jump to navigation

Colombia Nationwide Strike Against ‘Free Trade,’ Privatization, Poverty August 25, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Foreign Policy, Human Rights, Imperialism, Labor, Latin America.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

 

Roger’s note: I am publishing this articles so that readers in the United States might know what’s going on in their 51st state.

Ignored by English-language media, rural uprisings spread across industries as hundreds of thousands protest US-backed govt

 

- Sarah Lazare, staff writer

Protests in Sincelejo (Photo: Marcha Patriotica)

A nationwide strike in Colombia—which started as a rural peasant uprising and spread to miners, teachers, medical professionals, truckers, and students—reached its 7th day Sunday as at least 200,000 people blocked roads and launched protests against a U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement and devastating policies of poverty and privatization pushed by US-backed right-wing President Juan Manuel Santos.

“[The strike is a condemnation] of the situation in which the Santos administration has put the country, as a consequence of its terrible, anti-union and dissatisfactory policies,” declared the Central Unitaria de Trabajadores (CUT), the country’s largest union, in a statement.

The protests and strikes, largely ignored in the English-language media, have been met with heavy crackdown from Colombia’s feared police, with human rights organization Bayaca reporting shootings, torture, sexual assault, severe tear-gassing, arbitrary arrests, and other abuses on the part of state agents. Colombia’s Defense Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon recently claimed that the striking workers are being controlled by the “terrorist” Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), in a country known for using unverified claims of FARC connections as an excuse to launch severe violence against social movements.

“Violent clashes continue in rural areas where farmers and truck drivers have been setting up roadblocks since Monday, and the Santos administration has deployed 16,000 additional military personnel to ‘control the situation,'” Neil Martin of the Colombia-based labor solidarity organization Paso International told Common Dreams Sunday. “There have not been deaths reported in relation to this violence, but human rights organizations and YouTube videos have documented military personnel beating protestors, stealing supplies, carrying out vandalism unwarranted arrests, and generally inciting violence.”

Protesters are levying a broad range of concerns about public policies that devastate Colombia’s workers, indigenous, and Afro-Colombian communities. The US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement has forced small farmers to compete with subsidized US products, made them more vulnerable to market fluctuations, and eroded their protections and social safety nets through the implementation of neoliberal policies domestically. Farmers are demanding more protections and services in a country beset with severe rural poverty.

Meanwhile, the Colombian government is handing out sweetheart deals to international mining companies while creating bans and roadblocks for Colombian miners. Likewise, the government is giving multinational food corporations access to land earmarked for poor Colombians. Healthcare workers are fighting a broad range of reforms aimed at gutting and privatizing Colombia’s healthcare system. Truckers are demanding an end to low wages and high gas prices.

“This is the third or fourth large-scale non-military rural uprising this year,” Martin told Common Dreams.

Colombian workers organizing to improve their lives are met with an onslaught of state violence: Colombia is the deadliest country in the world for union activists, according to the AFL-CIO Solidarity Center, and 37 activists were murdered in Colombia in the 1st half of 2013 alone, leading news weekly Semana reports.

Santos, who says he refuses to negotiate while the strikes are taking place, has so far been unsuccessful in his efforts to quell the swelling protests that are paralyzing much of the country, particularly in rural areas.

“[W]e just want solutions to our problems,” Javier Correa Velez, the head of a coffee-growers association called Dignidad Cafetera, told the Miami Herald. “The strike is simply a symptom of an illness that the entire agriculture sector is suffering from.”

(Photo: Twitter/@zonacero)

_____________________

A Conspiracy of Whores April 21, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Cuba, Drugs, Foreign Policy, Latin America.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

 

This sort of reform is never easy, and it’s never perfect. But we  know criminalization and militarization doesn’t work and that they are  extremely costly approaches. In a way, we have become socially addicted  to these approaches. Maybe it’s time for the nation to go into rehab and assume a little of the spirit of E. F. Schumacher’s famous book Small Is Beautiful.

  • To borrow the subtitle of the book, we’d be a whole lot better off if our leaders stopped being such corporate, imperial whores and began to  govern “as if people mattered.”

