There is a hunger strike on in Palestine. It is very significant, and the prisoners are in a very precarious position. One woman has already died. Please check Sumoud, a Toronto-based solidarity group, for constant updates on the hunger strike.
Years ago, I wrote an essay arguing against nation-states as a form of organization. Admittedly not the most immediately practical program or campaign, it was an attempt to grapple with the various problems that nationalism and states based on nationalism have caused in the world. Among these problems: the genocidal campaigns national states and settler states waged (and continue to wage) against indigenous peoples, of the suppression of the aspirations of ethnic or religious minorities that is almost always implied in national states based on a particular identity being adopted as that of the nation; of the difficult and often brutal conditions lived by millions of migrant workers who are stuck without rights or protections because they lack precious papers, citizenship rights – they don’t belong to the nation they’re in. That previous essay argued for citizenship based on democratic principles, resource rights based on principles of justice and equality, and resolution of conflicts by inter-state consensus (1).
In a recent debate on Israel/Palestine, Chomsky raised an idea of something similar, what he calls a: “no-state settlement, generalizing multinationalism (in the broad sense indicated) beyond the borders of a state. That approach would be based on the recognition that the nation-state system has been one of the must brutal and destructive creations of Europe and its offshoots, imposed by force on much of the rest of the world, with horrendous consequences for centuries in Europe, and elsewhere until the present. For the region, it would mean reinstating some of the more sensible elements of the Ottoman system (though, obviously, without its intolerable features), including local and regional autonomy, elimination of borders and free transit, sharply diminishing or eliminating military forces, etc. Applied elsewhere, say to North America, it would entail, to mention just one example, reversing Clinton’s post-NAFTA militarization of the (previously quite porous) Mexico-US border, with a severe human cost, and dealing in some humane way with the fact that the US is sitting on half of Mexico, acquired by brutal conquest. Similar issues arise throughout the world.”
Looking back, I ought to have read the writing on the wall a little more carefully. That essay was published well after 9/11, after the invasion of Afghanistan by the US, and after the coup attempt against Venezuela. In other words, there was ample evidence that the really existing alternative to a world of sovereign nation-states is a world of naked imperial aggression. A global “no-state settlement” along the lines Chomsky described recently or that I tried to present those years ago would still be nice. But it seems to me that in the world today – and I came to this opinion reluctantly — national sovereignty is a progressive force.
Had the anti-war movement and anti-imperialist opposition in the United States and elsewhere in the first world been stronger, things might be different. But our inability to channel the energy and anger that the whole world expressed on February 15, 2003, into a force capable of stopping the invasion and devastation of Iraq, the indifference of so much of the same anti-imperialist movement to the coup and ongoing slaughter in Haiti, the repeated capitulation of the best endowed parts of our movement to ineffective actions or collaboration with imperialism, suggests a need for sober reflection and re-assessment – of strategy, tactics, and goals.
The United States had plans to replace Chavez in Venezuela with pliant elites. It had plans to use occupied Iraq as a jumping off point to invasions of Syria, Iran, and beyond. I don’t want to devalue the role of anti-imperial sentiment and opposition, or act as if it makes no difference. It does make a difference. But if the US agenda was stopped or slowed in Venezuela or Iraq, it was not because of internationalists. It is because of nationalists, who fought and continue to fight for their national sovereignty. In Iraq, parts of this nationalist resistance has ugly tactics and an ugly program. But it is fighting something even uglier, and if we don’t like it, it is up to us, who are supposed to be in a better position to do so, to come up with a better way to stop the empire.
In Venezuela to date, the defense of sovereignty has not only been effective, but it has not been ugly at all. Instead, it has been inclusive, humane, and genuinely democratic – certainly more so than the United States or most other countries. The open, democratic character of the Venezuelan process might render it vulnerable, but it is also its strength. The Venezuelan experience suggests that there doesn’t have to be a conflict between national sovereignty and democracy. If that’s the case, perhaps the struggle for the moment isn’t an aggressive attempt to push towards a “no-state settlement”, but a defensive one, against imperialism and for the kind of world proclaimed in the United Nations Charter: a world of sovereign nation-states, self-determination within those states, and co-operation between them. After March 2003, even getting to that world seems a long struggle.
