2020 was a collective trauma, but also a year of the people

A street during the plague in London via Wikimedia Commons

Forty thousand terrified and angry people, dressed in rags and improvised cloth masks yelled at police, begging not to be left stranded on the wrong side of a closed frontier. Oily black smoke from trash being burnt on the Venezuelan side blotted out the sun, and riot police stood by, ready to respond with physical violence. Global plague had reached the Colombia-Venezuelan border, and the result was apocalyptic, more reminiscent of zombie films than the cold reality it truly was.

It was March, and authorities across Latin America were closing all land borders with little to no advance notice. For…

The indigenous protests that crossed half a nation to confront a president

Indigenous Guard lead a community meeting at the Minga encampment in Ibagué (Photo: Joshua Collins)

Bogota, Colombia- They say there are over 3,000 people in the indigenous caravan. I have been travelling with them for three days, riding on the roof of one the overcrowded school buses they call Chivas.

This conglomeration of indigenous communities, the Minga, in the native tongue, formed in southwest Colombia and crossed half of the nation to demand a meeting with president Iván Duque over the killing of their leaders, rising numbers massacres in their homeland and a neglect by the State that goes back centuries.

“You can trace all of this directly to colonization,” says Andres Maiz. “The Spanish…

The authoritarianism of the ivory tower is a contradiction

Widely used image from Social media (this iteration from UC Davis blog)

“‘Cancel Culture’ is out of control and threatens liberal discourse!” has become a rallying cry for those, who often for the first time in their lives, and usually from a powerful platform, face public criticism that they have historically safely ignored. Shocked by the temerity of peasants who dare to speak back to their cultural masters, they have created an increasingly popular myth to avoid adapting to a quickly changing world. Do not be fooled. They make a dangerous and dishonest argument that is designed to silence popular dissent.

In the past, this group of rich and powerful celebrities, tenured…

Our Exclusive interview with the esteemed Fyre Monkey on the right of dissent

“Fire Monke” (image owned by Joshua Collins)

I sat down with my good friend and mentor Fire Monkey (also spelled Fyre Monke) over plantains and kool aid here in Colombia to get his opinion on current events in the world. Our conversation is reprinted below, edited only for clarity and space.

JC: Hello, Fire Monkey. Thanks for agreeing to chat. Why don’t you explain a little bit about what you do.

FM: Fyre Monke

JC: Excuse me?

FM: It’s pronounced Fyre Monke.

JC: That’s what I said.

FM: No you said “Fire Monkey”, which…

Riots over police brutality stem from a perfect storm of pressures

A protester confronts riot police at a clinic in Bogota (Joshua Collins)

Bogota, Colombia- “Please. Stop, I’m begging you. Please. Enough.” said Javier Ordóñez as police beat and electrocuted him with tasers in a video that lit up social media in Bogota on September 9th. The 42 year old would be declared dead in a hospital after a severe beating inflicted on him by police officers while in their custody.

His crime? Being on the street after curfew amidst lingering lockdown measures.

Protesters gathered at the mini-precinct, or CAI as the sub-stations are called here (pronounced “Kai”) where Ordóñez was severely beaten in Villa de Luz, a neighborhood in the Colombian capital…

How to ethically cover social unrest is a complex debate, it is also an increasingly necessary one

Photo of protesters in Plaza Bolivar in Bogota, Colombia: photo by @Casada (used with permission: her twitter here)

Bogota, Colombia — Civil unrest is often the only available tool for people without voices. From the United States, to Berlin, to India, to Moscow, popular movements arise and take to the streets for a cause. Sometimes they topple empires. More often they are stomped into the footnotes of history. They are complex, amorphous, and spontaneous: told through the eyes of thousands of independent vantage points, constantly evolving and adapting to ever-changing power dynamics and conditions.

The chaotic, complex, and ephemeral reality of a social movement is difficult to encapsulate and raises serious ethical quandaries and responsibilities for the journalists…

Black Lives Matter Protests are met with force

BLM protesters shout their frustration at injustice in Bogota (photo: Joshua Collins)

Bogota- Anderson Arboleda, a 24 year old black man in the state of Cauca, was killed by police on May 19th for being out during COVID curfew. He was beaten viciously with clubs and died three days later from resulting head trauma after being transported to a hospital in the city of Cali.

Afro-Colombian communities in Colombia have long accused the National government of racism and systemic neglect. The Peace Accord of 2016 was supposed to change that. As part of the plan to improve life in conflict zones, the government promised to build infrastructure and create economic opportunities in…

Government response to Black Lives Matter shows not much has changed since the 60’s

“The Anarchist” design by Belle Deese (open use)

“We have never had a problem in the South except in a few very isolated instances and these have been the result of outside agitators.” — George Wallace, 1964

George Wallace penned those words in response to the civil rights movement. It was the beginning of a valiant and glacially paced but inexorable march toward unkept promises of universal justice, promises of an American dream available to all that had long been withheld from black communities — many of which remain unfulfilled to this day.

Just as Trump now cannot fathom what is happening today before his eyes and citizens rise up, Wallace could not accept the possibility that blacks suffering injustice could possibly have…

As the country burns, Trump borrows an old tactic from authoritarian regimes

Police dog attacks an African American Man

“Oppressed people cannot remain oppressed forever. The yearning for freedom eventually manifests itself.” -Martin Luther King

The United States has erupted into crisis — more than a dozen cities smolder from the aftermath of riots sparked by the killing of George Floyd, merely the latest in a long string of police killings of unarmed black men. Amidst civil unrest not seen on this scale since the 60’s and as a pandemic rages that has killed over 100,000 US citizens, protests rage in over 28 cities and the U.S government is responding with a tactic from a very old playbook.


notes from the Venezuelan border during an epidemic

The Simon Bolivar Bridge in La Parada, Colombia on March 15th (Photo: Joshua Collins)

Cucuta, Colombia- I’m the last foreign journalist in Cucuta. All the sensible freelancers took flights home days ago when Colombia started shutting down. As I sit inside under police imposed curfew, all I can think about is how the Venezuelan border today is a lot darker than the one I remember from when I lived here a year ago.

The unannounced closure of the border on March 14th was chaos, as thousands of Venezuelans and Colombians woke up to find themselves trapped on either side of a suddenly impenetrable invisible wall. The loud panic from that first day has since…

Joshua Collins

A reporter on immigration and world affairs, based in Cucuta, Colombia. Bylines at Al Jazeera, Caracas Chronicles, New Humanitarian and more

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