It was the year of Cyclone Idai, Greta Thunberg and Juan Guaido, the one that brought us the Mueller report, the death of al-Baghdadi and the removal of a president. But as foreign editor David Pratt says, 2019 was especially the year when people took to the streets
Their motivations were as varied as the places where they protested. Paris, Santiago, Caracas, Hong Kong, Beirut, Algiers, Barcelona, Baghdad, New Delhi among others.
They left the classrooms, requisitioned the squares and boulevards of the city, and brought with them new slogans and new causes as well as old familiar causes.
In their wake, presidents fled, prime ministers resigned, and governments fell. It was a time of global discontent and an explosion of popular unrest, as 2019 will long be remembered as the year of the protester.
While street protests are not new, the unrest in 2019 in at least 18 countries in different corners of the world was characterized by the scale and intensity of the protests. What we have witnessed is perhaps more mass protests around the world than during the other 12 months of history.
France, a country born of barricades and revolution in the streets, has established the first standard. In Paris, the movement of yellow vests or yellow vests which had started to mobilize in 2018 continued to appear on the boulevards of the capital as opposition to the policy of French President Emmanuel Macron grew.
During the periods of last year, Paris seemed to be a place in shock, the atmosphere in the spring was even darker when Parisians and the world trembled before the sight in April of a fire devouring Notre-Dame cathedral – 850 year old lady, causing heavy damage to the iconic structure.
Even by the end of the year, the mood in the country had not cleared up, once again the gas masks were put on as riot police struggled to control the demonstrations against the proposed reforms of the pensions.
Meanwhile, elsewhere in the world as the trade war between America and China continued throughout 2019 by deploying arsenals of tariffs, there were roars of discontent in the backyard of Beijing. when Hong Kong broke out.
An attempt to change the law on extradition of the territory triggered the city’s worst crisis since its transfer to China in 1997. If the demonstrators in Paris still had a nostalgic touch of 1968 about them, the militants of Hong Kong have took the art of street resistance to a whole new level and near art form.
“Be water” became the motto of those who live on the city streets as they sought to adopt the philosophy of Kung Fu legend Bruce Lee to be “formless and formless, like water “, in response to the increasingly draconian repression of the security forces.
Occupy, disrupt, disperse and rehearse has become the tactic in Hong Kong, where the protest has sometimes taken on the appearance of a large-scale uprising as the Communist government in Beijing watched with anxiety and impatience.
Time and again around the world during 2019, strong disruptions to normalcy characterized this resistance to what many saw as the dysfunctional status quo. In increasingly polarized societies, the search for political and socio-economic change seemed contagious. Nowhere was this more evident than in Latin America and the Middle East.
The citizens of Latin America were and are still angry with their political system due to corruption and a lack of results on citizen security and economic promises. They remain unhappy with inequality, weak growth and the rising cost of living.
From Santiago to La Paz, urbanization and young people aware of social networks have made possible the rapid organization of demonstrations in cities.
For a while in 2019, the administration of the American president and the Venezuelan opposition believed – even insisted – that this would be the year that President Nicolas Maduro would fall. So much so that in fact, at the end of January, the President of the National Assembly, Juan Guaido, declared himself interim president of Venezuela and was quickly recognized by the United States and dozens of others country.
For a time, those of us whose journalistic job is to open a window to the world were convinced that Venezuela would be the international history of the year.
With an international will for regime change led by Washington, and given the country’s dizzying economic collapse and the massive refugee crisis, the situation seemed ready.
“The administration has promised too much, and I think it has believed too much,” said Fernando Cutz, who was director of South America on the White House National Security Council earlier in the Trump administration, summarized the American approach.
But as 2019 draws to a close, Maduro still clings to power in Venezuela, while Juan Guaido has fallen from the headlines.
Meanwhile, in other parts of Latin America, citizens are still protesting or recovering from social unrest. In Bolivia, President Evo Morales has been forced to seek political asylum in Mexico and Argentina, and Conservative President Jeanine Anez intends to hold new elections in the near future.
Elsewhere in the region, although one of the richest countries in Latin America, Chile surprised many, as a 3% rise in metro prices in October served as a catalyst for months of violent demonstrations. As in many neighboring countries of Chile, social inequalities are steadily increasing and citizens are struggling to make ends meet with the minimum wage. In the Chilean capital Santiago, protests demanding a new constitution were characterized by violent clashes with the Chilean national police, and human rights groups accused the security services of gross abuses.
Watching these whole events, in what former US Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger once controversially described as America’s “backyard”, is of course Washington. Not that the Donald Trump administration was spared some traumatic ups and downs in 2019.
Trump’s last trauma in the past year, of course, was the report on Russia’s interference in American politics, which was eventually completed by the former FBI chief and special advisor to the US Department of Justice. , Robert Mueller.
