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Victory for Justice for Colombia! November 10, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Human Rights, Latin America.
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Georgetown Students Serve Uribe Subpoena to Speak Under Oath About Paramilitary Ties
Last week, students at Georgetown University in Washington, DC succeeded in serving Colombia’s ex-president Álvaro Uribe with a subpoena to testify about paramilitary ties in Colombia. The Adios Uribe Coalition has campaigned since September to get Georgetown to drop Uribe as a ‘Distinguished Scholar’. Following a rally at Georgetown’s Red Square of over 100 students, teacher and activists, Charity Ryersonformer SOA Watch Prisoner of Conscience (serving 6 months in a federal prison in 2003) and current Georgetown law student Charity Ryerson served Álvaro Uribe with a subpoena, directing him to testify under oath in a case against Drummond Mining Company.

The importance of this action cannot be overstated. Uribe will have to talk about his knowledge of paramilitary collusion with the transnational Drummond and with the Colombian Armed Forces. Drummond is being sued by close to 500 families of victims of paramilitary terror, who claim that the coal company worked with the Colombian paramilitaries to murder, torture and disappear their loved ones. Augusto Jiménez, the president of Drummond in Colombia, is a distant relative of Álvaro Uribe.

Under the regime of Álvaro Uribe, close to 35,000 Colombians were killed, with thousands being presented as guerrilla fighters killed in combat. He has been accused of wiretapping his political opponents, attacking social movements and many in his party have been tied to the paramilitary infrastructure. While the Jesuits have been outspoken defenders of the poor and the marginalized in Latin America, Georgetown University continues to try to clean the image of Uribe by employing him as an academic. SOA Watch remembers the thousands of disappeared, displaced and massacred in Colombia and across the Américas, and calls on Georgetown to drop Uribe.

Colombia, ¡PRESENTE!
Adios Uribe


Stand up for justice: SOAW.org/take-action/november-vigil

Georgetown University Welcomes Colombia’s Ex-Pres. Uribe September 7, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Education, Human Rights, Latin America, Religion.
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Published on Tuesday, September 7, 2010 by CommonDreams.orgby John Dear

Next week on September 14th, thirteen friends and I will stand trial at the Nevada State Courthouse along the Las Vegas strip. Our infraction? Daring to walk on to Creech Air Force Base, headquartered in the Nevada desert, last year on Holy Thursday. We entered the premises to prayerfully call for an end to the U.S. drone fighter bombers.
 
Alas, our call was rejected, and after a tense stand-off with soldiers at the gate, the police arrived and arrested, handcuffed, chained, booked and held us in the Las Vegas jail for the night. Then in March, the government pressed charges against us, hoping to set an example of us and stop others from protesting our “drones.” So the struggle goes on.
 
Meantime, while preparing for trial, I received news of the latest church scandal, this brought on by the Jesuits themselves. Georgetown University has offered the former president of Colombia, Alvaro Uribe, a dictator with blood on his hands, a teaching post at its Walsh School of Foreign Service as its “Distinguished Scholar in the Practice of Global Leadership.” He begins work tomorrow.
 
Apparently, neither the university president nor the faculty nor the Jesuits have been apprised that lawyers are working to bring charges against him at the Hague for human rights violations. Indeed, GU, an ostensibly Christian university, might just as well have invited Marcos, or Somoza or Liberia’s Charles Taylor to teach. Seems to me, inviting Uribe shows how stone deaf GU is to the times. More, it is a complete betrayal of the Gospel of Jesus. The Jesuit mission is summed up this way: “to promote the faith that does justice.” Hiring Uribe shows how much, here in the U.S., the Jesuit mission has become bankrupt. At Georgetown, it’s “the faith that does injustice and makes war.”
 
I shouldn’t be surprised. Georgetown in particular has a long history of supporting U.S. warmaking. It has taken millions from the Pentagon, trained thousands of young Catholics how to kill (in its ROTC program), hired Henry Kissinger, welcomed the person who ordered the assassination of Romero, and supported warmakers from the Shah of Iran to Ronald Reagan.
 
My friends and I have a long history too–of speaking out. When I lived and worked at GU in the early 1980s, setting up the “D.C. Schools Project,” ROTC drilled right under my window in the Jesuit community, so I took my case to the university president himself, then Tim Healy, and exchanged a few heated words with him about GU’s collaboration with the U.S. war machine—a discussion he took none too kindly to. He responded by pulling strings to have me dismissed from the Jesuits. (Providentially, I was spared.)
 
So there’s history between us, the university and I. Still, I’m shocked. After years of campaigning to close the School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia, which these days predominantly trains Colombia’s military officers and soldiers who then participate with paramilitary death squads in killing and torturing tens of thousands of poor people in the last few years alone, I would expect the president, faculty, and Jesuits of Georgetown to know better.
 
“We are looking forward to having President Uribe join our university community,” GU President John DeGioia said recently in a statement. “Having such a distinguished world leader at Georgetown will further the important work of students and faculty engaging in important global issues.”
 
Is this his idea of a world leader? With so many heroes of peace and nonviolence to invite—from Archbishop Tutu to Mairead Maguire, or leaders here at home such as Kathy Kelly and Jim Wallis—I’m stunned that he can look forward to the arrival of one of the world’s most notorious mass murderers. Is this the kind of global leadership Georgetown teaches?
 
“President Uribe will bring a truly unique perspective to discussions of global affairs at Georgetown,” said Carol Lancaster, dean of the Walsh School of Foreign Service. “We are thrilled that he has identified Georgetown as a place where he will share his knowledge and interface with Washington, and I know that our students at the School of Foreign Service will benefit greatly from his presence.”
 
Friends and I have urged Georgetown’s leaders to disinvite Uribe, and have also begun a campaign to protest his presence. I personally asked Dean Lancaster on the phone to do everything she can to prevent Uribe’s arrival. To my chagrin, most everyone I speak with at Georgetown seems to know little about Colombia or Uribe, and refers to the State Department’s respect for him.
 
I say this without hyperbole—that should have been their first warning.
 
We all need to learn about Uribe’s 8-year tenure in Colombia, his corruption, the human-rights violations he sponsored, the widespread impunity—all with the backing of the Bush Administration. Human Rights Watch recently issued an open letter listing some of the human rights violations of the Uribe administration:

• More than 4 million Colombians (out of a population of about 45 million) have been forced to flee their homes, giving Colombia the second-largest population of internally displaced persons in the world after Sudan.
 
• More than 70 members of the Colombian Congress are under criminal investigation or have been convicted for allegedly collaborating with the paramilitaries. Nearly all these congresspersons are members of President Uribe’s coalition in Congress, and the Uribe administration repeatedly undermined the investigations and discredited the Supreme Court justices who started them.
 
• Colombia has the highest rate of killings of trade unionists in the world.
 
• A clandestine gravesite of 2,000 non-identified bodies was recently discovered directly beside a military base in La Macarena, in central Colombia. When the news became public, Uribe flew to the Macarena and said publicly that accusing the armed forces of human rights abuses was a tactic used by the guerrilla. These comments put the lives of those victims who spoke at the event in grave danger.
 
• Starting in 2008, reports came out that the Colombian military was luring poor young men from their homes with promises of employment, then killing them and presenting them as combat casualties. The practice not only served to stack battle statistics, but also financially benefited the soldiers involved, as Uribe’s government had, since 2005, awarded monetary and vacation bonuses for each insurgent killed. Human rights groups cite 3,000 or more “false positives.”

Georgetown’s appointment of Uribe is “shameful,” Jesuit theologian Jon Sobrino said last week in El Salvador. “Uribe is a symbol of the worst that has happened in the tragic conflict in Colombia. There is a great deal of blood involved here, a very great deal. ”
 
“Does this appointment reflect the mission and the Catholic and Jesuit identity of Georgetown?” Fr. Dean Brackley, a Jesuit professor at the UCA in El Salvador, writes. “This will, literally, cause scandal. The U.S. Congress has held up passage of the trade agreement with Colombia because it is a place where the government, under Uribe, has consistently failed to defend labor unionists from death squads. Uribe is widely accused of having had direct links to the paramilitary groups who have massacred countless innocents. Whether or not those charges are true, he has irresponsibly and cruelly accused human rights activists in Colombia of collusion with ‘Communist terrorists,’ endangering their lives.”
 
A few years ago, I traveled to Colombia to see for myself. There I learned about the U.S.-backed war against the poor waged by Uribe under the guise of a “war on drugs.” I learned how the repressive Colombian government, under the democratically elected but dictatorial President Uribe, a drug benefactor and close friend of George W. Bush, killed some ten thousand people a year, leaving 200,000 dead in the last twenty years. This war isn’t about drugs but about expropriating Colombia’s rich land and natural resources, from the indigenous people to the U.S. and multinational corporations.

In Bogota, Colombia, I met one of the world’s leading voices for human rights, Fr. Javier Giraldo, a Jesuit priest whose institute has documented all the killings and massacres in Colombia. For his efforts, he’s suffered countless death threats, especially under the Uribe regime. Last week, my friend Fr. Giraldo wrote to me about the situation, and I share his letter here, so we can all learn about Colombia and the disgrace of Georgetown’s hiring of Uribe:

“I write to you with great concern regarding the fact that Georgetown, our Jesuit University, has hired the outgoing president of Colombia, Álvaro Uribe, as a professor. I am constantly receiving messages from individuals and groups who have suffered enormously during his term as president. They are protesting and questioning the mind-set of our Society, or its lack of ethical judgment in making a decision of this kind.
 
It is possible that decision makers at Georgetown have received positive appraisals from Colombians in high political or economic positions, but it is difficult to ignore, at least, the intense moral disagreements aroused by his government and the investigations and sanctions imposed by international organizations that try to protect human dignity. The mere fact that, during his political career, while he was governor of Antioquia Province (1995-1997) he founded and protected so many paramilitary groups, known euphemistically as “Convivir” (“Live Together”), who murdered and “disappeared” thousands of people and displaced multitudes, committing many other atrocities, that alone would imply a need for moral censure before entrusting him with any responsibility in the future.
 
