Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Growing (Extreme) Left

It was just another day in Bogotá. When I left the primary commercial center in Chapinero, I saw people standing on the sidewalk. It was almost the end of lunch time. Didn’t these people have to return to work? They were looking down the street and whispering to each other. Then I heard a bunch of loud noises. It sounded like gunshots or firecrackers. I looked down the street and saw two city blocks with no cars or buses. What was going on? I asked some man in a business suit. There is a protest, he said.

There was a bunch of students roaming the street and sidewalks outside the Universidad Pedagógica Nacional. Most of them wore all black – black pants, black sweatshirts, black hoods, and black ski masks. Maybe this was one reason why the crowds of businessmen and locals on lunch break didn’t dare get too close. Maybe it was the long history of violence they have witnessed. Maybe it was the reserved nature of the local people. I think the bystanders’ reaction would have been different in, say Cali or along the coast. I had witnessed a couple of protests while taking Spanish classes at the Universidad Nacional. I had gotten tear gas in my eyes. How bad could this be? So I walked along the sidewalk toward these masked students. What could they do? I thought. Just then one of them threw some object toward the crowd of bystanders. As they quickly dodged the flying object, it landed with a thunderous boom! It was an M-80 or something like it. (El Tiempo called them “potato bombs.”) Other students had bottles stuffed with some type of explosive material.

I took photos of these student protestors throwing these objects into the crowds as a few of them hollered their frustrations with the government. Two masked students dragged a burger tent from the corner and burned it in the middle of the intersection as no one did anything. Not even the police, who I had seen outside the commercial center. Maybe like the people, they were scared, too. I saw a few masked men inside the classrooms and on top of the building’s roof. It seemed like a hostage scene from a movie. Yet it didn’t seem that scary to me. I kept taking photos and one of the students waved his finger at me and said I couldn’t take photos. I didn’t listen. A bunch of normal-looking students stood along the school fence as they began chanting things that I couldn’t understand. I'm almost sure it was a protest against the government and its sometimes violent stance against the guerillas. One student walked toward the crowd, half-preaching and half-yelling. The whole thing seemed surreal because normally Calle 72 and Carrera 13 are packed with pedestrians and traffic. Now four students, what looked like three males and one female, were throwing “potato bombs” in the street and into crowds of onlookers. One of them threw a "potato bomb" onto a big poster-sized advertisement at a bus stop. As the bomb exploded, the glass covering shattered to the ground as smoke filled the air. Then the four students began walking in my direction. Two of them pointed at me and began walking forward with bottles and potato bombs in hand. Some guy in the crowd warned me to be careful with taking photos and getting too close. As I realized the students were singling me out, I walked back into the crowd. I had seen enough. As I walked back to my apartment, I heard loud explosions going off as police directed traffic on the intersections near the protest. I couldn’t understand why they didn’t simply arrest these students. One man told me the police didn’t have the firepower to do it. Anyhow, a couple hours later riot police put an end to it, arresting 21 students and one adult. The university is closed for the weekend and until Wednesday of next week. The arrested protestors were brought to see President Álvaro Uribe, who had just flown back to Bogotá. He told them how ashamed he was as the television news cameras filmed this meeting. He also said that the police had the green light to go to any campus where there is violence. Apparently this precedent had not been set.

It seemed odd that this precedent had not been specified before. Maybe the reason was that most of the left-wing protests were at the Universidad Nacional, a large, grassy campus closed off from normal pedestrians and away from the financial areas. However, today’s protest was in one of the wealthiest sections of the city, where bankers and businessmen work. Economics and status were the real reasons Uribe finally made a stand. On a grander scale, this protest represents Uribe’s battle with the increasing extreme left in Latin America, and how his right-wing government can negotiate with his left-wing citizens and neighboring countries. Thankfully, Colombia needs peaceful negotiations with countries such as Ecuador and Venezuela and vice versa. For without peace there is no profit exporting goods and resources. And while these governments may have vastly different ideologies, they all value money.


Anonymous said...

Hmmm, Bogota is beautiful except for these protests. While I was studying at the UN i witnessed invasions and the use of these same papa bombas on campus. The students are usually indifferent but I think someone could be seriously hurt and wonder why the police do not intervene.

Brett Garamella said...

I think it's because a lot of the police don't have enough protection; their guns are very basic and many don't wear vests. They have to call in the riot police. I don't think this thing would happen on the Colombian coast or in other big cities. The people in Bogota tend to be conservative and non-confrontational. Anyhow, these type of protests or mini riots don't really solve anything and are annoying and a waste of money.

Perseida said...

hmmm (sorry for my poor English) after reading your article about the problems in this University, I would like to tell you that next soon these kind of disturbs in this Univ. will not occur anymore because the Univ. was sold. Probably, in this moment many people are studying there, but in the future we do not know what will happen with the Public University that prepares the teachers of the nation. With this comment I am not justifying those students, believe me, no!, there is a deep problem, it is not "the growing of extreme left" in this moment is the contrary, also it is lack of opportunities to work, to study, to concede to the whole country equal opportunities to strive for a better way to do politic: without corruption, lies, WITH TRUE AND FACTS.

Anonymous said...

Bom dia, vi o teu blog e adorei muito,acho que estás a informar muito bem!
Vai em frente com o bom trabalho!
Au revoir

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