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Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Civil rights around the world

I wanted to write about something rather serious in my opinion. I wanted to let you my readers know that the status of your civil rights varies from country to country. In first world countries like the USA,Canada,Australia etc. you can expect pretty much the same basic protections on search and seizure, being pulled over etc. On the other hand in countries like China,N. Korea,Iran etc people have zero civil rights. The governments there do anything they want, anytime they want, with or without justification. People there have to obey without question or risk being hurt,imprisoned or killed.

In America as far as I know, the police must have probable cause and/or a search warrant to search you or your property, otherwise it is considered illegal search and seizure and you can fight it in court. In my experience as an American citizen  I have never been stopped or searched for any reason other than a routine traffic ticket. Now this experience may differ for immigrants or visitors to America but for me, for my whole life this is how it has played out for me. Everyday we are being more and more monitored and our rights are being more and more tested but, the fact remains that we HAVE rights in our constitutions and no one can take that away from us.

I am writing about this because today I was stopped by the police here in Colombia. Due to the past/present security concerns the police/military/government officials have very broad authority here to stop and search you/ask for your ID for ANY reason at ANY time. I want to make it clear that I do not have a problem with this. Today I had no problems with the police either. I handed over my ID, he checked it and he also searched my bag then I went on my way. He was very nice and professional. It was just a new experience for me. Back home this would have never happened to me ever because it would have been illegal. I was just minding my own business walking to work and technically he had no probable cause or search warrant but this is Colombia. When you are a visitor living in another country you have to abide by their laws though and realise that the freedoms and rights you come to expect in your home country may not exist in the country you choose to move too.

I just wanted to make my readers aware that civil rights are not exactly rights. They are a privilege. This privilege can be changed,modified or taken away at any time in certain countries. If you live in country where your civil rights are secured by a constitution and court system of some kind then consider yourself lucky. Here in Colombia they have sacrificed most of their civil rights in the name of better security. It is a bad trade off but, I would rather be asked for my ID at anytime by anyone than have to constantly worry about serious security issues. Next time you get pulled over by a cop in your home country and start to grumble. Make sure you think about how nice you really do have it.

Ok, on to less serious stuff now! Yesterday was another public holiday here so I did not work. I went out with my friends to play a rather dangerous game called Tejo. Basically you threw large heavy stones across a room at a clay backboard/target that had four targets filled with gunpowder. The object was to throw the stones in such a way that they either stuck in the clay or exploded the gunpowder. It was loud,dangerous,alcohol fueled and fun! I was really terrible but enjoyed myself anyway. This Colombian national past time is second only to football (soccer) in popularity. I had an enjoyable holiday weekend.

I also wanted to tell you that everyone in Colombia so far has been really nice to me and I have had zero issues, with the exception of some of the Colectivo (small buses) drivers. They seem to be quite racist towards me sometimes! They will clearly see me, look right at me and drive right by. This is extremely frustrating when I need to get to work or what not. The only reason I can think of for this behaviour is because I am white, a gringo in Colombia. I want to make it clear that not EVERY driver does this but, it has happened more than once. It seems really illogical to me because by not picking me up they are losing out on my money!

The last thing I wanted to mention was the motorcycle riders here in Colombia. Every single rider I have seen in Colombia must wear a full face/head covering helmet without exception, otherwise their motorcycle gets impounded and they are very strict about this. I think its great! I think it is so stupid to drive a motorcycle and not wear a helmet. In Thailand they also had a helmet law but it was rarely if ever enforced. In addition here in Colombia if you drive a motorcycle you must have your license plate number printed on your helmet and on a jacket or something you wear. This policy came into affect because in the early 90's many many crimes were committed on motorcycles and they needed an easy, quick way to identify the person. Also, if there was a bomb or explosion it was easier to identify either the perpetrator or the victims.

Tonight I am off to a weekly event here called Gringo Tuesdays, this is an event organized by Couch Surfing that includes a language exchange and a party where you can meet local Colombians, or if you are a Colombian, meet gringos. It is a lot of fun and a great way to meet people. Well that is all I have for now. Yall take care,Tyler

1 comment:

  1. Hey Tyler, I'm catching up on your blog! I enjoy reading about your insights and thoughts and adventures here. I do want to point out, though, that you're just the wrong color to have experienced the whole "stop and search" thing here in the US. It IS legal and it is done, all the time, and quite often based on nothing more than the color of the person driving. Granted, I don't experience this (also being the wrong color), but I've got friends who just sort of shrug and are used to being, for example, pulled over, asked to step out of the car, car searched, and let go with no explanation or ticket issued. And I'd argue that this is not "security."

    Don't you miss our fun discussions?! :)