Another Day in Colombia, Another Protest

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South America » Colombia » Bogota
November 4th 2011
Published: November 5th 2011
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Damn those Colombians are nice. Medellín June 2010Damn those Colombians are nice. Medellín June 2010Damn those Colombians are nice. Medellín June 2010

I don't know what is stranger about this pic. Is it the fact that I am actually posting a pic of myself on my blog :-0 or the fact that that the riot police are smiling while posing for photos with 2 gringos? Actually the best photo would have been of the cop who is taking this photo. He is bending over, holding his shotgun between his knees while taking a photo for some tourists. Now that is a missed photo opportunity. This is the best proof of how nice Colombians are.

"It's time 4 new direction

It's time 4 jazz 2 die

4th day of November

We need a purple high."

Prince, All The Critics Love U In New York

This is a delayed post from early September. And any chance I have to throw in a Prince lyric, I'm gonna do it.

So my second day back in Bogotá and I'm hanging out with this guy Nick from Portland, Oregon. We are walking by Simon Bolivar Plaza and see everything blocked off with a stage set up in the middle and someone giving a speech with a small crowd watching. Simon Bolivar Plaza also houses the Colombian Presidential Palace at one end and the Congress building at another end so there is always a National Police presence in the area but it was heaver that day with a bunch of barricades set up including totally blocking the entrance to the church in the square.

I mentioned to Nick that something was up because it wasn't usually blocked and there were a bunch more police around. As we headed uptown, or maybe it's downtown we started seeing a greater police presence.
Carrera Septima (7th Avenue) 1Carrera Septima (7th Avenue) 1Carrera Septima (7th Avenue) 1

Student protesters marching down Carrera Septima.
We then see a small group of students chanting and marching down the street toward the plaza carrying signs with references to education should be free or something along those lines. Hey my Spanish still isn't that good and I had to rely on Nick to translate the signs and chants for me.

As we head further away from the plaza we see more and more police including some with helmets, batons, and shields, full on riot gear. Now we see a bigger and louder group of students marching down the street. We watch as they pass by and we continue walking. From this point on all of the police have riot gear.

Now we see a huge group of students marching in the street. It seems that the further from the start of the march you get the bigger, louder, and more boisterous the marchers get. Now you see some of these students carrying anarchy signs, spray paint cans, and/or balloons filled with paint.

There really isn't anything to worry about. The students are blocking the street for motorized vehicles but for the people walking, and a lot of people walk in Colombia, everything is almost
Carrera Septima (7th Avenue) 2Carrera Septima (7th Avenue) 2Carrera Septima (7th Avenue) 2

Student protesters marching down Carrera Septima.
normal and they don't really pay attention to what is going on. That's just Colombia and Colombians for you.

I told Nick there's not really a problem and for his part Nick wasn't worried. He even said he supported their cause as he himself was a University student.

After about 4 or 5 groups have marched down the street we see another group in the distance headed down. All of a sudden you see that group start running down the street and you can see some white smoke as well. The white smoke is tear gas. Now 2 things happen. First, a lot of the people who weren't previously worried about what was going on begin to run. They ran down the side streets or into some of the buildings and businesses. Now most of the businesses in Bogota have some sort of iron mesh or grates or they have a full metal shutter kinda like a garage door that rolls down to protect the door and windows when it is closed. At the same time people are starting to run you can hear the clicking and crashing of the metal doors and grates as they are all
Carrera Septima 3Carrera Septima 3Carrera Septima 3

Student protesters marching down Carrera Septima. Notice how people are going about their business unaffected by what is going on.
being closed simultaneously as if on cue.

The power of being in a crowd and going with the flow is powerful. As everyone around us was running getting out of the streets Nick and I ran into a small shopping center just as they were rolling the grate shut. Looking around us we realized something. Most of everyone who ran was a businessman or businesswoman dressed professionally. Outside it seemed that most of the blue-collar people went about their way, not really affected by what was happening.


