In the words of Martin Luther King Jr., “Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself.” (Photo Credit: Mei Lamison/Achona Online)
In the words of Martin Luther King Jr., “Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself.”

Photo Credit: Mei Lamison/Achona Online

The Global Rise of Civil Unrest (EDITORIAL)

December 16, 2019

With civil unrest occurring on almost every continent, it seems as if our current world is at war with itself. In recent weeks. Millions have taken to the streets, voicing their opinions and standing up for their beliefs. Standing strong, these protests are not dying down – but what is the cost? 

Tourism in Hong Kong has plummeted, over 200 have been killed in Iraq, and buildings have been destroyed in almost every city mentioned below. Is the fight for democracy, peace, and anti-corruption worth the bloodshed? Has the current level of global civil unrest grown out of hand? 

Below are detailed accounts of current turmoil in countries around the world. 

Bolivia 

Demonstrations sparked in Bolivia when President Evo Morales, the longest serving president in Latin America, won the election in Oct. 2019 to secure his fourth term. Yet, protestors accuse President Morales of rigging the election, and many marched in La Paz with signs reading “Resistencia! Contra la Dictadura.” 

Surprisingly, however, the police sided with the people in their anti-government effort to end the corruption which has tainted the country for years. This proved successful as the Organization for American States conducted an audit of the votes, and the final report did find “intentional manipulation and serious irregularities made it impossible to validate the results.” President Morales resigned in November.

Chile 

The increase in the price of riding a subway in Chile’s capital, Santiago, “just picked a scab,” CBC described, and sparked public outrage on October 6, 2019. People began chanting “Chile woke up,” and shed light on the economic inequality that has plagued the nation for years. 

Contrary to popular belief, Chile is not a wealthy, stable country as its income gap is 65% greater than the Organization for Economic Development’s average. In addition, not all protests have been peaceful: On Oct. 11, “grocery stores were being looted, people were stockpiling food, and more than a dozen people were dead,” as CBC states. 

Chilean President Sebastián Piñera responded to the public’s outcry for change by promising to increase pensions, cut the price of prescription drugs for those of low income, and make the minimum wage 350,000 pesos per month. Yet, that did little to calm or silence protestors. Chile’s civil unrest has also impacted nations across the world as President Pinera cancelled the APEC trade summit in November and the COP25 summit in December that Chile was set to host.

16 year-old Felípe Lopez-Comperr, who lives in Santiago, says, “The protests began in mid-October when they raised the cost of the ticket for a subway ride. This caused discontent among the people with less economic resources, since for several years there has been a very large inequality between the upper and lower classes. It all began with peaceful protests, until they started burning buildings and scratching meters, making them unusable. Thousands of people in the streets began protesting and assaulting the police. In different videos, you can see it, and in the news they said that it could be organized groups that wanted to destabilize the country and create hatred among people, as what happened in Venezuela.” 

Colombia

Demonstrations erupted in Columbia on November 21. Thousands took to the streets in support of former President Juan Manuel Santos Calderón and against current President Iván Duque Márquez and his right-wing government. In response to the mostly peaceful protests, the government sent an estimated 170,000 troops and closed all of its borders. Due to this, the conflict only continued to grow.

Laura Figueroa’s (‘21), who’s family is from Colombia, says, “I agree why they are protesting because of what the government has done; it has really messed up people’s lives, for example the issue with pensions, and the students have been impacted as funding has been taken away. I agree with protesting, but the way people handled the National Strike was not the way they should have handled it. It should have been done peacefully, which was what they intended to do.”

Violent incidents surrounding protests have resulted in four deaths and prompted the government to establish overnight curfews in the cities of Cali and Bogotá.

 

Ecuador 

In early October, a rise in gasoline prices caused public unrest, which was being led by Ecuador’s Indigenous population. Protests, however, were not solely about the increase in gas prices, but resentment towards corruption, human rights, and discrimination against the Indigenous population that stems from the government as well. 

Yet, demonstrations came to an end when Ecuadorian President Lenín Moreno “struck a deal with indigenous leaders to cancel a disputed austerity package and end nearly two weeks of protests that have paralysed the economy and left seven dead.” 

As a result, President Moreno will remove Decree 883, which caused the rise in fuel prices, and, in return, Indigenous leaders and their followers will stop protesting. Together, both sides will work to decrease “government spending, increase revenue and reduce Ecuador’s unsustainable budget deficits and public debt,” as reported by “The Guardian.” 

Egypt

In September, protests against President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi sparked in cities throughout Egypt. Activist gained the attention of citizens through social media platforms and other online media outlets calling for anti-government corruption. Since the protests began, the country’s main stock market dropped 10 percent over three days.

Egypt’s Prime Minister denounced the demonstrations, claiming the were all part of a “brutal war designed to create confusion.” 

According to according to the Egyptian Commission for Rights and Freedoms, 3,400 people have since been arrested. This includes 111 minors, between the ages of 11 and 17. 

