The Colombian economy has been devastated as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. An economic downturn over the course of a year has led to a rise in poverty and an unemployment rate of over 14%. Now, the Colombian government — which has long been accused of rampant corruption — has introduced a new tax reform bill that will impose new income taxes on the country’s working and middle classes.
As a result, thousands of Colombians responded by taking to the streets in a united, nationwide protest. Then, when absolutely no one asked, Justin Bieber entered the chat. And rather than take some time to, you know, read up on what’s going on in the South American nation and use his platform to share information, resources, or perhaps make a donation, he decided to offer prayers in an extremely vague and empty Instagram post.
“Not exactly sure of the ins and outs of what is going on but can clearly see that there is chaos in Colombia right now! Keep the people of Colombia in your prayers,” he captioned an Instagram post yesterday which, against a dark-gray background, simply asked people to pray for the people of Colombia.
Bieber’s post immediately drew the ire of the internet, with many fans implying that it was performative at best and deeply misguided at worst. Rather than use his audience of millions to educate, or link to a fundraiser, or literally anything other than the words “please pray,” the 27-year-old pop singer simply shared an emoji of the Colombian flag along with seven words.
Since it seems Bieber could not be moved to educate himself before making an empty gesture on social media, here’s a refresher of what is happening in Colombia: The tax reform bill, at least prior to the protests forcing President Iván Duque to announce that he would withdraw the legislation, would have imposed a 19% tax on essential services like water, gas, electricity, and internet as well as products like staple food items, gasoline, and medication for anyone earning more than $656 a month. Several unions that played a large role in organizing the protests said the tax would disproportionately impact the poorest people, who are already struggling with the economic impact of the pandemic. Clashes with law enforcement during the protests, which lasted five days in total, resulted in the deaths of at least 17 people, with 800 others reportedly injured.
Even though the current draft of the bill has been pulled, the government is still insisting that this type of reform is necessary in order to stabilize Colombia’s finances, reports Reuters. “It is the youth, social organizations, and mobilized citizens who have seen deaths and defeated the government,” human rights activist and progressive Colombian Senator Iván Cepeda tweeted. “May the government not present the same reform with makeup. The citizens won’t accept tricks.”
Bieber’s post is a symptom of a much larger disease: Many celebrities now feel moved to speak out in the face of tragedy or injustice, often just to avoid backlash for staying silent. But this doesn’t actually benefit anyone — it doesn’t educate people, it doesn’t bring awareness, and the only beneficiary of those empty posts is the celebrity who posted them. If Bieber were to have, for lack of a better phrase, done the work, really educated himself, and created a plan to help the affected communities in Colombia, that would be one thing. But to post thoughts and prayers after a year of ongoing tragedy and strife around the world? That ain’t it.
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