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Israeli Aggression: The Sound of Silence

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I don’t tweet about Palestine, or Gaza, or Israel. I don’t compose posts or tweets or raise my voice. There’s no Instagram story to flag the issue. This has been a conscious decision I have made over the past few years and I am sure that there are many other people who react in the same way as me. I am reasonably vocal on British politics and I don’t have any qualms in calling out my personal opinions on leading global figures. So why do I stay silent on this particular issue?

Events in recent days have caused me to reflect on this and I think I have to be honest in my own judgement. I am silent out of fear: fear of being called anti-Semitic, fear out of ignorance and fear of being stung by a hornet’s nest. It’s easier to be silent than to speak up. When I am silent, I am safe. My job is safe, my self-image is safe – it’s easier to hide behind these deceptions than to take responsibility or to acknowledge the fear.

A common argument to hide the fear behind is the ‘both sides’ debate. Both sides are showing aggression; both sides are aiming to hurt. This argument feels authentic and it feels a safe place to stand on this issue. This view is constantly supported and reinforced by the mainstream media with its headlines of Palestinian-Israeli conflicts, clashes and provocations. From this position, you can quietly voice your discomfort with the violence and death seen in the country without being drawn into more stark realities or condemning any particular side. But even a cursory investigation into the facts reveals that this approach is deeply disingenuous. 

The ‘both sides’ argument for avoiding condemnation belies the facts that one side controls the power, the weapons and the force to entirely crush both physically and psychologically the weaker victim of their aggression. Israel is a well-developed and economically stable country. They have an active military, medical, education and employment infrastructure. World Bank data show that Israel’s GDP has almost quadrupled since 2000 to reach more than $319bn in 2020. In the same period, the UN Human Rights watch has shown that 80% of the Palestinian population rely on humanitarian aid to meet their basic needs. Israel has squeezed and crushed the normal services and institutions needed for human survival. The same report states: “Israel’s twelve-year closure of Gaza, exacerbated by Egyptian restrictions on its border with Gaza, limits access to educational, economic and other opportunities, medical care, clean water and electricity for the nearly 2 million Palestinians who live there.” That is to say nothing of the disproportionate deaths and military spending. In reality, the both sides debate equates rockets with guided ballistic missiles and conveniently disguises the fact that Israel is bombing schools, hospitals and media outlets – killing civilians in what many consider to be war crimes. Yes, violence on any part is wrong and loss of life is a tragedy for all but when the suffering is long, painful and impedes even the most basic of human rights, it becomes laughable to equate it entirely with the desperate actions of a people slowly dying under inhuman conditions.

A second fear is being tainted by association. Some fringe and extremist elements of the pro-Palestinian supporters smear their genuine outrage at the situation with undiluted anti-Semitism. The recent car rallies in North London were a prime example of why this fear is very real. Concern for the plight of an oppressed people is mixed with bigoted religious views; views which are often in violation of British law and could be termed as a hate crime. How can you support Palestinian rights without being associated with such hatred? So many people, often those with the loudest voices (or those who draw the most media attention), fail to distinguish between the State of Israel and Jewish people. The two are not synonymous. The State of Israel, like all other nation states such as Saudi Arabia, Russia or China, should be held to the same rules of criticism. We should not have to think twice before retweeting or supporting because it is a Jewish state. Anti-Semitism and criticism of a nation state are separate but intersectional concerns and the actions of some racists further blur the lines between the two concepts. And ultimately, this ambiguity serves to allow a dangerous and oppressive regime to continue its almost total annihilation of a specific people without facing sanctions from the international community and it keeps people like me silent. We are good people, we tell ourselves, and good people are not anti-Semitic. Better to stay away altogether than to accidentally offend or be accused of holding this vile view.

We can also claim we are silent due to our own ignorance. This is a long, complex, centuries-old conflict and we don’t know enough to speak up. Nobody has come up with a solution so what could we possibly add to the debate? It’s easier to persuade ourselves that others, more qualified, can speak on our behalf. Yet this approach also is disingenuous and covers the cowardly fear of censure or loss of support many know they will face if they speak up. With this approach, we relegate both the Israelis and the Palestinians to being ‘other’. It doesn’t affect me, I have no allegiance there, so it is easy to be silent. This is a harmful approach that sews division deep within the heart. It removes the considerations of humanity from the debate. We can only stay silent because we fail to acknowledge the human rights of the Palestinians. It’s a losing strategy and one that ensures the situation will continue in endless cycles of violence and fear, as it has done for decades while the oppressor slowly encroaches further and further on the weaker people until eventually nothing remains of their dignity or their rights. It’s easy to stay silent when you are one step removed, but the ultimate removal is that of humanity from our hearts.