But not only did he continue to sponsor those paramilitary groups, but he defended them and he perfected them into a new pattern of legalized para-militarism, including networks of informants, networks of collaborators, and the new class of private security companies that involve some millions of civilians in military activities related to the internal armed conflict, while at the same time he was lying to the international community with a phony demobilization of the paramilitaries.
 
In addition, the scandalous practice of “false positives” took place during his administration. The practice consists in murdering civilians, usually farmers, and after killing them, dressing them as combatants in order to justify their deaths. That is the way he tried to demonstrate faked military victories over the rebels and also to eliminate the activists in social movements that work for justice.
 
The corruption during his administration was more than scandalous, not just because of the presence of drug traffickers in public positions but also because the Congress and many government offices were occupied by criminals. Today more than a hundred members of Congress are involved in criminal proceedings, all of them President Uribe’s closest supporters.
 
The purchase of consciences in order to manipulate the judicial apparatus was disgraceful. It ended up destroying, at the deepest level, the moral conscience of the country. Another disgrace was the corrupt manner in which the Ministers closest to him manipulated agricultural policy in order to favor the very rich with public money, meanwhile impeding and stigmatizing social projects. The corruption of his sons, who enriched themselves by using the advantages of power, scandalized the whole country at one time.
 
In addition, he used the security agency that was directly under his control (the Department of Administrative Security) to spy on the courts, on opposition politicians, and on social and human rights movements, by means of clandestine telephone tapping. The corrupt machinations he used to obtain his re-election as President in 2006 were sordid in the extreme, with the result that ministers and close collaborators have gone to jail.
 
He manipulated the coordination between the Army and the paramilitary groups that resulted in 14,000 extrajudicial executions during his term of office. His strategies of impunity for those who, through the government or the “para-government,” committed crimes against humanity will go down in history for their brazenness.
 
The decision by the Jesuits at Georgetown to offer a professorship to Álvaro Uribe is not only deeply offensive to those Colombians who still maintain moral principles, but also places at high risk the ethical development of the young people who attend our university in Washington. Where are the ethics of the Society of Jesus?”

Javier’s closing question leaves me trembling. For years, many of us, including Jesuits and Georgetown students, have protested the U.S. government’s training of tens of thousands of Colombian soldiers at Fort Benning’s “School of the Americas,” derided by the more prophetic among us as the “School of the Assassins.” With the hiring of Colombia’s former president who commanded those death squads, now Georgetown itself has become the “School of the Assassins.” A kind of SOA Adjunct, Mid-Atlantic.
 
I urge people everywhere to call or write Georgetown University’s president and protest Uribe’s presence on campus, and to push Georgetown to cut its ties with dictators, warmakers and the Pentagon. For further information, visit the School of the Americas website at www.soaw.org and the Colombia Support Network at www.colombiasupport.net.
 
As I head to Las Vegas for trial, I grieve that our struggle to end war and injustice is so often stymied by the church itself, and in this case, my own religious order. But I’m heartened by the reaction of so many people, and the organizing that has sprung up around this scandal. I hope someday Georgetown University, and every Jesuit and Catholic institution, will become a school of justice, nonviolence, and human rights.

John Dear is a Jesuit priest, peace activist, and author of twenty five books on peace and nonviolence. His latest book, Daniel Berrigan: Essential Writings (Orbis), is now available, as well as John Dear On Peace: An Introduction to His Life and Work by Patricia Normile. John’s other recent books include, A Persistent Peace (his autobiography, from Loyola Press), and Put Down Your Sword, (Eerdmans) a collection of essays on nonviolence.  He writes a weekly column for the National Catholic Reporter at www.ncronline.org. To follow the trial of the Creech 14, go to www.vcnv.org. To contribute to Catholic Relief Services’ “Fr. John Dear Haiti Fund,” go to: http://donate.crs.org/goto/fatherjohn. For further information, or to schedule a lecture or retreat on Gospel Nonviolence, go to www.johndear.org.

The Circle Opens Out: New Evidence on Criminality in Colombian Regime May 26, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Colombia, Latin America.
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Written by Manuel Rozental   
Tuesday, 25 May 2010 12:42

“The Circle is Closing” is the title of the report just released by Colombian magazine Semana [i]. It refers to how indeed the circle is closing on the Presidential Palace in Colombia, where the headquarters of a “criminal enterprise” involving Colombia’s secret services (DAS), function under the direct orders of President Alvaro Uribe and his advisors. This latest report provides evidence, not only of involvement, but direction, orders and full control from the Presidential Palace and the President’s closest friends and advisors of illegal and criminal operations. This criminal machinery has no parallel in history and a lot is to be unveiled yet. The Government and the President initially denied, then expressed concern and finally indignation at the accusations and against the evidence. The testimonies and documents provided and exposed in this report (and added to the already abundant existing proof) are conclusive.

From Colombia’s top office and higher post, a criminal state structure has been established (it is still in place and being covered up). This structure is dedicated to spying, defamation, corruption, intimidation, threats, assassinations, disappearances and much more. Those affected by these actions include Supreme Court magistrates, human rights lawyers, members of parliament, political opposition leaders, academics, journalists, union members, indigenous, afro-Colombian, women, peasant leaders and advisors and many civilians and community members. Aurelio Suarez described these criminal activities as a “fraction of what the CIA-Nixon-Watergate scandal involved.”[i] All of this comes under the direction of Colombia’s presidential palace and the highest people in power. The evidence against those involved makes it impossible for President Uribe to keep maintaining that he did not know. The circle is indeed closing.

But this is only the DAS scandal. Then there are the thousands of assassinations known as “false positives;” the abuse and the misuse of the judicial system to attack civilians and democratic social and political leaders; the corruption of the largest and most notorious government initiatives, where funds for the poor and social sectors are systematically transferred to drug lords, paramilitaries, wealthy industrialists and entrepreneurs and friends of the President and his ministers; the buying of votes in Congress to obtain constitutional reform; and the approval of many legislative acts, including  FTAs, to benefit a few at the expense the many in open violation of the Colombian Constitution and all international treaties, agreements and charters of rights and freedoms. Add to that the assassination of key witnesses; the payback of favours to the Government with land, government posts and jobs and funds; the massive and illegal accumulation of resources; the illegal assignment of contracts to the President’s relatives, including his two sons. In all of this, the mainstream media is complicit in these facts by covering them up: the farce of the paramilitary disarmament, whereby massive amounts of capital from the drug trade have been laundered; brutally acquired land legalized; crimes against humanity, including systematic cannibalism, massacres, mass graves and more to be discovered, have been minimally exposed and mostly ignored. When key witnesses and paramilitary commanders have begun to expose their involvement and cooperation with governments and transnational corporations, they have been extradited abroad and silenced. Meanwhile, paramilitary aggression continues and is worsening through threats and assassinations throughout the Colombian territory.

Over the ground laid by previous Governments in coordination with their national and transnational counterparts, during the last 8 years, the Colombian Government has dedicated its every effort to transforming the Colombian State into a criminal enterprise. The structure of the Colombian regime is rotten. It is a State against its obligations, against the Colombian people, against the Colombian economy, against nature, against humanity. All this is known even while those in power maintain control of the State. If “democratic security” and “Investor Trust,” the hallmark policies of this government, were to be removed, expelled from the structure of the Colombian regime, and if the required legal proceedings and investigations were allowed to advance as they should, one cannot begin to imagine the horror and perversity revealed to be at the core of this model regime, designed “hand in glove” for -and most likely by- major foreign government and corporate counterparts.

If Colombians are victims of this regime, indeed of this State, one has to ask who the beneficiaries are. The answer has to be sought. This is an International Criminal Legal issue. Amongst many other facts that require volumes to be exposed, Colombia is the largest recipient of US military aid and cooperation in the continent. The Colombian regime is the closest ally of transnational corporate interests (pharmaceutical, tourism, mining, oil, agribusiness, food, energy, biopiracy, infrastructure projects such as dams, the arms trade and almost anyone involved in anything and everything from the legal and illegal organized global crime networks). Through FTAs, the Colombian regime has delivered national sovereignty, freedoms, resources, labour, nature and more to foreign interests at an intolerable expense for Colombians. Investors are attracted to put money into the Colombian economy for guaranteed profit in exchange for absolutely nothing for the Colombian population: No jobs, no transfer of technologies, no profit for the Colombian economy. The Colombian criminal regime promised Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, on November 21 2008, to deliver 50% of Colombian territory to mining and other transnational corporate interests [iii]. Every crime of the Colombian State revolves around corporate profit.

Silencing, spying, intimidating, murdering, buying out, dispossessing, destroying individuals and collectives who defend their rights and the well-being of Colombians and of the national territory, by the Colombian regime, benefits corporate interests and guarantees what is known as Free Trade Agreements. There are mass graves for profit. There are massacres for profit. There is a war for profit. There are more than 4 million people forcibly displaced for profit. Colombia’s rural areas are being transformed into concentration and confinement camps for profit. There is a dirty war for profit. There is a war on drugs and a war on terrorism as a pretext for profit. A Colombian war machine has been built to attack neighbouring countries and generate terror and instability throughout the continent for profit. There is a lying propaganda machine that hides and promotes all this and much more for profit. There are politicians, journalists, academics, intellectuals, lawyers and an army of planners, promoters and accomplices of this model of terror, policies and propaganda for export and for profit.

Without any doubt, justice has yet to begin to establish some judicial facts:

1. The charges for criminal and political involvement and responsibility of Colombian President Uribe and of his Government, high officials and State Institutions in criminal activities that range from corruption to crimes against humanity and everything in between.

2. The charges and criminal involvement of those funding, arming, supporting, covering-up and reaping the benefits of this regime both within and mostly outside of Colombia.

Nothing of this magnitude and reach could be happening without the knowledge, complicity and indeed, direction of people and powers above the Colombian President. Isolating this abscess as was done with Noriega (Panama) or Fujimori (Peru) or Saddam Hussein (Iraq), will just not do. No one can believe that the military and intelligence advisors, the embassies, the corporate headquarters, the governments, functionaries, politicians, ministers, members of parliament and others did not know and or participate.

