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The War in Colombia and Why It Continues June 24, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Human Rights, Labor, Latin America.
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Roger’s note: it is only four word phrase, but it reflects an iron law of human society; No Justice, No Peace.  Be it the Middle East, Sub-Saharan Africa or Latin America, conflict may appear ideological or religious, but it is always a question of justice.  That is why so-called settlements that do not address the inherent inequality of capital domination, can be at best stepping stones to genuine peace.  In Latin America we see this in El Salvador, Guatemala and Nicaragua, where full-fledged and open armed conflict has been temporary suspended via agreements between the established “order” (I put this in quotes because it is in fact disorder) and organized rebellion; and the result is a continuation of suffocating neo-Liberal capitalism.  The settlement of virtually every conflict world-wide is further hindered by United States diplomatic, economic, military, and clandestine interventions for geopolitical reasons which inevitably boil down to the protection of corporate interests.

 

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Where Ecocide Turns Into Genocide

by W.T. WHITNEY Jr.

In Havana, representatives of the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have been negotiating peace for 30 months. The war they are trying to end has killed or disappeared 250,000 Colombians over 25 years. The future of the talks is uncertain.

“Today the mountains and forests of Colombia are the heart of Latin America.” At an international forum on Colombia on June 8, former Uruguayan President Jose Mujica was saying that developments in Colombia, including the peace process, are “the most important in Latin America.”

Interviewed on May 30, head FARC negotiator Iván Márquez, asserted that “confidence at the negotiating table is badly impaired and that only a bilateral ceasefire can help the process advance.” He said deaths of “human rights defenders [including] over 100 members of the Patriotic March coalition” and “persecution of leaders of the social movements” were poisoning the atmosphere.

Since March in Cúcuta, thugs have killed four labor leaders, including on June 2 Alex Fabián Espinosa, a member of the MOVICE human rights group. In May assassins killed community leader Juan David Quintana and professor and social activist Luis Fernando Wolff, both in Medellin. Analyst Azalea Robles says that “a total of 19 human rights defenders were murdered in Columbia during the first four months of 2015.”

On April 15, FARC guerrillas killed 11 Colombian soldiers in Buenos Aires (Cauca). According to Márquez, “They were defending themselves following the disembarkation of troops [from aircraft] who were advancing on them.” In apparent retaliation, the Colombian military, bombing from the air, killed 27 guerrillas on May 21 in Guapi (Cauca).   The FARC immediately ended the unilateral, indefinite ceasefire it declared in December, 2014. Within days, government forces killed 10 guerrillas in Antioquia and five more in Choco Department. The dead included two FARC peace negotiators who were in Colombia updating guerrillas on the talks.

Negotiators have reached preliminary agreements on three agenda categories: land, narco-trafficking, and political participation. But now they’ve have spent a year on the “victims” agenda item; reparations and assignment of blame were prime topics. On completion recently of their 37th round of talks, they did agree to form a truth commission as “part of the integral system of truth, justice, reparation, and non-repetition.” Work on that project may divert government negotiators from their steady focus on “transitional justice” which entails punishment and jail time for FARC leaders.

A pilot project on removing landmines and discussions by military leaders on both sides about ceasefire mechanisms are other markers of progress. Márquez insists on “reconciliation on the basis of actual history, far-reaching justice, comprehensive reparation, and no repetition [and] all of this is tied to structural transformations.” This last promises to be a sticking point.

Azalea Robles explains why: Emphasizing Colombian government dependency on powerful economic interests, she implies that the hands of government negotiators are tied. “The Colombian reality,” she says,” is shaped by dispossession and territorial re-accommodation destined for all areas … that are of economic interest. It’s a capitalist logic that allows no scruples and constitutes ecocide turned into genocide. In Colombia strategies of terror are promoted and they relate to capitalist plunder.”

For example, “80 percent of human rights violations and 87 percent of population displacements take place in regions where multinationals pursue mining exploitation, [and] 78 percent of attacks against unionists were against those working in the mining and energy areas.” Some “40 percent of Colombian land is under concession by multinational corporations.” She counts 25 environmentalists killed in 2014.

Capitalism in Colombia, Robles insists, rests on “state terrorism.” She cites “physical elimination” of the Patriotic Union party, “6.3 million dispossessed and displaced from their lands for the benefit of big capital,” and “60 percent of assassinations of unionists worldwide” having taken place in Colombia.

The fate of Wayuu Indians in La Guajira Department epitomizes the terror of extreme poverty and powerlessness. Some 600,000 of them occupy northern borderlands in Colombia and Venezuela. In 2012, 14 000 Wayuu children died of starvation and 36,000 survivors were malnourished; 38.8 percent of Wayuu children under age five died. La Guajira’s El Cerrejón, owned by the BHP Billiton and Anglo America corporations, is the world’s largest open-pit coal mine. Mine operators have destroyed Wayuu villages and poisoned soil and water. They pump 35,000 liters of water out of the Rancheria River each day thus depriving the Wayuu of water they need for survival

While ongoing violence and terror serve as backdrop for the peace process, that reality, ironically enough, originally prompted President Juan Manuel Santos to initiate the talks. He and his political and business allies worried that for civil war to continue might frighten off multinational corporations and international investors. To protect Colombia’s capitalist economy and its integration within the U. S. – led globalized system, they wanted it to end.

But, one asks, where is the common ground shared by a capitalist regime habituated to criminal brutality and Marxist insurgents still in the field after 50 years?