Even if you accept the defense of national sovereignty against imperialist depredation for third world countries, is the same true for the first world? Wouldn’t everyone be better off if US citizens loved their country a little less and loved the rest of the world a little more? Probably. But perhaps there is no contradiction here either. The Michael Moore phenomenon, for example, is powerful because he seems to start from a sincere love of the US and goes from there (sometimes not far enough from there) to a concern for the many victims of the US. The idea that a country like the US or Canada ought to concentrate on solving its own political, social, and cultural problems and developing its own people with its own resources (as opposed to resources plundered from all over the world) would not only resonate with many North Americans, it would also imply a radical change in world affairs (military bases closing down, assets and infrastructure being returned to the nations that they belong to, etc.). And as wonderful as globalism and internationalism is, it is hard to think that such a development would be anything but positive. Indeed, it would be the basis for internationalism that isn’t based on exploitation and inequality. Perhaps it is even the necessary first step towards a global “no-state settlement” for a better future.
Justin Podur is a writer and activist. Feedback on this essay is particularly welcome: write to email@example.com
1) “Instead of Nation States” http://www.zmag.org/Sustainers/content/2002-05/28podur.cfm
I wrote a piece on the disappearance of my friend Arquimedes Vitonas. It is here, please read it. I will continue to update this story as I hear more. I apologize for not blogging as frequently as I had before the blog system changed. I will try to get back to it more frequently in future.
On August 22, 2004, a commission of leaders left the indigenous community of Toribio, part of the municipality of Toribio in the Department of Cauca, Colombia, to go to a community called Alta Mira in the municipality of San Vicente del Caguan, in the Department of Caqueta. The commission was led by the mayor of the municipality of Toribio, Arquimedes Vitonas. The indigenous of the northern part of Cauca have their own system of government, and so another member of the commission, Plinio Trochez, was known as the ‘governor’ of the community of Toribio – governors are chosen by the community each year and perform various community and executive functions. The indigenous of northern Cauca, called the Nasa, also have built an indigenous university in the mountains of Toribio, called CECEDIC – indeed, Arquimedes Vitonas, the mayor of Toribio, is a graduate of the school. The coordinator of CECEDIC, Gilberto Munoz, was a member of the commission. Former mayor of Toribio, Ruben Dario, was also present. He is currently the governor of a neighbouring indigenous community called San Francisco. They were all in one car. The driver of the car was Erminson Velasco. The car belongs to the mayor’s office.
I know the car. Six months ago Arquimedes himself drove it to take me and some others up from Toribio into the reserve of Tacueyo, which in February 2004 was under siege as the military tried to dislodge the FARC from their positions in the mountains. The community of Tacueyo was struggling, living on food aid and help from other Nasa communities below. As the mayor, Arquimedes was our protection, an official presence to whom the army could not deny entry and retain plausible deniability. The conversation at the military roadblock was tense. The commander acted as if he cared about the welfare of the community. “The important thing is that the people remain calm,” he said, seemingly unaware that the presence of the military besieging the community might be less than soothing. Arquimedes, who is a small physical presence but an immense and impossible-to-intimidate psychological presence, acted as if he believed the commander: “That’s why we are going, to reassure the people.”
Back to August 22. The commission was traveling to San Vicente del Caguan so that leaders from northern Cauca could share their experience and advice with the indigenous of Caqueta. The Nasa of Cauca, after all, had very long and successful experience in participatory municipal development and development planning. They had won national and international awards: just in February, the United Nations Development Program had awarded Toribio’s ‘Proyecto Nasa’ a prestigious Sustainable Development Award (1). Arquimedes Vitonas and Gilberto Munoz had been recognized as ‘Masters of Wisdom’ by UNESCO. Munoz was the first activist from the indigenous movement to become the mayor of a municipality, one of the leaders who began the unfinished project of taking back the machinery of local government from the corrupt elite and returning it to the community. The majority of people in the community of Altamira, where the commission was heading, were originally from Toribio and had had to leave years before.