As the circle closes in on the Colombian government, it should also open out, surrounding those who have arrogantly denied these facts, attacked as “ideologically motivated,” “against trade,” and supportive of “terrorists” any witnesses or indeed anyone opposing deals with a criminal regime for criminal intent. The circle must include those who have (on record!) insisted on stating loudly and firmly that the Colombian regime, its policies and Free Trade with this criminal State, are for the benefit and wellbeing of Colombians; those who are extracting and plan to extract resources, labour and wealth, taking advantage of a country subdued under terror with the aid of a criminal enterprise placed in power for their interest and at the expense of Colombian people; those in Europe, the U.S and Canada (and elsewhere), who have distorted the truth to promote the exploitation, bloodshed and pillage of Colombia for profit. These people support and promote this state of affairs. On the other hand, we do not speak from statistics. It is our pain that speaks out, that which these people try to silence and disrespect. We have friends, relatives, communities, suffering, exploited, exiled or dead while you tell us we are being impoverished, displaced and murdered for ideological reasons. No, we are not. It has all been truth. It has all been for profit. The mechanisms of horror, policy and propaganda for profit are in place, and you know it. You have been there when they were being implemented. Were you part of their design? You are there now. When we tell you once again the truth, you call us liars even while more and more evidence is coming out. We will not forgive or forget when you will say “I didn’t know”. You know. You are against us and for those who gain from our suffering.

As all this has been known, the attacks have increased against those of us who have exposed facts against the regime and against its transnational counterparts: intimidation, threats, media distortions, unwillingness to respect and recognize the truth. All this and more can be observed, for example, throughout the proceedings of the Canadian Government and within the Canadian Parliament and its Standing Committee on International Trade (CIIT), under the leadership of Conservative and Liberal Members of Parliament. They are ratifying an FTA with Colombia at the very time that all the evidence of the criminal regime is being exposed. In fact, the entire process in Parliament is a strategy to validate the lies of those whose crimes are being exposed now. Agents of the criminal Government and corporate beneficiaries of these actions are invited to speak and treated respectfully, while victims are insulted. The more the Liberals and Conservatives know, the more they rush to promote an agreement based on terror for profit, and the more they attack those who expose the truth and the victims of this criminal regime. We want trade. We want it for the benefit of Canadians and Colombians. But trade cannot continue to mean the inevitable exploitation of the many, the psychotic and outrageous destruction of life and Mother Earth for the profit of a few who act as though they have a right to own the planet and our destinies.

As the circle closes in on the Colombian President and State, it only begins to open out on those who have made it possible for this regime to carry out its crimes and those who reap the benefits of murder, exploitation and theft.

Given the judicial facts known and those that need to be exposed, the Colombian regime has to be dismantled, the rotten structure replaced, truth and justice must be established and all involved and responsible removed and punished. If Canada ratifies a FTA, like the Conservatives, if Mr. Brison, Mr. Ignatieff, Mr. Rae, Mr. Silva and rest of the Liberals insist on carrying on with their business under these conditions, their words and actions will provide further evidence (on record!) to their involvement and complicity with what can only be described as a fascist transnational criminal regime for profit. Up until now, the rhetoric to embellish horror is being imposed on the truth, through a system for the system. Liberal Members of Parliament, only you and your gullible accomplices can believe your own lies, while the truth accumulates in mass graves, destruction, dispossession and pain.

The circle has closed in and is opening out to close in again on those who now, like Uribe and his Government before, have lied and are lying to cover-up and commit their crimes for profit. No CCFTA. Yes to trade with justice, for life.  

[i] Semana, “Se cierra el círculo,” May 15, 2010, http://www.semana.com/noticias-nacion/cierra-circulo/138929.aspx.

[ii] Aurelio Suárez, “Sobre Chuza-DAS y toda suerte de crímenes y delitos,” May 11, 2010, http://www.moir.org.co/Sobre-Chuza-DAS-y-toda-suerte-de.html.

[iii] República de Colombia, “Declaración y rueda de prensa del Presidente Álvaro Uribe durante la firma del Tratado de Libre Comerio Colombia-Canadá” (Presidencia de la República de Colombia, November 21, 2008), http://web.presidencia.gov.co/sp/2008/noviembre/21/19212008_i.html.

 

Conservative Attempt to Silence Witnesses on Canada-

Colombia Free Trade Must Be Rejected, Says the Council of

Canadians

OTTAWA – May 26 – Three motions (below) by Conservative MP Gerald Keddy to stop hearing from witnesses and rush through clause-by-clause consideration of the Canada-Colombia Free Trade Agreement must be rejected during an in-camera meeting of the international trade committee on Thursday , says the Council of Canadians.

“The Conservatives and Liberals are clearly uncomfortable hearing witness after witness state that Canada should not sign a free trade agreement with Colombia without first ordering an independent assessment of the deal on human rights,” says Stuart Trew, trade campaigner with the Council of Canadians. “It’s an inconvenient truth about this deal that it will likely make a bad situation worse in Colombia and do little for the Canadian economy. Voting for Keddy’s motions on Thursday would be a transparent attempt to sweep that truth under the rug.”

Mr. Keddy does a further injustice to democracy by proposing that MPs only get five seconds to consider each clause in the Colombia agreement, and the decision to move Thursday’s meeting in-camera is also surprising, and a sign perhaps that the Conservatives are feeling the public pressure. The Council of Canadians has organized “Tweet-Ins” in English and most recently in Spanish during the last three trade committee meetings to give real-time updates on committee proceedings and MP comments to people who cannot be there in person. The first Tweet-In on May 11 reached tens of thousands of people and made the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement the second most popular topic of discussion on Twitter.

There is near unanimous support among Canadian labour, development, ecumenical and social justice organizations that the Colombia free trade deal should wait until a human rights impact assessment can be carried out. A Liberal proposal from trade critic Scott Brison, which resulted in an as yet unspecific amendment to the agreement requiring some form of annual human rights reports post-ratification, is seen with skepticism because of comments from Colombian trade officials that the Colombian government would perform its own assessments.

“When the Liberals voted in the House of Commons last month to end second reading debate on the Canada-Colombia free trade agreement, sending it to committee, it was on the explicit condition that a ‘comprehensive’ and ‘in depth’ study be carried out of the agreement’s human rights implications,” says Trew. “The only choice of all opposition parties on Thursday is to reject Keddy’s motions and to hear from all remaining witnesses.”

MOTIONS FOR VOTE ON THURSDAY, MAY 27

Notice of Motions – Gerald Keddy, MP Date: May 25, 2010

Motion #1 That the Committee hear no more testimonies regarding its study of Bill C-2 and that it conclude clause-by-clause consideration of the Bill on Tuesday, June 1 2010; and that by no later than 5:30 p.m. of June 1st, all remaining questions in relation to the clause-by-clause consideration of the Bill be put to a vote without further debate.

Motion #2 That regarding the Committee’s clause-by-clause consideration of Bill C-2 each member will take no longer than 5 seconds to vote on each clause and amendment; and if the 5 seconds limit is exceeded the member will be deemed to have abstained.

Motion #3 That all proposed amendments to the bill must be tabled with the clerk of the committee 24 hours in advance of the meeting in which the proposed amendments will be moved; and that the chair of the committee, at his discretion, be allowed to group similar amendments to be considered at the same time.

Notice of Motion – Peter Julian, MP 2010-05-25

That the Committee provide sufficient time during the committee’s scheduled meetings of May 27, June 1rst, June 3rd , June 8th and June 10th , to hear the testimony of the organizations and persons who have written to the Committee to date, requesting to appear as witnesses at the Bill C-2 hearings, which include, AFRODES (Charo Mina Rojas), Justicia y Paz (Danilo Rueda), Dr. Penelope Simons (University of Ottawa), National Union of Public and General Employees (James Clancy), CLC (Sheila Katz), AFL-CIO (Jeff Vogt), National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC – Luis Fernando Arias Secretary General), OPSEU (Smokey Thomas & Yhony Munoz), Mingas-FTA (Natalia Fajardo), la Chiva Collective (Manual Rozental), Gary Leech (Independent Journalist, NS), NOMADESC (Berenice Celeyta), Union of the Ombudsman’s office (Maria Eva Villate, President, Human Rights Lawyer), Congressman Mike Michaud, Escuela Nacional Sindical (ENS), National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC), Central Unitaria De Trahabadores de Colombia, CODHES (Jorge Rohas, President) and that the committee close off hearings on Bill C-2 and proceed to clause by clause review after having heard these witnesses.

US Bases in Colombia Rattle the Region March 19, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Foreign Policy, Latin America, War.
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(Roger’s note: this article testifies to the seamlessness of the BushObama policy with respect to Latin America.  Anyone who may have doubts can be assured that the Monroe Doctrine and US imperial imperative towards Latin America are alive and well.  Another lie to the false promise of change we can believe in.)
Published on Friday, March 19, 2010 by The Progressiveby Benjamin Dangl

On the shores of the Magdalena River, in a lush green valley dotted with cattle ranches and farms, sits the Palanquero military base, an outpost equipped with Colombia’s longest runway, housing for 2,000 troops, a theater, a supermarket, and a casino.

Palanquero is at the heart of a ten-year, renewable military agreement signed between the United States and Colombia on October 30, 2009, which gives Washington access to seven military bases in the country. Though officials from the U.S. and Colombian governments contend the agreement is aimed at fighting narcotraffickers and guerrillas within Colombian borders, a U.S. Air Force document states the deal offers a “unique opportunity” for “conducting full spectrum operations” in the region against various threats, including “anti-U.S. governments.”

The Pentagon sought access to the bases in Colombia after Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa canceled the lease for the U.S. military base in Manta, Ecuador. The U.S. capability in Colombia will now be greater than at Manta, which worries human rights advocates in Colombia and left-leaning governments throughout the region.

