In Memory of Burma’s Dead
Original article: “Activist Dead in Argentina“.
The first of my “October Rewrites”, this originally appear on 10th April, dedicated to “The Memory of Carlos Fuentealba, Teacher and Activist, killed in action Wednesday 4th April 2007”. If I wrote this post for Carlos the first time, then it is for all those who have died in Burma, who’s names we shall never know, over the last week or so.
Back in April, there were some very tense protests in response to the death of teacher protesting at the failure of the state to find more money to pay its teachers. Carlos Fuentealba had been hit by a tear gas canister, and later died in hospital. The response was mass protests across the country, on a scale not seen since the economic collapse of 2001/2. At the time it was reported on the BBC, and I wrote about my feelings on what had happened on what was then a fledgling blog.
The Argentineans have a wonderful history of protesting; their protests of December 2001 against the austerity measures imposed by the IMF rocked the world, and showed what can be achieved through concerted action. The autonomously run factories that exist to this day are testament to their commitment to making the world a better place through direct action and radical democracy. When injustice is dealt, they have no problem getting out on to the highway and blocking it; none of the hours of meetings to decide if this should happen, just get on with it!
From the reports I found, it appears that on this occasion, the teachers had gathered noisily, but peacefully, on a local highway, to make their protests visible and effective. The police decided to clear the area by force. They fired tear-gas, and a few rocks came back. One of the tear-gas canisters hit Carlos Fuentealba, and he later died in hospital.
I always find it infuriating when Western activists condemn ‘Southern’, i.e. non-Western, protesters for throwing the odd stone in response to full-on tear gassing; who are we to comment on these people’s response to state violence – will we ever experience this kind of desperate struggle? I have heard people’s support for the Burmese uprising become tinged with disdain the moment stories of military defectors opening fire on military oppressors, or even when protesters have sought to defend themselves.
We may live in a country where police rarely resort to physical violence, but even in Germany at the G8, it was disturbing seeing protesters yell at other protesters for simply defending themselves when they were at serious risk of being beaten or gassed. Of course I would never condone first-strike violence in protest, it was clear to me that this was nothing more than second strike, a response, a defence, a realisation that there was nothing to be gained by sitting down and becoming target practice. When I think of some of the images, like those of the shooting of the Japanese reporter, I realise that non-violence ceased to be an option several days ago.
It is always a tragedy when an activist is forced to give their life in the course of a struggle. When I first wrote this article, I noted how poignant it was that this has occurred at the time of Easter. Its a long time since anyone died as a result of a UK protest. But as the Zapatista’s say, people only die when they’re forgotten. With the BBC reporting that, below the surface, the Burmese resistance are plotting another outburst against the government, it is crucial that we remember them, speaking out when we can, and that we do not let them die the death of being forgotten, instead supporting their cause, letting them judge the right way to achieve it, and being ever mindful of the price they have paid.
(By the way, there’s protests in London, Edinburgh and Leeds this Saturday, 6th October. If you’re near Leeds, head for Millennium Square, 10mins from the station, for 12noon, and please try to bring your own banner/sign and wear red.).