Maybe compromise is not to be, and civil war will continue. Writing for rebelion.org, Colombian political exile José Antonio Gutiérrez D. accuses the Santos government of using negotiations exclusively to create space for strengthening its military power, while beating up on its political opposition and the FARC. Peace, he implies, is not the government‘s objective.

In fact, the government anticipates a “neo-liberal peace.” Were that to occur, the FARC would be giving up on its basic objective of securing justice through political action. FARC negotiators have long called for a peace with mechanisms in place allowing for social justice and structural transformations to flourish. A constituent assembly is a prime example.

Commentator Fernando Dorado gives voice to the government’s line. Fearing that the FARC itself might use a bilateral truce to restore military capabilities, he specifies that, “The only solution is to de-escalate confrontation voluntarily and speed up the talks.” He regards ex-President Uribe’s recent switch to supporting peace on neo-liberal terms as facilitating this approach. Until now Uribe has masterminded obstruction to the peace process. Dorado claims the U.S. government is insisting that “the bloc of hegemonic power [in Colombia]’ unify itself in order to achieve its objective: ‘neo-liberal peace’ with tiny ‘democratic’ concessions.”

The spilt among conservative forces stems from the Santos-led group’s face-off against right wingers – ones Uribe speaks for – who are loyal to traditional forms of oligarchical power, among them: large landholdings, ranching, military force, paramilitaries, and more recently narco-trafficking.

The government now is riding high in the negotiations on account of its power, which is military in nature but rests also on its command of the economy and its U.S. alliance. To both achieve peace and rescue its goals, the FARC must, by any logic, also project power; good ideas are not enough. Indeed, ever such since negotiations began in 2012, FARC strategists have been clear on how to do that. They’ve called for popular mobilization in Colombia for peace with justice – for a people’s uprising.

In a recent interview FARC commander Carlos Antonio Lozada, a delegate to the Havana peace talks, explains: “What with vacillations by Santos and growing pressures from militarism against the peace process, the only guarantee of its continuing and its definitive consolidation is that the majority sectors who believe in a political solution to the conflict mobilize in its defense. Peace with social justice for our people will not come as a present from the oligarchy.” He regrets that, “Still there is no success in structuring a broad front that brings together and decisively mobilizes all the social and political forces that crave a peace with democratic changes.”

In the end, the outcome of negotiations probably will depend on what happens in Colombia. Jaime Caycedo, secretary – general of the Communist Party, announced on June 4 that “social and political organizations will be preparing a national mobilization in favour of peace and the demand for a bilateral cease fire.” It takes place in late July.

W.T. Whitney Jr. is a retired pediatrician and political journalist living in Maine.

 

 

U.S.-Venezuela coup plot exposed & thwarted June 13, 2014

Posted by rogerhollander in Latin America, Colombia, Venezuela, Foreign Policy.
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Roger’s note: Out of sight, out of mind.  While the news media’s attention is on Iraq, Africa, the World Cup in Brazil,  or wherever, the CIA shop never closes, and the efforts to destroy the elected government of Venezuela grind on, however slowly, however quietly.  The Obama foreign policy towards Latin America is as Monroe Doctrinish as any other Democratic or Republican government, where in recent years the CIA has replaced the Marines as the principal agent of change.
By Gloria La Riva

June 7, 2014, http://www.liberationnews.org

  Plan to “annihilate Maduro” and other leaders

on-venezuelan-tv-jorgeOn Venezuelan TV, Jorge Rodríguez, mayor of Libertador municipality in Caracas, quotes from emails written by Maria Corina Machado.

In a dramatic televised exposé May 28, email messages from Venezuelan ultra-right opposition leaders reveal the direct role of the U.S. State Department in financing and instructing Venezuelan coup plotters.

The incriminating emails, “many, many” captured by Venezuelan authorities, proves that the violent attacks which began in February 2014 and latest coup plot was coordinated by Washington.

On Venezuelan TV, Jorge Rodríguez, mayor of Libertador municipality in Caracas, quoted from emails written by Maria Corina Machado to an accomplice, professor Gustavo Tarre of the Central University of Venezuela. Tarre was a leader of the right-wing Christian Social party, COPEI.

Machado, active in the April 2002 coup against president Hugo Chávez, prides herself on being one of the most aggressive in pushing for the government’s overthrow.

In one email, she complains that some in the opposition only “send formal declarations and tweets. No, I’ve already decided and this struggle is until this regime is gone and we fulfill our promise with our friends in the world… Kevin Whitaker already reconfirmed the support and indicated the new steps. We can rely on a bigger checkbook than the regime’s, to break the ring of international security that they have created …”

The checkbook is of course signed by Washington.

Who is Kevin Whitaker? He became U.S. ambassador to Colombia in April 2014, having been appointed by President Obama. Whitaker has been assigned previously to Honduras, to Venezuela from 2005 to 2007 and was in charge of the State Department’s Office of Cuba Affairs from 2002 to 2005.

Rodríguez, also president of the United Socialist Party of Venezuela (PSUV), asked on TV, “Does the U.S. State Department know that when the Venezuelan ultra-right attempts its criminal events that violate our constitution of peace, of democracy, it is asking for instructions and authorization of a State Department official? Does President Obama know of this? Does Secretary of State John Kerry?”

The Bolivarian government has complained of the role of right-wing forces in Colombia against Venezuela, including ex-president Alvaro Uribe’s links to paramilitary groups operating on the border, poised for armed intervention.

