In recent weeks, one of the things that has called my attention the most in the news has been the protests in Colombia. Not knowing much about it, I started getting informed and noticed that most of the newspapers discussed the same five points. While I read article after article, I started wondering about how everything I laid eyes upon was extremely similar. At some point, I reflected about how I found it quite odd that there was not a single different point of view. As it tends to happen in life, there are always two sides to every story and I didn’t think that the current situation in Colombia was any different.
As an individual who enjoys reading about politics, I am well aware that this topic is very much subjective. However, as I am in no way related to Colombia, although I empathize with the hard times they are going through right now, I intend to show you in this article the unbiased two sides of the coin of the on-going events in this Latin-American country.
Firstly, the side we have access to while reading the news. Over a month ago now, on the 28th of April, the protests began. There was a strike whose origin was to fight against the rise in taxes laid out in the proposal of the Colombian President Iván Duque to the government, meaning that it was a legislative proposal to the Congress. The issue that in practice ended up being the true engine of the protest was tax reform. The latter, which aimed at balancing the state accounts, was perpetrated by raising the taxes evenly to all the population. Colombia, which already had significant structural problems, suffered greatly with the consequences of the coronavirus pandemic. Nowadays, almost half of the entire country’s population, 42%, suffers from hunger and half of this percentage represents the number of youth unemployment. Consequently, many of the citizens in Colombia found it unfair that their president wanted to apply the taxes equally to everyone when almost half of the population was worried about having food on their table at the end of the month. They thought that only the people with the higher income should have had their taxes increased, and not of the whole of the population. They were probably inspired by the tax reform of some countries around the world which follow this scheme.
Nonetheless, what happened after his tax reform was withdrawn and the minister who had come up with it was removed from office, was that the protests not only did not stop, but got bigger in numbers. People currently protesting on the streets are said to be advocating for equality: social, racial and class-wise. They state that the indigenous people and the syndicates are not receiving equal rights in the Colombian society.
Another one of the main claimed issues is police brutality. This current event can remind us in some aspects of the “Black Lives Matter” movement in the United States, which parallelly advocates for racial equality and deals with great amounts of violence from the police. In this scenario, the Interamerican Commission for Human Rights (Comisión Interamericana de los Derechos Humanos) intervened by demanding a visit to Colombia. There is an incredible amount of on-going investigations of police officers on the claim of disciplinary offences. Some are also being done on the basis of physical assault, sexual assault and homicide. Other human rights organizations, such as Human Rights Watch, have involved themselves and claim that the numbers published to the public of the number of deaths of civilians are significantly higher than what’s shown in the news. Unfortunately, as we know, violence triggers more violence and, as a consequence of these claims against the police, an increased amount of protesters has gone to the streets.
On the other hand, this conflict can be seen in a totally different way if there’s a change in perspective. This other side claims that behind the protests, many of the sectors advocating for these social changes towards equality, had in reality no legitimate interests for the rights of workers and indigenous people, for instance. They advocate for the idea that what they really have in mind are socialist and communist interests. They state that the protests are a façade for vandalism. In which way? Their claim is that there’s people with money paying with food and money those without it to destroy what in Colombia are called “Pymes”, which are pequeñas y medianas empresas, meaning small and medium enterprises. They assert that these violent protests are only a mask to hide the real reason for these strikes.
In addition, one example that this group believes shows perfectly what they are trying to prove is the one of drug traffickers. They state that the part of the population which cultivates drugs, such as cocaine, is using these protests as a way of going against the President’s decision of pouring glyphosate, a herbicide capable of “killing” cocaine, on their lands, which would shut down their income. They state that the narco groups are protesting and paying the poor people to vandalize the Pymes. They claim that the Pymes and “la Línea”, which is the main line of infrastructure of the country, are broken. Hence, there’s no way of putting on the market the products which are being produced, thus they believe that these disguised protests are only leading Colombia to a bigger economic and social crisis.
I bet that there’s one thing that both sides can agree on: it’s complicated. We can put the glasses on either one of the sides and buy many of the arguments which they are saying. What should we believe then? In my point of view, what’s most important is to be informed, hear the claims of both sides, and create our own opinion consequently, not controlled by what the media or what one specific side is saying.