“The main purpose of expanding these bases is to take strategic control of Latin America,” opposition senator Jorge Enrique Robledo of the Polo Democrático Alternativo told me over the phone from Bogotá.

Every president in South America outside of Colombia is against the bases agreement, with Hugo Chávez of neighboring Venezuela being the most critical. Chávez said that by signing the deal the United States was blowing “winds of war” over the region, and that the bases were “a threat against us.”

“Colombia decided to hand over its sovereignty to the United States,” said Chávez in a televised meeting with government ministers. “Colombia today is no longer a sovereign country. . . . It is a kind of colony.” The Venezuelan president responded by deploying troops to the border in what has become an increasingly tense battle of words and flexing of military muscle.

Correa in neighboring Ecuador said the new bases agreement “constitutes a grave danger for peace in Latin America.”

Colombian President Alvaró Uribe dismissed critics and said the increased U.S. collaboration was necessary to curtail violence in the country. Uribe told The Washington Post, “We are not talking about a political game; we are talking about a threat that has spilled blood in Colombian society.”

But plans for the expansion of the bases show that the intent is to prepare for war and intimidate the region, likely spilling more blood in the process.

The Palanquero base, the largest of the seven in the agreement, will be expanding with $46 million in U.S. taxpayers’ money. Palanquero is already big enough to house 100 planes, and its 10,000-foot runway allows three planes to take off at once. It can accommodate enormous C-17 planes, which can carry large numbers of troops for distances that span the hemisphere without needing to refuel.

The intent of the base, according to U.S. Air Force documents, “is to leverage existing infrastructure to the maximum extent possible, improve the U.S. ability to respond rapidly to crisis, and assure regional access and presence at minimum cost. . . . Palanquero will provide joint use capability to the U.S. Army, Air Force, Marines, and U.S. Interagency aircraft and personnel.”

The United States and Colombia may also see the bases as a way to cultivate ties with other militaries.

“The bases will be used to strengthen the military training of soldiers from other countries,” says John Lindsay-Poland, the co-director of the Fellowship of Reconciliation Task Force on Latin America and the Caribbean Program. “There is already third-country training in Colombia, and what the Colombia government says now is that this agreement will strengthen that.”

“This deal is a threat to the new governments that have emerged,” says Enrique Daza, the director of the Hemispheric Social Alliance, currently based in Bogotá. These new governments are “demanding sovereignty, autonomy, and independence in the region, and this bases agreement collides directly” with that, he says.

The Obama Administration, with the new agreement, is further collaborating with the Colombian military in spite of that institution’s grave human rights abuses in recent years.

In a July 2009 letter to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Senators Patrick Leahy and Christopher Dodd wrote: “What are the implications of further deepening our relationship with the Colombian military at a time of growing revelations about the widespread falsos positivos (“false positives”) scandal, in which the Colombian military recruited many hundreds (some estimates are as high as 1,600) of boys and young men for jobs in the countryside that did not exist and then summarily executed them to earn bonuses and vacation days?”

The military base agreement needs to be understood in the context of two other U.S. initiatives in Colombia.

First, Plan Colombia, which began under President Clinton, committed billions of dollars ostensibly to fight the war on drugs but also to fighting the guerrillas, intensifying the country’s already brutal conflict in rural areas. This has led to increasing displacement of people from areas that are strategically important for mining multinationals.

Second, the U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement, which was signed in 2006, could pry open the country to more U.S. corporate exploitation. But it has been met with opposition in the United States, delaying its ratification. Daza says the signing of the bases deal is part of “a military strategy that complements the push for the free trade agreement.” The trade accord will serve “transnational corporate investments,” and these investments, he says, “are sustained by a military relationship.”

Opposition to the military bases agreement is vocal in Colombia. In a column written in July 2009, Senator Robledo denounced it, saying, “There is no law that allows bases of this type in Colombia.” One struggle, Robledo said, is on the legal and political front. The other is among social movements in Colombia and beyond. “It is important to organize a type of democratic citizens’ movement, a national campaign against these foreign bases, as well as a continental social alliance that promotes the denunciation of this agreement,” he says.

Daza is working with Mingas, a cross-border solidarity organization consisting of activists in Colombia, Canada, and the United States. Mingas wrote a letter to Obama, condemning the President’s decision to go forward with the deal on the bases. “At the Summit of the Americas in April 2009 you promised to foster a ‘new sense of partnership’ between the United States and the rest of the Western Hemisphere,” the letter states. “But your Administration has yet to address the grave concerns expressed by national leaders throughout Central and South America and the Caribbean regarding the U.S.-Colombia military base agreement.”

By signing this bases agreement, and by equivocating over the coup in Honduras, Obama has sent ominous signals to Latin America.

“Obama has not renounced the policies of Bush,” Robledo says. “Speaking in economic and military terms, on the fundamental issues, the similarities between Bush and Obama are bigger than the differences. Obama has not produced a change.”

© 2010 The Progressive

Benjamin Dangl is the author of The Price of Fire: Resource Wars and Social Movements in Bolivia (AK Press) and Dancing with Dynamite: Social Movements and States in Latin America (AK Press). He is the editor of TowardFreedom.com, a progressive perspective on world events and UpsideDownWorld.org, a website on activism and politics in Latin America. Email: Bendangl(at)gmail(dot)com

Observations on Latin America August 8, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Foreign Policy, Honduras, Mexico, Right Wing, Venezuela.
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Published on Saturday, August 8, 2009 by CommonDreams.org by Miguel Tinker Salas

The recent events in Honduras are not isolated, but rather part of a conservative counterattack taking shape in Latin America. For some time, the right has been rebuilding in Latin America; hosting conferences, sharing experiences, refining their message, working with the media, and building ties with allies in the United States. This is not the lunatic rightwing fringe, but rather the mainstream right with powerful allies in the middle class that used to consider themselves center, but have been frightened by recent left electoral victories and the rise of social movements. With Obama in the White House and Clinton in the State Department they have now decided to act. Bush/Cheney and company did not give them any coverage and had become of little use to them. A “liberal” in the White House gives conservative forces the kind of coverage they had hoped for. It is no coincidence that Venezuelan opposition commentators applauded the naming of Clinton to the State Department, claiming that they now had an ally in the administration. The old cold-warrior axiom that the best antidote against the left is a liberal government in Washington gains new meaning under Obama with Clinton at the State Department.

Coup leaders in Honduras and their allies continue to play for time. Washington’s continuing vacillation is allowing them to exhaust this option, but so are right-wing governments in Colombia, Mexico, Panama and Peru. After all, this coup is not just about Honduras but also about leftwing success in Latin America, of which Honduras was the weakest link. It is increasingly becoming obvious that there is no scenario under which elites in Honduras will accept Zelaya back. I do not think that they have a plan “B” on this matter and this speaks to the kind of advice they are getting from forces in the U.S. and the region. If Zelaya comes back, the Supreme Court, the Congress, the military and the church all lose credibility and it opens the door for the social and political movements in Honduras to push for radical change that conservative forces would find more difficult to resist.

But Honduras is only part of the equation. Colombia’s decision to accept as many as 7 new U.S. military bases (3 airbases, including Palanquero, 2 army bases, and 2 naval bases one on the Pacific and one on the Caribbean), dramatically expands the U.S. military’s role in the country and throughout the region. The Pentagon has been eyeing the airbase at Palanquero with its complex infrastructure and extensive runway for some time. This is a very troubling sign that will alter the balance of forces in the region, and speaks volumes about how the Obama administration plans to respond to change in Latin America. A possible base on the Caribbean coast of Colombia would also offer the recently reactivated U.S. Fourth Fleet, a convenient harbor on the South American mainland. In short, Venezuela would be literally encircled. However, Venezuela is not the only objective. It also places the Brazilian Amazon and all its resources within striking distance of the U.S. military, as well as the much sought after Guarani watershed. After public criticism from Bachelet of Chile, Lula of Brazil and Chávez of Venezuela, Uribe refused to attend the August 10 meeting of UNASUR, the South American Union, where he would be expected to explain the presence of the U.S. bases. The meeting of the UNASUR security council was scheduled to take up the issue of the bases and Bolivia’s suggestion for a unified South American response to drug trafficking. Instead, Uribe has launched his own personal diplomacy traveling to 7 different countries in the region to explain his actions. In addition, Obama’s National Security Advisor James Jones is in Brazil trying to justify the U.S. position on the bases.

The recent media war launched by Uribe against Ecuador and Correa, once again claiming financing of the FARC, and the more recent offensive against Venezuela concerning 30 year old Swedish missiles, that, like the Reyes computers, cannot be independently verified, have filled the airwaves in Venezuela, Colombia and the region. The current Colombian media campaign was preceded by Washington’s own efforts to condemn Venezuela for supposed non-compliance in the war against drug trafficking. In addition, Israel’s foreign minister, Avigdor Lieberman, also traveled throughout Latin America in July claiming that Venezuela is a destabilizing force in the region and in the Middle East.

Lost in all this is the fact that Uribe is still considering a third term in office and his party has indicated it will push for a constitutional reform. So conflicts with Ecuador and Venezuela serve to silence critics in Colombia and keep Uribe’s electoral competitors at bay. All we need now is for Uribe to ask the Interpol to verify the missiles’ origins and Interpol director Ron Noble to give another press conference in Bogota. Déjà vu all over again!

The right and its allies in the U.S. are also emboldened by the electoral victory in Panama and the very real prospects of leftist defeats this year in Chile and even Uruguay. Obviously they are also encouraged by the humiliating defeat of the Fernández / Kirchners in Argentina. These developments could begin to redraw the political map of the region. Correa of Ecuador has already expressed concern about being the target of a coup and Bolivia will undoubtedly come under intense pressure as they are also preparing for an election later this year.

All this is occurring with an increased U.S. military commitment in Mexico with Plan Mérida which seeks to build on the lessons of Colombia: maintain in power a president whose economic and social policies are highly unpopular, but who relies on conflict, in this case the so-called war on the drug cartels, to maintain popularity. Parts of Mexico are literally under siege, including Michoacán, Ciudad Juarez, and Tijuana. The backdrop for this is a divided left; the PRD was the biggest loser in recent midterm elections, and social movements remains localized and unable to mount a national challenge.