Obviously Whitaker’s ambassadorship is not confined to Colombia, and Venezuela’s complaint of interference from Colombia is not imaginary.

Machado wrote in another email: “I believe the time has come to join forces, make the necessary calls, and obtain the financing to annihilate Maduro… and the rest will come falling down.”

As late as May 23, Machado’s email: “I’m fed up with waiting. We have to take out this trash — starting with the one heading it and by taking advantage of the world situation with Ukraine and Thailand as soon as possible.”

The latest assassination plans against President Nicólas Maduro, National Assembly president Diosdado Cabello and other leaders, are because U.S. imperialism has failed to unseat the revolutionary government either by elections or economic sabotage.

Despite 15 years of U.S. machinations, the masses back the revolutionary process and have overcome many difficult challenges. But the plans in Washington continue.

Machado is not the only one involved in the coup plans. Others are implicated, including William Brownfield, former U.S. ambassador to Venezuela, Pedro Mario Burelli, former director of the oil industry PDVSA, who now lives in Washington, and fugitive banker Eligio Cedeño, now in Miami.

The emails and phone calls of the opposition were intercepted by court order obtained by the Bolivarian Intelligence Service. The government is proceeding with prosecution of Machado and others for plotting criminal actions.

If Venezuela’s revolution were overthrown, U.S. imperialism and its right-wing stooges would unleash a bloodbath reminiscent of the fascist terror that reigned from Argentina to Chile in the 1970s and 1980s.

The Party for Socialism and Liberation stands with the Bolivarian Revolution, its government and people. It is vital that we in the progressive movement inform the people of the United States of U.S. government plots and mobilize in the Revolution’s defense.

Content may be reprinted with credit to LiberationNews.org.

In one Colombian town, women say no sex until their demands are met October 30, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Latin America, Peace.
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Roger’s note: Apparently, someone in Colombia has read Lysistrata, and Colombian women are acting in the honorable tradition of Aristophanes’s clever, courageous and creative peace-loving Greek women.  Or maybe they just figured it out on their own.  I read today that a Republican Senator, who just discovered that his child is gay, is now considering changing his mind to support the Senate bill that would give equal protection to gay men and women.  When it hits home it become real.  Wouldn’t it be great if women worldwide took heed and followed Aristophanes’s strategy with respect to their soldiers and generals and politicians and arms and nuclear merchants and destroyers of the peace and the biosphere.  Last night I the strangest dream …”

 

 

 

 

 

RTX128S0

Credit: Radu Sigheti/Reuters
Women in a small Colombian town say they won’t be having sex until the road that connects their town
with the rest of Colombia is repaired.

 

Women in the small town of Barbacaos in southwest Colombia have been sleeping on the sofa for the past few days.

They say they’ve stopped having sex with their significant others in protest of what they say is the terrible condition of the road that connects their small, isolated town to the rest of Colombia, says reporter John Otis in Colombia.

 

“Colombians like to say you go to the end of the Earth and take a left — that’s where this place is located,” he said.

 

And the women say the conditions of that road is so bad that it takes them 12 to 14 hours to get to the nearest hospital. Otis says even pregnant women have died in the back of ambulances, trying to get to a hospital to give birth.

 

That’s why they’ve gone on a sex strike, dubbed the “crossed legs movement.”

 

This however, is not the first time that women living in Barbacaos have gone on a sex strike. In 2011 they used the same method, demanding the road be fixed. They were promised a new and improved road, but after two years, there was no improvement.

 

But they haven’t given up and once again, they’ve gone on strike.

 

Otis says it’s not just the residents of Barbacaos who suffer from bad road conditions in Colombia. He says difficult terrain, such as in the Andes mountains, and a guerrilla war that rages on, all make it very difficult to build new roads and maintain old ones.

 

“If you’re going to send a container of Colombian goods to China, it will cost you more to bring it to a Colombian port than to get it from that Colombian port all the way across the other side of the world to China,” he says.

 

This time it seems that members of the “crossed legs movement” are actually getting results.

 

Otis says he’s seen pictures of bulldozers and heavy machinery on the road, starting repairs.

 

Links

 

 

Shirin Jaafari

Shirin Jaafari is a producer at The World.

 

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

Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Foreign Policy, Human Rights, Imperialism, Labor, Latin America.
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Roger’s note: I am publishing this articles so that readers in the United States might know what’s going on in their 51st state.

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

 

– Sarah Lazare, staff writer

Protests in Sincelejo (Photo: Marcha Patriotica)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Photo: Twitter/@zonacero)

_____________________

Enough! Accounting and Remembering the Long War in Colombia July 29, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Drugs, Foreign Policy, Human Rights, Latin America, War.
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US military interventions differ greatly from each other. Some, like the one currently contemplated in Syria or the invasions of Kosovo and Haiti, are publicly rationalized as humanitarian in purpose, while others, such as the long occupation of Afghanistan, are purportedly in self-defense, and still others supposedly fight drug trafficking, as in Colombia and Mexico. Some involve enormous commitments of US troops and treasure, as in Iraq and Vietnam, while others involve a relatively small number of US personnel, as in El Salvador or the Philippines.

 

(Photo: n.karim/ Flickr)

But a constant among all such interventions is the stated belief of those propagating them that they will have a positive impact in the invaded nation. This may be a cynical ploy for US and international support, but the most effective prevaricators are those who have convinced themselves of the lie they tell or the myths they perpetuate. An antidote to such myths is the historical memory of the victims of wars where the United States has played a part.

