Prepare for 4 years of the Uribe Model

“A dignified President, doctor Alvaro Uribe Velez, has been elected conclusively and consciously in the first round, by and for a Fatherland that wants to make itself peaceful and to grow in solidarity.” — Salvatore Mancuso, Commander of the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia, May 26, 2002

“A dignified President, doctor Alvaro Uribe Velez, has been elected conclusively and consciously in the first round, by and for a Fatherland that wants to make itself peaceful and to grow in solidarity.” — Salvatore Mancuso, Commander of the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia, May 26, 2002

The ringing endorsement of Colombia’s paramilitaries might have given Colombia’s new president Alvaro Uribe Velez reason to worry about his political reputation. Given the murderous record of the paramilitaries, who have committed numerous assassinations this very month. Uribe might have been expected to declare that he wanted nothing to do with the AUC, that they were no friends of his, and that their endorsement of him was a shameful gesture that he would make them regret by bringing them to justice and dismantling their organization.

In his acceptance speech, President-Elect Alvaro Uribe Velez instead said nothing.

Oh, there were numerous platitudes about human rights. There was a touching moment when he acknowledged his mother in heaven and his father, killed by the FARC (although not all the mothers and fathers whose journey to heaven was sped up by the AUC). There was even a moment when he said unionists should stop getting assassinated. But a decisive renunciation of the AUC? Nope.

This is because Uribe and the paras are far from enemies. Paramilitarism is part of the ‘Uribe Model’ Colombians can look forward to for the next four years. The ‘Uribe Model’ is actually only a more aggressive version of what Colombia has been suffering, the same way that Bush’s terrorism is only a more aggressive version of the terrorism the US has historically unleashed on the world. For the most part, the context has not changed: things have just gotten somewhat worse. This means that the movement for peace and justice in Colombia still has the same work: we just have somewhat more travail ahead.

What hasn’t changed

The plan for the recolonization of the Americas, including Colombia, has not changed with Uribe’s election. The plan for Colombia is still one of ‘accelerated development’: megaprojects on a mostly emptied countryside from which oil, wood, water, and cash crops are extracted; emptied beaches with communities replaced by large hotels; large cities where a disciplined, desperate, disempowered labour force works away for starvation wages, without protections or services.

The main obstacle to this vision still persists as well in the organizations and communities who have their own ideas about the country: a multiethnic, multicultural country that respects the territorial autonomy of the afro-Colombians, indigenous, and peasant communities; an economy of solidarity that respects worker’s rights, dignity, and need for a living wage; an agrarian reform that brings food security and sensible and ecological management of the country’s tremendous resources.

For elites to realize their plan, they have to destroy the visions and hopes of the people. The strategy for doing so is familiar to those following Colombia’s politics: wars, and many of them. The drug war to fumigate farmers off their lands; the dirty war to kill unionists, peace activists, women’s activists, and rural leaders; the war on terror, to bring US help more directly into the picture; the economic war, with IMF structural adjustments, privatization, driving people into unemployment and desperation; the war of lies that makes the people invisible and presents a picture of a harried government facing narco-terrorism and guerrilla warfare. All these wars were on before the election of Uribe on May 26, and are still on now.

What has changed

What can be expected under Uribe is an intensification of the strategy. The contours of the ‘Uribe Model’ can be guessed by his record until his election. Numerous articles on ZNet describe Uribe’s fascinating career (By Al Giordano, by Sean Donahue, and by Lazala/Ferrer). We need only touch on a few key elements here:

Creating Desperation and Disempowerment: As a parliamentarian, Uribe put forward Law 50, dismantling labour laws and protections of worker rights; and Law 100, which privatized Social Security the same way Bush dreamed of doing in the US. This is part of the famous ‘race to the bottom’, and the thing about a race to the bottom is that as Colombia races, everybody has to run to catch up– including working people from Brazil to North America.