As Martin Luther King famously said: Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.” As the world grows more and more connected through economy, education and knowledge, this statement remains more true than ever.

The time has come for the millions of people like me, who see injustice but stay silent, to speak up and speak out. In the light of recent aggression, bombing of schools, turning off of water and electricity – silence becomes complicity. To have no view is to support oppression. Neutrality is an easy way to avoid acknowledging reality. I have no great following online and perhaps my voice will have no impact on anything, but it will have an impact on me. I will know that I didn’t turn away and that I spoke and highlighted injustice when it was plain to see. For, greater than any of the fears above, the fear of being on the wrong side of supporting humanity looms large. Your silence is no silence at all, it speaks volumes. Your silence is seen.

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

A teacher, mother and radio presenter. Is interested in education, equality and community relations. Currently living in London.

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1 Comment

1 Comment

  1. M G

    25 May 2021 at 5:29 pm

    Thank you for this insightful piece which echoes the hearts of many, and reminds us that our silence can speak volumes.

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The G7 Summit: World leaders meet to discuss post-Covid economic recovery, vaccines and the climate

The Official G7 Summit Communiqué published on Sunday outlined the agreements and decisions made by the countries involved

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Over the weekend, the G7 summit took place in Cornwall. World leaders of the seven most advanced economies met and discussed the biggest issues facing the world and the ways to tackle them. The G7 Summit in an annual event; it did not take place last year due to the pandemic but for this year, it was back on the calendar. 

The G7 is an organisation made up of the world’s most advanced economies. The seven countries which are part of the G7 include Germany, France, Italy, United States, United Kingdom, Japan and Canada. In 1998, Russia also joined the organisation, then named the G8. However, Russia was excluded in 2014 after its occupation of Crimea. Although China and India are also known as two of the biggest economies in the world, they have never been  members of the G7. The European Union is not a member of the G7, but the President of the EU and its representations normally attend the summit. This year, leaders from South Korea, Australia and India were also invited. 

The UK currently holds the presidency of the G7 which is why it also hosted this year’s summit. The main theme for this year’s programme focused on working towards “a stronger global health system that can protect us all from future pandemics.” Beyond this  key focus, the summit also opened ways for discussion on how vaccines and world economies can help global recovery from the pandemic. At the main round-table discussions on Friday 11th June 2021, Boris Johnson said that “it was important to level up across our societies” and to “build back better” as the world makes its way to recovery from the pandemic. The Prime Minister also urged the world leaders to “learn from the past” stating, it is “vital that we don’t repeat the mistakes of the last great crisis – the last economic recession of 2008 – when the recovery was not uniform across all parts of society.” The programme of the summit for Friday also included an evening dinner at Eden Project, attended by the Queen and members of the Royal Family. 

In some of the decisions made during the summit on Friday, one announcement and pledge came from the UK government. It was announced that the British government will  give £430 million in aid to the Global Partnership for Education. This is  to help the “most vulnerable children” get better schooling and education, with a special focus on girls. The British government has also pledged to donate at least 100 million extra vaccine doses over the next year to help less developed countries with their immunisation programme.  

The second day of talks in Cornwall were centred around the issue between the UK and the EU about post-Brexit checks on goods, and the economic effort of the Western powers to challenge China’s development. US President Joe Biden expressed his intention to launch a US-backed Build Back Better World (B3W) plan which would be a “better quality” alternative to a similar Chinese programme. China’s Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) has helped many countries financially by building trains, roads and ports. However, the Chinese plan is also criticised for burdening some countries with the debt. On Saturday, the G7 leaders said that they hope to offer a “values-driven, high-standard and transparent” partnership. Although, the financing of the initiative still remains undecided. The G7 has also agreed to a new plan which will aim to stop future pandemics. According to a BBC Report, some of the measures include: “cutting the time needed to develop and license vaccines and treatments for Covid-19 to under 100 days.”

