Lesson of the Day: ‘Colombia Police Respond to Protests With Bullets, and Death Toll Mounts’

Lesson of the Day: ‘Colombia Police Respond to Protests With Bullets, and Death Toll Mounts’

Students in U.S. high schools can get free digital access to The New York Times until Sept. 1.

Featured Article: “Colombia Police Respond to Protests With Bullets, and Death Toll Mounts” by Julie Turkewitz and Sofía Villamil

“Colombians demonstrating over the past week against the poverty and inequality that have worsened the lives of millions since the Covid-19 pandemic began have been met with a powerful crackdown by their government,” Julie Turkewitz and Sofía Villamil write. As of May 8, at least 26 were dead and more than 900 injured, ABC News reported.

In this lesson, you will learn more about the reasons behind the protests and why experts say they could “presage unrest across Latin America.” Then, you will read about the conditions that spurred the protest movement and how they have upended the lives of people across the country.

Have you ever participated in a protest, march or demonstration? What sparked the movement? What were some of the deeper reasons people were protesting? What was it like for you to participate?

Think about protest movements you have been part of or those you know from history, and make a list of reasons that people protest.

Then, reflect on your own or with a partner: What are some of the common root causes of protests? What are the feelings that often drive people to demonstrate? Can you relate to any of these reasons or feelings? Do you think protests can bring about meaningful change?

Read the article, then answer the following questions:

1. What picture do the authors paint of the protests in Colombia in the opening two paragraphs? Which words or lines stand out to you and why? Why do you think the authors begin this way?

2. What event sparked the protests? Why are many Colombians opposed to this measure?

3. What are some of the underlying reasons that people in Colombia are frustrated and angry? Cite at least one quote from a person interviewed in the article to support your response.

4. The recent protests in Colombia are part of a larger story about Latin America. What events in the region over the past three years have led to the unrest? Why do experts say this explosion of frustration in Colombia “could presage unrest across Latin America”?

5. How has the Colombian government responded to the protests? Why might this response be a significant factor in next year’s presidential election?

6. Why do you think the authors end with the story of Santiago Murillo? What does Mr. Murillo’s story tell us about the protests as a whole? What does it reveal about the effect of the violence on individuals and families?

7. What is your main takeaway from the article? What is one quotation, image or story that stuck with you? What is your reaction to the events in Colombia? What else do you want to know?

Note to Teachers: Please read the Going Further article linked below to make sure it is appropriate for your class.

In “In Latin America, the Pandemic Threatens Equality Like Never Before,” an article from July 2020, reporters Julie Turkewitz and Sofía Villamil traveled 1,000 miles across Colombia to document the way the pandemic was changing the course of people’s lives. They write:

Not long ago, Colombia — and Latin America more broadly — were in the middle of a history-making transformation: The scourge of inequality was shrinking like never before. Over the past 20 years, millions of families had marched out of poverty in one of the most unequal regions on earth. The gap between rich and poor in Latin America fell to its lowest point on record.

Now, the pandemic is threatening to reverse those gains like nothing else in recent history, economists say, potentially upending politics and entire societies for years to come.

They interviewed people in four cities: Bogotá, Medellín, Bucaramanga and Cúcuta. Choose one of those cities to read about and view the photos. (If you are in a classroom context, you might do this as a jigsaw activity, assigning small groups of students to read about each city.)

Then, in writing or a small group conversation, discuss the following questions:

  • Choose one of the people interviewed in this section. How has the pandemic changed life for him or her? How might these changes affect the course of this person’s life and the lives of his or her family? What does this person’s story foretell about the ways Colombian society might be transformed in the years to come?

  • What is one quotation or photo that stands out to you in this section? Why? How does it relate to the larger theme of inequality explored in the article?

  • What connections can you make between the individuals you read about in this article and the recent protests in Colombia? How does learning more about these people’s stories change or deepen your understanding of the protests? What do you think needs to be done to support those who are struggling?

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