The grassroots artistic movement building resistance to repression in Colombia

Image of a clenched fist projected onto a tower block in Colombia

Since the end of April, Colombia has faced a humanitarian emergency. State forces have responded to mass protests with deadly repression.

Phoenix Media Co-op spoke to Colombian activist organiser Yuraq Sani. She has been working to help transform people’s pain and rage into seeds of change. She participates in numerous groups which use art in defence of human rights, including MA.S.A Manifestación Social Audiovisual, Purple Train Arts, the M.I.A.U collective, and Little Brother & Sister Are Watching You.

Telling the world about Colombia’s bad government

One of the key points Sani mentioned to describe the context of the current protests was the role of controversial former president Álvaro Uribe. Via “close ally” and current president Iván Duque, Uribist politics still have a hold on the country. Indeed, some have called Uribe the country’s “most powerful politician“. He has faced accusations of links to both drug cartels and far-right paramilitary groups.

Sani told Phoenix Media Co-op:

We want the English-speaking world to know, confirm, and not forget that Álvaro Uribe is one of the worst mass murderers that Latin America has had, and that he’s the biggest psychopath that has been in power in Colombia. He’s responsible for massacres, theft of territory, displacement, exhausting natural resources.

She also stressed:

During the pandemic, the government has grown even stronger. It bought weapons, for massive amounts of money, which helped to leave Colombia in an economic crisis even worse than it already had due to the government’s theft of public resources – including Covid-19 support. There are many countries around the world supporting Colombia by selling it weapons; that’s the worst thing. We want them to understand the immense responsibility they have. … There’s a constant arms trade where other countries are earning money from discriminatory, paramilitary, corrupt, and murderous governments gunning down innocent people in the Global South.

Colombia was one of the countries spending most money on arms during the pandemic, while people were dying of Covid-19 and other diseases.

Colombia was reportedly the second-highest military spender in Latin America in 2020, after Brazil.

Despair, and resistance

Sani explained:

We need the involvement of the international courts to deal with this government. Since the peace deal, they’ve killed more than 200 signatories of the deal.

She also claimed:

The people who’ve been murdering social leaders, educators, artists, peace deal signatories, are… not guerrilla groups. They’re paramilitaries, the police, the riot police (ESMAD), the army. … Any seed of change, they kill it.

Nonetheless, she said:

There are still many people who support Uribismo, thanks to the corporate media. And through the manipulation of information, they think the government is good and that we’re all jobless or lazy. But the reality is that we’re people who have up to three jobs; we continue our activism… Sometimes we don’t have time for our own lives.

And she insisted:

Although Colombia has experienced so much violence, there’s still a large amount of solidarity, camaraderie and love. … We’re realising right now, in the streets, that being together makes us stronger as a community. … Some people are handing out food, others clothing so people aren’t cold, sharing messages of love and healing – as well as of condemnation.

She added:

There are young people at the protests who thank those who hand out food because they’ve eaten better these days in the streets – putting up with tear gas, insults, and violence – than they normally do at home….

Sowing seeds of change 

Explaining her actions and those of her colleagues, Sani stressed:

We’re struggling for change by defending and building – not by attacking.

These actions come from the depths of our souls, but without funding – contrary to what the government says. We ask people to donate what they can – food, materials – to help us unite people through different activities.

For her:

Mutual aid is marvellous. It’s solidarity. It’s what’s going to generate so much love and change.

So we’ve organised bike rides, skating rides, football matches, spaces for painting, dancing, poetry, sharing food and drink, for setting up vegetable gardens to ensure our communities have the basics they need. Utopia is possible, and we’re trying to make it real.

And she summed up by saying:

We’re sad, with broken hearts full of rage and despair. But through our actions, we’re transforming these feelings into seeds for change. We don’t attack; but we’re not going to just turn the other cheek either. We’re simply not going to put up with things anymore.

Images of artistic resistance

We share the photos below with permission from Instagram users @colorita13 and @purpletrainarts. Most are from a poster workshop ‘Cartelismo Urgente’ by Instagram user @miau_colectiva. One is from an Aquelarre ritual of cleaning and protection.

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The video below is an audiovisual social protest from MA.S.A.

Main article image via @Masa.artivismo MA.S.A Manifestación Social Audiovisual/Facebook