COLOMBIA UPDATES 3
We are unexpectedly, and probably for a brief moment, returning to this endeavor in light of the historic significance of recent developments which ought not to go unchronicled.
AUGUST 2016. THE COLOMBIAN PEACE PROCESS.
We haven't done updates for ages, here, and don't plan to resume with anything like the detail we once imagined or formerly attempted. But since a historic moment is coming up in the destiny of Colombia, it is important to at least mention that moment, and in so doing, to bridge the gap between our last entries, made over seven years ago, and today's.
To summarize briefly: Alvaro Uribe, a dissident Liberal Party member and former governor of Antioquia, joined together with many Conservative Party members and others attracted to his message and personality, to form the 'Colombia First' movement which propelled him to the Colombian presidency in the 2002 Elections. At the heart of his message were pledges to restore order in Colombia by taking a hard-line on criminals and guerrilla movements, and to improve the Colombian economy via the neoliberal model (promoting privatization of inefficient state companies, welcoming foreign investment, cutting government expenses, and being a responsible interest-payer on debts and compliant-dealer with the IMF and World Bank). Capitalizing on the fears of the Colombian elites, but more especially, on the desires for stability and security of a growing urban middle class which was receptive to his bespectacled professional appearance, media savvy, and mastery of public-relations strategies and presentation, he rose to power in a peculiar election which saw the traditional Liberal-Conservative-Party dynamics shattered by new configurations of power. His personalist (Uribista) movement wrought havoc on the customary political landscape, and his reign began.
Immediately compatible with the George W. Bush administration in Washington, Uribe forged close ties with conservative US forces who championed him as a bulwark against an increasing re-radicalization of Latin America (a reaction to the post-Soviet overdoing of neoliberalism, which led to the rise of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and, later, to the rise of Evo Morales in Bolivia and the return of Daniel Ortega in Nicaragua). Huge amounts of US aid were sent Uribe's way, to support the Colombian economy and bolster the Colombian military in its war to control the national territory. Just as under the Clinton administration, large sums of aid earmarked for 'the war on drugs' were actually directed into counterinsurgency operations against the FARC guerrillas. Slick and well-funded media campaigns had, by now, convinced the majority of the American people that the guerrillas were the main force behind the Colombian drug boom: allies of the major drug traffickers and protectors of vast tracts of coca cultivations and jungle labs. To end the drug crisis, the guerrillas must be defeated; and in this way, Clinton bypassed the reticence of the US Congress to fund military action against a faction in a civil war driven by social justice issues, and spun the escalating intervention as a necessary act of American self-defense ('our kids are dying in the street, fighting over crack turf, or with needles in their arm.") Back here in the US, the fact that every major player in Colombia had tapped into the drug trade, including corrupt and connected narco-lords whose profits were finding their way back into the Colombian economy (fronted by substantial mainstream investments), corrupt political and military figures, and right-wing paramilitary forces allied to the 'dark side' of the Colombian military, was kept at bay and out of the public eye. It was the guerrillas, the guerrillas, and the guerrillas who were the problem... Under the Bush administration, the emotive designation of the guerrillas as 'terrorists', further isolated them from public sympathy. The facts that the classification of who is and is not a terrorist has always been rather subjective ('we're freedom fighters, you're terrorists'), and that State actors are excluded from being officially designated as terrorists by international convention, even if their actions are identical in brutality and worse in scale to those carried out by non-governmental 'terrorist organizations', was not considered by the mainstream. For many people, the FARC became nearly identical with Al-Qaeda (terrorist = terrorist), with all the differences and complexities of history swept aside. The vilified guerrilla forces, with the labels of 'drug traffickers' and 'terrorists' stamped on their backs, were not going to receive much sympathy from the global centers of power, money, and influence - from anyone who could step on the brakes of the draconian response with a solidarity movement or with diplomatic pressure. And it was that lack of sympathy which provided Uribe with the political space he needed to wage a war of great savagery and low regard for human rights against the Colombian guerrillas during his presidency, which he extended from his 2002-2006 single-term mandate all the way to 2010, thanks to a Constitutional Amendment which he pushed through to allow himself to run for a second 4-year term. (It was later found out that he had bribed members of the Colombian Congress to facilitate this move, offering governmental posts and investments in their locales, in exchange for their support in bending the national laws which would otherwise have obstructed the extension of his rule.)
