Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has found a convenient way to deal with the broad-based protests cropping up across the country — pretend they don’t exist. But with thousands of Colombian farmers and public service workers marching through Bogota, the capital, on August 29, to air grievances against everything from fuel prices to free-trade policies they say gives them the short end of the stick, its clear his ruse hasn’t been so convincing.
In a speech earlier this week, President Santos made a botched attempt to downplay the protests, which began on August 19, saying that the “supposed national farmers’ strike does not exist,” all this despite strong coverage by international media.
In spirited reaction to the president’s failure to acknowledge the rising tide of discontent in his country, Colombian social media users have been twisting the president’s gaffe into various memes. Former President Uribe’s attempt to side with the strikes have incensed protesters further, who mark him down as part of the problem. Another picture that has been making rounds online depicts two women with a large sign in front of the Eiffel Tower, calling out to “Senor Santos” to inform him that they know of the protest’s existence, even in France.
Colombia is now braced for nationwide protests that are increasingly violent, with at least one protester and one policeman already reported dead. On Thursday in Bogota, class was cancelled for all public schools, while protesters marched into Plaza Bolivar, the center square of Bogota, only to be dispersed by tear gas. The marches, which also took place in Medellin, Cali and other mid-sized cities, have sobered up the government’s hopes that social peace could be achieved throughout the country once an accord is reached with FARC at the negotiating tables in Havana. Cleaning up post-conflict Colombia will only reveal complex issues that have been previously eclipsed.
In the face of such chaos, the Santos administration has made efforts to address the the different claims of miners, truckers, students, farmers and other protesters, now that its clear they exist.
Below are some of the more popular images being passed around online.