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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.

 

 

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)

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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?