The war which Uribe so ferociously waged against the FARC was often aimed at its peasant support base, and relied sometimes on bombings and military actions meant to induce internal displacements (the shifting of peasants to other rural regions or to urban centers as refugees), so that the guerrillas would receive less support. (Land grabs by the elites or other government supporters or allies sometimes followed the displacements.) Although notorious right-wing paramilitary organizations such as the AUC, enmeshed with drug trafficking and utilized to perform the 'dirty work' of scaring and killing civilians in order to break down the guerrillas' support networks without formally implicating the Colombian government or its security forces, were publicly and demonstratively demobilized during the Uribe regime, some found that process to be more an act of window-dressing meant to satisfy international human rights advocates and US Congressmen hovering over funding opportunities, than a genuine change in reality. Whatever fraction of the demobilization was authentic, a strong paramilitary element, aiming for a lower profile but still at work doing what it had always done, remained very much in action during these days, cooperating with a shadowy but powerful layer of the Colombian military, which provided it with intelligence and often cleared its way into guerrilla territory, or else looked the other way while it mysteriously passed, 'undetected', through otherwise effective roadblocks to 'take care of business.' (For those who have not read my full 'Colombia Embattled' article, or do not know from outside sources, the right-wing paramilitaries were involved in systematic operations of intimidation against peasants, labor organizers and union members, and political and social 'nonconformists', and responsible for many horrific massacres of workers and peasants, and assassinations of opposition members. They generated death squads, sicarios [assassins], and, in their heyday, larger formations, supported by donations of the wealthy and the drug business, and aided by clandestine assistance from military intelligence, in order to accomplish their objectives.)
Uribe's strong links to paramilitary culture, even starting back from his days as Governor of Antioquia, led to a major 'parapolitics' scandal during his years as President, as connections between Uribe and many of his key political allies and cronies, and major paramilitary players, were exposed.
And then, there was the shocking wave of 'false positives' - repeated and systematic cases of poor and marginalized civilians lured by operatives connected to the military to travel to new locations in search of promised jobs or opportunities; but, instead, they would be set up and ambushed, murdered, and passed off as guerrillas who had been killed in combat, inflating statistics of guerrilla casualties, and winning promotions and bonuses for the soldiers who had 'defeated' them. Of course, when the trend was exposed, there were arrests and efforts to prevent this kind of abuse from occurring again; but, many asked, how did it go on for so long in the first place? And what kind of culture was responsible for allowing something so horrendous to develop and to get so far?
Any one of these scandals could have sunk a President, but Uribe had the strong backing of Washington, and also a lot of support in Colombia's major urban centers, where security was paramount, and dreams of prosperity seemed possibly in reach if the 'destabilizing impact' of the guerrillas could be lessened, attracting more investment and freeing up vast increments of income from the military struggle. The successful vilification of the guerrillas and the constant warnings of their threat - (at one point, Uribe's government even tried to make it seem like the FARC might be trying to create a dirty/nuclear bomb for terrorist purposes!, an accusation which no major intelligence agency or independent analyst took seriously) - made many people willing to tolerate Uribe's crimes as merely 'excesses in the defense of freedom.' What was happening in remote rural zones beyond the main avenues of Uribe's successful PR spin was not in people's faces; on the other hand, the increasing security of the urban streets and the national roads, was very palpable, as were certain economic developments in the zones most important to his power. In addition, news of continued military successes against the FARC, including the killing or death of some of its major leaders, as well as the liberation of high-profile kidnap victims, such as Ingrid Betancourt, created a sense that years of disheartening stalemate between guerrillas and government might finally be coming to an end, with the government gaining the upper hand. These factors contributed to Uribe's impressive levels of political support, even as he waded through fields of political mud. Meanwhile, skeptics in the US were won over by the argument that 'we can't lose this helpful guy, so let's bear with him - we need him to fight drugs, we need him to make Colombia safer for our multinational investments, we need him to keep the Latin American radicals in check.' And his civilized urban-professional look (no raving Chavez, this one), was also very helpful; he did not come in the expected format of a killer. His selectively mild, technocratic demeanor put people at ease, and the aid kept flowing.
True to form, as 2010 neared, Uribe attempted to secure a third term in office by fighting for a new modification of the Colombian Constitution; but this time the Colombian Constitutional Court rejected his wish to hold a referendum on the matter, definitively and legally limiting a President's stay in office to two terms. Uribe's continued presence at the nation's helm was becoming problematic, as yet new issues had surfaced, revolving around the DAS (Department of Administrative Security), Colombia's chief intelligence and immigration agency (since replaced), and its alleged infiltration by, and cooperation with, paramilitary operatives and sympathizers, as well as its illegal wiretapping of opposition political figures, human rights activists (who Uribe had previously labeled as 'terrorist agents'), and journalists.
When 2010 finally rolled around, Uribe's former defense minister, Juan Manuel Santos stepped up to the plate, at the head of his own political coalition known as the Social Party of National Unity (Party of the U). After a brief and surprising challenge by Green Party candidate Antanas Mockus, beloved on the Internet, but left in the dust on election day, Santos took charge of the presidency and continued down a path similar to Uribe's, with a decided effort to avoid the scandals and increasingly exposed extremes which had characterized the reign of his still popular predecessor (who, by the way, in spite of all the stains on his record, was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President George W. Bush in 2009). Feeling that the FARC was now sufficiently weakened by the Uribe years to be brought to the negotiating table with sufficient humility for progress to be made, Santos began to reach out to the guerrillas around 2012, laying the foundations for the present peace process which, if it succeeds, could not only end a war which has inflicted a terrible human cost upon the nation, but which could also set the stage for important economic and social advances, driven by the vast reserves of human energy to be liberated from the conflict. In the 2014 elections, Santos won support to continue with his plans, although strongly challenged by the 'Democratic Center', a new umbrella party with Uribe's hand in it, which ran candidate Oscar Ivan Zualaga. To avoid an Uribista takeover and keep the peace process on track, a leftwing grouping known as the Alternative Democratic Pole joined forces with Santos in the second electoral round, helping him to secure his second term.
