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Saving Lives in Secret: The Medical Mission of Siloé

Colombian journalist Jahfrann describes first-hand a nightmarish scene of medical personnel fighting to help the wounded amidst a brutal police crackdown in Colombia

SourceVoz

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This is the second issue of LAB’s new series of guest-written quarterly dispatches, available exclusively to our patrons (paid subscribers). Each issue of Voz will bring you a specialised article conveying the experience and analysis of our partners out in Latin America – activists, journalists, artists and academics. We hope that their in-depth testimony and commentary will help broaden our understanding of the region, and through it, the world.


When anti-government protests erupted in Colombia earlier in 2021, Cali quickly became an epicentre of resistance. What began as a rejection of the proposed tax reforms of President Iván Duque soon grew to encompass long-simmering social inequalities. Over the next few months, the city bore the brunt of a brutal state crackdown on the demonstrators.

Siloé, one of Cali’s poorest neighbourhoods, saw some of the very worst of the police violence. In response, medical missions attempted to care for the injured, even when doing so put them at grave risk.

Our guest writer, Jahfrann, is a freelance photographer, activist and multimedia journalist from Cali, Colombia. His online following multiplied by the tens of thousands thanks to his live reports of the protests and the brutal response from police and ESMAD (Colombia’s anti-riot police squadron, infamous for their highly militarised tactics and equipment – including tear gas, rifles, bean bags and a new grenade-launching weapon called Venom). Jahfrann himself suffered attacks by ESMAD and has been silenced and censored online, forced to create multiple online accounts in order to continue sharing the reality from the frontlines of Cali’s streets. To protect his identity and ensure he is able to continue his work without persecution, Jahfrann now goes only by this pseudonym.

His video coverage, photography and live social media posting of the protests caught the attention of mainstream media. One of Jahfrann’s live Instagram streams garnered more than 4 million views worldwide, after Puerto Rican rapper Residente joined and shared it. These efforts ensured that state violence was documented and reported internationally.

Jahfrann often reported from the ‘Primera Línea’, the ‘first line’ of defence against the military police crackdown, which consisted in multiple blockades of protestors wearing armour improvised from clothes, lamp posts, speed bumps and metal drums, pushing back against the armed forces.

It was amidst the Primera Línea that Jahfrann began to document the experiences of the medical mission in Siloé. In this piece, he depicts a nightmarish scene in which the instinct to preserve life is driven underground by state repression, yet kept alive by the bravery and ingenuity of individuals.

This issue was edited and translated by Liam Sousa Casey. Photo-essay and words by Jahfrann.


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