Promoting Paramilitarism and Violence: As governor of Antioquia between 1995 and 1997, Uribe promoted the ‘CONVIVIR’, an attempt to legalize paramilitarism. Unions were undermined at the time: In 1996 198 unionists were killed in Antioquia. In 1997 210 were killed. At the end of his mandate, he declared Uraba, once an area of great labour militancy by the banana workers, ‘pacified’. The ‘pacification’ had been won by the assassination of 3500 over 3 years. In 1999 he declared his support for generals Rito Alejo del Rio and Fernando Milan, who had been suspended for their links to paramilitaries. His election campaign was based on the ‘failure of negotiations’ between Pastrana and FARC. (Here, in parentheses, it’s worth mentioning that there weren’t really negotiations between Pastrana and FARC. Both parties were competing to commit atrocities against innocent people throughout the ‘negotiation’ process, and while the government certainly won the contest, the FARC gave them a run for their money. Uribe can thank the FARC for his election as much as anyone else.) His promises include a hard line against the guerrilla, a million more armed Colombians, and an external intervention.

Recognizing the Paramilitaries as Negotiating Partners: The latest from Uribe is his proposal to bring the paramilitaries to the negotiating table. This is something these authors have feared and predicted (see our ‘The War Foretold’) for some time. The process is as follows: first, apply the Bush doctrine of ‘no negotiations with terrorists’ to the guerrillas, adding the paramilitaries as an afterthought to the terrorist list. Next, reluctantly concede that negotiations might be necessary to bring peace. Apply this principle that negotiations are necessary selectively, so that the paramilitaries become ‘terrorists who must be negotiated with’ and the guerrilla ‘terrorists who must be annihilated’. Otto Reich, who has quite a resume of his own (see Turnipseed’s “Reich Reich” approves of this plan. Between bringing them to the table and the fact that over 30% of legislators are now linked to the paramilitaries, it’s worth repeating Arundhati Roy’s words about India: “And there will not always be spectacular carnage to report on. Fascism is also about the slow, steady infiltration of all the instruments of State power.” This, too, is part of the Uribe Model.

Making Nice with Narcotraffickers: In the mayoral office of Medellin in 1982, Uribe and his father were publicly associated with Clan Ochoa of the Medellin cartel. In 1989 he opposed extradition of narcotraffickers.

All in all, what we can expect from Uribe is more of the same– only worse.

What to do

What Colombian social movements will try to do under Uribe is what they have tried to do until now: survive the campaign of extermination against them. The most important thing the solidarity movement can do is help them in that task, doing more of all the things we’ve been doing– exposing the lies, working against the FTAA, against the IMF/WB/WTO nexus, against US military intervention, going to Colombia to accompany the people and processes, following the situation and responding to letter writing campaigns and appeals, building and going to mass demonstrations, pressing for a negotiated solution to the armed conflict.

In the long run, it is movement-building in North America that will put the brakes on the Uribe model, since the Uribe model isn’t really Uribe’s invention but the invention of North American elites. The task in the short run is to make sure there is a long run. In other words, to get the movements in Colombia the accompaniment, the resources, and the protection of solidarity that they need to survive while we build our movements here.

It is important to remember that while Uribe received 53% of the vote, with the nearest opposition at 31.7% and the genuine, left opposition of Lucho Garzon at 5.82%, the real winner of the Colombian election was abstention. Uribe got 5.8 million votes from an electorate of 24.2 million people. To quote Luis Guillermo Perez Casas, “there was not a plebescite for war in Colombia, nor for a militarist solution to the armed conflict. Less than 6 million votes out of 44 million Colombians cannot be understood to be the will of the people.” Those people cannot stop their struggle, and nor can those in solidarity with them.

Justin Podur and Manuel Rozental are members of the Canada-Colombia Solidarity Campaign.

Justin Podur

Author: Justin Podur

Author of Siegebreakers. Ecology. Environmental Science. Political Science. Anti-imperialism. Political fiction. Teach at York U's FES. Author. Writer at ZNet, TeleSUR, AlterNet, Ricochet, and the Independent Media Institute.