What becomes clear in all this is that the western democracies have this desperate urge to prove that their values and their plan can succeed too, of course with an even eager ambition to do better than China. In a way, these plans are bound to help developing countries and its citizens but the intent of proving superiority over China is unpalatable.. Ultimately, the interests of every people and nation should be of utmost priority. 

Regarding the row between the EU and the UK over the Northern Ireland border, Boris Johnson has said that the “it is the prime duty of the government  to uphold the territorial integrity of the UK.” Johnson has also urged compromises and ‘pragmatic solutions’ on both sides to bring about a fair outcome. French President Emmanuel Macron has said that he would be “willing to reset” the relations with the UK if it respected the Brexit withdrawal and trade agreement. As the talks between the EU and the UK came to a close on Sunday, the issue of the Northern Irish border and the post-Brexit trade protocol remains hanging in the balance.. 

The Official G7 Summit Communiqué published on Sunday outlined the agreements and decisions made by the countries involved. It states the main goals for the G7 and more broadly the G20 to work towards in the coming years, including the “end [of] the pandemic and prepare for the future”, “reinvigorate our economies”, “secure our future prosperity”, “protect our planet”, “strengthen our partnerships” and “embrace our values.” The G7 nations have agreed to donate 1 billion vaccine doses to poorer countries over the course of next year; a plan criticised and referred to as a “moral failure.” Defending the global vaccine pledge,  Boris Johnson said that the G7 countries rejected ‘nationalistic approaches’ to intensify efforts to end the pandemic. The G7 Communiqué also aims to end the pandemic by 2022 and reach the goal of vaccinating at least 60% of the world population. It is believed that this level of immunisation is required to end the pandemic universally.

Finally addressing the climate emergency facing the world, the G7 nations have agreed to renew their pledge to raise $100 billion a year to support developing countries in cutting emissions. It is worth noting that this target was set in 2009 with the deadline of 2020 but was not met due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

These pledges and targets set by the G7 look promising and hopeful, but these goals have to be translated into action. Mere words are not enough to bring the change at all levels. The issue of inequality, the effort to prevent climate change and the work towards ending the pandemic will need consistent and robust action at all levels and in all parts of the world with absolute justice. Only then, can we witness  true global prosperity. 

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

Historian of Modern World History, with special interest in history of modern Europe and Britain. I also have a keen interest in politics, systems of rule, international relations and current affairs.

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The Secret Genocide: The story behind ‘The Butcher of Bosnians’

This historic judgment shows that those who commit horrific crimes will be held accountable. It also reinforces our shared resolve to prevent future atrocities from occurring anywhere in the world

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Now 78-years-old, Ratko Mladić – known as the ‘Butcher of Bosnians’ – will live out the rest of his life rotting in jail. His final appeal against convictions of crimes against humanity and genocide were dismissed by a UN court, last week. Mladić masterminded the first genocide in Europe since WWII, a series of tragedies most of us know little of.  

At the time of the breakup of Yugoslavia in the 1990s, General Mladić of the Bosnian Serbian Army undertook the task of ethnically cleansing undesirable Bosnian Muslims (Bosniaks) from desirable lands for Serbia. Countless acts of barbarism including systematic mass rape and indiscriminate civilian murder were carried out under his command, most infamous of these are the Srebrenica massacre and the siege of Sarajevo (capital of Bosnia).  

The siege of Sarajevo took place between 5th April 1992 and 29th February 1996 – lasting 1425 days – the longest siege in modern history. The siege was characterised by an average of over 300 daily heavy artillery shell impacts of Bosniak neighbourhoods – designed to break the spirit of its residents. By the end, at least 13,000 lives had been claimed by Mladić’s forces at Sarajevo and, the International Criminal Tribunal for Yugoslavia (ICTY) would later determine that multiple crimes against humanity, including terrorism, had been committed.  

Efforts to ethnically cleanse the lands were far reaching and not even UN ‘safe-areas’ were spared. During the Srebrenica massacre at least 8,000 unarmed Muslim men and boys were separated from their families at a refugee area guarded by Dutch UN peacekeepers, and killed. To this day, mass graves are still being uncovered from the genocide. Mladić organised for women and young children to be detained at camps where women would be abused and systematically raped – sometimes in front of their own children. Women recount stories of babies’ throats being slit because mothers could not keep them quiet, and children being taken away at night only to be found slaughtered by the morning. 

