Any American correspondent working abroad will tell you: coverage of in-country upheavals are dictated by the nature of the government’s relationship to the United States. If they’re technically allies, protests tend to be portrayed as illegitimate. Hence the dilemma in Colombia, as depicted in this episode of Activism Uncensored.
Colombia for some time now has been considered America’s key strategic ally in South America — “think of it as similar to Israel in the Middle East,” says correspondent Maranie R. Staab, above. Colombia is the top recipient in the region of American aid, collecting $800 million in 2020 alone, being central to multiple American objectives, from drug interdiction to opposition to the left-wing government of Nicolas Maduro. The State Department last year issued a fact sheet explaining the relationship:
Colombia is a key U.S. partner in ongoing efforts to help Venezuela in its return to democracy and economic prosperity. Colombia’s leadership has been essential in coordinating regional support for Interim President Juan Guaidó, as well as condemning Maduro’s misrule and adopting policies to isolate his regime…
The usual “Democracy Promotion” script involves the U.S. backing this or that politician with money, weapons, and sometimes even military manpower, turning a blind eye to corruption or other excesses connected to that politician, then ultimately being forced to double down on the money and weapons when anti-American protest movements rise in response.
This isn’t exactly that situation, but close: a government in America’s good graces largely thanks to its role as a launching pad for the dubious effort to install Guaidó in Venezuela, under pressure from a frustrated and impoverished population reacting in this case to a proposed tax hike on basic goods.
Foreign news outlets like Al Jazeera have openly described the Colombian protests as a “class war,” while groups like Amnesty International have tried to bring attention to the fact that the Colombian police suspected in the disappearances of some of the protesters may be armed with American weapons. Outlets like the Washington Post, meanwhile, have used more neutral language in describing “anti-government protests,” almost describing the Duque administration as a bystander to the chaos:
The White House has taken notice. Spokeswoman Jen Psaki urged authorities last month to “continue to work to locate all missing persons as quickly as possible.” The government of President Iván Duque has said it’s doing all it can.
The Colombian attorney general’s office says it received 572 reports of people “not located…”
In most cases, the office told The Post, the reports “correspond to the normal dynamics of people who voluntarily left their family circle…”
The footage gathered by Staab, Ford Fischer, and News2Share above shows a different picture: the Colombian protests as a serious foreign policy dilemma for the Biden administration, which finds itself caught between its strategic sponsorship of the Colombian government and pressure to respond to wide-scale accusations of human rights violations.
When the U.S. doesn’t have a clear horse to back in these standoffs, coverage tends to be muted. Here we at least get a long look at the scene on the ground, where over 1,000 have been injured and at least 50 have been killed.