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Today, May 28, marks a painful anniversary for Colombians: one month ago, anti-government protests broke out nationwide, sparked by a tax reform proposal that triggered outrage over worsening poverty and inequality. Since the conflict began, dozens of people have been killed, many of them in violent clashes with the highly militarized police brought in by right-wing President Iván Duque to repress demonstrators.
Colombia’s uprising was at the center of a protest held today across from the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA). For the last two months, activist groups have exposed museum trustees’ indirect ties to human rights abuses around the world in a series of weekly actions, online seminars, and social media campaigns organized under the banner of “Strike MoMA.”
This week’s demonstration focused on the theme of “interconnected struggles”: the related and interdependent challenges faced by oppressed peoples, and their often shared roots in Western imperialism. Despite unseasonably cold weather and rain, at least 75 protesters showed up for the action, huddled under nearby scaffolding before marching amid the drizzle.
During the action, artist and organizer Shellyne Rodriguez condemned the presence on MoMA’s board of Paula Crown, whose husband James Crown is director of the board at the weapons conglomerate General Dynamics — the manufacturer of the MK-84 bombs dropped by the Israeli army on Gaza in the last two weeks. The company’s Canadian subsidiary also built the combat vehicles (LAVs) used by Colombian state police. (MoMA has not responded to Hyperallergic’s request for comment.)
In a recent open letter, the coalition of activist groups leading Strike MoMA known as the International Imagination of Anti-National Anti-Imperialist Feelings (IIAAF) said that “the Paula and James Crown Creativity Lab on the second floor of the museum stands while homes, schools, hospitals, and media offices in Gaza are flattened.”
Another speaker, Colombian activist Vicky Caicedo Sanchez, spoke about the brutal crackdown on protesters in her native country. She explained the country’s long history of violence and the origins of uribismo, a conservative political ideology named after former Colombian President Álvaro Uribe that justifies the use of the army and paramilitarism to suppress citizens deemed subversive.
She emphasized the role of foreign aid in bolstering the nation’s security program, especially the American government, which has given Colombia billions to ostensibly fight the drug trade, and maintains numerous military bases there. Last week, the international organization Amnesty International called on US Secretary of State Blinken to immediately stop supplying equipment used for repression to the country, citing “the United States role in fueling ceaseless cycles of violence committed against the people of Colombia.”
“A lot of the bullets that are used in protests in Colombia are Israeli-made,” said another Colombian activist, Yhamir Chabur, who spoke during the demonstration. “We have to make these connections always. Colombia is what Israel is to the United States in the Middle East, in Latin America: a military base for US hegemony in the region.”
Sheets of paper with the names of individuals killed by the Mobile Anti-Disturbances Squadron (ESMAD), Colombia’s riot police, covered a glass window of MoMA’s Design Store, adjacent to Strike MoMA’s meeting place at Manhattan’s Urban Plaza. Later, the demonstrators marched four blocks to the midtown offices of Point Lookout Capital Partners, a New York firm that owns Combined Systems Inc. — the supplier of “less-lethal” munitions used by ESMAD.
Johanna Fernández, an assistant professor of history at Baruch College of the City University of New York, kicked off today’s strike with a teach-in on political prisoner Mumia Abu-Jamal. The journalist, activist, and founding member of the Black Panther Party’s Philadelphia chapter was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to death, and later to life in prison, for the killing of a white police officer in 1982.
Four decades later, advocates and human rights organizations continue to demand Abu-Jamal’s release, citing a biased trial as well as his support of the radical Black liberation group MOVE and his influential contributions in the battle against systemic racism and police brutality.
“We have to take a stance against the imprisonment of revolutionaries if we believe in freedom,” said Fernández, who is a scholar of Abu-Jamal’s legacy, addressing the crowd. “Three decades ago it was Mumia, but today it could be any one of us.” She traced the emergence of racist “law and order” rhetoric to the repression of Black power activists and the Black Panther Party. Today, she explained, it takes the form of the incarceration and disenfranchisement of people of color, immigrants, and people on welfare.
Protesters chanted “USA, CIA, get out of Colombia” and held up placards and banners, including a poster of Abu-Jamal overlaid with a quote by the activist — the latest in a series screen-printed by artist Kyle Goen for Strike MoMA and handed out freely to protesters each week.
At the demonstration, Clarissa Hernandez of the Workers Assembly Against Racism brandished a hand-painted sign with the flags of Colombia, Palestine, and Puerto Rico — countries whose struggles, she said, are “especially interconnected, in that they are all made worse by US intervention.”
“I came today in support of Palestine,” she said, “but I’m mestiza, Mexican-American, and I believe colonized people need to show solidarity with each other.”