And now, the peace process between government and guerrilla has become the main focus of the Colombian political spectacle.
Just recently, in Havana, Cuba (August 24, 2016), representatives of the FARC and the Colombian government, with international support, signed a historic agreement, committing them to end the decades-long conflict and to create a new era of peace in Colombia. The agreement is, naturally, very complex, but aims especially to:
CEASE ALL HOSTILITIES. Stop shooting, stop kidnapping, stop extorting, stop bombing, stop strafing, stop shelling, stop laying anti-personnel mines, stop, stop, stop! Soldiers stop fighting, guerrillas stop fighting!
FARC, GIVE UP YOUR WEAPONS. The FARC guerrillas are to concentrate into specified transition zones when the time comes to formally demobilize and hand over their weapons to designated officials. Many doubt that they will hand over everything (groups in similar situations rarely do; you always hand over something to give the appearance of compliance, while keeping lots hidden away and buried in secret caches, in case the peace process goes sideways. Will the inevitable deception be tolerated?)
WORK TOGETHER TO END THE DRUG TRADE. That will take time, investment, and the creation of valid economic alternatives in regions which have become dependent on coca-cultivation as a means of survival and economic progress... (Also, remember, the drug trade has a life of its own; so long as there is Demand, the creature of Supply will never die... USA, time for you to step up to the plate on that one.)
CREATE A PRACTICAL FRAMEWORK FOR DEALING WITH WAR CRIMES AND LEGAL RESPONSIBILITY FOR THE VIOLENCE. Individuals are expected to 'confess' to all illegal and/or criminal acts of violence they may have committed during the war. Those who do not 'report their sins', but are later found out to have committed violations, will be seriously prosecuted, while those who appropriately register will be placed on a form of probation and assigned a variety of community service rather than imprisoned. (The guerrillas, who will be very much exposed to the power of their former enemy if they come 'down from the mountains' and 'out of the jungles', are surely protecting themselves from potential persecution by a judicial system which they feel could be prejudiced against them; in that way, they are also letting large numbers of military criminals who were behind civilian massacres off the hook. To guarantee their own safety, they must accept stipulations which equally protect proponents and executors of 'the dirty war.')
THERE ARE TO BE SOCIAL AND ECONOMIC MEASURES TAKEN ON BEHALF OF THE POOR. The FARC's better side fought for social justice in Colombia (while its worse side fought for power for the sake of power). For the guerrillas to lay down their arms without gaining a thing would seem to be a betrayal of all the sacrifices they made over the years, so they are insisting on increased government interest and investment in the poor rural areas which they championed, and also the return of, or just compensation for, the lands which many thousands of peasants were driven off of during the war. This land was, in effect, stolen. Let the peasants have it back, or pay them a fair amount. (Will the government's efforts in this department be satisfactory?)
MEMBERS OF THE FARC ARE TO BE REINTEGRATED INTO THE POLITICAL PROCESS. The former guerrillas are to transform their opposition to the government from violent to peaceful forms. Their right to participate in political parties and movements meant to peacefully attain power and promote further changes in Colombian society, is to be allowed. (But can the security of the former guerrillas, once their arms are taken away from them, be guaranteed? In the 1980s and 1990s, members of a leftwing opposition party known as the U.P. - the Patriotic Union - were assassinated in astonishing numbers. In the same way, former Liberal guerrillas from the epoch of La Violencia met a similar fate in the 1950s, when they were coaxed into laying down their arms, and then shot down in cold blood after the 'peace.')
WILL THE COLOMBIAN PUBLIC APPROVE THE PEACE PLAN? The peace plan, though negotiated by high-level members of the government and the guerrillas, requires the support of the Colombian public in a referendum, to be held on October 2, 2016. Alvaro Uribe and the 'Democratic Center' are vigorously campaigning against it, as of the latest reports, feeling it 'gives away too much to the guerrillas.' They want to grind the guerrillas into oblivion. (What will happen if the people vote NO? The FARC, though damaged, is evolving responses to its military problems and remains a force capable of causing significant damage of its own.)
WHAT ABOUT THE ELN? The FARC is not the only guerrilla group active in Colombia. It is assumed (but not assured) that if the FARC makes peace with the government, the ELN, another long-lasting guerrilla organization, may follow suit (it has expressed an interest to do so, and a dialogue is underway)... Whatever the case, the departure of the FARC from the face of the conflict will make a tremendous difference in the nature of Colombian society.
And now, here's a question: WHY ARE THE GUERRILLAS, who once had dreams of winning complete control of the Colombian state, and later toned that down to stand by the lesser aim of at least controlling large swaths of rural Colombia, on board for a peace agreement which gives all that up?