That is the starting point of Basta Ya! Colombia: Memories of War and Dignity, released last week, and compiled over five years by the Group for Historical Memory. The 420-page report is the culmination of 24 volumes that focused on emblematic atrocities and cross-cutting issues of the war in Colombia since 1958. Basta Ya! overwhelms with statistics: 220,000 killed in the conflict, 81.5% of them civilians; 25,007 people forcibly disappeared; at least 4.7 million people displaced from their homes by the violence – one in every ten Colombians; more than 27,023 people kidnapped; 10,189 injured or killed by landmines; as well as people victimized by military recruitment of children, and sexual violence as a weapon of war.

Of nearly two thousand massacres documented in Colombia since 1980, 59% of them were committed by right-wing paramilitaries (often in alliance with the military and/or local political elites), 17% by guerrillas, 8% by the armed forces, and 15% couldn’t be determined.
But the experiences of victims and survivors are never far from these cold numbers: the absolute impotence of those who couldn’t stop the bloodletting, the silencing caused by the violence – which was one of its objectives, the collective fear after a massacre and the ways that selective killings took even more lives, the high levels of impunity for these crimes.

Last month, I sat with family members of a dozen people killed by army soldiers and police in Arauca, the oil-producing department near the Venezuelan border.  Most of the killings had occurred eight to ten years ago, but their cases are languishing in the criminal justice, with no movement at all. A reform to the military justice system this year increases the chances that these mothers and fathers will never see justice, and their dead children will continue to be stigmatized.

The United States has influenced the doctrine, weapons and operations of the Colombian military for decades, especially since Colombia fought alongside the U.S. in Korea. Washington dramatically escalated its involvement in the war between 1998 and 2002, just as it was generating its worst toll. The terrible synergy produced by the Bush administration’s brutal and cynical use of 9/11 with Colombia’s fatal reaction against failed peace talks created an alliance bent on war and militarization without end, while hypocritically certifying improvements in human rights. As paramilitary groups partially demobilized between 2003 and 2006, some of their perverse practices transferred back to the US-client Colombian Army, which adopted a “body count” strategy that became so mercenary that recruiters were paid to supply hundreds of men who were executed and counted as guerrillas killed in combat.

The authors of Basta Ya! clearly intended it for a Colombian audience. There is only a Spanish version, and comparisons made to show the scale of damage from the war are made to Colombian cities that most non-Colombians are unlikely to know. This could explain, at least in part, why the authors also give little attention to the role of the more than $8 billion in US assistance to the Colombian military and police, multinational corporations that have assisted paramilitary groups, or the international narcotics trade that also has financed much of the armed conflict. The focus is on national actors and relationships, many of them hidden and under-reported.

An accounting of what impact the United States has had on Colombia’s terrible suffering has yet to be made. Washington trumpets the success of its military assistance in Colombia, and is financing the exporting of Colombian military expertise to other nations in Latin America and around the world.

But the Pentagon and State Department are increasingly secretive about just what that assistance consists of. After the Fellowship of Reconciliation published a published a report in 2010 indicating that increased civilian killings were committed by US-aided Colombian Army units, the State Department pointedly classified its list of supported units. Similarly, after School of the Americas Watch began to more effectively use lists of Latin American graduates of the U.S. Army school to show how many had committed atrocities, the Pentagon began to systematically refuse disclosure of those names. With the United States spending $25 billion a year on foreign military and police aid, transparency about what units receive assistance is increasingly important for fiscal reasons, as well as a political and ethical imperative.

As human rights, peace, and solidarity activists work against reflexive US military adventures, the victims of wars where the United States takes part deserve the truth about how the U.S. impacted the conflict. This task of constructing and reconstructing memory will require work not just by projects in the affected countries, like Colombia’s Group for Historical Memory, but by researchers, activists, advocates, legislators, whistleblowers, and ordinary people in the United States as well. It is a necessary prerequisite to the United States’ own transformation.

John Lindsay-Poland is research director and southwestern regional coordinator of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, and author of Emperors in the Jungle: The Hidden History of the U.S. in Panama.

Child prostitution: The scourge of Colombia’s mines June 2, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Canada, Canadian Mining, Colombia, Human Rights, Latin America, Mining, Women.
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Roger’s note: When this story was sent to me in Spanish by Carmen I began an Internet search to find it in English, and here it is.  Knowing that Canadian mining companies are notorious for various abuses in Latin America and Africa, I suspected that the mines referred to in the article has a Canadian connection.  A further search led me to a Canadian Mennonite site’s (http://mennocolombia2013.wordpress.com/tag/mining/) report of its mission in Colombia, from which I excerpt the following:

Three different ministry groups spoke of the sobering reality of life in the villages:

  • dilapidated housing,
  • extreme poverty,
  • ecological devastation of pristine jungles and polluted rivers clogged with toxins – all from Canadian Mining firms operating in the area.

 

colombian-girls

Prostituted girls on the streets of Medellín, Colombia. The crime-pocked streets of that cocaine-infested city are not the only places in that land where children are sexually exploited and enslaved, as El Tiempo’s sub-editor, Jineth Bedoya Lima, reports:

Mireya’s life has been so rough, violent and bitter that at 13, she already feels 40. A night of “bad business” left her with a scar that outlines her right eyebrow, runs down her cheek, and ends near her mouth. “I had 72 stitches, but I worked on the scar with mortician’s paste, and it doesn’t look so bad,” she says, looking at herself in a tiny piece of glass that she uses for a mirror.