None of these developments are forgone conclusions, but they nonetheless speak to the fact that conservative forces in Latin America and their allies in the U.S. are mounting a concerted counter offensive that could increase the potential for conflict in the region.  

Miguel Tinker Salas is professor of History, Latin American and Chicano/a Studies at Pomona College. He is the author of several books including In the Shadow of Eagles, Sonora and the Transformation of the Border during the Porfiriato by the University of California Press. The book has been translated and is being published in Mexico by the Fondo de Cultura Económica. In addition, he also has published articles on transnational migration, ethnic identity and labor matters in Latin America. His current research examines the interconnection between politics, culture and oil in Venezuela. With Steve Ellner he co-edited, Venezuela, Hugo Chávez and the Decline of an Exceptional Democracy published by Rowman and Littlefield. On the eve of the Mexican Presidential election he co-edited with Jan Rus, The Mexican Presidency, Neoliberalism, Social Movements and Electoral Politics (Latin American Perspectives) which appeared in both English and Spanish (Porrua and Universidad de Zacatecas). His new book, The Enduring Legacy: Oil, Culture and Society in Venezuela, was published by Duke University Press in May of 2009.

Fluent in both Spanish and English, Professor Miguel Tinker Salas is often asked by the national and international media to provide analysis on political issues confronting Mexico, Venezuela, and Latin America. He has been interviewed by CNN, CNN Spanish, ESPN, the PBS New Hour, the Associated Press, Reuters, the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, the Christian Science Monitor, Univisión, Telemundo, and many other radio, television and print media outlets. His expertise includes: US-Latin American Relations, contemporary Venezuelan politics, oil policy, Mexican Politics, Mexican border issues, Immigration, and Latinos/as in the United States. He is often asked to speak on college campuses and community events on the important issue facing Latin America and Latinos/as in the US.

Seven New US Military Bases in Colombia Is Hardly a Move to the Left August 8, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Foreign Policy, Latin America.
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(Roger’s note: more of Obama’s “Plus ca change … you can believe in.”)
 
Published on Friday, August 7, 2009 by CommonDreams.org

by Moira Birss

In a recent edition of the Wall Street Journal, Mary Anastasia O’Grady laments an apparent shift left in the Obama administration’s Latin America policy.  Clearly, O’Grady hasn’t been keeping up to date with current events. If she had been, she would have heard about negotiations underway between the U.S. and Colombia to establish at least seven U.S. military bases in Colombia. Last I heard, folks on the left tend to oppose increased militarization; it’s tough to see seven new military bases as a move to the left.

Why is the Obama administration pushing for these bases, despite having previously criticized Colombia’s human rights record?

The Administration’s goals for the military facilities are “filling the gaps left by the eventual cutting of [military] aid in Plan Colombia,” according to sources in Washington and Bogotá. The proposed bases, replacements for the soon-to-closed U.S. base in Manta, Ecuador, would serve to expand the U.S. military’s counter-narcotic operations in the region, deepen involvement in Colombia’s counterinsurgency war, and combat “other international crimes,” according to Colombia’s Foreign Minister.

Despite these hints at the intention of the bases, many serious questions remain.  In fact, even the Colombian Congress has yet to receive detailed information from the Uribe administration, despite repeated official requests.  Nonetheless, on Tuesday Uribe began a South America tour to convince his regional counterparts of the plan, despite not having briefed his own Congress.

Such secrecy is worrisome. Fellowship of Reconciliation’s John Lindsay Poland, who has spent years studying U.S. military bases around the world, writes, “the locations of the bases under negotiation raise further questions. None of them are on the coast of the Pacific Ocean, where aircraft from the Manta base patrolled for drug traffic – supposedly with great success, reflecting how traffic has increased in the Pacific. Three of the bases are clustered near each other on the Caribbean coast, not far from existing U.S. military sites in Aruba and Curacao – and closer to Venezuela than to the Pacific Ocean. Why are U.S. negotiators apparently forgoing Pacific sites, if counternarcotics is still part of the U.S. military mission? What missions ‘beyond Colombia’s borders’ are U.S. planners contemplating?”

Even if we had answers to these questions, however, there exist plenty more reasons to be wary of the bases.

In cooperating with the Colombian army, the U.S. would be demonstrating support for an institution with an atrocious human rights record.  More than 1,000 civilians have been murdered by the Colombian army in recent years, in a criminal attempt to portray them as guerrillas in order to raise the number of guerrillas killed in combat. Proposing these seven bases unmasks Obama’s previous statements calling for the improvement of Colombian’s human rights record as merely lip service.

Colombian forces aren’t the only ones to worry about: U.S. military forces will be not be bound by Colombian law and will potentially get away with all kinds crimes. US negotiators have made it known that “even if they won’t interfere in the exercise of command by Colombian officers on the bases, they will ensure the autonomy of U.S. military forces when operations go beyond Colombia’s borders.” And there is precedent that validates these concerns. In 2007 two U.S. soldiers carrying out a Plan Colombia mission in the small town of Melgar raped a 12-year-old girl, and have yet to be punished.  When confronted by the girl’s mother, the soldiers were quoted as saying, “Yeah, we raped her, so what?  We are in Colombia, the law doesn’t affect us.” An all too accurate depiction of the US military’s mentality in Colombia.

These bases would lack oversight in the financial arena as well.  While Plan Colombia funding has been open for Congressional debate, funding for US military activities has not. Congress would therefore exercise little to no control over the funding – and therefore the actions – of the bases in Colombia.

The many unanswered questions and ominous possibilities that come with seven new US bases have raised alarms among Colombia’s neighbors, fueling serious regional tensions. Venezuela has frozen diplomatic relations, and Ecuador has threatened “increased military tensions” over their concerns about the increased U.S. presence in the region. Brazil’s President Lula said last week he was “not happy” at even one base being handed over for U.S. operations.

Many Colombians are opposed as well, backed up by the fact that such an agreement would bypass Article 173 of the Colombian Constitution, which prohibits the presence of foreign troops except in transit, and then only after legislative approval. Multiple protests have been held in downtown Bogota, and a national day of action is being planned for August 7 – the national holiday celebrating the Colombian armed forces – as opposition to these military bases grows.  

The bases agreement has not yet been signed; there is still time to convince Colombian and U.S. leaders to scrap the idea.  The Fellowship of Reconciliation has compiled a bilingual (English and Spanish) resource page for those opposing the bases: www.forcolombia.org/bases, and asks that you call the White House Comment Line (202-456-1111) today to say NO to military bases in Colombia.

Moira Birss is current serving in Colombia as a Human Rights Accompanier with the Fellowship of Reconciliation. Moira has also worked on researching community-based models of alternative economies, advocating for affordable housing, and promoting environmental protection.

Obama and Clinton Nix Change in Honduras July 27, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Foreign Policy, Honduras, Latin America.
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Published on Monday, July 27, 2009 by CommonDreams.org by Roger Burbach
The situation in Honduras and Central America is growing increasingly tumultuous with each passing day as deposed President Manuel Zelaya confronts the de facto regime of Roberto Micheletti with thousands of partisans mobilizing in the border areas. While Honduran army officers in Washington and the capital of Tegucigalpa issue statements indicating they may accept Zelaya’s return—if the civilian coup leaders concur–military and police units continue to fire on and even murder demonstrators. It is impossible to predict the outcome of this confrontation. But one thing is increasing clear–the growing conflict represents a failure of the Obama administration to reshape US policy towards Latin America in spite of its early rhetoric directed at the leaders of the region.
On June 29, the day after the coup, Barack Obama declared it “not legal” and said “we don’t want to go back to a dark past.” This was in keeping with his remarks at the Summit of the Americas in April when, in alluding to the US history of backing military regimes, he stated, “The United States will be willing to acknowledge past errors where those errors have been made.”
But US policy towards Honduras since the coup indicates that the Obama administration does not represent “change you can believe in.” Rather it is bent on imposing its will and propping up the status quo in Latin America, just as previous US administrations did.
Over the past decade a popular upsurge has swept Latin America comprised of indigenous movements, impoverished urban dwellers, peasants, environmentalists, feminists, and human rights advocates. They are demanding a more equitable distribution of the wealth of their countries and an end to political systems dominated by oligarchs, corrupt politicians and business interests allied with the United States. A string of New Left governments has emerged beginning with Hugo Chavez in Venezuela in 1999 followed by Luis Inacio “Lula” da Silva in Brazil in 2003. They have been joined by the election of left of center presidents in Bolivia, Ecuador, Argentina, Chile, Uruguay, Nicaragua, Paraguay and El Salvador.
This block of progressive forces spearheaded the international opposition to the coup in Honduras. Argentine President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, reflecting the common sentiment around the continent, noted that the coup was a throwback to “the worst years in Latin America’s history.” The Organization of American States, which has historically been dominated by the United States, voted 34 to 0 to call for the restoration of Manuel Zelaya as president.
This unified opposition in Latin America left the Obama administration with no alternative but to call for the resignation of the de facto government. However, what it has done in the aftermath of the coup is to search for a way to undermine the reformist agenda advocated by Zelaya and to prop up the traditional interests aligned with the United States both within Honduras and in Latin America at large. This commitment to the old order is symbolized by the fact that Alvaro Uribe, the conservative president of Colombia, was in the White House meeting with Obama on June 29 as he issued his statement opposing the coup in Honduras. One of the points Uribe and Obama discussed was US access to three airfields and two naval bases in Colombia. Allegedly for use in the drug war in the Andean region, they are also aimed at counteracting the growing influence of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela who called the expanded US military presence “a threat against us” that could even lead “to a war.”
The US obsession with Venezuela is at the heart of its policy towards Zelaya. Philip Crowley, Assistant Secretary of Public Affairs at the US State Department, stated that the coup should serve as a “lesson” for the deposed president who had signed trade and petroleum accords with Venezuela: “We certainly think that if we were choosing a model government and a model leader for countries of the region to follow, that the current leadership in Venezuela would not be a particular model. If that is the lesson that President Zelaya has learned from this episode, that would be a good lesson.”
Even before the coup, the Obama administration made known its opposition to the reformist policies of the Zelaya government. At a meeting of the Organization of American States (OAS) in early June in Tegucigalpa Secretary of State Hillary Clinton warned Zelaya in a private meeting that he should back off from trying to put a referendum on the ballot that would provide for the convening of a constituent assembly to draft a new constitution for the country. The election of constituent assemblies was the vehicle used by Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador to overturn entrenched interests and to “refound” their political institutions.
The main diplomatic gambit used by the Obama administration in an effort to reign in Manuel Zelaya was to get President Oscar Arias of Costa Rica to broker an agreement with the coup leaders in Tegucigalpa, Honduras. Arias had served US interests well in the 1980s during his first presidential term, using regional negotiations to undermine the revolutionary government of Nicaragua and the guerrilla movements in El Salvador and Guatemala while nurturing pseudo-democratic governments that adopted the neo-liberal economic policies then coming into vogue with the “Washington Consensus.” This time however, Arias failed, primarily because the OAS and most of the governments of Latin America made it clear that they would not recognize any government in Tegucigalpa other than one led by Zelaya. As President Luis Inacio da Silva of Brazil declared, “we cannot compromise” on the restoration of Zelaya.
In the end Arias issued a mediation proposal that called for the restitution of Zelaya as head of a national government of reconciliation with weakened executive powers. Micheletti’s de facto regime rejected the proposal. It is worth noting that one of the clauses in the proposed accord calls for Zelaya to refrain from promoting a constituent assembly, a clause that has been angrily denounced by leaders of the social movements in Honduras.
U.S. efforts to restore Zelaya have been quite tepid compared to other countries. While many ambassadors have been withdrawn, the US head diplomat Hugo Llorens, appointed by George W. Bush, remains in place. There are reports that he may have even given the green light to the coup plotters, or at least did nothing to stop them. And while the World Bank has suspended assistance, the State Department merely warns that $180 million in US economic aid may be in jeopardy. Most importantly the United States refuses to freeze the bank accounts and cancel the visas of the coup leaders, measures that Zelaya and other Latin American governments have urged Washington to do.
The Obama presidency probably hoped that like the years of the Bush administration Latin America would require only marginal attention in the grand scheme of world affairs. This may turn out not to be the case however if Honduras, the last of the banana republics, erupts in a civil conflict that draws in neighboring countries. “Change” may be the catch word for the new administration, but here an old French phrase may be more indicative of what is really occurring: “Plus ca change, plus c’est la meme chose,” the more things change the more they remain the same.
Roger Burbach is the author of “The Pinochet Affair: State Terrorism and Global Justice,” and the Director of the Center for the Study of the Americas based in Berkeley, CA