The bottom line is, the FARC WAS truly damaged by the escalation of the military efforts directed against it during the Uribe-Bush years, and most particularly by the combination of increasing government air power (thanks to US military aid), increasingly effective counterinsurgency intelligence ops. (again, thanks to US surveillance technology and infiltration methodology and training), relentless 'dirty war' measures against the guerrilla support base, and vastly superior and more far-reaching and au courant propaganda by the government (FARC propaganda was outgunned and out-finessed by the Uribe/Bush spin-machine), resulting in a disastrous loss in the image war. The FARC's numerous moral transgressions did not help (and its transgressions didn't melt away into nothing, like Uribe's seemed to do). Its perceived ideological backwardness (old-school Marxist, with none of the flair or romance of the Zapatistas) - and its aura of heavy-handed kidnapping-extortion ring/drug business/landmine-laying mafia - isolated it from wider layers of solidarity, as well as sometimes demoralized its own rank and file. For example, not long after key FARC commander Raul Reyes was killed by a controversial cross-border strike into Ecuador, facilitated by US intelligence and weaponry (2008), Ivan Rios, another important commander, was killed by his own bodyguard seeking a $5 million reward. Ideologically committed fighters don't give in to that kind of temptation. But revolutions which have turned into a business breed the kind of fighter who will reach for the money, give information to the enemy, and desert when the going gets tough. FARC founder Manuel Marulanda (Tiro Fijo, 'Sure Shot') passed away around the same time, from a heart attack perhaps triggered by a nearby bombardment, and some years later, Alfonso Cano, another big one, was killed in a firefight, once again set up by top-level intelligence... No doubt, this persistent stalking and killing of the FARC leadership, as well as the slow beating down of its major offensive capabilities, has contributed to the decision of the current FARC leadership to sit down at the negotiating table. Sensing a time of dwindling opportunities and advancing danger, it has taken heart from the Salvadoran example, in which the demobilized FMLN, years after it had given up its guerrilla struggle and reformed itself as a peaceful movement and new political party in post-civil-war El Salvador, finally achieved the presidency in 2009, attaining a new status and level of influence in the society which had once driven it into the mountains.
What will come of this peace effort in Colombia remains to be seen. For now, we can certainly hope that, filled to the limit by sorrow and tragedy, a wounded nation may rise up to say 'Enough, let me find the way to love'; and that the dead of both sides will be sufficiently honored and revered to inspire those who remain to build a new, a wiser, and a more beautiful Colombia. Let tomorrow's dreams ask no more for blood. Let peace reign on top of a firm foundation of justice, and a constant resolution to improve.
JRS, August 27, 2016.
Following are some posts from my J Rainsnow Facebook page, tracing further developments. (Please ignore irrelevant info, for example, any mention of photos included on my FB page, but not here.)
AUGUST 25, 2016. PEACE PROCESS IN COLOMBIA.
PEACE PROCESS IN COLOMBIA. Since the 1960s (and actually much longer), Colombia has been a land wracked by war, as battles between advocates of social justice and champions of elite control have struggled to advance or defend their agendas. But on the way, the fight became far more complex than that, with powerful aspects of the Cold War grafted onto the internal struggle (which was already enmeshed with multinationals and the influence of foreign markets); then later absorbing the intricate attributes of the drug trade, spawning opacity and corruption (with murdered or wrecked idealists on all sides), which bent the classic poor vs. rich scenario into a dark and labyrinthine plot with good guys and bad guys, at times, hard to tell apart (and sometimes working together), and which transformed both the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (the FARC guerrillas) and the Colombian establishment into deadly and paradoxical chimeras - hybrid creatures with heads of promises, wings of hope, and claws of death. During the many years of war, the FARC was utterly vilified by the vastly superior PR machinery of the US-backed Colombian state: but the Colombian government and military, and their 'dirty war' apparatus of narco-ally paramilitaries (death squads and assassins), as well as some of the elements which they sheltered, were just as deep into the drug trade and even more effective in terms of killing and displacing populations than were the guerrillas. Whatever the case, the allure of the guerrillas faded over time, their revolutionary halo tarnished by kidnappings, drug-trafficking, and reckless military operations endangering civilians, combined with an increasingly out-of-fashion ideological presentation, while the brutality of the government-enabled 'dirty war' (the 'invisible' gun which everybody saw), as well as its limited interest in the plight of the disempowered and the poor, offended many, even those who feared or hated the guerrillas. Now, there is finally a PEACE PLAN. It has been signed by the belligerents, though it must next be approved by a national Plebiscite, and then validated constantly by means of long-term international monitoring. There have been peace plans in Colombia before, and they have failed... there is still so much that could go wrong. For example: will the Colombian public approve of the plan (which includes amnesty for the guerrillas)? Will the FARC really give up its weapons? Will its fighters give up armed struggle, or continue it in new forms or within other guerrilla groups (such as the ELN)? Will the FARC's right to participate in normal electoral politics truly be respected, or will the former guerrillas and their candidates be assassinated once they come out of the mountains, like they were in the 1980s (just as many demobilized Liberal guerrillas from an earlier generation were assassinated in the late 1950s)? Will the government come through with its promises to aid the rural poor with new programs and investments? Will the legal amnesty provided by the peace plan be upheld? How will the drug culture, where it is deeply rooted and economically central, be transitioned into something else (can it be)? And will peace get to the roots of the issues that first drove Colombians to war, or leave those issues unresolved and ready to erupt again sometime in the future, when the silence of weapons comes to seem less beautiful than the persistence of poverty seems ugly? Time, alone, will tell. For the sake of the guerrilla girl in the picture, and her revolutionary companions... for the sake of the young soldiers of the Colombian army... for the sake of the peasants squeezed between the two furious forces... for the innocent targets of guerrilla kidnappers, and for the innocent quarry of right-wing death squads... may this PEACE be true. Colombia is a beautiful country which deserves to bask in its beauty, out from under the shadow of rage, grief, and fear which has hung over it for so long. (For more on the history of social strife in Colombia, and the development of the struggle mentioned in this post, see a substantial treatment at: http://www.rainsnow.org/wod_colombia_1.htm . Only for the truly interested!)
