in Bogota on Nov. 21
Hernando Gómez Buendía 

-OpEd-

BOGOTA — In Ecuador, the protests lasted 11 days, were sparked by a spike in gasoline prices, and forced the president to backtrack on his impossible economic adjustment program.

In Chile, the most intense period of the protests lasted 12 days. They were caused by accumulated rage against the existing economic model, and exploded because of the government's clumsy decision to close the Santiago metro. As a result of the unrest, the powers that be promised to reform the country's constitution, but that doesn't fix the real problem, which is inequality.

In Bolivia, protests lasted 20 days and were prompted by President Evo's fraudulent reelection. They have produced a right-wing government that native Bolivians refuse to accept.

In Venezuela the protests lasted, or have lasted, several years now, and the demand is an end to the socialist Bolivarian regime. But people are also weary of demonstrating, and nobody sees a solution any time soon.

In Hong Kong, there have been some six months of protests against Beijing's de facto rule of the autonomous city again, without a solution in sight. In Lebanon, protesters toppled a corrupt government and have aggravated the country's bankruptcy. And in France, people donning yellow safety vests have been protesting for more than a year, expressing a kind of ill-defined anger toward everything, and driving President Macron half-mad.

Across the world, 2019 has been the year of the street protest, driven in large part by web technology.

From Baghdad and Tehran to Barcelona and Lima, people are using social networking and coming out in massive numbers to voice their disgust. And governments are frightened. There have been incidents of violence as a result, with police losing control. There's been repression and killings, in some cases, along with government overtures that may or may not be sensible or efficient.

And then, last Thursday (Nov. 21), it was Colombia's turn. Protestors organized a general strike that lasted one day and was more like a mass march uniting a wide array of discontented sectors under the umbrella of opposition to reforming the labor and pension laws, with isolated incidents of violence and without any known or effective response by President Iván Duque.

Police disperse anti-government demonstrators in downtown Bogota on Nov. 21 — Photo: Str/ZUMA

Despite claims made by the country's most conservative elements, there was no sign anywhere of the Sao Paulo Forum or Venezuela's Maduro plotting against the country. Nor did the strike result in the social explosion some extremists were hoping for and other extremists had warned us about! Police brutality was moderate compared to in other countries. And the looting and vandalism that occurred isn't all that surprising.

The event didn't result in any kind of negotiations. Nor is there any sign that the president and his party have understood or wish to or could understand — where this public frustration comes from. Poor Duque's only response was an inane call to unity without negotiating with anyone, while insisting that the government has done what it has not in fact done, and promising to shelve reforms that are actually heading our way.

Practically any event could trigger that kind of behavior among the desperate youth in the country's poorest districts.

Colombia is awakening from its lengthy dream-nightmare of armed conflict, an eternal president Ed. note: Alvaro Uribe, who never really went away even after his term ended, nearly a decade ago and the Peace Pact. The guerrillas have been done for a while now, and what we're seeing now are normal and legitimate protests in a democracy that yes, is unfair and exclusive, but is also the one we have.

The strike was the first clang of the bell. It was an odd thing — really just a big march, as I said — but one that was also distinctly Colombian, with a mix of rebellion, anger, vandalism and carnival-style celebration. The bells will toll again, and this inept president for whom we voted will eventually have to listen.


*The author is director of online magazine Razón Pública.

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A tribute to the 30,000 Iranian political prisoners murdered in Iran in 1988

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

👋 Laba diena!*

Welcome to Wednesday, where Afghanistan's Taliban demand to speak at the United Nations, China takes a bold ecological stand and we find out why monkeys kept their tails and humans didn't. Business magazine America Economia also looks at how Latin American countries are looking to attract a new generation of freelancers known as "digital nomads" in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.

[*Lithuanian]

🌎  7 THINGS TO KNOW RIGHT NOW

• Taliban ask to speak at UN: With global leaders gathered in New York for the 76th meeting of the UN General Assembly, Afghanistan's new rulers say their country's previously accredited United Nations ambassador no longer represents the country, and have demanded a new Taliban envoy speak instead. Afghanistan is scheduled to give the final intervention next Monday to the General Assembly, and a UN committee must now rule who can speak.

• Four corpses found on Belarus border with Poland: The discovery of bodies of four people on Belarus-Poland border who appear to have died from hypothermia are raising new accusations that Belarus is pushing migrants to the eastern border of the European Union, possibly in retaliation over Western sanctions following the contested reelection of the country's strongman Alexander Lukashenko. The discovery comes amid a surge of largely Afghani and Iraqi migrants attempting to enter Poland in recent weeks.