After many years in hiding and allegedly under the protection of the Serbian government, Mladić was arrested in 2011 and convicted of multiple charges of crimes against humanity by the ICTY. Most recently, his final appeal against the convictions has been rejected by the court. The White House released a statement by President Joe Biden stating:  

“This historic judgment shows that those who commit horrific crimes will be held accountable. It also reinforces our shared resolve to prevent future atrocities from occurring anywhere in the world.” 

He added: “My thoughts today are with all the surviving families of the many victims of Mladic’s atrocities. We can never erase the tragedy of their deaths, but I hope today’s judgment provides some solace to all those who are grieving.” 

The UK Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the following:  

“The UK has played a vital role in bringing Ratko Mladić and other war criminals to justice for the crimes they committed in the Western Balkans. With Radovan Karadžić serving his life sentence in a British jail, and Ratko Mladić’s convictions upheld, the international community has brought some solace to the survivors and families of victims, and helped puncture impunity for the worst international crimes imaginable.” 

The actions of individuals like Mladić highlight the extent of suffering that people are prepared to inflict on others, in the pursuit of the twisted interests of their own collective. It is true, that no earthly justice will ever be able to compensate for the tragic loss of life in genocide, but we must recognise the cyclical nature of such massacres. We must exert our political, economic and militarily might wherever possible to stop the cycle of violence from repeating itself. It is our collective responsibility to prevent the current and future dehumanization of groups of human beings.  

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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The persecution of the Uighur people and the silence of Muslim countries

Following this sustained assault on their religious and cultural identity and the ensuing silence by states that should be their natural allies, is there any hope left for the Uighur people?

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In recent years, there has been escalating criticism of China’s intolerant stance towards the Uighur minority, who predominantly live in the country’s north-western Xinjiang province. There have been growing reports since 2017, corroborated by first-hand accounts and satellite imagery suggesting that the primarily Muslim minority are regularly detained and placed in internment camps for outwardly practising their faith or expressing their cultural identity. Such reports often outline arbitrary disappearances and cessation of communication with family members, provoking fears among Uighurs that China’s aim is an outright elimination of Uighur cultural identity and heritage. However, this story has only been made all the more poignant through the collaboration of Muslim countries towards China’s policy. 

Several countries have condemned China’s treatment of the Uighurs. At the United Nations, a group of twenty-two countries signed a joint statement urging China to respect freedom of religion. However, on the other hand, several Muslim countries have been absent from such sustained international criticisms, perhaps in the hope to continue favourable relations with China. These favourable relations were demonstrated in 2019 when a group of states including a plethora of representatives from Muslim states such as Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, Qatar, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates signed a letter outlining their delight at the “progress of the human rights cause” in Xinjiang. This comment also coincided with praise of China’s “counter-terrorism and deradicalization” actions in the region. Moreover, growing evidence suggests that the Arab blindsight to the plight of the Uighur people is confined to rhetoric. Instead, the increasingly close relationship between China and such Muslim countries have allowed China’s policy of systemic persecution to diffuse overseas, sparking cases of extraditions and disappearances not only at home but now abroad.

A report by CNN, for instance, has outlined several first-hand accounts of the detention of Uighurs whilst living overseas in Arab states. In one case, a Uighur father was arbitrarily detained in Dubai and then deported to China. In other instances, Uighur students studying in Egypt’s Al-Azhar University faced the same fate. There have even been Uighur detentions of individuals performing the Umrah (Islamic Holy Pilgrimage) in Saudi Arabia. Such actions may invite some to question the motives for Muslim countries to become complicit in arbitrary detention and persecution of the Uighur despite sharing a faith. 

