Every day Colombia is woken up from its sleep and its daydreaming by news of atrocities perpetrated by every imaginable as well as unexpected person/group/faction.
Be it the army with their slaughter of innocent youth. The state with their refusal to recognize the humanitarian crisis with the millions of displaced or their arrogance at denying the deplorable human rights abuses. The guerrillas with the slow torture of hundreds of kidnapped civilians. The congressmen and the never-ending emergence of ties with paramilitary forces. Even news of civilians such as the father who kidnapped and murdered his own infant and the drunkard who assassinated a bar manager for enforcing anti-smoking laws in his establishment.
Incredible news that would amaze the most experienced journalists. The level of desensitization has reached record lows.
These atrocities would make people in other parts of the world stand up against the responsible of such vile acts. It is a matter of reading the news filling up innumerable number of pages and minutes in newspapers and newscast around the world for the last few months.
Buddhist monks’ protests against the military rule in Myanmar, which ended with monks being killed by the army. Tibetan protests demanding autonomy from Chinese rule. Thai civilians taking over a government compound and Bangkok’s airports as measures to precipitate the resignation of a corrupt government. The riots in Greece for the killing of a teenager by the police. These are some of the responses that citizens in other parts of the world engage in when injustice is perpetrated.
In Colombia, talking about terrible news is as normal as talking about the weather. However, with the weather we perceive these atrocities to be beyond the control of any mortal. In some way this is understandable, although far from excusable.
We, Colombians, have never felt our voices heard. We believe that casting our vote is the most we can do to end the ‘now’ perceived natural state of the country. Democracy in Colombia is something that happens every four years.
We believe that going to the streets in mass is futile to force the guerrilla to negotiate or the government to be responsible. However, when our hard earned savings disappear due to our ignorance in believing in miracles pyramid schemes we start fierce protests and demand justice to be done. This illustrated that our sense of justice has not disappeared; it has just not been amplified to encompass other Colombians.
Some might argue that the demonstrations taking place against the FARC this year illustrate the level of changes that have taken place in the collective conscious of Colombians. I would definitely agree that it is a step, albeit small, but in the right direction. However, much more can be done in order for this new found involvement to lead to the construction of an active civil society.
A civil society is formed by diverse groups such as NGOs, community groups, charities, trade unions etc., that are independent of the state and other politically-driven faction. The main feature and commonality of civil society is the interest at the helm; a functioning society. A functioning society with share values and aims on how every day life should be like.
Colombia might seem full of energy and happiness but I would say that this happiness that Colombians portray is a result of focusing on the few good things in their lives while being totally indifferent to everyday realities. This indifference sometimes borders utter denial, which ultimately fuels our belief that there is nothing in our power to change the situation.
I agree with Adriaan’s latest opinion column in that foreigners in Colombia can do much more to entice the constructive debate on what a civil and democratic society is all about. However, it is not enough to be moderate because in any conflict and in any society as desensitized as ours there is not a group that can consider themselves the monopolizers of the truth.
Taking moderate sides in the long running internal conflict would only lead to eventual polarization, which is already very evident. By understanding Lord Acton’s celebrated phrase that “power corrupts; absolute powers corrupts absolutely” we realize that what we need is an independent assertive civil society that can steer the country out of the mess that no politician or revolutionary armed group has ever achieved. Perhaps some day our society would start being more responsible with ourselves.
Author Sebastian Castaneda is Colombian studies psychology and political economy at the University of Hong Kong