Last year (June 2010) traveling throughout Colombia I ran into another student protest, this time in Medellín. When we first came upon it at a University campus we wondered what was going on. Most people seemed unfazed by what was happening so myself and the guy I was with at the time walked up closer. As we got closer I had one of my cameras with me, my purple Holga. It shoots medium format film but is about the size of a 35mm SLR film camera, about medium size. The fact that is is purple and most people haven't seen a Holga camera before does draw attention to it.
Carrera Septima 4Carrera Septima 4Carrera Septima 4

Student protesters marching down Carrera Septima.
I pulled it out and started taking some photos.

I have never seen a riot firsthand. The last big riot and the only one that I recall in Las Vegas was the 1992 Rodney King Riots . I am dating myself here but wow, I can't believe it has been almost 20 years since those riots. They lasted 2 or 3 days in Los Angeles, but the Vegas police crack heads and are quick to draw their guns and shoot so the Vegas riots only lasted a few hours. It was N.B.A. basketball playoff time and the LA Lakers even moved a game or two to Vegas to be played. But even if I had been in Vegas I probably wouldn't have gone. As it were I was a couple hundred feet underwater off the coast of... well let's just say I was somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean on board a U.S. Navy nuclear submarine.

So here I was in the middle of a protest and I have my camera with me so of course I am going to take some photos. I did have a couple of people tell me I shouldn't take photos but they weren't police so I just continued to shoot some photos discreetly at waist level.

Now you how I know it wasn't really dangerous? We are walking and we happen upon a group of about 6 or 7 police in full riot gear. They had pulled back across this wide avenue and were regrouping and/or resting. Now Colombian people are friendly, very friendly. The guy I was with at the time was about 6'4" (1.930 m) and a redhead. He really stands out as a "gringo" because of his red-hair and his height. The average male Colombian is probably only 5'9" (1.676 m). So between him and me with my waist length dreadlocks we kinda stood out. As we walk by these police officers they ask us how are we doing. The other guy was fluent in Spanish so he starts talking to them and asking them what was going on. We find out that it is the anniversary of some confrontation that the police and students had. Here I am standing right next to and conversing with police in full riot gear. So I ask them if I can take a photo of them. They say of course and then one of the officers takes the other guy's camera and hands him his riot shield and says he wants to take a photo of us. So here we are standing with the other officers and there is one officer in the middle of the street with a camera taking a photo with us while bending over and holding his shotgun between his legs. It was really kinda funny and surreal. It threw me off and it wasn't until it was over that I realized that I should have taken a photo of the policeman taking a photo of us. That indeed was a greatly missed photo op.

We walked to the University entrance and this is where everything is going full out. We stopped and talked to some students and find out that this was the 5th anniversary of the police killing 2 students during a riot on campus. So now as a result the police aren't allowed on the Universities. And this was more or less a reenactment of what happened 5 years ago, albeit with real tear gas, water cannons, rocks and paint balls. So now when we look at it it does appear to be some kind of orchestrated dance between the police and students.

The police have 5-7 armored vehicles, about 3 of them equipped with a water cannon on top. So the vehicles move forward toward the University entrance gate shooting their water cannons while the police in riot gear walk up shooting tear gas and throwing shock grenades. After a few minutes the police draw back across the street and I think a vehicle goes back to refill with water. The police take a break. You see them in small groups talking, some smoking cigarettes, and some buying sodas and water. Oh did I mention that vendors are selling water, sodas, and empanadas from their carts and coolers? This is all maybe 100 yards (91.44 m) from the University entrance. Now when the police back up the students come forward to the gate and just outside of it shouting, throwing rocks and balloons filled with paint. This will go on for a few minutes and then the police with advance on the gate with their teargas, shock grenades, and water cannons as the students retreat inside the University gates.

So the only danger to bystanders was the occasional rock being thrown very far or the
Carrera Septima (7th Avenue) 6Carrera Septima (7th Avenue) 6Carrera Septima (7th Avenue) 6

Student protesters marching down Carrera Septima.
wind shifting and blowing the teargas towards them. So it wasn't very dangerous.