 

John Grant

I am a 62-year-old American who served in Vietnam as a 19-year-old kid who has been studying US counter-insurgency war ever since. I live outside of Philadelphia, where I am a photographer and a writer — sometimes a video filmmaker. I have been a member of Veterans For Peace for 24 years. I think the economic reckoning we are living through, that has only just begun, makes it clear we need to re-evaluate who we are as a nation and ratchet down the imperial world policeman role and look after our own deteriorating nation’s problems. I like good writing, good film, good music and good times. I drink alcohol and smoke dope responsibly. I confess this because I think the Drug War is an abysmal failure. I’m a committed pragmatist who believes in the old line: My Country Right Or Wrong. The fact is, it’s wrong a lot of the time. And I’m sticking around.

Latin American military men against drug war April 14, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Criminal Justice, Drugs, Guatemala, Latin America.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
1 comment so far

Roger’s note: There was a time when Canada lead the way.  In 1972, the Le Dain Commission headed by Supreme Court Judge Gerald Le Dain, recommended the decriminalization of soft drugs such as marijuana.  That was exactly 40 years ago.  Although ignored by a succession of Canadian governments to this day, the report was a landmark for a policy of a sane harm reduction approach to the drug problem. 

By Jefferson Morley, www.salon.com, April 13, 2012

In Colombia Obama will hear from presidents looking for alternatives to prohibition

Drug warriors no more: Guatemalan president Otto Perez Molina and Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos  

Ending drug prohibition is creeping into the U.S. political debate, thanks to a couple of Latin American military men. Oh sure, George Will’s not-quite endorsement of legalization is noteworthy, but more than one erudite conservative columnist has gone further before. The views of three Latin American statesman are important but former U.S. Secretary of State George Shultz made the same case 23 years ago. The record high in public support for marijuana legalization found in a Gallup poll last year may be a factor, but the Obama administration has declared a “war on pot” since then.

It is the anti-prohibition campaign of Guatemalan President Otto Perez Molina and Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, one a former general, the other a former defense minister, that has forced the Obama administration to engage critics respectfully for the first time. Perez will be pushing a formal proposal to open discussion of alternative policies at the summit of American heads of state that President Obama is attending, in Cartagena, Colombia this weekend.

While Obama doesn’t support decriminalization, said his advisor Dan Restrepo this week, “we welcome” the debate. “It’s worth discussing,” Vice President Biden told reporters in Central America last month, “but there’s no possibility the Obama-Biden administration will change its policy on legalization.”

So while there’s no change of heart in Washington, there has been a change of tone. The Obama administration cannot afford to blow off the views of two staunch U.S. allies who have both waged drug wars in their countries, not at a time when public opinion in Latin America is increasingly disenchanted with the militarized approach.

Their approach is tactful. Santos says he doesn’t want to change U.S. policy, but merely hear U.S. officials defend it.

“There are good arguments for legalizing, but I would prefer to reach that conclusion after an objective discussion,” Santos told the Washington Post this week. “The U.S. says, ‘We don’t support legalization, because the cost of legalization is higher than no legalization.’ But I want to see a discussion where both approaches are analyzed by experts to say, really, the cost is lower or not.”

In a piece for the Guardian, Perez called for an “intergovernmental dialogue based on a realistic approach – drug regulation. Drug consumption, production and trafficking should be subject to global regulations, which means that consumption and production should be legalized but within certain limits and conditions … Legalization therefore does not mean liberalization without controls.”

Perez and Santos may not make headlines in Cartagena this weekend. In an effort to lower expectations and avoid confrontation with Obama, Santos told reporters in Cartagena yesterday that drugs should not be the “center of discussion” at the summit. At the same time, he added, a review of drug policy was necessary and reflected the will of the “vast majority” of countries in attendance.

“We will not see any shift in policy,” said Juan Carlos Hidalgo of the Cato Foundation, “but this is forcing Washington to engage and defend its position at high levels.”

“In the public forum, ending prohibition will probably only get a brief discussion,” predicted Ethan Nadelman of the Drug Policy Alliance. “Privately it will be much more vigorously discussed. The challenge for the United States will be how to blur the differences. This is the first time ever that the decriminalization and alternatives to prohibition have ever been on the agenda of a major gathering of heads of states.”

Perez and Santos are still in the minority among Latin American presidents, most of whom say, at least publicly, that they oppose legalization. But the desire for alternatives to legalization and prohibition is widespread. In Mexico, President Felipe Calderon has followed the U.S. approach in declaring war on the cartels in 2006. Some 41,000 people have been killed in the last six years without reducing the supply of drugs or increasing the public’s sense of safety.  Calderon has said legalization might be the only solution but with the Mexican presidential election approaching in July is not going to change his policy. After the election is a different story. The Mexican business community is increasingly supportive of legalization and regulation as the only solution to the country’s appalling levels of violence.