One explanation could be China’s growing sphere of economic and political influence, spurred on by initiatives such as the Belt and Road project (which may help develop new trade routes and investment in East Asia). These have incentivised an increasing number of countries in the region to align themselves with China to safeguard their prosperity. As a result, fewer and fewer safe havens have emerged for Uighur refugees. For instance, Pakistan, a majority Muslim country neighbouring China, has received plentiful investment from the country through the China-Pakistan economic corridor (CPEC). This agreement will allow for a flood of $26bn USD for power plants and new transport routes, which will help connect the north of the country to the ports of Karachi and Gwadar in the south. Such investments are undoubtedly beneficial to Pakistan’s economic growth but have also caused the state to turn a blind eye to China’s actions towards the Uighurs. When questioned by Al Jazeera, for instance, Pakistan’s human rights minister evaded the issue of openly confronting China over its policies in Xinjiang because “China is an ally of ours”. Such statements and actions raise serious questions about the extent to which the Uighur people can even trust fellow Muslim states to stand up for their rights. 

Following this sustained assault on their religious and cultural identity and the ensuing silence by states that should be their natural allies, is there any hope left for the Uighur people? Qatar, for instance, reassuringly later removed its name from the open letter praising China’s policies in Xinjiang. Furthermore, the Uighur cause has had a hearing in several Western countries that have challenged China over their policies. US Secretary of State Anthony Blinken has, for example, argued that US companies should stop conducting business with those that utilise Uighur forced labour. However, it is clear that if there is to be any hope and reversal of the loss faced by the Uighur people, there must be a global consensus that China’s policies in Xinjiang must be reversed. Perhaps most importantly, it is the Muslim states in the Middle East and Asia that now need to be raising their voices against these human rights abuses.

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

Jibran Raja is a second year Philosophy, Politics, and Economics student at Kings College London. He is on Twitter @2015Jmr

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Canadian community stand united against outrageous act of Islamophobia

We often hear about Islamophobic attacks in the media. But this one hit closer to home for a few reasons

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On 6th June, a 20-year-old driver struck a family of five in London, Ontario, Canada, in an act of Islamophobia. Of the five, four were killed leaving a nine-year-old boy in hospital. Tragically, his teenage sister, parents, and grandmother all died. Three generations were killed while simply on a walk as a family. In a vigil held for the family on 8th June 2021, Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau correctly labelled this incident as “an act of evil” and stated that “Islamophobia is real.” This vigil was attended by thousands of people, including many political leaders and representatives, and those mourning the great loss to the community.

We often hear about Islamophobic attacks in the media. But this one hit closer to home for a few reasons. For one, I spent a big part of my childhood living in London, Ontario and have experienced first-hand what it’s like not to be accepted because of your faith. I started wearing my hijab from a fairly young age. My classmates were curious about it, sure, but never malicious. But, I recall parents being put off by my appearance. In third grade, a friend who lived just across the street, told me her father didn’t want her to play with me because my family was different. She told me he made fun of our last name sometimes, too. At the time, it was hurtful, and I felt ashamed – ashamed that I didn’t have a more “common” name, or dress like the other kids. It wasn’t until I grew older that I felt anger. Not at my friend, who was seven or eight and didn’t know better. Rather, I felt anger at her father who thought he was somehow better than me because his skin was lighter and his hair was blond, and his name was “common”. I felt anger at her father who was teaching his children intolerance for people unlike them. 

It is hard to fathom that the driver was only 20 years old, just starting his adult life, yet he felt so entitled to take the lives of others. How can one so young, hate so much? This really troubles me. According to Detective Superintendent Paul Waight of the London Police “there is evidence that this was a planned, premeditated act, motivated by hate. It is believed that these victims were targeted because they were Muslim.” This 20-year-old man, identified as Nathaniel Veltman, decided that this family, ranging from nine-years-old to 74-years-old, didn’t deserve to live because they were different. This makes me wonder about the values that he was nurtured with. Was he raised to believe that its unacceptable to be “different”? 

Perhaps most heartbreakingly of all, among the family of five, there was one survivor. A nine-year-old boy named Fayez, who is currently in hospital. He is expected to heal from his physical injuries but he’s going to be living a very different life when he’s released. He’s going to grow up with the knowledge that someone killed his sister, parents, and grandmother just because they were Muslim, and that they tried to kill him too. This child is a pure innocent,, but because of the actions of one man, his entire life as he knows it has been destroyed.

The bottom line is that tolerance is crucial to a peaceful and functional society. Until everyone realises that every race, every religion, and every culture is important, there will not be peace. Until we all agree that Innocent Lives Matter, we can’t live in harmony.