While Trump’s detractors were disappointed by the lack of evidence linking him to the Russian provocateurs, they would have had some consolation towards the end of the year after the president had become only the third in the history of the United States to face the fate of removal.
Trump’s big mistake was his request to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to “do us a favor” and to unearth the son of rival Presidential Democrat Joe Biden who had business connections in Ukraine.
The fact that Zelensky, a former comedian, defeated Petro Poroshenko in the Ukrainian presidential election earlier this year was just another of the most unusual political stories of 2019. There were of course others headlines, events and global issues throughout the year.
In March, Ethiopian Airlines flight 302 to Nairobi crashed near the city of Bishoftu, Ethiopia, after taking off from Addis Ababa Bole International Airport. The 157 people on board lost their lives and the accident resembled that of a Lion Air plane in Indonesia in October 2018.
The two aircraft were Boeing 737 MAX 8 models, triggering a global debate over aircraft safety and causing the model to be beached by carriers and regulators worldwide.
Also in Africa, Cyclone Idai hit Mozambique, Zimbabwe and Malawi, killing hundreds and leaving a trail of destruction that made it one of the worst tropical cyclones ever recorded to affect Africa and the southern hemisphere.
For a continent already shaken by the effects of the climate crisis, Idai was another frightening reminder of the destructive power of the type of storms that will become more common as the world warms. Its impact in 2019 only added to the growing concern over climate change, which was another of the big stories of the year leading to even more protests.
As the scientific prognosis for our planet worsened, it was Greta Thunberg, a 16-year-old Swedish schoolgirl, who became the face of anguished opposition to “business as usual”. His fiery speech at the United Nations in September warned of the end of the world and inspired other students to organize protests around the world.
At one point, there were at least two coordinated protests in multiple cities in 2019 involving more than a million students. It is perhaps not surprising that Thunberg became the youngest person chosen by Time magazine as ‘Person of the Year’ 2019 in a tradition that began in 1927.
While the climate change debate has taken on new urgency and momentum in the past year, other stories have a depressing familiarity about it. Global Islamist-inspired terrorism has become such a concern in recent years, and 2019 was no exception. During a three month period, we were reminded once again of its bloody transnational nature. In February, a suicide bombing attack, which was committed by a young Kashmiri and killed more than 40 members of the Indian security forces, placed nuclear-weapon-indicted India and Pakistan in a dangerous situation.
In March, an armed terrorist killed 50 and injured 50 others at the Al Noor Mosque and the Linwood Islamic Center in Christchurch, which led Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to describe the attacks as “one of the days the darkest in New Zealand ”. Six days later, the country adopted a radical ban on semi-automatic and assault rifles.
Islamist-inspired bombers returned on Easter Sunday in the Sri Lankan capital of Colombo, where a series of explosions in churches, hotels and a housing complex killed more than 250 people and injured others. hundreds of others. On April 23, the Islamic State (IS) group claimed responsibility for the attacks.
Four months later, of course, the infamous IS leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, died after detonating his own suicide vest when US special forces raided it to kill him in the Syrian province of ‘Idlib.
“We have killed the last deadly ****** b who led IS, let’s get the next one,” a US Republican senator spoke out after the death of al-Baghdadi, but l ‘EI is still alive.
Meanwhile, as the world recovers from the shock of Trump’s betrayal of the Kurds in northeastern Syria, in other parts of the troubled Middle East, some elected country leaders were deposed, although under very different circumstances. Once again, it was the iconic street protests of 2019 that led to the departure of Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri and his Iraqi counterpart, Adel Abdul Mahdi.
Now, at the end of this year, there is talk of a new Arab Spring – which, while sharing certain characteristics of 2011, has its own very distinctive qualities.
It is always dangerous to draw parallels between the protests in Lebanon and Iraq, given their many historical and structural differences, but they have key similarities which indicate important political and regional trends.
From Beirut to Baghdad, the common factors that link the protests include a deep and widespread feeling of antipathy towards the Iranian regime and general dissatisfaction with mass poverty and unemployment. In both cases, a predominantly young population is sick and tired with high unemployment, corruption and pickpocketing by the elites.
“From Iraq to Beirut, a revolution and it will not die”, chant demonstrators in the Lebanese capital, their appeal being made in Baghdad.
And so the cry of protest and change sounded worldwide in 2019 with long-term leaders ousted by popular protests in Algeria, Sudan and Bolivia. Many of these mass protests were in fact leaderless themselves, driven by the sheer numbers and support.
The motivations of the millions of people who marched this year could have been diverse, but deep down, they signify the failures of the politics of representation where disconnected politicians are oblivious, condescending or disdainful of the concerns of the masses.
Perhaps most distinctive of the 2019 protests is the way governments – from democratic to autocratic – have tried to defuse unrest with concessions and offers of reform. This is at least a good sign, suggesting that the 2019 protests could eventually lead to significant political change for the better.
I hope this is indeed the case. A happy and peaceful new year to all.