From the local community in Colombia into cyberspace

Juan David Gómez-Quintero

New technologies of communication allow new types of action and partnership between social movements in Colombia and international NGOs, who support them in claiming their rights or in denouncing abuses. International cooperation and advocacy have allowed the suffering of victims to be seen by the outside world and have led to justice being done and reparations being made.

The growth of globalised means of communication allows the global accompaniment of communities affected by violence. Peasant communities displaced by violence, for example, are enabled to become visible outside, while they have always been rendered invisible within their state borders. Information and communications technology has turned the local into the global.

The ability to take collective action without being physically present in the same place has transformed solidarity, assistance and cooperation programmes, through blogs, online campaigns, etc. Online records of abuses of rights, or of the numbers of people displaced by conflict, are an extremely valuable resource. But information technology does not automatically give visibility to excluded groups – it also requires the existence of social networks and the ability to create the technical infrastructure for organisations to be able to participate in the virtual spaces.

Grass-roots organisations in remote areas of Colombia, such as in Chocó in western Colombia (home to a large Afro-Colombian population), have created and strengthened means of communication with Spanish counterparts. Organisations in Spain then  forward reports of abuses to the appropriate authorities of both governments. This kind of networking is proving useful in preventing or denouncing human rights violations – although one consequence of their success is that armed actors have begun to target those means of communication that connect local organisations and communities with the outside world.

“In Pereira, the riot police weren’t letting people enter [the town], they were shooting and threatening women and children, one person was killed…. So I phoned the Belgian Embassy, the Spanish Embassy, all the NGOs in Zaragoza that I knew, saying that people were being attacked… and please would they protest, please would they contact the Provincial Governor. The NGOs and Embassies made phone calls, wrote messages, sent reports to the Governor. The fact that it was people from the international community contacting him had a real impact on the Governor…”  (Spanish aid-worker)

According to both Spanish and Colombian NGOs, the support of European activist NGOs has a positive effect for vulnerable communities, and a deep impact on both civil and military authorities in Colombia. This is a political strategy to make visible and denounce in the outside world violations of human rights, particularly where there is armed conflict. The virtual spaces within which this happens are flexible, adaptable and immediate across local, national and global spaces.

Juan David Gómez-Quintero (jdgomez@unizar.es) is a professor in the Department of Psychology and Sociology at the University of Zaragoza in Spain (http://www.unizar.es).

FMR 38
October 2011

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