• China to stop building coal-burning power plants abroad: Under pressure to limit emissions to meet Paris climate agreement goals, China announces an end to funding future projects in Indonesia, Vietnam and other countries through its Belt and Road initiative.

• Turkey ratifies Paris climate agreement: Following a year of wildfires and flash floods, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan announced at the UN that Turkey will become the last G-20 country to ratify the emissions-limiting accords. Turkey already signed the agreement in 2016, but has yet to hold a vote in parliament.

• Mass evacuations following Canary Islands volcano: More than 6,000 people have fled the Spanish archipelago as heavy flows of lava have buried hundreds of homes. Four earthquakes have also hit the Canaries since the Sunday eruption, which could also cause other explosions and the release of toxic gas.

• Rare earthquake hits Melbourne: The 5.9 magnitude quake struck near Melbourne in southern Australia, with aftershocks going as far Adelaide, Canberra and Launceston. Videos shared on social media show at least one damaged building, with power lines disrupted in Australia's second largest city. No injuries have been reported.

• The evolutionary tale of tails: Charles Darwin first discovered that humans evolved to lose this biological trait. But only now are New York scientists showing that it was a single genetic tweak that could have caused this shift, while our monkey relatives kept their backside appendages.

🗞️  FRONT PAGE

"The roof of Barcelona" — El Periodico daily reports on the latest delay from what may be the longest-running construction project in the world. Work on the iconic Barcelona church La Sagrada Familia, which began all the way back in 1882 as the vision of master architect Antoni Gaudí, was slated to be completed in 2026. The Barcelona-based daily reports that a press conference Tuesday confirmed that the deadline won't be met, in part because of delays related to COVID-19. Officials also provided new details about the impending completion of the Mare de Déu tower (tower of the Virgin), the first tower of the temple to be completed in 44 years. Although it is currently the second tallest spire of the complex, it will become the highest point of the Sagrada Familia, reaching 172.5 meters thanks to an illuminated "great cross."

📰  STORY OF THE DAY

Latin America, the next mecca for digital nomads

Latin American countries want to cash in on the post-pandemic changes to the fundamental ways we work and live, in particular by capitalizing on a growing demand from the new wave of remote workers and "youngish" professional freelancers with money to spend, reports Natalia Vera Ramírez in business magazine America Economia.

💻🏖️ Niels Olson, Ecuador's tourism minister, is working hard to bring "digital nomads" to his country. He believes that attracting this new generation of freelancers who can work from anywhere for extended visits is a unique opportunity for all. Living in a town like Puerto López, he wrote on Twitter, the expat freelancer could "work by the sea, live with a mostly vaccinated population, in the same time zone, (enjoy) an excellent climate, and eat fresh seafood." For Ecuador, the new influx of visitors with money to spend would help boost the country's economy.

🧳 While online-based freelancers already hopped from country to country before COVID-19, the pandemic has boosted their current numbers to around 100 million worldwide. The Inter-American Development Bank estimates there could be a billion roaming, digital workers by 2050. Some European countries already issue visas for digital nomads. They include Germany, Portugal, Iceland, Croatia, Estonia and the Czech Republic, but in the Americas, only four countries make the list, namely Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Panama and Costa Rica.

💰 In August 2021, Costa Rica approved a law for remote workers and international service providers, intended to attract digital nomads and make its travel sector more competitive. The law provides legal guarantees and specific tax exemptions for remote workers choosing to make the country their place of work. It allows foreign nationals earning more than $3,000 a month to stay for up to a year in the country, with the ability to renew their visa for an additional year. If applicants are a family, the income requisite rises to $5,000.


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$2.1 billion

Google announced yesterday it will spend $2.1 billion to buy a sprawling Manhattan office building, in one of the largest sales of a building in U.S. history. The tech giant plans on growing its New York workforce to more than 14,000 people.

📣 VERBATIM

It is sickening and shameful to see this kind of president give such a lie-filled speech on the international stage.

— Opposition Brazilian congresswoman Vivi Reis in response to President Jair Bolsonaro's inflammatory 12-minute speech at the UN General Assembly. The unvaccinated head of state touted untested COVID-19 cures, criticized public health measures and boasted that the South American country's environmental protections were the best in the world.

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

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