As the calls for reconsideration of drug war have proliferated, the Obama administration sent Biden, Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, and Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs William Brownfield to Central America to argue for a prohibitionist policy.

“To send three top officials in a month shows that the administration is taking this seriously,” said Hidalgo. “They don’t want this debate to gain ground.”

But the more the administration responds in Latin America, the more legitimate drug policy reform becomes at home.

Jefferson Morley is a staff writer for Salon in Washington and author of the forthcoming book, Snow-Storm in August: Washington City, Francis Scott Key, and the Forgotten Race Riot of 1835 (Nan Talese/Doubleday).More Jefferson Morley

Rights Group: Little Progress in Stemming Killings of Colombian Trade Unionists October 4, 2011

Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Foreign Policy, Human Rights, Labor, Latin America.
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment
Published on Tuesday, October 4, 2011 by Associated Press

Trade Pacts Move Forward, But Colombia Still UnSafe for Unionists

BOGOTA, Colombia — A new study challenges claims from the administration of President Barack Obama that Colombia is making important strides in bringing to justice killers of labor activists and so deserves U.S. congressional approval of a long-stalled free trade pact.

US President Barack Obama meets with Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos in the Oval Office at the White House in Washington, on April 7, 2011. Yesterday Obama submitted three trade pacts to Congress despite continued concerns about their impact on the US economy and human rights violations in Colombia. (Reuters)

The Human Rights Watch study found “virtually no progress” in getting convictions for killings that have occurred in the past 4 1/2 years.

It counted just six convictions obtained by a special prosecutions unit from 195 slayings between January 2007 and May 2011, with nearly nine in 10 of the unit’s cases from that period in preliminary stages with no suspect formally identified.

Democrats in the U.S. Congress have long resisted bringing the Colombia trade pact to a vote, citing what they said is insufficient success in halting such killings.

The White House disagrees, and says Colombia has made significant progress in addressing anti-unionist violence.

US President Barack Obama sent long-stalled free trade deals with Colombia, Panama and South Korea to Congress and pressed lawmakers to approve them “without delay.” Republicans endorse the bill overall and say it will increase U.S. exports by $13 billion a year and support tens of thousands of jobs.

U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk recently said the trade agreements are “an integral part of the President’s plan to create jobs here at home.”

But in Colombia, the world’s most lethal country for labor organizing, the killings haven’t stopped. At least 38 trade unionists have been slain since President Juan Manuel Santos took office in August 2010, says Colombia’s National Labor School.

“A major reason for this ongoing violence has been the chronic lack of accountability for cases of anti-union violence,” Human Rights Watch said in a letter sent last Thursday to Colombian Chief Prosecutor Viviane Morales that details the study’s findings.

Convictions have been obtained for less than 10 percent of the 2,886 trade unionists killed since 1986, and the rights group said it found “severe shortcomings” in the work of a special unit of Morales’ office established five years ago to solve the slayings. The letter says the unit has demonstrated “a routine failure to adequately investigate the motive” in labor killings as well as to “bring to justice all responsible parties.”

A chief finding: The 74 convictions achieved over the past year owe largely to plea bargains with members of illegal far-right militias who confessed to killings in exchange for leniency.

They did so under the so-called Justice and Peace law that gave paramilitary fighters reduced prison sentences of up to eight years in exchange for laying down their arms and confessing to crimes. That law expired at the end of 2006, the year the free trade pact was signed.

Only in a handful of cases did prosecutors pursue evidence that the paramilitaries who confessed acted on the orders of politicians, employers or others, Human Rights Watch says.

Prosecutors “made virtually no progress in prosecuting people who order, pay, instigate or collude with paramilitaries in attacking trade unionists,” the letter states. “What is at stake is the justice system’s ability to act as an effective deterrent to anti-union violence.”

Of the more than 275 convictions handed down through May, 80 percent were against former members of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, or AUC. The head of international affairs in the chief prosecutor’s office, Francisco Echeverri, told the AP that it has put 513 people in prison.

In nearly half of 50 recent convictions reviewed by Human Rights Watch, the judges cited “evidence pointing to the involvement of members of the security forces or intelligence services, politicians, landowners, bosses or co-workers.” Yet in only one of those cases was such an individual convicted.

In the case of a gym teacher and union activist killed in the northwestern town of San Rafael in 2002, one of the paramilitaries who confessed to the crime said it was committed at the request of the mayor, according to the judge’s decision.