Her days are full of glue, which she sniffs to forget the hunger and the abuses of the clients, or the long work days with drunken miners and assailants in the clandestine camps in the lowlands of Atrato, between Murindó (Antioquia) and Carmen del Darién (Chocó).

In these ancestral lands copper and gold aren’t the only things being exploited. There are bodies which have not even reached their maturity, which are also being used by human trafficking networks, forced prostitution, and sexual exploitation. But that’s not all. El Tiempo has also documented how, in mining regions throughout Colombia, criminal groups are doing a parallel trade which does not limit itself to extortion or deforestation.

Behind the mining titles which have generated so much controversy in the last year, behind illegal mining and armed groups taking advantage to maintain a source of financing, there is a crime which no one has attacked and which, for those regions, is practically part of the landscape. Officials assured us that wherever there are masses of men, there is prostitution, and since it is the oldest profession in the world, there is no cause for alarm.

But the truth is that dozens of girls, none of them over 16, have been enslaved sexually and are now part of a statistic that no one has clearly counted. There is no plan on the part of the state to save them from exploitation.

Mireya began travelling by bus every Wednesday from a corner in the neighborhood of Cuba, in Pereira, when she was 11 years old. Her mother, who is in jail for selling bazuco [cocaine paste] and marijuana in a “stewpot” in the centre of the city, sold her to a man who was recruiting “workers”. That was in March of 2011. “I don’t know how much money Mona [Mireya’s mother] got, but she packed a t-shirt for me, some underwear, a pair of shorts, and she gave me a thousand pesos to tide me over along the way.” That day Mireya began her journey, from the hands of the man who bought her, into horror and abuse.

Her story just flows, as if she were telling what had happened on a bad day and remains paradoxically imbued with a profound innocence. Her youth helps her to rise above the assaults she suffers, because she believes that this is the life she “must” live. The girl only nods her head when asked if she knows that she has rights and that the law is supposed to protect her.

After several days’ journey, in March 2011, Mireya was brought together with 11 other minor girls. She remembers that “one of them had just turned nine years old and still talked baby talk”; the five who were virgins were separated from the group and on Saturday night, were brought to four miners. “They were more or less old. First they made us drink aguardiente [hard liquor, similar to whisky], and later…it all began.” No tears. This girl’s words are only laden with desperation.

One could say that Mireya is a survivor of what is happening in one sector of Careperro. This mountain is home to one of the largest gold deposits, and experts say that it is the entryway to a gigantic vein of copper that crosses the Andes, all the way from Chile.

There are now 16 legal mining titles in the zone, which span territories of black and indigenous communities, most of them in the hands of a US-based company, where there is a relative degree of control. However, around the illegal mines, which have no legal title, there are camps on the weekends which play host to young girls and teens who are offered in mobile brothels.

“In the towns where the mines are, near the municipal offices, the brothels are outside the towns, in houses, and it’s easy to control them, but in the mines which are in the middle of the mountains, you can get away with anything,” said an army official of the zone.

And one of the bottlenecks of the problem is which responsibility each authority bears. “We’re not competent to deal with minors. That’s the responsibility of the police,” said the soldier. Meanwhile, the police say that the mines are in rural areas difficult to access, which are the jurisdiction of the army. So the prostitution networks can operate widely, without problems, and with an often permissive attitude from the civil authorities.

But this is not only a problem in the border regions of Chocó and Antioquia. In Córdoba, in the area of Nudo de Paramillo and in Ayapel, there are also centres of sexual exploitation. And in the northeastern zone and the valley of Cauca, near the gold mines, there is another critical point.

The final point is in Guainía, where the extraction of coltan has also unleashed a wave of prostitution, which is not new but which in recent months has affected several indigenous communities, because their girls have ended up being exploited.

The paradoxical thing about this illicit growth is that no functionary wants to talk about it publicly, “because there are no documented cases”, but when one turns off the recording device, they acknowledge the problem and even tell stories of what goes on in their zones.

How do these networks of sexual exploitation and forced prostitution function near the mines? A source from Army Intelligence has been documenting for several months how from Cartagena, Pereira, Medellín, Armenia and Cali, there are “hooking offices” moving minors and prostitutes up to 26 years of age.

The most alarming thing is that these criminal networks have built encampments near the mines, to “offer entertainment services to the workers”. They tell this to the girls to justify the abuses.

“The information is fragmented because the interviews we’ve managed to do have taken place in security centres, and we have to admit it: at the moment we take into custody a demobilized guerrilla, a prisoner or an informant, the first priority is to ask about illegal groups, drug or weapons trafficking. But rarely or never do we pay attention to women’s issues,” admits an investigator.

His frankness makes clear that there is no plan to confront the problem.

From the testimonies of several young girls and teenagers, El Tiempo has reconstructed the routes the exploiters take for “supplying” the demands of hundreds of miners who, according to the police, spend all their weekly earnings on liquor and prostitutes, many of them underage.

One route is the one between Cartagena and Antioquia. The intermediate point where the girls are collected is in Turbaco; there, generally, a bus takes the “express route” to Caucasia, and from there, they travel in public vehicles to Nechí, El Bagre, and Zaragoza.