Hugo Chávez: tides of victory February 21, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Latin America, Venezuela.
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The referendum victory of Venezuela’s president is founded on an extension of the understanding of democracy that has both national roots and regional parallels, says Julia Buxton.

 

The Venezuelan electorate is bent on using democratic mechanisms to fuel the demagogic ambitions of its populist president, Hugo Chávez. The voters  have backed him and his party in thirteen of the fourteen elections and referendums held in the country since Chávez was inaugurated in February 1999. Now, on 15 February 2009, a majority of them went so far as to grant him his wish of being president for life: for in the referendum on that day 56% voted to lift term-limits on elected officials, thereby eroding a noble Latin American tradition of safeguarding democracy by limiting incumbency.

The distant hope 

So argue Hugo Chávez’s opponents at home and overseas – particularly in Washington, were the anti-Chávez lobby is striving to maintain the disproportionate influence it had under George W Bush into the Barack Obama administration. After the 15 February referendum, media and academic commentators have painted a frighteningly dystopian vision of Venezuela’s political future. It all amounts to significant pressure on the new Democratic administration to follow the Bush policy of isolating and destabilising Chávez.

There had been high hopes in Washington that the opposition would build on its defeat of Chávez in the referendum in December 2007 on lifting term-limits held, as well as on gains made in the November 2008 regional elections (including the capture of the municipal capital, Caracas). A further defeat for Chávez would have chastened the president’s grand ambition to build “21st-century socialism” in Venezuela. Along with the declining price of oil, the mainstay of the Venezuelan economy, and domestic turbulence preoccupying Russia and Iran – Venezuela’s partners in building a multi-polar world order – a second referendum defeat would have made Chávez a weakened proposition.  

So why did the electorate ruin this scenario by turning out in significant numbers (the turnout was 66%) to approve this major change? The government’s opponents and critics point to the usual problems: the administration’s abuse of public spending, violation of election laws, intimidation of the opposition, manipulation of voters, even anti-semitism. A Spanish deputy from the European parliament – in Venezuela as an international election observer – was moved to violate all norms of election observation by condemning dictatorship in Venezuela as soon as he landed in the country. 

The terms of victory

The reality is more complex, democratic – and worrying for Chávez’s opponents. The decision by Venezuelan voters to lift term-limits is of regional as well as domestic significance. It merits cool-headed scrutiny by the new United States state-department team ahead of the expected meeting between Chávez and Obama at the fifth Summit of the Americas on 17-19 April 2009 in Trinidad.

The “yes” vote won – fairly and freely according to international observers – for three reasons, which have nothing to do with intimidation or fraud. First, Chávez learnt from past defeat. Instead of the unwieldy sixty-nine proposals that bewildered voters in December 2007, there was just one question in the new proposal: should five articles in the 1999 constitution be amended in order to lift the two-term limit on officials serving in elected office?

Chávez, a formidable campaigner, expended significant energy mobilising his supporters and explaining why lifting term-limits – and opening up the prospect of his re-election in 2012 – was in the interest of the Venezuelan people. Unlike December 2007, he did not take success for granted. And in contrast to the messy infighting over candidacies in the ruling PSUV ahead of the November 2008 regional elections, the Chavistas unified around a single proposition and a single figure: Hugo Chávez. 

Second, the Chavistas’ success also reflected the ongoing weakness and disarray of the opposition, dashing critics’ hopes of presenting Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton with a viable alternative to Chávez. In theory, Chávez could now outlast Obama. There was no opposition campaign to speak of other than disruptive protests by belligerent students, feted and funded as democratic freedom-fighters by America’s libertarian right. Key opposition leaders were outfoxed by the extension of the term-limit issue to all elected officials (not just the presidency); and they relied on the old (and repeatedly unsuccessful) formula of branding Chávez a demagogue in recycling their ever-negative campaign message.  

The context of change

The third and and even more important issue underlying the referendum result relates to how Venezuelans understand and interpret democracy, and the type of democracy that they want to see in their country. A majority of voters did not support lifting term-limits because they were misled or manipulated by Chávez or because they have an authoritarian political streak. Rather, as the much respected regional Latinobarometro survey has shown on an annual basis, Venezuelan public opinion is one of the most democratic in the region and strongly opposed to autocracy. Venezuelans consistently express a high level of support for their political model, and confidence in the democratic system is constantly above the regional average. While critics may see Chávez’s Bolivarian revolution as an authoritarian project, majority opinion in Venezuela judges it democratic.     

In this broader context, the fundamentals of democracy are not altered by the lifting of term-limits. If anything, they may be enhanced. Whether or not Chávez intends to be president for life, he still has to face the electorate in 2012 if he wants to remain in power; and even then there is no guarantee that he will win a third term and retain the presidency. To do so, he needs to respond to popular concerns relating to crime, insecurity, corruption and inflation – or he runs the risk of defeat.

Moreover, the Venezuelan constitution provides for mid-term “recall referendums” on elected officials, thereby maintaining checks and balances on government at national, regional and municipal level. Term-limits have traditionally been deeply destabilising in Venezuelan politics, producing factional power struggles and lame-duck presidents. This can now be avoided, while allowing the electorate to stick with their preferred candidate – a democratic innovation. True, incumbency brings undoubted benefits; but they are delivered only if voters are contented with the performance of ruling officials and the opposition fails to present a viable alternative.   

In the liberal-democratic model, term-limits are viewed as essential for the checking and balancing of executive power. But this emphasis on procedural mechanics and ideal-types does not match popular understanding or expectations of democracy at the grassroots of Venezuelan society. Most Venezuelan voters are clearly of the view that term-limits are not the only, or necessarily an invaluable, mechanism for restraining power. A host of other parliamentary systems have survived without limiting prospects for re-election. Jose Miguel Insulza, secretary-general of the Organisation of American States, is among those who has highlighted the democratising potentialities of lifting term-limits.

Venezuela has taken the regional lead in implementing projects of major social transformation that challenge the power and vested interests of minority elites. Hugo Chávez argued that the opportunity to run for a third term was essential for the consolidation of his Bolivarian revolution. His lead is now likely to be followed by Alvaro Uribe of Colombia, Evo Morales of Bolivia, Rafael Correa of Ecuador and Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua. Each of these heads of state are considering lifting term-limits on the basis that this will allow for continuity and the institutionalisation of change. In a region traditionally characterised by instability and fragile institutions, this may prove to be a good thing.  

The clear message to the United States state department is that South American societies want to mould their own unique political systems and break with a rigid and limited liberal-democratic model that minimises popular input. Variation and innovation in this context amount to pluralism not authoritarianism.

Julia Buxton is senior research fellow in the department of peace studies, Bradford University. Her work includes The Failure of Political Reform in Venezuela (Ashgate, 2001)

Bush Excluded by Latin Summit as China, Russia Loom December 17, 2008

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www.bloomberg.com

December 17, 2008

By Joshua Goodman

Dec. 15 (Bloomberg) — Latin American and Caribbean leaders gathering in Brazil tomorrow will mark a historic occasion: a region-wide summit that excludes the United States.