SEPTEMBER 15, 2016. WAITING FOR THE PLEBISCITE.
COLOMBIA: WAITING FOR THE PLEBISCITE. On Oct. 2, 2016, the Colombian people will vote to approve or reject the peace deal which President Juan Manuel Santos' government has negotiated with the FARC guerrillas to end the decades-long civil war which has ravaged that country. Former president Uribe is leading the movement to oppose the deal, which he says 'gives too much to the FARC.' Early polls showed supporters of the deal (YES) with a 70%-30% lead over opponents of the deal (NO), although only 40% of those polled had yet committed to vote, and substantial majorities of the YES voters disapproved of key provisions of the peace accords. Colombia's Constitutional Court has declared that the plebiscite results will be binding upon the nation, and, in the meantime, President Santos' public approval rating plummeted to 21%. Wary analysts admit that within these stats. lie possibilities for a stunning and perilous last-minute surprise, as happened when the British public unexpectedly chose to exit the European Union (BREXIT), only seeming to wake up to the magnitude of the calamity after the votes were in. Will Colombia choose peace at last over war-as-usual, or will the inertia of the government's formidable PR machinery -- utterly dominant in the major urban zones at a time when the already disempowered rural population has been rapidly diminishing (due to economic trends and mass displacement by violence) -- work against the peace accords by leaving a demonized image of the FARC intact, while skipping over the political, social, and criminal abuses which led to the rise of 'the guerrilla' in the first place, and which became an intimate part of the government's conduct of the war? At this point in time, nobody smells like roses. It will be a shame if the State's blame-machine has been so successful in turning a complex, nuanced struggle into a simple black and white affair - a battle of good against evil - that it is now impossible to put the brakes on it (for how could you ever sign a peace treaty with the Devil?) So maybe now is a good time to look at photos like the one above (NY Times), and to refocus on the humanity of both sides. (I remember hearing from one Colombian middle-class student who was doing medical service, how bodies of beautiful young indigenous girls who had been with the guerrillas would sometimes turn up at the morgue, and what a heart-wrenching sight it was. Who were these girls? Why had they been fighting? Surely, not every single one of them had been kidnapped and forced to join the guerrillas... as in the European fairy-abduction stories. Was the war of conquest against the Indigena, the Native American, still somehow reverberating in the politics of the now, wearing a new mask for a new age? The shocking and sad sight offered no answers and no clear political line, only a visceral understanding of the importance of peace. The photo above -- of two young people sitting together, with that beautiful combination of electricity and quiet -- would be so perfect, if you could just remove the guns.) LIFE TO GUERRILLAS, LIFE TO SOLDIERS, NO MORE KIDNAPPINGS, NO MORE BOMBINGS & DEATH SQUADS. MAKE PEACE. (For more on the Colombian peace process, see: http://www.rainsnow.org/colombia_updates_3.htm
OCTOBER 2, 2016. PEACE PLEBISCITE LOSES.