“Last November 8 we had a situation at a checkpoint with several minor girls. They were heading for El Bagre (near Cauca), in a minibus. When we asked them why they were there, they claimed they were just passing through; later they said they had signed on as waitresses on a finca [large estate], but we already knew what was going on. We turned them over to the police, and they, in turn, to the ICBF. That’s all we know,” said a soldier. Even now he doesn’t know what happened to the girls.

Another infamous route for girls runs from Cartagena to Córdoba. Some get off at Ayapel; others, in the city of Montería and from there, to Valencia and Nudo de Paramillo. The modus operandi is the same: a bus or minibus, a fake story, and in the end, a camp or a house for abuse.

From Medellín there is another route, which carries girls to Chocó, or northeastern Antioquia, to Segovia and the Cauca valley, and from Medellín and Pereira to the edges of Antioquia and Chocó.

The authorities are also investigating what is happening to indigenous girls in the coltan-mining zone of Guainía, as well as the likely sale of minors, by their parents, in the emerald-mining area of Boyacá. But the drama of these girls is not only in the camps where they are enslaved and abused.

The chain of horror begins in the same streets where they are recruited. In the centre of Medellín, for example, the “Convivir” (extortion gangs) get paid a percentage of the girls’ earnings for letting them stand on a street corner. The girls are offered security in case a client doesn’t pay, and if they make trouble while under the influence of glue fumes, they are beaten and kicked out of the block. But these delinquents, who claim to maintain control of the streets, are the same contacted by the heads of the networks who seek “merchandise” to traffick into the mining areas.

“Without a doubt, most of the trade in the mines is controlled by the Urabeños. They buy girls in Cartagena or Medellín. Their own mothers offer them, and they make money off them,” says one of the investigators documenting cases. And in Antioquia, there is a name which everyone knows and remembers painfully: Jhon Jairo Restrepo, alias “Marcos”, formerly of the Carlos Alirio Buitrago Front of the ELN guerrillas. Now he is the chief of the Urabeños in the northeast, and one of the victimizers of girls and women.

But civil authorities claim not to know anything about him. At least, so says the mayor of Segovia, Jhony Alexis Castrillón, who would only say that “in this town there is no prostitution, because the women are very hot and don’t need to be paid.”

The same saddening response comes from various other entities of the state: “There is no sexual exploitation here,” said a functionary of the Centre for Attention to Victims of Sexual Violence (CAIVAS), to the police in Medellín.

And the case of “Marcos” in Antioquia repeats itself in Chocó with three men who each have four aliases, and who have taken it upon themselves to provide the “services” of minor girls in the camps less than three kilometres from the mines.

“They picked me up in Pereira, they took me on a bus to Chocó, all the way out into the jungle. I was there for two months in the camp. Four other girls travelled with me, but I never saw them again, I don’t know what happened to them…” says a 15-year-old girl, who was just 14 in the middle of 2012, when she was taken to the Atrato valley.

“Mile”, which she says is her street name, keeps looking around her as she speaks. Her sadness is evident as she tells what those eight weeks were like. “The guy who picked me up in Bolívar Square told me I would have food and a bed, and that I’d be paid at the end of the month. And I did have that, but at the end of the first two weeks, Leo (as she calls the man) passed me a hundred thousand pesos and told me that was the payment.

The next month, the same thing happened. “Mile” decided to take a risk and asked one of the miners, who was heading to Pereira, to take her along, and that she wouldn’t charge him anything for going to bed. He agreed. “The bus stopped before arriving in Pereira, the guy was asleep, and I stayed behind, I didn’t go back…”

She decided not to return to her city for fear that Leo would come back to kill her, and now she is on the streets of Medellín. Her body bears the marks of clients, thieves and drunks, who forced her at knifepoint to comply with any number of aberrant requests.

“Lots of things happen in the mines. In many parts of the country lots of things happen, but here the authorities and everyone say that we’re the whores…I, for example, feel like I’m not a person anymore…this happened to me and there’s nothing I can do.”

Translation mine.

I cried while I was translating this, much as I did during the last chapter of The Table Dancer’s Tale, which is also full of stories of girls prostituted by their own parents. Many of them are well under legal age, too. The difference between Mexico and Colombia is that the Mexican girls tend to work out of established houses, bars and nightclubs, which are more or less controlled environments, within the reach of local police; the Colombians are subjected to truly horrific conditions, in jungle encampments near the mines, which are in remote mountain locations and thus so much harder to escape. The police and the army both turn a blind eye, and only rarely intercept a “shipment” of human “merchandise” bound for the mining camps. How hard do the authorities need to be hit over the head to realize that this is a pervasive problem? Or are girls just so disposable in Colombia that literally anything goes, and that it’s “normal” for their own mothers to sell them to mafiosi? Do they rationalize the situation the way one brothel keeper in the stories of Gabriel García Márquez did, by writing over the doors of the establishment that the girls worked there because “they are hungry”? How many more girls are going to be exploited before someone makes the necessary political and economic changes that will make prostitution unprofitable for the traffickers who enslaved them?

Despite Promises, Colombia FTA Does Little to End Abuse of Labor Activists August 5, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Human Rights, Labor, Latin America.
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Published on Sunday, August 5, 2012 by Common Dreams

 

Assurances by both governments fail to end violence against workers

– Common Dreams staff

According to activists, 34 Colombian trade unionists have been killed since the LAP was implemented, including 11 this year alone. (Image AFL-CIO)

Despite repeated assurances from both the US and Colombian governments, labor leaders say that two months after the implementation of a bi-lateral trade deal between the two countries few meaningful protections for unionists have been implemented.