France 

Last year, hundreds of thousands wearing yellow vests gathered in the streets of Paris, protesting increased gas taxes. Continuous Yellow Vest movement demonstrations paired with opposition of President Emmanuel Macron’s plans to reform France’s pension system began a series of nationwide protests in late November. 

According to the New York Times, “one opinion poll put public support for the latest strike action at 69%, with backing strongest among 18-34 year-olds.”

Macron considered a state of emergency on Dec. 2, as rubber bullets and tear gas were fired into crowds of protestors. Due to conflicts, public transport systems have been blocked by demonstrators and several schools and universities have been closed. 

Haiti

In Haiti protests erupted after the ‘corrupt’ government increased cost for basic goods and refused to acknowledged rising inflation, unsafe drinking water, environmental degradation, and food scarcity. Most people earn less than $2 a day, and a quarter of the population makes less than $1. Haiti is “perennially the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere,” and the public is tired of the poverty and corruption that has consumed the country. Opposition leaders state protests will not end until President Jovenel Moïse resigns, who won a controversial election in 2017 and still has three more years in office.

 

Hong Kong 

For months, Hong Kong’s population have taken to the streets, fighting back against China’s continuous attempts of reabsorption. Demonstrations initially broke out this past June in opposition of the mainland’s new extradition bill. If put into law, citizens under arrest could potentially be extradited, charged, and jailed in China. “The proposed changes to the extradition laws will put anyone in Hong Kong doing work related to the mainland at risk,” said Human Rights Watch’s Sophie RichardsonAdditionally this law objected to the “one country, two systems” arrangement the mainland had previously agreed too. 

“I am pro-Hong Kong because I believe Hong Kong is not apart of China. My family has lived in Hong Kong even before British colonization. I have never been to China and never knew Mandarin,” says Claire Wong (‘22). “These tragic protests could have been prevented if China would have just respected Hong Kong’s democracy.”

While the bill was withdrawn in September, demonstrations continued to fill the streets, fearing the bill could soon be revived. Clashes between activists and police have grown violent, with rubber bullets, tear gas, and petrol bombs continually thrown into crowds. 

On Oct. 1, the same time China was celebrating 70 years of Communist Party rule, an 18-year-old citizen was shot in the chest. A week later, a protestor was shot at close range by police. In November, standoffs between police and students at Hong Kong’s Polytechnic University made national news as government forces raided the school. 

Despite the recent November 25 election that made 17 of the 18 Hong Kong councils pro-democracy, activists continue to fill the streets, negativity impacting the city’s economy. According to the Hong Kong Tourism Board, there has been a “double-digit decline” in visitor arrivals since July. Hong Kong ‘s main airline carrier Cathay Pacific stated it was “seeing the impact of local political unrest.”

Iraq

More than 200 people have died amist deadly protests in Iraq that began in early October. Demonstrations resulted from poor economic conditions and government corruption. While activists initially called for government action on unemployment and public transportation, the protest now call for an overthrow of the administration to stop Iranian intervention in Iraq.  

While the Iraqi parliament have passed measures in an attempt to calm the outrage, demonstrations have not stopped. Additionally, Prime Minister Adil Abdul-Mahdi announced on November 29 that he would resign, however protesters currently call for full government resignation. 

Lebanon 

For weeks now, hundreds of thousands have been protesting on the streets of Lebanon in opposition of the country’s tax on the popular WhatsApp messaging service as well as the corrupt government’s administration.

“Most of my family lives in the Koura District in the north and a few hours from the major protests in Beirut. I do have a few relatives in Beirut who are actively participating in the protests and I really fear for their safety because the military and pro-government forces have been getting increasingly violent and immoral with their attempts to subjugate the protesters,”  said Chloe Moussa (‘20). 

Although government corruption had been a growing concern among the population, tensions escalated with recent electricity failures, water shortages, and waste management issues. 

“It’s incredible to witness the usually sectarian factions of Lebanon, who align more with their political party or religion, unite as Lebanese to demand immediate reform. While the political change is likely going to take awhile to implement and may prove ineffective, the social effects of solitary and stronger political efficacy among citizens are so important to the development of Lebanon. The protests are still going strong despite the army’s attempts to suppress them, Amal and Hezbollah raids, and even flooded roads. Their resilience is so admirable. I’ve never been prouder to be Lebanese,” said Moussa.

 

Nicaragua 

Protests against the government have been prevalent in Nicaragua for more than a year and a half. As a result, “at least 151 opponents of the government have been jailed since March.” This movement was sparked by “fiscal reforms slashing social security,” and Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega ordered the police to be lethal. 

Demonstrators call for his resignation as he has been in power since 2007 and has destroyed their democracy ever since. Nicaragua’s dangerous environment has also affected its economy as tourism rates have decreased.  