COLOMBIAN PEACE PLEBISCITE LOSES. The peace agreement between the Colombian government and the FARC guerrillas, 4-hard-negotiating-years in the making, and just recently predicted to win approval from Colombian voters by a 2-1 margin, has just suffered a stunning setback. The results of October 2's vote, as reported by TeleSur TV on Sunday night, give the NO side a 50.21% to 49.79% (6,431,376 to 6,377,482) edge over the YES side, meaning that the Colombian peace accords, meant to end years of violent conflict which have ravaged the nation, now exist in a political vacuum. Both the FARC and Santos government are scrambling to salvage the complex deal from its surprise torpedoing, beginning with a commitment to continuing their ceasefire as they seek to build new political alliances and to solidify understandings that could preserve the framework of peace, while they attempt to resurrect and re-legitimize it. YES won in both Bogota and Cali (in Bogota by a 56% to 44% margin), while NO won in Medellin. The Atlantic and Pacific coastal departments, as well as deep interior departments, favored peace, while Antioquia, and many centrally-located departments, supported the NO vote. Analysts point out that voter turnout was low, with only 37% of eligible voters making it to the polls. (Reasons? Besides Colombia's long history of absenteeism - a traditional form of protest/display of disenchantment with 'the political game' - there was, very possibly, a sense of complacency due to the landslide predictions of a pro-YES victory, plus, on the Atlantic Coast, severe weather and its aftermath, courtesy of Hurricane Matthew.) Regarding the stunning rejection, analysts believe that the resource-rich NO side, championed by former President Alvaro Uribe and many of the nation's major landowners and businessmen, may have been better organized, and superior in motivating and mobilizing their followers to get out and vote. According to sociologist Daniel Pecaut, powerful elements of the NO side do not want the conflict to end, because, while the nation is polarized by armed conflict, the need for social reforms and justice can be subsumed by security considerations. The struggle for justice can be painted as subversion linked to violent rebels, and be restrained by the political power of 'stigma' and by the operation of right-wing paramilitaries and death squads which flourish in an environment of conflict, maneuvering with less friction through areas saturated with killing, where killing therefore stands out less. In this way, according to Pecaut: “The armed conflict has contributed to maintaining the social and political structures of the country, and even to increasing the concentration of land property, as well as the unequal distribution of revenues.” (EL TIEMPO, June). In spite of Colombia's consistent economic growth for many years, Pecaut went on to state (elsewhere, in SEMANA), that Colombia suffers from the same level of social inequality as was found in the 1930s. He, and others with a similar mind, attribute that fact to the will of obstinate elitists such as Uribe (just the latest incarnation of many generations of domineering upper class forces which have opposed land and labor reform and a fairer distribution of the national wealth). These are the forces whose self-centered and predatory ways gave rise to the guerrilla movement in the first place (which then, most definitely, took some dramatic wrong turns). These are the forces that did not heed the words of President Kennedy in the 1960s when he said: "Those who make peaceful revolution impossible, will make violent revolution inevitable." Now, it seems, in 2016, they are once more standing in the way of peace. Time will tell how this all plays out. For now, we send our prayers and love to our Colombian brothers and sisters, and sincere wishes that, somehow, the beautiful idea of peace just tossed out of the window will land on its feet. (Photo by Ariana Cubillos, A.P.)
ADDENDUM: As an Addendum to the above post, it should be mentioned, for clarification purposes: the Business World has been divided about the Yes-No vote. Many internal Colombian concerns interested in preserving strong socioeconomic control over labor, or holding onto land acquisitions made during the narco-paramilitary takeovers of the 1980s-to-present, which were facilitated by war- & terror-induced internal displacement, favor the continuation/resurrection of a Uribe-style security state, or, at the very least, a peace treaty which is much more favorable to their interests (for example, one which does not provide for the right of displaced families and villages to return to their former lands). On the other hand, many multinationals - for example, and especially, foreign oil companies and resource-location-and-development firms - favor peace (Yes), because they are seeking access to remote areas still controlled by the FARC (or vulnerable to its operations), as well as freedom from the fear of having infrastructure like oil pipelines threatened (the guerrillas frequently demand payments from the companies, which they otherwise will attack with explosives, interrupting the flow of product and causing extensive damage).
OCTOBER 3, 2016. VOTING IN THE TOWN OF BOJAYA.
VOTING IN THE TOWN OF BOJAYA. Yesterday, when the Colombian public narrowly voted to reject the peace deal negotiated between the government and FARC guerrillas, the town of Bojaya in el Choco was said to have voted 95.70% to 4.30% in favor of the peace accords. (Reported by Buenos Aires Herald) If so, the vote would have stunning symbolic value. This is because in May 2002, Bojaya was the scene of a horrendous massacre of civilians perpetrated by the FARC guerrillas under complex circumstances. But instead of rejecting the peace deal, like many others did, because it proposed alternatives to jail-time for guerrillas who confess to having committed crimes during the course of the war (a kind of amnesty provision which also applies to other sides in the conflict), this town, which suffered more than any other from war-time transgressions, chose peace. More important than punishing past crimes, they felt, was a future free of the pressures which forge such crimes; rather than attempting to secure absolute justice in order to avenge lives lost, they chose the justice of saving lives not yet taken. (THE MASSACRE OF BOJAYA: In 2002, right-wing paramilitaries moved into the town in an