Now back to present day Bogotá. After we ran inside a small mall for cover I realize that some people are still outside going about their business. I showed Nick my photo with the riot police from last year on my iPhone. We decide to go back out on the street.

Back on the street you see the students spray painting buildings, etc. It is really funny to see a student go up to a group of riot police standing in a row and start yelling at them and the police stand there unfazed showing no emotion. Funnier still is seeing the protesters go up to the riot police and start spray painting their riot shields, still getting no response beside the occasional shove. I wanted to get some photos of that, especially when I saw someone spraying an anarchy sign right on a riot shield. The only problem was I didn't have a proper camera with me beside my iPhone. I decided that it wasn't worth the risk of me being hit with a paint balloon just to take a photo with
Carrera Septima 7Carrera Septima 7Carrera Septima 7

Student protesters marching down Carrera Septima.
my iPhone. But if I had one of my real cameras...

Things started to end after that. The armored vehicles start rolling down the street after the last of the protesters marched by followed by a gang of motorcycle police. I figured things would be getting pretty hot and heavy down by the main square where the Presidential Palace and the Congress building were. You see a lot of graffiti in Colombia and 85% of it is art, really creative. I don't know if they allow graffiti artist to create murals in some places or zones, but very rarely do you see do you see tags or just random stupid stuff. But you never see any of it on the Congress building or the Presidential Palace so I figured the police wouldn't allow it now.

After returning from lunch back into the square I did see a few paint balls made their way onto the Presidential Palace and the church at the square. What was surprising was seeing the Congress building with graffiti on it. The students had made it over the barricades and past the police to get there to spray paint it. But within a couple
Policia in full riot gear Policia in full riot gear Policia in full riot gear

People going about business as usual.
of days everything is painted over showing no signs of what happened.

As I see now in November, there seem to be student protests quite often as of late. Maybe every 2-3 weeks taking place in every city across the country. I was in Bogotá at the end of Oct and just missed a protest a day earlier. Ibagué, the town where I am in right now has even had a couple. But they are no big deal.

Additional photos below
Photos: 31, Displayed: 30


Policia in full riot gear Policia in full riot gear
Policia in full riot gear

People going about business as usual.
Policia and armored vehicles Policia and armored vehicles
Policia and armored vehicles

This building drew a lot of attention from the protesters. Notice the line of policia in front of it and the graffiti and paint attacked sustained.
Policia and armored vehiclesPolicia and armored vehicles
Policia and armored vehicles

Notice anything in particular about the policia? Besides the fact that they have hearts and anarchy signs spray-painted on their shields.
Policia and armored vehiclesPolicia and armored vehicles
Policia and armored vehicles

Police don't carry guns here, only a select few have a gun. But you do see solders who have machine guns,

18th November 2011

Dude, while in Ibague ask about the town of "Juntas" just outside of Ibague. It's worth the trip, the bus takes you to the top where there are little restaurants and the view is really worth the trip. There are a number of eco-touristy farms. The prices are insanely affordable because the tourism is mainly national. It's beautiful and safe. There's good food, horse riding, rivers, trails, hiking but the best thing is the views. The bus ride is a regular bus ride rate. Just ask the locals.
19th November 2011

Today's the day!!
Happy, happy birthday big brother!! We love you!
26th November 2011

So Annoying
I live on Septima next to Universidad Districtal and they wake me up with , Somos Estudiantes!
15th October 2012

I stumbled upon your blog by accident, and now I find it amusing to read just to know how an american sees the whole student protests stuff in Colombia, being myself a university student (specially when you talk about the \"orchestrated dance between the police and students\", LOL). However, I can\'t help wondering, wouldn\'t it have been more interesting to find out why there were (and still are) so many of these protests in Colombia? didn\'t it seem to you quite disproportionate the amount of riot police and the equipment that they have in Colombia, compared to other democratic countries (even in the same continent)? Just curious... PS: Sorry for my rusty english...

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