The man who was mayor at the time and was re-elected in 2008, Edgar Eladio Giraldo, is not being formally investigated and has not been questioned about the killing, said Hernando Castaneda, chief of the special unit.

“I have no knowledge of that and did not know that I was involved in that,” Giraldo told The Associated Press by telephone when asked about the killing of Julio Ernesto Ceballos.

A spokeswoman for Chief Prosecutor Morales said Sunday that her boss had not yet yet seen the Human Rights Watch letter.

Dan Kovalik of the United Steel Workers said the study’s findings and the continued killings “prove what labor is telling the White House: The labor rights situation in Colombia is not improving, and passage of the FTA is not appropriate.”

A memo soon to be released by the AFL-CIO deems Colombia noncompliant with the “Labor Action Plan” Santos and Obama agreed to in April as a condition for White House approval of the free trade pact.

In the memo, shown to the AP, the labor federation finds neither “economic, political, or moral justification for rewarding Colombia with a free trade agreement.”

Deputy Assistant U.S. Trade Representative Nkenge Harmon said Friday when presented with the study’s findings that Colombia’s record prosecuting “perpetrators of violence” against labor activists “has improved significantly,” though she added that Colombian officials acknowledge more needs to be done.

Harmon also stressed that additional Colombian resources are being dedicated to the issue and that the U.S. government “is working intensively with them through training and support.”

Human Rights Watch acknowledged that annual trade unionists killings are only a quarter of what they were a decade ago. And it applauded some measures taken by Chief Prosecutor Morales, including her announcement that an additional 100 police investigators would be assigned to the special investigative unit.

But HRW regional director Jose Miguel Vivanco said “the challenge (Morales) is facing remains huge.”

A U.S. congressman who has met with various Colombian presidents on human rights issues, Jim McGovern, a Democrat from Massachusetts, doesn’t think enough has been done to reverse what he called a “dismal” record.

Said McGovern: “My worry is that if you approve the FTA at this particular point you remove all the pressure off the powers that be in Colombia to actually make a sincere, honest and concerted attempt to improve the situation.”

Associated Press writers Vivian Sequera and Libardo Cardona contributed to this report.

© 2011 Associated Press

IN SEARCH OF ANTANAS MOKUS September 9, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Latin America.
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,
add a comment

In Search of Antanas MokusPosted on September 9, 2010 by Gerard Coffey

http://lalineadefuego.wordpress.com/

The light is green but no-one is moving

Gerard Coffey. Quito 09 September 2010

I was recently in Colombia. I like Bogotá. It’s a big city that seems to have everything. Lots of places to drink good coffee, people who actually want to help you, a mass transit system that seems to function, most of the time. Besides, Colombia is the land of deserts. Heaven for the sweet toothed.  But apart from personal vices[i], the visit had other highlights. It was the country’s bicentenary (20th July) as well the period between the Presidential elections and the inauguration of Juan Manuel Santos as the country’s new head of state (August 9th). An interesting time. Not least because of the massive march held by the regime’s opponents the day after the official celebrations[ii] and the friction between Venezuela and Colombia resulting from still President Alvaro Uribe’s accusations that the neighbouring country was sheltering terrorists, more commonly known as the FARC.

Although the visit was not work related, I did have a goal: to interview Antanas Mokus, the Green Party Candidate who lost the Presidential election, but was supported by more than a quarter of Colombian voters, i.e. those that did actually vote[iii].  Despite the loss, there was a sense at the time that something important was happening. The Mokus Green Party campaign was different, a breath of clean air. It offered some sort of hope for a country plagued by the decades of internal violence, drugs and corruption.  It could make things happen.

But I was never able to find Sr. Mokus or, what seemed far more surprising, the Green Party.  I looked everywhere, I tried all the phone numbers and e-mail addresses I could find, I even found a man who gave me two telephone numbers he said would help, on the condition that I didn’t mention his name. That turned out to be less of a problem than I imagined: neither of the numbers was ever answered. I once even thought I had found the head office. Two people, a local vendor and a security guard assured me that it was close by, just around the corner. And I found it. They were right. It was the party headquarters, of the Polo Democrático.  A friend finally suggested that his brother, who apparently lived behind  Mokus’ house, was willing to go and knock on his door. But apart from the invasion of privacy issue, by then it was too late. It was time to go back to Quito. So I contented myself with a few books I had bought, and the experiences the stay had brought.

