Chile, Hong Kong, Iraq, Haiti, Spain and Colombia are some of the places where the population took to the streets. Why?
By Juan Carlos Gomez and Marta Rullan EFE (Confidencial)
HAVANA TIMES – From Hong Kong to Chile, through Lebanon, Iraq, Spain, Colombia or Haiti, protests shake the world, with millions of people on the streets for different reasons, although with a common denominator: social discontent.
The lack of democratic rights, the rise in prices of basic products and services, high unemployment rates, the murder of social leaders or political discrepancies are the main and diverse motivations that have mobilized societies around the world, in their majority regardless of sex, age or political ideology.
These grievances have broad popular support in the streets, with large peaceful demonstrations, but also with violent riots, curfews, declarations of state of emergency and militarization, which have caused deaths and numerous injuries, at a time of great social conscience which clashes with the low sensitivity of governments.
The call for protests through social networks and the internet has been fundamental to achieve a successful participation that has served to show the world the global discontent of society, in which has also successfully permeated, in recent months, the struggle against climate change by young people around the world.
Hong Kong, the trigger for freedom
The Hongkongers continue in the streets four months after what was the sound of the starting gun of this moment of particular social unrest in the world.
Once the initial wick—the controversial bill of extradition already withdrawn by the Government—was overcome, the protest has become a movement that seeks to improve the democratic mechanisms that govern Hong Kong and an opposition to Beijing’s authoritarianism, with tens of thousands of young people in the streets willing to endure the time it takes.
The demonstrations, which began peacefully, have degenerated into violent clashes with security forces and chaos scenes, with roadblocks, launching of Molotov cocktails, police charges and the use of tear gas, while Chinese authorities closely watch the former British colony.
Chile, inequality and unrest
In Chile the latest revolt has taken place in a country considered to be the apt student of “successful” neoliberal policies in Latin America. Stability, growth and fiscal discipline were business cards of an exemplary country in the turbulent environment of the Southern Cone, but these accounts hide a very unequal society, with a middle class on the edge and an education system that does not allow the “social ladder.”
The rise in the subway fare was the last straw. According to the “Diego Portales University, Chile has the ninth most expensive public transportation in a total of 56 countries around the world and some families have to pay 30% of their monthly salary to go to work, so to increase the ticket was a burning wick.
In spite of everything—the army in the streets, the suspension of the increase of the fare, the calls to dialogue–, the curfew remains in Chile. “We are at war,” said President Sebastian Pinera.
Independence Struggle Ignites Catalonia
The convictions of up to 13 years in prison to nine independence leaders of Catalonia unleashed protests and chaos in the streets of Barcelona and other cities with few precedents in Spain, where the peaceful demands of tens of thousands of Catalans ended up in the hands of a few hundred violent.
More than 600 wounded, half of them police officers, and about 200 detainees is the balance of a week in which images of the center of Barcelona with burning containers, throwing stones at security forces and heavy police charges contrast with the long peaceful marches and a general strike without incidents.
After several nights with barricades and bonfires, the tension in the streets has jumped to the politicians, about to enter an electoral campaign for the fourth elections in Spain in four years, next November 10. The lack of mutual understanding between the central Government in office and the Catalans seems to be the first obstacle to overcome to achieve a dialogue that would open the doors to a solution.
Ecuador, the Latin American spark
Ecuador was the spark that awoke protests in Latin America this October, when the Lenin Moreno Government approved the elimination of fuel subsidies, which have been in force for decades, in response to an agreement with the IMF.
After twelve days of pitched battle in the streets of Quito, with a balance of seven dead and more than 1,340 injured, the popular revolt was stopped by repealing this controversial measure, which affected hundreds of thousands of peasant and indigenous families.
Ecuador showed that discontent on the streets can curb the economic plans of governments, and also what the quiet indigenous people are able to achieve when they organized.
Lebanon, the WhatsApp Revolution
The trigger for the protests in Lebanon, still in force, was the announcement of the authorities to approve a rate of 20 cents of a dollar per day to voice calls on social networks such as WhatsApp, Facebook or Viber in an attempt to increase revenue in the deteriorating economy of the small Mediterranean country, but the claims went further.
“WhatsApp was the spark, it triggered everything. We hate the system based on corruption, sectarianism, in the police state. They literally think we are stupid. All the taxes that are imposed on us when we do not receive any service,” summed up Layal, a 23 year-old, law student in Beirut, a few days ago.
The massive and festive marches of the Lebanese, who, despite everything, have not given up on blocking traffic and burning tires, have manage to make the government parties agree on a package of reforms to get out of the crisis and put an end to the popular discontent, after the 72-hour ultimatum of Prime Minister, Saad Hariri, who appears to have taken a turn in his favor to the situation.
Colombia, to the polls between discontent and violence
The Colombian protests have made the capital, Bogota, collapse in recent months, due to students’ disruptions, transportation demands or social mobilizations.
However, the country’s tragedy has a name and surname: 155 community leaders have been killed in the first eight months of 2019, according to the latest report of the Institute for Development and Peace Studies.
In this context, Colombians go the polls next Sunday to elect their local and regional authorities, three years after signing a Peace Agreement with the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), amidst a high risk of political violence and electoral fraud. Five armed groups operating in the country are added to the Colombian cocktail.
Nothing new in Haiti
The poorest country in America only occupies the news when its streets burn. And in recent weeks it has happened again. Haiti is the scene of daily protests against the current president Jovenel Moise, taking place due to the delicate economic situation and the political crisis that has made it impossible to form a Government since last March.
Moise has offered dialogue to the opposition, but last week the commission he formed to start talks with opponents abandoned him, due to discrepancies with the president.
Fires and barricades have returned to the streets of Port-au-Prince. As usual.
Iraq, the most violent revolt
More than one hundred dead and 6,000 injured are the result of protests in Iraq, where citizens went out this month to the streets of Bagdad and other localities to demand better public services, work and the end of corruption.
In the fifth largest oil producer in the world, Iraqis, mainly young people, unemployed and state officials, demonstrated convinced that corruption is the main cause of the state not being able to offer good services despite having resources coming from the “black gold.”
The brutality of the repression and the enormous restrictions have made clear the lack of freedom in a country sadly accustomed to war, where the authorities have managed to contain, at least for the moment, the citizen discontent with economic and social measures and the appearance before justice of corrupt politicians and members of the security forces who came to shoot demonstrators with live ammunition.