Studying abroad and watching your country bleed

I write today, on the twentieth day of nation-wide strikes in my country, Colombia. This societal rupture may initially be regarded as protests against an unsuccessful tax reform that was predicted to impoverish and further expand the societal chasm in the country. However, when taking a closer look, the development of this uprising is more complex. The present Colombian society can be regarded as a pressure cooker that has been left on for too long; ready to explode at any minute due to rising tensions and inequality. Even though the country is one of the most long-standing democracies in Latin America, with the least number of recorded coups and threats to democracy, our political system has been polarized by a set of historical politicians and their (at times) outdated views on the future of the nation. The political history of the 21st century can be narrowed down to a total of four presidents in the past 21 years.

With almost 50 percent of the population currently living in poverty, this season of political and social upheaval is something well expected and, among the youth, well received. Colombian history is overwhelmed with periods of violence and the known stories of the internal conflict and drug trafficking. This has resulted in an extremely complex political reality particularly for the youth. Today’s young adults have a very limited political perspective as their political conscience was shaped by the two to three presidents elected during their lifetime. The protests against the tax reform eventually developed into protests addressing the government’s use of force and the abuse of human rights against its own citizens during these demonstrations. Nonetheless, the government turns a blind eye to the public voice and has not taken affirmative action.

But what can I do as a student abroad? I watch as my country bleeds out its people who share my age, who study and strive to reform a broken, war-torn country. It has been challenging to find where I may express my frustrations and anxieties over the current strife and the limbo this entails. On the one hand, I share physical distance from my country with my peers, but they do not share an understanding of the extremely complex reality my country faces. On the other hand, I am a part of the fabric of the Colombian society, and yet I find myself an ocean away. I was part of peaceful protests here in The Netherlands where more Colombians than I knew to expect came together to speak out against the abuses that their families and friends are facing. I have come to decide that during my time abroad I want to educate those around me to turn more eyes in the direction of a struggling nation. With this, I hope misinformation begins to be eradicated and a national perspective in an international setting is brought to light.

Now, more than ever, we see the startling speed with which human rights abuses and the brutality of governmental actions can be shared. From situations in the Levant to those in Latin America, it is vital to bring in a national perspective when we are third-party observers to the struggles of others. This also means that partaking in activism from a distance is an extremely useful and important tool. Finding credible and national sources that can provide a nuanced perspective educate those of us far away and enrich our understanding of the issue.

In essence, what does the international community do? Well, that is really up to the international community itself. There are two key points. At a structural level, we have international law institutions that have been actively demanding clarity over the current status of the social uprising in relation to the use of force by government entities. At an individual level, demonstrators have turned to social media and different platforms, sharing the present reality, and combatting news agencies that have been underreporting and misinforming the nation. By informing those around you and deciding on individual courses of action, the international community is also actively raising awareness about the brutalities being carried out.

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