Thursday, April 27, 2006

Coca Cola in Colombia - Weird Campus Protest

Normally, I'm all for publically shaming corporations, by among other things by calling for boycotts of their products when they do really shady things in the US or abroad.

But these things have to make sense, and this protest on UCLA's campus, aimed at Coca Cola, for actions it allegedly did in Colombia, does not.

Alec Mouhibian, a columnist on UCLA's highly regarded student newspaper The Daily Bruin took on the issue in his recent column.

The student group Coke-Free Campus wants to ban Coca-Cola products from UCLA because some of the casualties of the ongoing civil war in Colombia have allegedly included union leaders and Coca-Cola factory workers.

So he probes deeper and asks some student leaders at the protest about their reasoning:

I asked James, between his many speeches, why he's mad at Coke and what evidence he has of its guilt. "Direct your conversation to one of the organizers," he said. "I'm just here in support." Minutes later he was leading the chant, "Coca-Cola stop your lying! Because of you people are dying

Another protest leader interviewed:

Villagrana admitted "(Coke isn't) the one doing the killing. ... The paramilitary in Colombia is the one causing all these deaths, massacres and tortures." Two minutes later, she was chanting: "Cherry, diet or vanilla: Coca-Cola is a killa."

She admitted Coke was giving Colombians jobs they otherwise would not have. Two minutes later, she was chanting: "We support workers, we don't support Coke."

After these admissions, all that remained was the complaint that Coke hasn't provided enough protection for its workers. Any sensible person dreams of a world in which corporations have armed battalions guarding their factories from government intrusion. Sadly, we have yet to achieve that ideal.

Mouhibian does a great job of showing how the activists were short on knowledge but full of slogans.

turns out other folks who knew first hand about Colombia's situation had some things to say:

Her fellow riders who actually attended the meeting were jolted off their horses when a young Colombian refugee emotionally testified to the heroism of the Coca-Cola Company in her native land. She begged Coke to stay and hold its own, as the thousands of jobs it and other corporations provide help those who would otherwise probably end up joining the paramilitaries.

Colombian Professor Miguel Ceballos, of Foundation for Education, Colombia, said that no Colombian lacks a friend or family member – union or nonunion, Coke worker or non-Coke worker – who's been killed in the violence. He bashed the protestors for knowing nothing about the violent context in Colombia, where Coke is a rare force for saving lives.

So if the students did not really have a clue, why protest in the first place? Obviously it is great fun to yell at corporate pr hacks and annoy stuffy administrators. Campus "solidarity" groups like to collect like-minded groups, and organize "fronts" to raise hell over "progressive" issues.

Bigger issue is why get so fired up over Coca Cola in Colombia, in the Los Angeles area with a small Colombian community, but which also happens to be a major media market? Maybe because they won't be challenged???? Try that in a Miami school where there is a large Colombian presence, and a Colombian Institute.

I wonder (pure speculation) if this is nothing more than the "solidarity network" trying to embarrass Colombia's government. More emails from PR firms linked to Chavez????