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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The US and guns: A violent obsession

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There are more guns than people in the US, with 121 firearms for every 100 residents. In comparison, war-torn Yemen holds second place, with 53 firearms per 100 people. Comprising less than 5% of the world’s population, Americans own 42% of the world’s guns. There have been 225 mass shootings in 2021 so far, averaging about 10 mass shootings a week. As of 9th June, there have been 19,150 gun violence related deaths this year alone. It is patently clear that the US has entered a new wave of gun violence this year. Gun violence actually spiked at the beginning of the pandemic and has remained high since then. 

The ongoing debate on guns and “gun rights” stems from the racist inception of the Second Amendment. Setting aside the issue of the constitutionality of an individual’s right to own and bear arms, background checks are currently one of the few protections against guns ending up in the wrong hands. According to a 2017 study by researchers at Harvard and Northeastern University, about 1 in 5 gun transactions in the US occur without a background check. And another 2017 study, by the Department of Justice, found that in 2015, only 1.4% of the 17 million background checks resulted in denials. 

There is no federal universal background check law requiring all firearm purchasers to pass a criminal records check—conducted by either a state background check system or the federal National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS), administered by the FBI. Instead, states have the ability to curtail their individual gun regulations. For example, despite criticism from both law enforcement and a majority of residents, Texas’s Republican-led legislature recently approved a bill that allows people to carry handguns in public without a license, background check, or training. 

It is undeniable that the fruition of effective gun reformation, or the lack thereof, like most of the pressing concerns facing this nation, is driven by the political and economic agendas of current administrations. Although most Americans support stricter gun laws, few put such regulations at the top of their political concerns – except after a visible and dramatic tragedy. The unfortunate truth is that Americans seem to care only when the problem is recurring right before their eyes. 

That being said, Democrats control the White House and both houses of Congress for the first time since 2011. Public polling reflects widespread support for background checks and other gun measures. Also the National Rifle Association (NRA)—a traditional power in Republican Party politics—has been crippled by financial problems and infighting. On 8th April 2021, President Biden, during an event announcing new federal gun-control measures, said: “They’ve offered plenty of thoughts and prayers, members of Congress, but they have passed not a single new federal law to reduce gun violence. Enough prayers; time for some action.” 

Concerns surrounding a “post-pandemic” gun culture arise, as Covid-19 restrictions are lifted and the vaccine rollout continues as cases drop. Americans are set to face a summer plagued by gun violence. Every year, the US risks topping its own record. 2020 was one of the worst years for gun violence on record in the US and that surge has not slowed down in 2021. Nor can it be expected to, unless gun reform laws are passed and effectively implemented. This requires a change in attitude.It is tragically ironic that West Virginia will be giving away guns as an incentive to get residents of the state inoculated against Covid-19: a vaccine meant to save lives will be accompanied by a device designed to do the very opposite. Yet another example of the US’s dangerous and unhealthy obsession with guns.

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

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Crisis in Colombia

Anti-government protests first erupted in Colombia on 28th April 2021. Now into their second month, there are still no signs of the unrest or anger abating.

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When and why did the Colombian people start protesting? 

Demonstrations were triggered by the tax reforms laid out by President Iván Duque. These taxes were proposed for the purpose of balancing the budget holes which had been deepened by the pandemic. Although these taxes chiefly targeted the richer Colombians, they propelled groups across the country’s social spectrum to protest. These included students, truckers, teachers, health workers, Indigenous communities and farmers, among many others. All united in their frustration. This is because the tax ‘reforms’ represented just a pixel of the wider, more problematic picture of Colombia. 

The country’s already unstable economy is being battered by the pandemic. Nearly 43% of the Colombian population is living below the poverty line. Prior to the outbreak of Covid-19, of which the country is experiencing its third and worst wave, even then, Duque was largely unpopular. Back in 2019, thousands of people took to the streets for better wages and funding for higher education. 

The tax reforms were hastily withdrawn. But with poverty rife and inequality high, the momentum driving these current protests has been building up anyway. Protesters have been demanding a basic income, more opportunities for youth and an end to police brutality. According to the OECD, it would take 11 generations for the descendants of a poor Colombian to get to an average income at the current rate of improvement. The bigger cities have been the most negatively impacted by the pandemic. For instance, in the Capital of Bogotá, a staggering 3.3 million out of its 7.1 million population is living in poverty. 