effort to exert control over the region's economic assets and geographical advantages. Imbedding themselves in amidst the population, who were, in cases robbed and intimidated, and subjected to an illegal authority, their presence generated a reaction which the national government did not address. This is probably because, within a political system divided between genuine idealists committed to the law, and hard-hearted authoritarians hiding within the forms of democracy, the paramilitaries enjoyed ties with strategic layers of the government/security-apparatus who sought to use them as 'extralegal' agents to do the 'dirty work' which they could not do, themselves, without incurring international sanctions. Eventually, as the FARC guerrillas moved in to challenge the paramilitary control of the town, large numbers of civilians moved into the Church for refuge, while the paramilitaries, themselves, took shelter behind an outer Church wall, and other adjacent locations. At this point, the FARC turned to the use of one of its most controversial weapons: the gas-cylinder mortar, copied from previous IRA designs. In this weapon, a large propane gas tank - and they are common as cooking/energy sources in the Colombian countryside - is modified by cutting off the top, filling it with explosives, and using the tube to launch a secondary canister filled with gas and shrapnel. The weapon is cheap, powerful and deadly, but notoriously inaccurate and prone to off-the-mark strikes, and therefore not morally suited for use in densely populated areas, or on battlefields where non-combatants are mixed in at close quarters with combatants. During the resulting battle, one of the FARC mortar rounds sailed off course and landed onto the roof of the Church, producing a terrible explosion and fire which resulted in the death of 119 civilians, including many children, and injuries to over a hundred more. In its reckless and imprecise efforts to dislodge the paramilitaries from the town, and in 'the name of the people', the FARC killed many of the people it was supposed to be defending. It is incidents like this, along with the drug trade and a hyperactive kidnapping operation, which turned many people against the FARC, and against the peace agreement which they saw as being too soft on the perpetrators of these crimes. However, the people of Bojaya realized that the war was filled with transgressions coming from all sides, and all directions, and did not see the point of scuttling peace to blame one side in particular. They were in agreement with the peace deal, which, interestingly enough, had been signed with a metal pen created out of recycled bullets...) The accompanying art work is by Colombian artist ALGONZY (Carlos Alberto Gonzalez da Silva).
OCTOBER 7, 2016. ANOTHER NOBEL PRIZE FOR COLOMBIA.
ANOTHER NOBEL PRIZE FOR COLOMBIA. In 1982, brilliant and beloved Colombian author Gabriel Garcia Marquez, best known for ONE HUNDRED YEARS OF SOLITUDE (1969) but also the writer of many other superb tales, won the Nobel Prize in Literature. Now, today, arrives the news that Juan Manuel Santos, the President of Colombia, has just been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 2016. The Prize was not only given in recognition of his serious and persistent work to close the gap between the government and FARC guerrillas, and finally bring an end to decades of heartbreaking war, but also as a sign of international support for his efforts, and with the hope of encouraging the peace process in Colombia (which has a signed treaty, but was recently set back by a plebiscite which failed to approve it). Discussions between Santos and Uribe (the prime mover of the treaty opponents) are underway to seek a new negotiating position with the FARC which might gain broader approval from the electorate, without driving the FARC out of the process (needless to say, Santos is also in contact with representatives of the guerrillas). The peace process is certainly at risk, but not yet defeated. The eyes of the world are on it, with the Nobel spotlight shining down. (As a point of interest, it should be noted that Ingrid Betancourt, the Colombian politician-activist who spent 6 1/2 years as a captive of the FARC under trying conditions, has just opined that the guerrillas should have shared in the Peace Prize given to Santos. After all... they, too, have taken steps to make it happen.) -- The photo is of GABO (Garcia Marquez), aglow on his big night in 1982 (though never as aglow as when he sat, alone, by his magical typewriter, bringing new worlds into being).
FEBRUARY 27, 2017. POWER VACUUM IN COLOMBIA?
POWER VACUUM IN COLOMBIA? (Photo is of right-wing paramilitaries in Colombia's prime banana-growing region in Uraba, just outside of Turbo, 2004. "Labor unions, look out. We are coming for you." Chiquita's dark side.) I have previously followed the Colombian peace process (Aug. 25, Sept. 15, Sept. 17, Oct. 2, Oct. 3, Oct. 7, 2016) between the Colombian government under the direction of President Juan Manuel Santos, and the left-wing FARC guerrillas. Key points till now: In August 2016, the two sides negotiated an end to the decades-long conflict which had resulted in tremendous loss of life as well as the creation of huge numbers of internal refugees, driven from their homes by the violence. The treaty was submitted to the Colombian people for ratification in a plebiscite in October 2016. Unexpectedly, and by the narrowest of margins, the peace treaty was voted down! (Shocking, but no surprise in a year that saw BREXIT and the victory of Donald Trump in America. Astrologers: what is going on?) The treaty was most likely shot down because of the money and PR mobilized against it by former President Alvaro Uribe - a man adored by many for 'improving public safety' during his terms of office, but reviled by many others for the vicious human rights violations he supported in order to construct that sense of security ('security' among his followers... not among those who were his victims). Horrified at the prospect of the peace process going up in smoke, and a renewal of the terrible war, the Santos government and FARC met again to try to work out some visible concessions to Uribe (who felt the original treaty was too lenient on the guerrillas, and would leave them with too much political influence in the post-conflict era). However, at the same time, the concessions must not be enough to drive the