Colombians have taken to Facebook to share evidence of police repression against striking coffee workers. Despite not receiving coverage from major Colombian media, several videos and photos have gone viral, resulting in widespread outrage around the country.
Since the beginning of the strike over a week ago, several photos of what are alleged to be coffee workers injured by police stun gun bullets, Facebook statuses of alleged policemen justifying the use of violence, a video of an elderly protester bursting into tears and images of an attack with explosives on strikers have stirred up strong anti-government and anti-media sentiment.
The photos and videos, whose origins or veracity sometimes are impossible to verify, paint an entirely different picture of the protests to the one painted by Colombia’s national media, which has mainly focused on the government’s response to the social unrest to the strikes.
One video, showing an elderly coffee farmer breaking into tears over the state’s response to the massive protests, has been shared more than 80,000 times on Facebook since it was posted on Friday. It has since received thousands of indignant responses.
Another video posted on Monday afternoon was shared over 20,000 times within the first 12 hours. It has since drawn dozens of outraged comments over its content.
The video, allegedly taken in the municipality of Garzon in the southwestern Huila department, shows a crowd of protesters running from gunshots, tear gas and flash bang grenades. In the next shot, a man lies bloody on the side of a hill while an anti-riot policeman bends down to check on him before moving on. People show off what appear to be wounds from rubber bullets. In one of the last clips, an anti-riot police officer damages an unmanned motorcycle with his baton.
The video’s editors attempted to convey the stark contrast between the images of alleged police brutality in the video and the portrayal of the government and national police in Colombia’s mainstream media.
A shot of the national police commander in charge of citizen security, Major General Rodolfo Palomino, shows him addressing reporters saying, “Our farmers’ integrity will not be violated and you will see mobility and that they have security.” While the footage of violence rolls, Palomino goes on to say that, “The police have never harmed peasants.”
A journalist then tells the police commander that there are reports of injured strikers to which the general replies, “No, how could you accuse us of that? We will receive their complaints if the peasants have felt affected [by police]. But the police of Colombia have always protected the citizen.”
Since the coffee strike started on February 25, Colombian and international media have reported on the strike’s many economic ramifications, the political back and forth between opposing sides, alleged guerrilla participation, and incidents in which roadblocks inconvenienced and even cost lives of citizens unable to pass.
However, national media reports of police brutality or injuries among protesters in strike areas are hard to come by. One report broadcast last week on Canal Caracol, one of Colombia’s two national television networks, showed anti-riot police in the city of Bucaramanga breaking out the windows of seemingly empty buses while they walk down a street firing tear gas.
It is difficult to say whether Colombian media are ignoring the reports of police abuse or they simply aren’t getting them. It is impossible, however, to ignore the growing rift between claims made by the government on national media and those made by supporters of the approximately 100,000 strikers on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter.
The Colombian government is facing a wave of strikes and protests, not only by coffee growers but also by truckers, students and teachers. The accumulated social unrest has come as approval ratings of President Juan Manuel Santos have dropped. Santos has also faced stark opposition from former President Alvaro Uribe, who has positioned himself as a strong supporter of the striking coffee growers.
Gbno indulgente con el terrorismo, indiferente frente a problemas de sectores productivos, manipulador de medios, resultado:Popayán grave!
— Álvaro Uribe Vélez (@AlvaroUribeVel) March 5, 2013
The coffee growers began striking on February 25 after the government refused to increase subsidies for farmers who have been hurt by low coffee prices, years of flooding and mold that killed off much of the crop. The government argues that they have already given the industry more subsidies than any other administration in Colombia’s history and there simply aren’t enough resources to increase subsidies.
Social media has played a key part in previous protests in Colombia; A 2008 campaign calling on Colombians to reject rebel group FARC resulted in one of the most massive protests in the history of the country. Massive student protests that were fueled by social media in 2011 forced the government to withdraw plans to reform higher education.
- Policia Nacional de Colombia (Colombian National Police)
- Facebook of GenteLaboyana (Facebook)
- Mujer embarazada tiene muerte cerebral por bloqueos en Huila (El Tiempo)
- Grabaron a miembro de ESMAD rompiendo vidrios de buses en paro cafetero (Noticias Caracol)