The National Strike Committee, an umbrella organisation of multiple unions, has been behind the nationwide protests, calling people to action. Protesters have used roadblocks as a method of disruption. These have prevented food, fuel, as well as medical supplies from reaching cities, have impeded public transport. The government has asked protest leaders to condemn this since they are causing shortages in the country. As of 2nd June, authorities have said that 52 roadblocks still remain in place. Photographs have also captured vehicles, government offices, police stations set alight or vandalised by protesters.

Marta Lucía Ramírez, Colombia’s vice president and foreign minister, has stated, “Things are worsening every single day.” Yet, she equally emphasises that due to budget constraints, basic income for Colombians would be “impossible”. The instability of the economy is additionally manifest in its lucrative, criminal narco-economy; the country is exporting more cocaine now than ever. Illegal armed groups have grown stronger, working with gangs from Mexico to supply most of the world’s cocaine. It is likely that the ongoing violence is being worsened by criminals who want to take advantage of the chaos. 

Young people are both affected and disaffected. They want more money going into education, from which many have been forced out. Private universities are unaffordable and the public system lacks capacity. Last year, it is estimated around 243,000 students dropped out of education. Meanwhile, unemployment is on the rise. Women have been hit harder, and this in turn affects families. The director of the National Administrative Department of Statistics (DANE) stated, “the gender gap increased during the pandemic and this necessarily affects the incidence of poverty in households where women are heads of households”. In a recent meeting, Vice President Ramirez asked the Biden administration for Covid-19 vaccines, as the pandemic remains a critical threat which is fuelling the ongoing unrest. Vaccine rates are low in Colombia and the rest of Latin America. As such, it is vital that richer nations alleviate some of Colombia’s unrest by boosting the distribution of their vaccines to this region. This will help the government to shift public spending away from the Covid-19 response to other urgencies. 

Deepening Distrust of Authorities 

The situation in Colombia drew much media attention when many of the protests took a turn for the worse, descending into violence. Colombia’s national police have used force to retaliate against the protests. Police brutality was an already existing issue that has only been further aggravated during the pandemic. This is partially because the police have received extra powers from the government on the premise to enforce social distancing. Human Rights Watch has said that there are reports of 63 protest-related deaths over the past month. Alongside this, dozens have suffered eye injuries from rubber bullets or tear gas. Also, at least 129 people have disappeared, with the UN asking the Colombian government to locate the missing people. 

In view of the violence, at least 55 Congressional Democrats have additionally demanded that Biden cut off assistance from the Colombian National Police. Furthermore, Michelle Bachelet, the UN’s Human Rights Chief, has called for an independent investigation into the deaths of protesters in Cali. It is in this city that clashes have become the most deadly. On 28th May, reportedly more than a dozen people were killed. The protesters want members of the security forces to be brought to justice, but through an independent body, not military courts to ensure full transparency. 

The Future 

Recently, the Strike Committee has been engaging in talks with the government. Although the two sides reached a “pre-agreement” last week, this collapsed without further progress. More Colombians subsequently returned to the streets after these unsuccessful talks. The Committee has called for another day of protest on 9th June, focused in the capital Bogotá. 

Until negotiations bear any fruit, or any substantial agreements are reached, further clashes between demonstrators and security forces are, unfortunately, highly likely. Given the groundswell of opposition against the government, Duque will struggle to hold onto political leadership. It is hardly surprising that Duque’s former left-wing rival, Gustavo Petro, is rapidly gaining support. The South American nation is due to have elections in summer 2022; Petro is currently the frontrunner in the presidential election race. 

However, it must be highlighted that the inequalities in Colombia are systemic. The public’s trust in Colombia’s institutions is fast eroding. Coupled with the plummeting economy and police brutality, it may not simply be the taxes that need reforming, but the authorities themselves. 

All views expressed in this editorial are solely that of the author, and are not expressed on behalf of The Analyst, its affiliates, or staff.

Nadia is a Languages Graduate, a tutor and a traveller, with a keen interest in justice, sustainability and debunking widespread social misconceptions.

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