“We ask President (Barack) Obama to push for more guarantees for Colombian workers,” Miguel Conde, with Sintrainagro, a union representing workers on palm-oil plantations, said at at press event held at AFL-CIO headquarters in Washington. “In Colombia, it is easier to form an armed group than a trade union… because we still have no guarantees from the government.”

The U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement (Colombia FTA) was originally negotiated by the George W. Bush administration. Colombia—a country that for decades has been the most dangerous place in the world for trade union organizers— promsied to curtail the culture of murder and abuse, but human rights groups both inside and outside of Colombia warned against the deal. After several years, the US Congress ultimately approved the pact in October 2011, but only after the inclusion of a 37-point Labour Action Plan (LAP), designed to improving the conditions for Colombian workers and organizers.

The problem, according to activists interviewed by Al-Jazeera and a report recently released by the AFL-CIO, is that the protections are either not being implemented at all, or are insufficient to address the ongoing abuses.

“Though the LAP included some important measures that Colombian unions and the AFL-CIO have been demanding for years,” reads the AFL-CIO’s report (pdf), “its scope was too limited—it fully resolved neither the grave violations of union freedoms nor the continuing violence and threats against unionists and human rights defenders.”

“What happened since [implementation] is a surge in reprisals against almost all of the trade unions and labour activists that really believed in the Labour Action Plan,” Gimena Sánchez-Garzoli, a rights advocate at the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), a watchdog group, said at the report’s launch.

This included the April 27 killing of Daniel Aguirre, a labour leader who had helped to organise Colombia’s sugarcane workers. According to Sánchez-Garzoli, 34 Colombian trade unionists have been killed since the LAP was implemented, including 11 this year alone.

“There is no reason to believe that top officials are not making sincere efforts to make a change,” Celeste Drake, a trade policy expert with AFL-CIO, told Al-Jazeera.

“The problem is these changes cannot simply be made by people with good intentions at the top. It’s a culture within the government and throughout Colombia that for years has tolerated, condoned, promoted intolerance to the exercise of worker rights.”

Showing 2 comments

  • Yunzer, Direct Action Gets the Goods 1 comment collapsed CollapseExpand

    The savage neoliberal capitalist state of Colombia is a vile place. Don’t let Bogota’s liberal-bourgeois reputation deceive you on this.

    It is also a 1/8th scale model of what the USA will look like in a couple more decades. I see no countervailing political-economic force to counteract this trend, and hard lessons of history (Pinkertons/Baldwin Felts = Paramilitarios) to confirm it.

    Organize! Organize!

     
  • Suspiria_de_profundis 1 comment

    Do these poor workers really think Barack Obama CARES that their union leaders are being assassinated?

    Barack Obama is not a decent or just man in any way shape or form and he will only act on this if he sees it garnering him a political advantage,

    Political leaders that show genuine concern for the worker tend to be assassinated or toppled in some CIA sponsored action.

    The truth is that these workers can only appeal to the American people and if the American people either do not care or care but can not do anyhting because theor own media and political system is totally under control of the same Corporations making profits off the worker in Colombia, nothing will be done on tthe part of the United States of America.

    The Colombian people will have to rid themselves of their own Government.

A Conspiracy of Whores April 21, 2012

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

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

 

John Grant

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

Unified Latin America Challenges Failed US/Canada Policies on Drug War, Cuba, and Finance April 16, 2012

Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Cuba, Drugs, Foreign Policy, Latin America.
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Roger’s note: I love the photo that accompanies this article.  Obama and Clinton, do they not appear to be dinosaurian?  They think they are huge and powerful and indestructible, at the same time as they are on their way to extinction.  The two great leaders of the Democratic Party, staunch defenders of the Monroe Doctrine in the twenty-first century, custodians of the collapsing American Empire.  Our only hope is that they don’t bring the rest of the world down with them.

Published on Monday, April 16, 2012 by Inter Press Service

‘Last Summit of the Americas without Cuba’ sees alternative rise to challenge hegemony of US policy

  by Constanza Vieira

CARTAGENA DE INDIAS, Colombia – “What matters at this summit is not what is on the official agenda,” said Uruguayan analyst Laura Gil, echoing the conventional wisdom in this Colombian port city, where the Sixth Summit of the Americas ended Sunday without a final declaration.

Latin American nations say there may not be another summit unless the US overcomes its objections to Cuba. (AFP)

The Fifth Summit, held in Port of Spain, the capital of Trinidad and Tobago, in 2009, had a similar outcome.

At the Sixth Summit, which opened Saturday Apr. 14, the foreign ministers failed to reach prior agreement on a consensus document.

Key points of discord were the continued U.S. embargo against Cuba and Argentina’s claim to sovereignty over the Falkland/Malvinas Islands, a British overseas territory in the South Atlantic.

Gil, an expert on international relations who lives in Colombia, told IPS that “a consensus on drugs seems to be forming among the countries of Latin America.”

“These three issues are precisely the ones that are dividing the hemisphere in two, or confronting the countries of Latin America with the United States and Canada,” she said.

“The Summit of the Americas process is in crisis. What the Sixth Summit clearly shows is that certain issues cannot be put off any longer, particularly that of Cuba,” excluded from the Americas summits due to pressure from the United States, she added.