Almost two centuries after President James Monroe declared Latin America a U.S. sphere of influence, the region is breaking away. From socialist-leaning Venezuela to market-friendly Brazil, governments are expanding military, economic and diplomatic ties with potential U.S. adversaries such as China, Russia and Iran.

“Monroe certainly would be rolling over in his grave,” says Julia Sweig, director of the Latin America program at the Council of Foreign Relations in Washington and author of the 2006 book “Friendly Fire: Losing Friends and Making Enemies in the Anti-American Century.”

The U.S., she says, “is no longer the exclusive go-to power in the region, especially in South America, where U.S. economic ties are much less important.”

Since November, Russian warships have engaged in joint naval exercises with Venezuela, the first in the Caribbean since the Cold War; Chinese President Hu Jintao signed a free-trade agreement with Peru; and Brazil invited Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad for a state visit.

“While the U.S. remains aloof from a region it no longer sees as relevant to its strategic interests, other countries are making unprecedented, serious moves to fill the void,” says Luiz Felipe Lampreia, Brazil’s foreign minister from 1995 until 2001. “Countries in the region are more aware than ever that they live in a globalized, post-American world.”

A Castro Triumph

The two-day gathering, called by Brazil at a beach resort in Bahia state, is also a diplomatic triumph for Cuban President Raul Castro, making his first trip abroad since taking over from his brother Fidel two years ago. The communist island was suspended from the hemisphere-wide Organization of American States in 1962 over its ties with the former Soviet Union.

“A lot of this is designed to stick it in the eye of the U.S.,” says Peter Romero, the U.S. assistant secretary of state for the Western Hemisphere from 1999 to 2001. “But underlying the bluster, there’s a genuine effort to exploit the gap left by a distant and distracted U.S.”

The effort is most evident in the bloc of countries allied with the anti-American president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez.

Bolivian President Evo Morales last month expelled the Drug Enforcement Administration, alleging that DEA agents were conspiring to overthrow him; U.S. President George W. Bush dismissed the charges as absurd and suspended trade privileges for the Andean nation.

Drug-War Defeat

In Ecuador, meanwhile, President Rafael Correa has refused to renew the lease on the U.S.’s only military outpost in South America, a critical platform for the U.S. war on drugs.

For Brazil, tomorrow’s summit caps a decade-long diplomatic drive to use its growing economic and political stability to play a bigger role in the world.

While little concrete action is expected from the first-ever Latin American and Caribbean Summit on Integration and Development, the fact that the U.S. wasn’t invited has symbolic importance, says Lampreia.

The summit reinforces such regional initiatives as the Union of South American Nations, which was formed in May by 12 countries to mediate conflicts such as political violence in Bolivia, bypassing the U.S.-dominated OAS.

Thomas Shannon, the top U.S. diplomat for Latin America, says the nature of American influence is only changing, not declining, as the region matures.

No Invitation Sought

The U.S. “didn’t ask to be invited” to the summit, he says, although it had discussed with Brazil and Mexico ways the meeting’s agenda could be used during the U.S.-backed Summit of the Americas, in April in Trinidad and Tobago.

“We don’t subscribe to the hydraulic theory of diplomacy that when one country is up, the other is down — that if China and Russia are in the area our influence has somehow waned,” Shannon said in a telephone interview.

The fact that “there’s no warfare, weapons proliferation, suicide bombers or jihadists” in Latin America may make its issues “less urgent,” though no less important, Shannon said. The U.S. remains the region’s dominant investor and trading partner: Foreign aid to Colombia to fight drug traffickers and Marxist rebels totals $700 million a year, and remittances from Latin Americans living in the U.S. totaled $66.5 billion last year.

Monroe’s Doctrine

The Monroe Doctrine, which dates back to 1823, declared Latin America off-limits to European powers. Whether welcomed by the region or not, it has been invoked whenever real or imagined security threats to U.S. interests arise, says Gaddis Smith, a retired Yale University historian of American foreign policy.

“Its essence is unilateralism; no Latin American country had any say in it,” says Smith, whose more than a dozen books on American foreign policy include “The Last Years of the Monroe Doctrine.”

The real battle is for a larger share of the region’s abundant resources and expanding economies, and China has led the way.

Two-way trade with the region shot up 12-fold since 1995 to $110 billion last year, according to the Inter-American Development Bank. China’s share of the region’s imports also jumped, to 24 percent from 9.8 percent in 1990, while the U.S. share shrunk to 34 percent from 43 percent. Two years after reaching a bilateral free-trade agreement, China’s demand for copper made it Chile’s biggest export market in 2007, replacing the U.S.

Hu’s Trips

Since making his first of three trips to Latin America in 2004, China’s President Hu Jintao has spent more time in the region than Bush — 22 days to 20 for the U.S. president. In October, as the global credit crunch dried up lending in the region, China joined the Inter-American Development Bank with a $350 million loan to finance small businesses. This month it pledged $10 billion in loans to state-controlled Petroleo Brasileiro SA so Brazil can develop the Western Hemisphere’s largest oil discovery since 1976.

“The Chinese play up the development side of diplomacy so much better than the Americans,” says William Ratliff, a research fellow at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution who has a Ph.D. in Chinese and Latin American history. “Deals come with none or very few strings attached.”

Even Colombia, which is spending $115,000 a month lobbying the U.S. Congress to approve a stalled free-trade pact, signed an investment treaty last month with China. During this year’s U.S. campaign, President-elect Barack Obama said he opposed the accord over concerns that Colombia isn’t doing enough to stamp out violence against labor organizers.

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe today canceled his plans for the summit to monitor rescue efforts involving 200,000 people affected by flooding over the weekend.

Arms Deals

Changing relationships are also evident in arms deals. Chavez turned to Russia for at least $4.4 billion in weapons after the U.S. blocked sales of aircraft parts. Brazil, the region’s largest economy, is also shopping around: Defense Minister Nelson Jobimsaid in Washington this month that his government will only buy weapons from countries that agree to transfer technology for local production.

Plans to purchase 36 new fighter jets, in which Boeing’s F- 18 is competing for a contract against Stockholm-based Saab AB and France’s Dassault Systemes SA, “can only be justified politically if they contribute to national development,” Jobim said.

Brazil may sign a deal with France for four nuclear submarines intended to help secure its oil basins in the Atlantic when French President Nicolas Sarkozy visits Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva this month.

Reactivating a Fleet

The U.S. plan to reassert its naval presence by reactivating the Fourth Fleet after 58 years to patrol the Caribbean has triggered negative reactions ranging from Chavez’s threat to sink the convoys to the more-diplomatic Lula’s demand for explanations from the Bush administration.

Latin American leaders are looking to Obama to restore relations after the Bush presidency’s initial pledges of greater engagement gave way to a focus on the 9/11 terror attacks and wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Yet the honeymoon with Obama may be short-lived, says Michael Shifter, vice president of the Inter- American Dialogue in Washington. He says that the issues that have dominated Latin American relations — including Cuba, immigration and U.S. trade barriers on agricultural products — may remain in dispute.

“Latin America wants the U.S. to be engaged, but in very different terms that it has in the past,” says Shifter. “In any case, they’re not waiting around for the U.S. to change its mindset.”

To contact the reporter on this story: Joshua Goodman in Rio de Janeiro jgoodman19@bloomberg.net

Last Updated: December 15, 2008 10:40 EST

Colombia: Social Conflict Replaces Warfare December 12, 2008

Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Latin America.
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www.upsidedownworld.org Print E-mail
Written by Raúl Zibechi   
Wednesday, 10 December 2008
Source: Americas Policy Program, Center for International Policy (CIP)

Image

Popular Minga (Photo M. Murillo)

Social conflict has overtaken the center of the political stage, displacing President Alvaro Uribe, who merely repeats the script that brought him so much success in the war: the Indians, sugarcane workers, teachers, government workers, truckers, and anyone else who protests and mobilizes is being manipulated by the FARC guerrillas.

 

“If you watch what is happening in Cauca department, you can understand that a new political perspective has substituted social action for armed confrontation,” says journalist and sociologist Alfredo Molano. In Cauca, in southwestern Colombia, tens of thousands of Nasa Indians along with other ethnicities have been on a “Minga por la Vida,” a collective mobilization in support of life values, since Oct. 12. And an equal number of sugarcane cutters have been on strike for two months. Something is changing in Colombia.

So far in 2008, the government has hit the FARC rebel forces hard, but political initiative no longer resides in the president’s Nariño Palace offices. In the street, ways of doing politics are being reconfigured into mass actions that cannot be denounced as terrorism, as the president and his closest ministers would wish. The temptation to criminalize social protest can lead to a grave failure for Uribe, because people are beginning to overcome their fear, and even the union movement is showing its face.

Strong denunciations of human rights violations are beginning to appear at the same time. Uribe was forced to retire 27 military officers in a scandal that cost the Army commander, General Mario Montoya, his job. It was proven that military troops kidnapped poor young men from urban peripheries and later counted them as dead “guerrillas” in the mountains. Three thousand members of the military are being investigated by the justice system. In the last televised U.S. presidential debate, Barack Obama told John McCain that as long as trade union members were being murdered in Colombia, the Free Trade Agreement would not be signed.

Hundreds of Protests

September and October have been filled with strikes, work stoppages, and demonstrations. Federal Justice Department workers carried out a prolonged strike for better wages and a department budget that would guarantee its autonomy. The government declared a state of “internal disturbance,” an outlandish reaction showing the mindset of the government that thinks it sees guerrillas behind every union, every strike, and every protest. Shortly afterward, federal workers in the electoral system, the “Registraduría,” followed suit, as later did teachers and truck drivers who had been on strike in August.

On Sept. 15, 12,000 sugarcane cutters went on strike and occupied eight sugar mills in Cauca Valley. The cutters, almost all of whom are Afro-Colombians, arise at four in the morning, work from 6:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. under a punishing sun, and return home around 8:00 p.m., after making 5,400 slashes with their machetes and inhaling smoke from the burning canes and the herbicide glyphosate used on the plantations.