Three days later, on August 25, the Secretary of Government for the Department of Cauca (while various municipalities in Cauca, like Toribio, are in the hands of the indigenous movement, the governorship of the Department of Cauca passed from the indigenous movement into the hands of a hardline supporter of Colombia’s hardline president in recent elections) called the municipality of Toribio to let the mayor’s office know that the mayor and the entire commission had been kidnapped. According to the Secretary, this kidnapping had been done by “an unestablished armed group.” The Secretary’s source? Batallion Codazzi, based in the city of Palmjra in the Department of Valle del Cauca. The Secretary told the municipality that the information had been received on the morning of the 24th. The Secretary did not explain the full day’s delay in telling the mayor’s office that the mayor had been kidnapped.
After the indigenous councils of northern Cauca (Asociacion de Cabildos Indigenas del Norte de Cauca, ACIN) sent their first communique about the kidnapping on August 25, they received a note of clarification from the government of Cauca. It turns out that their information had been incorrect: the information had come from a different battalion. From the note from the Secretary of Government of Cauca:
“On Tuesday August 24 the Secretary of Departmental Government of Cauca was informed in the hours of the night about the possible disappearance of the commission by Colonel Trujillo, commander of Batallion Pichincha. Immediately the security organisms of the Secretary of Government established a channel of communication.”
Battalion Pichincha has a long acquaintance with the Nasa of northern Cauca. On December 31, 2003, a soldier from that battalion assassinated a youth from the community, Olmedo Ul, who was riding his motorcycle past a military checkpoint. When no one from the battalion owned up to the crime, when no one was investigated or punished for the murder, the Nasa decided not to allow the impunity and enacted their own judicial proceeding against the battalion itself. The community has a constitutional right to enact indigenous justice in indigenous territory, and it attempted to exercise that right in February 2004. Colonel Trujillo was summoned to the meeting – and made a promise to Arquimedes Vitonas’s office that he would attend. I was there on February 19, when the Nasa judged the battalion in an assembly of thousands of people (1). The colonel didn’t attend, and on television that night various figures from the army announced that they rejected the jurisdiction of the indigenous over the case.
The kidnapping, and the department of Cauca’s handling of it, leaves some unanswered questions. The 24-hour delay in transmitting the news of the kidnapping from the government of Cauca to the mayor’s office in Toribio is one question. The change of source of information from one day to the next, from a battalion with no specific history in northern Cauca to a battalion accused of abuse, murder, and impunity, is another.
Just weeks before, the indigenous of Cauca had publicly announced their decision to launch a mobilization in mid-September against the continuing assault on their communities by government, paramilitaries, and guerrillas as well. Their mobilization will be a rejection of the constitutional ‘reforms’ planned by President Uribe to facilitate the further restructuring of the Colombian economy. Their argument is that these constitutional reforms will destroy indigenous autonomy, security, and the rights and freedoms the indigenous have won in long, terrible struggle.
Arquimedes Vitonas has a good grasp of that long struggle. About two years ago, he visited Canada to talk about the Nasa and their process. I asked him about the land reform they had enacted in the 1970s and 1980s, using strategies similar to those of the Landless Peasants in Brazil (2). He gave an image of that historic struggle:
“First of all remember that the land was ours. It was lost only in the 1950s and 1960s during La Violencia. At that time, we were displaced by force by large landowners, and these seizures of land were then legalized by the government. When the indigenous returned from flight, they found themselves workers of these large landowners. So they began in the 1970s to recover the land.
“It is a long process. First, there are community meetings. These happen between 1 and 4 a.m. as they are prohibited during the day. They are as secret as possible. There is no writing, since to the authorities and landowners in those days having a typewriter was far worse than having a gun. During the meetings, 200 to 500 workers would get involved through coming to agreements about decisions.
“The next step is the occupation itself, which we do at dawn, taking over the territory with the people by simply starting to work the land. There are already set escape routes and people watching, however. So when the police and army come, as they always do, we would run and hide. The police would stay for three or four days, and leave – at which point the people would return.