 

Peru 

After Peru’s President Martin Vizcarra announced in late September that he would dissolve Congress and new parliamentary elections would be held in four months, “the country descended into political uncertainty,” according to CNN

This crisis stems from arguments over appointments to Peru’s Constitutional Tribunal. Young and left-leaning Peruvians are in support of the President whereas a less-vocal group are against him. Pedro Olaechea, Congress president, challenged President Vizcarra’s decision, and thus Congress suspended the President. However, Vice President Mercedes Aráoz stepped down from assuming the presidency because she feels “the constitutional order in Peru is broken,” and Olaechea will not become president either, so the country is, essentially, unstable. 

 

United Kingdom 

On Friday, December 13, thousands filled the streets of London following the country’s general elections a day prior. Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Conservative Party won in a landslide victory, claiming a majority of 365 seats in parliament

Johnson’s party supports the UK’s controversial movement to leave the European Union. Sentiment has built up against the Brexit movement since the June 2016 vote to leave the EU. Many anti-Brexit activists were hoping the election could reverse the movement. 

The day following the election, Johnson called for a “closure” to the Brexit divisions, sparking demonstrations. 

 

Venezuela 

Venezuela is in the midst of an economic, humanitarian and political crisis that has been boiling up for years. There is a serious power struggle between President Nicolás Maduro (elected first in April 2013 and re-elected in a controversial election in May 2018) and opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who declared himself president on Jan. 23, 2019. However, President Maduro stated he was the constitutional president. 

Many people, as a result, are left asking “Who’s the president?” The United States and other Latin American countries have recognized Guaidó as the president, while others, such as Russia and China, acknowledge President Maduro as the country’s leader. Venezuela’s civil unrest stems from hyperinflation, food and medicine shortages, and corruption since President Maduro and his predecessor Hugo Chávez came into power. To escape this, in 2018, 1,000,00 Venezuelans fled to Colombia, 290,224 to the United States, and among other countries

 

What does this all mean? 

A common theme between these countries listed above is the public’s strong opposition of government corruption and economic decisions.

Advanced Placement United States History (APUSH) students, like Amelia Lum (‘21), are making connections between their curriculum and the current uprisings. 

Lum says, “In APUSH, it’s really interesting that our textbook is still relevant today. The colonists, for example, revolted because Britain continued to tax goods. War didn’t just happen, it was a build up of events. History repeats itself – governments still abuse power and people get frustrated. What is so amazing about this process the way people unite with one another.” 

Lum’s quote points out an important theme. Today, global protests against unjust governments occur after a build up of event. Citizens attempt to cooperate and corrupt governments refuse. After all, these demonstrations do not occur after only one harmful or corrupt action, but after several hurtful events. 

What is even more notable, however, about these demonstrations, is their close proximity in time to one another. This asks prompts a series of questions: Are protesters being inspired by other protestors? Are these global demonstrations feeding into each other? Do activists find encouragement in civil uproars millions of miles away?  

Knowing that similar protests and outcries are happening simultaneously, empowered citizens are able to empathize and gain a sense of unification from people possibly oceans away. In consolidation with one another, hundreds of thousands are able to achieve true democracy.  

It is also important to note the impact media has had on each one of these uproars. Whether it be to organize a protest or message a representative, millions are able to voice their concerns with the push of a button. This not only unites those within one country, but the entire population of the world. 

Authoritarian governments recognize the power of this advancing technology, and thus try to disrupt it. Examples include China’s continuous attempts of shutting down messaging systems between Hong Kong activists and Lebanon’s implementation of taxes of the popular communication tool WhatsApp. 

The media acts as a bridge, binding citizens together to fight for one cause, giving them a fair chance against an authoritarian power.  

While these conflicts can spark a sense of hope or empowerment, it can also derive a sense hopelessness as hundreds of lives have already been lost. It is now that we must look to history for a solution and remember the importance of protesting peacefully.

Change can be brought about without bloodshed as Martin Luther King Jr., continually preached.“The strong man is the man who will not hit back, who can stand up for his rights and yet not hit back,” said King in Holt Street Baptist Church on Nov. 14, 1956.

Many students at Academy feel peaceful protests must be emphasized more so now than ever. Figueroa, for example, feels that Columbia is in desperate need. 

“When citizens burned down train stations, they take away their own source of transportation. Instead of peacefully attempting to get reactions, they do so violently. This prompts the police to respond violently as well, leading to many lives being lost. The people could have kept that from happening,” she said.  

Lopez-Comperr agrees with Figueroa, “All the stores and shopping centers [in Santiago] close very early or do not even open. The subway is in very bad condition, the streets are burned and scratched everywhere, and security is the most worrisome thing. I and my family live with more fear than usual lately. In relation to peaceful protests, I totally agree that people have the right to express what they think and express what they find is wrong, but to get to the point of destruction and aggression, I find that it is something that is not okay. They should think twice before acting violently,” he said.

An end to violent uproars, however, does not mean and end to demonstrations. People must continue to stand up for what is right, embodying the true ideals of democracy.

The global rise of civil unrest speaks to the testament that no one, regardless of race, color, age, or ethnicity should remain silence. We, as a newspaper, encourage their bravery and support their efforts for a better world. 

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