guerrillas out of the talks. Somehow, the two sides were finally able to strike a new deal, which was then cleverly submitted to the Colombian Legislature for approval instead of to the propaganda-bombarded/manipulation-vulnerable public; international pressure helped to secure the vote in favor, and in November 2016, the peace treaty was officially passed into law. Now comes the really hard part: IMPLEMENTATION... There are many fears being expressed today, ranging from: can the Right break free of its traditional pattern of assassinating demobilized guerrillas (this has happened several times, across different eras, and could drive the guerrillas back into the arms of violence); are the guerrillas serious about peace (or will they only use the peace process to proselytize and recruit before digging up caches of unreported weapons, concealed rather than turned over to authorities as agreed upon, in order to renew the struggle?); will post-war Colombian society be able to effectively reintegrate the demobilized guerrillas, as well as to find jobs for soldiers let loose from a downsizing army -- or will large numbers of trained and experienced fighters from both sides, struggling and without an economic future, be available for recruitment by criminal gangs: and will new waves of criminal violence replace former patterns of politicized violence? One of the main fears expressed about the new world which will be created by the peace agreement, comes from residents of areas currently controlled by the guerrillas. These fear what will happen after the FARC leaves - will the power vacuum left behind in the wake of the guerrillas' departure truly be filled by the authentic authority of the Colombian State, as conceived by the treaty; or will new actors step into these areas, in remote regions on the fringes of national control, to form their own private dominions maintained through the force of their personal armies and the complicity of corrupt elements of the Colombian government, willing to look the other way for a handful of money? To think this might occur is not pure cynicism. Just ask the survivors of the Colombian vereda of El Placer. Between the years of 1999 and 2006, that ironically-named village, located near the Colombian border with Ecuador, was occupied by the mortal enemies of the guerrillas - the right-wing paramilitaries (who were supported by the drug trade just as much, if not more so than the guerrillas), yet closely allied with corrupt elements of the Colombian military and elites who used them to 'clean up' areas sympathetic to the guerrillas by massacring peasants, as well as to terrorize peasants into leaving their land for purely economic reasons (to clear the land for acquisition by land-grabbing elites); not to leave out their efforts to enforce entrepreneurial control over labor (by means of assassinating labor leaders, including on behalf of Chiquita, Coca-Cola, and BP) . The whole rationale behind the paramilitaries was that they could be used to do things which the Colombian government and military could not openly do, without incurring serious international sanctions (such as the loss of military and economic aid). So the fiction was created that the paramilitaries and the government were separate entities, a fiction which was easy to maintain since honest elements of the Colombian government truly did try to reel in the paramilitaries, while corrupt political and military sectors stymied their investigations and their efforts to capture, detain, and prosecute the villains. This was the true secret of the paramilitaries' 'elusive' nature, and their alleged ability to 'avoid detection' by military and police as if they were ghosts. Occasionally, token paramilitaries WERE caught (appearances must be kept up); and there were even 'ritual paramilitary demobilizations' linked to 'revolving doors', wherein a group which had incurred too much negative publicity would secure amnesty and disband, only to return to action in the form of new groups with 'recycled' weapons (surrendered with one hand, received back with the other): once more free to carry out the 'dirty work' of the most shadowy elements of the Colombian security apparatus. Unlike the guerrillas, who committed transgressions throughout the war, but, nonetheless, generally ruled via predictable codes of conduct linked to their Marxist philosophy of rights for the poor, the paramilitary units which moved into places like El Placer were consumed by a contempt for the people they dominated: these people were 'fallen' in their eyes, former sympathizers or potential sympathizers with the guerrillas, who had therefore lost their right to be respected. In El Placer, they killed you if they didn't like the way you looked, or dressed. They killed you if your politics were wrong. They killed you if you were not appropriately submissive. And they rounded up the local women they liked, and used them as prostitutes, killing the ones who didn't cooperate, and threatening family members ("do it, or your dad gets it.") Here, and elsewhere, the paramilitaries ruled like pure bandits; but because they were useful to the counterinsurgency (its sharp, submerged edge), many of their most heinous actions (even those tangential to their strategy) were overlooked by the Colombian right, which was permissive with its 'boys.' ... This is what the people of El Placer, and many other remote areas of Colombia which were formerly controlled by the FARC, fear may return, once the guerrillas have left. It is now up to the Colombian government to consolidate the peace that has been signed on paper, by doing its full part to insure that the rule of law is respected throughout the land, and that the poverty and lack of justice which gave birth to the guerrilla movement in the first place is addressed by honest and effective efforts to protect and nurture all of the people of this beautiful land. It is time for the power of thugs to be broken, and the natural brilliance of the Colombian people to be given room to flourish.
APOLOGIES FOR LINK ISSUES (OBSOLETE AND SEMI-ABANDONED SOFTWARE IN USE)! FOR MORE ON COLOMBIA (INCLUDING HISTORICAL BACKGROUND IN DEPTH), PLEASE SEE: http://www.rainsnow.org/wod_colombia_1.htm , which will get you into the functional navigational system of this web site. (There are four installments of: "A Biography of Colombia Embattled", as well as previous Colombia updates covering 2006-2008).