“After months of this, maybe years of this, during which there are assassinations, attempts to single out leaders, etc., the owner sees that he has to negotiate.
“There were also people on the inside, fighting with legal instruments and legalizing the conquests that the people had won on the ground. It is a long fight, and many were killed, but we recovered the land.”
Arquimedes would have been quite young during this process. He is one of the current generation of leaders, those who grew up living the violence of the civil war but also living the power of the Nasa indigenous movement. Padre Antonio Bonanomi (3) is an Italian priest who has been part of the movement for decades, and watched the new generation of leaders take over. He noted the difference between today’s leaders, leaders like Arquimedes, and decades before, when the process was being reborn: ‘The most beautiful part of a living process is that it goes on.’, he said. ‘I know personally. I used to be so important in this process: people used to ask me: ‘Padre, what do we do?’ Today they don’t ask. They say: ‘Padre, here’s what we’re doing.’
Padre Antonio also captured something of the spirit of the movement in Northern Cauca, one of constructing dreams and democracy in the middle of terror war zone:
‘The Nasa are living two processes. One is internal, built on dreams. The Nasa are always dreaming. They have workshops, projects. They believe all this will pass. Their historical experience tells them the rest will pass. We won’t pass. They say, it’s tough, but La Violencia was worse, the war of 1000 days was worse, the spanish conquest was worse. Their resistance, their patience, is in this context. I hear a bomb going off and I get stressed – they are not. Instead, they are planning: they are occupied, but they are having their development planning assemblies. For them, the conflict will pass. For me, I say – how can we have autonomy when we are occupied? They say – we act as if we are free. We are occupied. But the occupiers will eventually leave, and we will continue to plan and dream.”
In a public talk in Cali in February 2004, Arquimedes described their spirit in a similar way: “With this war, they can kill many of us, but they cannot kill all of us. Those of us who live will continue with our work. Those of us who die, will have died defending our process.”
He knew that the process was something well worth defending. The Nasa have become the ethical guide of Colombia’s social movements. Their resilience has helped them survive, and build, despite years of paramilitarism, neoliberalism, and murder. They can trace their resistance back to La Gaitana’s rebellion against the Spanish hundreds of years ago, to Manuel Quintin Lame’s struggle for the land in the 19th century, through to the current strengthening of their movements in the past few decades. They have lost thousands of people in these struggles. Battalion Pichincha killed Olmedo Ul last year. Cristobal Secue fell to assassination by FARC in 2001. Mario Betancur was killed by the ELN in 1996. Alvaro Ulcue, one of the founder of today’s Nasa organization in Toribio, was killed by landlords and security forces in 1984. Two years ago, the FARC pronounced a death sentence on every mayor in Colombia, if those mayors did not resign. Shockingly, they included the indigenous mayors of Toribio, and launched an attack on the town. The FARC has not made any further statements against the movement’s mayors, but nor have they officially revised the policy: so mayors, including Arquimedes, remain ‘military targets’ according to FARC. Arquimedes’ brother was disappeared from the indigenous territory years ago.
The weapon of detention is used ruthlessly against them as well. In January of this year, 8 people from Toribio were arrested and shipped off abysmal conditions in prison to the department’s capital, Popayan, without a shred of evidence or due process, on the charge of ‘insurgency’. According to Colombia’s anti-terrorist laws, these people, now in jail in Popayan, the capital of Cauca, have no rights to face their accuser; no rights to see the evidence against them; no rights to a jury trial. Instead, their fate will be decided by the state prosecutor’s office, in private. The families of the detained collected 3,000 signatures in the community of people who swore that these eight individuals had nothing to do with the insurgency. Against this, the prosecutor general had the testimony of someone in a ski mask Arquimedes was, of course, among the first and the strongest in their defense.
The march the Nasa are planning for September is a mobilization against war, against neoliberalism, and against the constitutional counterreforms planned by the government. They have been joined not only by the other indigenous of Cauca, but also the indigenous organizations of Antioquia, Valle del Cauca, Caldas, Risaralda, Huila, Tolima, and the organizations of the Embera, Awa, and Quindio.
