Protests around the world are often for contradictory things. The answer to the problem of one group of protesters is poison for another.
Much of the world is on the street, protesting. One could almost say that one half protests and the other half protests against those who protest. This, which may seem like a caricature, is evident in the case of Bolivia: street protests removed President Evo Morales from power; and now the protests in the street are against those who removed Evo Morales from power, making it very difficult for a new government to be formed.
This week, in the entrance to the Sants station, in Barcelona, I saw something very similar: a group of about 200 protesting separatists, and with their fists raised, shouting: “The Francoist occupation forces, out!” Confronting them was another large group of anti-independence supporters shouting much more banal and practical things in Catalan: “Because of you I will miss my train!” and even “Because of you I can’t have a piss!” (in the words of a very old man) to which the nationalists replied: “Then piss in your pants!”
In London, there have been large demonstrations for Brexit and huge demonstrations against Brexit. Right here in Colombia, this week, protesters without hoodies clashed with protesters with hoodies. And while many analysts believe that today’s global protests relate to the perception of the middle class – that they are much more vulnerable than before, because economic growth is stagnant – at the same time environmentalists’ are protesting against climate change, and are asking for the opposite: sacrificing economic growth to improve environmental protection for the planet.
I have an anarchist friend who accepts that in order to protest, she should go to demonstrations in favour of both A and No A. Against the closure of a coal mine because this would leave the families of the miners without an income, and in favour of the closure of that same mine because coal is a fossil fuel that contributes to climate change. A few years ago Colombian’s President Duque marched against former President Santos’ peace agreement with the FARC guerrillas. This week the defenders of that same peace agreement went out onto the streets.
In the numerous lists of motives circulating in newspapers and social networks this week, the reasons are so dissimilar that they became contradictory. Against the deforestation of the Amazon, and against the persecution of those colonising the place and coca farmers in remote regions of Colombia (meaning the Colombian Amazon). This reminds us a little of the case of the yellow vest protesters in France. Macron makes environmental reforms to discourage the use of cars and the consumption of petrol that contributes to global warming, which generates the protest of rural workers who use cars and petrol to move from one town to another in the countryside. I am sure that if a healthy ecological regulation were introduced here to discourage the use of the motorbike by putting a toll on their use, we would have marches and roadblocks by motorcyclists.
There is undoubtedly a global malaise. A few years ago, the current president of Mexico, López Obrador, took to the streets of Mexico City for months. Most Mexicans believed in his protests and promises, and they elected him to govern. Today, Mexico’s growth is at zero and the flight of capital creates fear for the stability of the peso and for working and middle class jobs. In Venezuela, the protestors who banged pots and pans removed the old ruling class from power, and brought in the Boli-bourgeois of Hugo Chavez. Those who protested may have had right on their side but when the Boli-bourgeois came into power, they governed no better than the others. In fact, they were even worse.
People in the street are right to protest for the things they are protesting about. In some cases their demands are obvious and easy to share: do not kill indigenous people or community leaders. Of course. But increase everyone’s wages? Yes, it would be very good. The difficulty is in answering the simplest question: how?
Héctor Abad Faciolince is a Colombian author and regular columnist for El Espectador. This article appeared in El Espectador on 23 November 2019, and has been translated by Kieran Tapsell. https://www.elespectador.com/opinion/las-caras-de-la-protesta-columna-892507