In Gil’s opinion, “there will not be another summit without Cuba. Either Cuba is included, or there will not be a summit at all. The absence of (Ecuadorean President Rafael) Correa is a red alert,” she said, referring to the Ecuadorean president’s promise not to attend any further hemispheric meetings to which Cuba is not invited.

According to the expert, “Colombia positioned itself as a bridge, able to facilitate relations between contrary ideological blocs. But from this position, Colombia cannot work miracles.

“This summit reminds us that ideologies are still a force to be reckoned with. The limitations are plain to be seen,” she said.

The Venezuelan ambassador to the Organization of American States (OAS), Roy Chaderton – a former Venezuelan ambassador to Colombia and the U.S. – told the Colombian radio station RCN Radio: “This is a rebellion by Latin American democracies against U.S. and Canadian hegemony.”Canada and the United States were left in isolation in a vote on a resolution to put an end to Cuba’s exclusion, which was split 32 against two, at a meeting of foreign ministers that was to approve documents to be signed by the presidents.

Canada and the United States were left in isolation in a vote on a resolution to put an end to Cuba’s exclusion, which was split 32 against two, at a meeting of foreign ministers that was to approve documents to be signed by the presidents.

In addition to Correa, Haitian President Michel Martelly and Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega were also absent, having sent last-minute cancellations. Ortega led a rally in Managua in solidarity with Cuba Saturday Apr. 14.

On Saturday morning it was announced that Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez would not be attending the summit, due to the treatment for his cancer.

At the end of the first day’s meetings, the countries of the Bolivarian Alliance for the Peoples of Our America (ALBA) released a declaration in Cartagena stating that they would not attend any further summits without the participation of Cuba.

ALBA is made up of Antigua and Barbuda, Bolivia, Cuba, Dominica, Ecuador, Honduras, Nicaragua, St. Vincent and the Grenadines, and Venezuela.

The host’s speech

At the opening ceremony of the Sixth Summit, Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos did not mince words. He exhorted delegates “not to be indifferent” to the changes occurring in Cuba, which he said were ever more widely recognized and should be encouraged.

“It is time to overcome the paralysis that results from ideological obstinacy and seek a basic consensus so that this process of change has a positive outcome, for the good of the Cuban people,” he said.

“The isolation, the embargo, the indifference, looking the other way, have been ineffective,” Santos said.

As for Haiti, the poorest country in the hemisphere, Santos recommended supporting the agenda of the Haitian government, instead of pushing “our own agendas.”

He also said that “Central America is not alone.” Organized crime must be combated, but anti-drug policy should be focused on “the victims,” including “the millions” locked up in prisons, Santos said.

This summit will not find an answer to Latin America’s calls for facing up to the failure of the war on drugs, “of this I am completely certain,” he said.

Militarization marches on

U.S. President Barack Obama let it be understood that his country would tolerate flexibilization of Latin American anti-drug policies, saying “I think it is entirely legitimate to have a conversation about whether the laws in place are ones that are doing more harm than good in certain places.””I know there are frustrations and that some call for legalization. For the sake of the health and safety of our citizens – all our citizens – the United States will not be going in this direction,” Obama said on Saturday.

But he flatly rejected legalization.

“I know there are frustrations and that some call for legalization. For the sake of the health and safety of our citizens – all our citizens – the United States will not be going in this direction,” Obama said on Saturday.

He also announced that the U.S. government would increase its aid to the war on drugs led by “our Central American friends” and pledged “more than 130 million dollars this year.”

Colombian expert Ricardo Vargas of Acción Andina, a local think tank, summed up the U.S. position: “‘You may decriminalize drugs, but that will not eliminate the mafias. And we will be there’,” with a military presence as soon as drug shipments cross the borders, he told IPS.

The People’s Summit

From another part of the city of Cartagena, Enrique Daza, the coordinator of the Hemispheric Social Alliance, a movement of social organizations that organized the Fifth People’s Summit, held in parallel to the Summit of the Americas, announced their “satisfaction” at the same time as President Santos received a standing ovation in the auditorium where the heads of state were gathered.

“They were not able to keep our demands hidden,” Daza said at the close of the counter-summit.

On the positive side, the People’s Summit proposed independent integration within the region, and knowledge and respect for the contributions of indigenous people and peasant farmers to the art of “good living” and a culture of peace.

The alternative summit rejected the United States’ “imposition of its agenda” at the Summits of the Americas, and demanded an end to militarization based on the pretext of the war on drugs, which in fact ends up criminalizing social protest, he said.

In its final declaration, the People’s Summit castigated the United States and Canada for insisting on the promotion of free trade treaties with other countries of the continent.

Canada came in for heavy criticism for fomenting a “predatory model” for the operations of its mining companies in Latin America. “The rights of investors cannot take precedence over the rights of people and of nature,” the final declaration says.

The gathering of social movements, left-wing groups and human rights, indigenous, environmental and women’s organizations also launched a veiled attack on socialist governments in Latin America.

While recognizing the efforts of bodies such as ALBA and the fledgling Community of Latin American and Caribbean States (CELAC), the declaration expressed that “progressive and left-wing” governments in the Americas should take steps against the extraction of natural resources and the concentration of land ownership.

On the positive side, the People’s Summit proposed independent integration within the region, and knowledge and respect for the contributions of indigenous people and peasant farmers to the art of “good living” and a culture of peace.

© 2012 IPS North America

 

Latin American military men against drug war April 14, 2012

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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