They earn about $10 a day and must pay for their own social security, tools, work clothes, and transportation to the cane field. At dusk, long brown silhouettes can be seen along the Pan-American Highway between Cali and Popayán, staggering like zombies after a criminally brutal workday.

At the beginning of the strike, they described their miserable living and working conditions and won the support of a good part of the population that usually turns its back on demands by Afro-Colombians and indigenous people. The authorities were surprised by the long continuation of a strike they thought would be over in a few days. The demands are simple: the cutters want contracts and wages for days not worked when the mills are shut down and for days when they seek medical treatment, since accidents at work disable 200 workers each year. And they want to eliminate the mobile scales that tip in the owners’ favor.

For the government and the Association of Sugarcane Growers, the main problem is that the strike forced the importation of sugar from Ecuador and Bolivia, paralyzed the production of ethanol, and raised the price of gasoline. In a show of little common sense, the minister of Social Protection told the parliament that the strike was not a social problem but a protest by criminals. Several cane cutters were detained, and it was decided to expel foreign journalists who were covering the strike.

The labor reforms approved in Colombia in 1990 and, especially, in 2002, completely deregulated the labor market. In 1992, for each temporary job, five permanent ones were created. With the establishment of the Associated Work Cooperatives (CTAs), labor’s map was turned on its head: in the first 10 months of 2008, for each permanent job, 10 temporary jobs were created, according to a study by the National University.

With the CTAs, employers avoid paying fiscal costs and other taxes to the state and enjoy a huge reduction in labor costs. The U.S. Congress questioned the “dumping” of the labor force, among other issues, in order to freeze the signing of the Free Trade Agreement with Colombia.

The cane cutters redoubled their resistance to the owners, who had to spend 54 days negotiating with delegates from the Sinalcorteros Union. The cutters were unable to eliminate the CTAs or get an agreement on direct contracts, but they won a 12% increase in wages, control over the weighing scales, provision of tools, broader owner coverage of missed work for illness or accidents, and a work day ending at 4:00 p.m. The union came out of this strengthened: it went from 870 to 3,000 members.

Deterioration in working conditions and the constant increase in the cost of food is at the root of the re-launching of the work protest. That is why Molano, persecuted by a government that forced him into a six-year exile, insists that: “The current protest is the tip of the iceberg of a social movement that can move toward the democratization of the country.” The national strike by the CUT union on Oct. 23, the first of its magnitude in years, can be taken as a sign of evolving changes.

The Great Indigenous “Minga”

The most important protest, which disturbs the government, began on Oct. 12—the Minga of Indigenous Peoples—a mobilization of collective and community work that seeks to reverse the situation of Colombia’s 100 ethnic groups and was called by the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia (ONIC), Cauca Regional Indigenous Council (CRIC), and Association of Indigenous Councils of Northern Cauca (ACIN).

There are five demands: rejection of the Free Trade Agreement with the United States, which they consider an agreement “between owners and against the people”; repeal of the constitutional reforms that subject indigenous peoples to isolation and death; rejection of Plan Colombia, “which infests our lands and sows them with displacement and death”; government fulfillment of its agreements after the 1991 El Nilo massacre—in which 20 Indians were killed from the Nasa tribe, the most mobilized and best organized indigenous group—and that include the transfer of thousands of acres of land promised by the state as compensation.

The indigenous mobilization began with the blocking of the strategically important Pan-American Highway by some 10,000 people who were brutally attacked by the armed forces, with two dead and some 90 wounded, mostly from gunshots. The communities retreated and occupied other sections of the highway. When the government refused to meet with them, they began a march toward Cali, joined by sugarcane workers and other union groups.

As on previous occasions, the Indians were catalysts for social action, since their demands are more political than those of other sectors, and they are better able to explain them. They denounced the fact that in the six years of the Uribe administration, 1,243 Indians were murdered from the 100-plus ethnic groups in Colombia, and 54,000 were displaced from their lands. The motto, “We are all cane cutters, we are all Indians,” showed a new political and social connection in a country until recently polarized, and paralyzed, by war.

In Cali more that 20,000 indigenous people waited for Uribe to show up in order to begin a round of conversations, after having walked for a week along the Pan-American Highway. Uribe finally arrived as the Indians, tired of waiting, were leaving. That mis-encounter of Sunday, Oct. 19, was not improved by the Nov. 2 meeting in La María (Piendamó), where thousands of indigenous people have been gathered since Oct. 12 and have formed what they call a Land of Dialogue, Coexistence, and Negotiation.

After six hours of listening to presidential arrogance and providing data to show the continual violation of human rights in Colombia, the Indigenous and Popular Minga decided to “walk the word,” to keep walking in support of life. They actually took the same path as all the indigenous peoples in the continent—after dozens of meetings, they decided to keep moving forward.

On Nov. 9, they began a new march, from Cali to Bogotá, where they arrived on Nov. 24. The march crosses part of the Andes and includes several cities, so that discussions on their problems can be held with the people. In Bogotá, they will form a Congress of Social Organizations in order to develop a common agenda for social movements.

Because of the importance of international attention to Colombia in order to avoid more repression, on Nov. 8, the ACIN sent a letter to President-elect Obama that denounced the continued violations of indigenous peoples’ human rights. They link it to Plan Colombia as well as the Free Trade Agreement: “Large transnational corporations have profited from oil and gas contracts, mining concessions, privatizations, and low wages, and are now after the biodiversity of our territories.”

For the ACIN, the war in Colombia and violation of human rights are part of a grand multinational project to appropriate lives, or, as they say, to “transform life into merchandise.” That is why they believe that “the destruction of our peoples in Colombia is a consequence of an error that today we call a crisis,” but which is only a product of “greed and the enshrinement of the accumulation of wealth.”

Something Is Changing

Molano believes that President Uribe “is in a difficult situation,” for local as well as international reasons. The global crisis is starting to affect his base of support among urban middle classes, “in debt up to 25% of their income,” according to Molano. But the crisis will also block him from continuing the astronomical military expenditures that are 4.6% of the GDP. Molano believes that “there will be more social demands and less U.S. support.”

But not everything is about the economy. Broad sectors in Colombian society are beginning to understand that accusations by human rights organizations were not exaggerated. In late September, newspapers all reported that 11 young men who had disappeared from Bogotá and Soacha were found in mass graves in another department, North Santander, and had been classified by the army as subversives who died in combat.

A few days later, the number of dead rose to 23, and then it seemed there might be more than 100. The Defensoría del Pueblo, Colombia’s Public Advocate or Human Rights Ombudsman, stated that so far in 2008, 5,522 accusations of disappearances have been made. The “Preliminary Report of the International Mission to Study Extrajudicial Executions and Impunity in Colombia,” published in October 2007, stated that in the past five years, confirmed cases of extrajudicial executions number 955.

Apparently the military is repeating its usual pattern. It kidnaps poor young men, even some with mental problems, from urban peripheral areas, kills them, and transports their bodies to other places, where they are included in the body count of the war against the guerrilla. The few cases that have been clarified so far indicate that they are just the tip of the iceberg that involves a monstrous form of human rights violation.

In the midst of the scandal, Uribe retired 27 military officers, including three generals, and Army Chief Montoya had to resign. In his Sunday column on Nov. 9, Molano asks a very disturbing question: “What has been done to the poor, since we see fewer and fewer of them? Is this another outcome of the Democratic Security Policy?”

Molano thus reminds us that beginning in the 1980s, paramilitaries undertook “social cleansing” that became particularly virulent in cities such as Cali, where they murdered beggars, homosexuals, prostitutes, and people with mental and physical disabilities. These Nazi-like practices never vanished, and Molano’s question asks if “social cleansing” is behind the current disappearances.

Also, at the end of October Amnesty International published its latest report on Colombia, titled “Leave Us Alone!” It states that “impunity continues to be at the heart of the human rights crisis in the country, since most of those responsible have not been taken to court.” It also reports that the Colombian government denies the gravity of the situation and claims, contrary to all evidence, that the paramilitary has disappeared. In just the first six months of 2008, Amnesty recorded 270,000 victims of forced displacement, 41% more than in 2007.

Sectors of the urban middle classes have tended to distance themselves from the Uribe government when there are reports of serious crimes that confirm a high level of corruption in the state and link the government to human rights violations against people not involved in the war. This tendency will grow with the election of Obama and the consequences of the global crisis.

In the next weeks, when the indigenous Minga march arrives in Bogotá, it will be possible to assess whether the urban population is actually abandoning its clear support for the government and undertaking a more or less consistent oppositional effort. It will not be easy. In October alone, more than 20 indigenous people were murdered, because, as the call for the march on Bogotá states, the current administration believes that “whoever opposes the government is a terrorist” and should be repressed.

Like the Zapatistas in Mexico when they called for “The Other Campaign,” the vast experience of the Nasa people tells them that “no sector acting alone can fight the agenda of exploitation and subjugation that the government has been implementing.” Minga mobilization is the tool chosen by those from below “to agree on our word and turn it into our path.” It is only a first step. But, as they know, it’s the one that determines the direction and makes tracks.

 

Translated for the Americas Policy Program by Maria Roof.

Raúl Zibechi is international analyst for Brecha of Montevideo, Uruguay, lecturer and researcher on social movements at the Multiversidad Franciscana de América Latina, and adviser to several social groups. He is a monthly collaborator with the Americas Policy Program (www.americaspolicy.org).

To reprint this article, please contact americas@ciponline.org. The opinions expressed here are the author’s and do not necessarily represent the views of the CIP Americas Policy Program or the Center for International Policy.

 

Sources

 

Resources Asociación de Cabildos Indígenas del Norte del Cauca,
www.nasaacin.org

Foro de la Solidaridad Confiar, Medellín, 18 de octubre de 2008.

Desde Abajo No. 139, revista mensual octubre de 2008, Bogotá.

 

 

For More Information

Buenos Aires: The Poorest Resist “Social Cleansing”
http://americas.irc-online.org/am/5651

Scenarios for the FARC
http://americas.irc-online.org/am/5408

 

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