With hindsight

Two months later the whole episode seems more curious than anything else. The world has moved on. Santos has installed a massive majority in the Colombian Congress, appears to have reunited the Liberal Party, has been making comforting noises internationally, heads a government more technocratic than ideological, especially when compared to the previous regime, and has distanced himself from his predecessor. Santos is his own man. And Alvaro Uribe? Well, he appears to have disappeared.  Off the map. Into the special house/fortress designed for him in a military sector of the city.

With time the search for Antanas Mokus and the Green Party also seems less puzzling.   I’m no longer surprised that I couldn’t locate either. As I now realise, the Green Party  doesn’t exist. Never did exist. It was an electoral apparatus. That is not to say that the objectives of the people that participated in, ran, and supported the Mokus- Fajardo campaign were a sham. Far from it.  The movement embodied a great deal of sincerity and hope, as well as counting on heavy weight political backers such as Luis Garzón and Enrique  Peñalosa, both ex mayors of Bogotá and, of course, on the vice presidential candidate, Sergio Fajardo, himself a popular ex mayor of Medellin. But there was never any infrastructure. And I can’t help asking myself what would have happened if Mokus had won. Perhaps the voters asked themselves the same question.

Perhaps everything would have been taken in stride. After all neither Mokus nor Garzón is a political neophyte.  Perhaps if he had won, everything would have seemed normal enough.  Perhaps the worst thing, at least in institutional, party political terms, was to lose. If the head of foam that surrounded the campaign in the first round had gone flat by the second, the beer itself has now drained from the glass. The party, such as it is, appears to be in a state of paralysis. Fajardo has gone, dissociating himself from the group after complaining of being treated with a lack of seriousness. The campaign, he has said, lost momentum when he also lost it, after falling from his appropriately green bicycle and fracturing his hip. The statement has the taste of sour grapes, but it does seem evident that he and his group do not fit into whatever plans the party might have.

For the moment at least, those plans are a matter of guesswork. The papers are full reports painting Mokus as a mayoralty candidate for Bogotá in 2011, or on the other hand that, he is not a candidate, that his wife, Adriana Córdoba is a mayoralty candidate, or that she is not a candidate, that Gustavo Petro, the presidential candidate for the Polo Democrático, and one of the few losers that came out smelling of roses, has been invited to join the Greens now that the smell of flowers has become too rich for the other members of the Polo, or, that he has not signaled a desire to join, or that he supports the mayoralty candidature of Mokus’ wife, of course, should she actually be a candidate. In practice the only solid evidence of movement is the appointment of Garzón as Party President and spokesperson.

A lot of the sense of confusion and loss of direction could be press manipulation, not of the facts, but rather what is printed and what is not. The mainstream media in Colombia is heavily Santified and in large part falls under the influence of his family, and Juan Manuel is probably not too keen to see the Green Party and its people pick up an opposition mantle that is presently lying over a puddle in the road. It all seems such a shame, such a deception. Perhaps Mokus is right when he says that decisions must be timely but not hasty. Perhaps under Garzón the Party will be able to shake off the slightly Wizard of Ozzish image it has recently acquired.  Perhaps by the time of the municipal elections in 2011 the Greens will be able to take on the role that so many hoped they would. Perhaps I won’t have to write any more articles like this. That would be nice.

A final anecdote: one that in other circumstances might be considered hilarious, but in the present situation strikes a somewhat sadder, although quite telling, note. The writer cum political analyst Daniel Samper Pizano, brother of ex President Samper and columnist for El Tiempo, tells that Antanas Mokus was to have attended a recent international meeting of Green Parties in Europe, but unpacked his bags on learning that most of them were full of environmentalists and left wingers.[iv]


[i] And without wanting to ignore in any way the very serious problems of poverty and violence the city suffers from. 

[ii] Judging from the banners most of the marchers were from rural areas and while no literature or information was available about the organizers, or the demands, the mere size of the march, and its open hostility to Santos/Uribe was impressive. The march must have been at least ten thousand strong, but did not receive major coverage. El Tiempo mainly commented on accusations of damage created by the marchers, although this observer saw no violence. The march was in fact heavily patrolled by its own marshals.

[iii] The election was marked by extremely high levels abstention. In the first round only 42.9% voted, while in the second 44.41%. However, this is not a record. For example, when Ernesto Samper was elected in 1994 only 34% of the voting population found their way to the booth.

[iv] Daniel Samper Pizano Los verdes: biches y extraviados El Tiempo Jueves 04 de septiembre 2010

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 228 other followers