More than once when I was in Cauca, people would ask me what things were like in Canada and elsewhere in the world. Arquimedes in particular was interested in the Israel-Palestine conflict. The Colombian media are no better than the North American media on that or many other issues, and so he was surprised to hear about the settlements, the assassinations, the checkpoints, the starvation, the prisons, the total control of daily life of the Palestinians by Israel. He had only heard of it as some kind of interminable religious conflict. The night of February 24, there was a celebration in Toribio – the UNDP had awarded the community a prize for having the best sustainable development project. Two representatives of the community had come back from the awards ceremony in Malaysia, and told the community about Malaysia and the different projects that had won. Arquimedes, as he had done more than once, put me on the spot in front of the whole gathered community, saying: “we have a special guest, from Canada, let’s give him a moment to hear what he thinks.” I said that I had been to many different places, seen the Palestinians struggle against the most brutal and powerful military machine; seen an MST community in Brazil and community assemblies and recovered factories in Argentina, Zapatista communities in Chiapas, and even very brave and principled people in Canada, but I had never seen the kind of strength, unity, and solidarity at the grassroots level that I had seen there, and that I had to thank them for that, because if I hadn’t seen it I would not have believed it possible.
When Arquimedes spoke that night, he said simply that now is the time to take what we can from this award, from the visibility we have at the international level, and take advantage of this time to try to move forward. Because, he said, times change, and sometimes they don’t return.
If he were to read this, he would probably reject what he would view as an excessive focus on him, his personality, and his work. He would probably remind me that the process is a collective one, that the power is not in the leaders, but in the people, and that no one can claim ownership from the movement’s collective effort of resistance and autonomy. Maybe he would remind me, too, of the saying the Nasa live by: “Words without action are empty, actions without words are blind, and words and actions outside of the spirit of community are death.”
Kidnapping him won’t stop the Nasa from resisting, building, or dreaming. But him and the others should be returned immediately.
Direct your emails and calls to the following:
– Programa Presidencial de Derechos Humanos y de DIH.
Dr. Carlos Franco
Calle 7 N° 5-54
TEL: (+571) 336.03.11
FAX: (+57 1) 337.46.67
E- mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
– Ministerio de Defensa Nacional
Dr. Jorge Alberto Uribe
El Dorado con Carrera. 52 CAN,
Tel. (57 1) 315 01 11
Fax: (+57 1)222.18.74
E-mail: email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org,
– ProcuradurÃa General de la NaciÃ³n
Dr. Edgardo JosÃ© Maya VillazÃ³n
Carrera 5 No. 15-80
Santa FÃ© de BogotÃ¡.
Tel: (57 1) 352 00 76
Fax: (+57 1)342.97.23
– FiscalÃa General de la NaciÃ³n
Dr. Luis Camilo Osorio
Diagonal 22 B No.52-01
Fax: (+571) 570 20 00
E-mail: email@example.com; firstname.lastname@example.org
-DefensorÃa del Pueblo
Dr. VÃ³lmar PÃ©rez Ortiz.
Calle 55 No. 10-32
Tel: (57 1) 314 73 00
Fax: (+571) 640 04 91
– Presidencia de la RepÃºblica
Dr. Ãlvaro Uribe VÃ©lez,
Cra. 8 No.7-26, Palacio de NariÃ±o,
Tel: (57 1) 562 93 00
Fax: (+57 1) 566.20.71
1) I have written about this in detail. I was in Toribio when the UNDP prize was awarded and when Battalion Pichincha was judged. See this photo essay. http://www.en-camino.org/caucaphotoessay/caucaphotoindex.htm
2) I interviewed Arquimedes in September 2002. http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?SectionID=36&ItemID=2363
3) I interviewed Padre Antonio on February 24, 2004, in Toribio http://www.en-camino.org/caucaphotoessay/padreantonio.htm
First Published in “People’s Democracy”, the weekly organ of the CPI(M) August 29, 2004, vol. XXVIII, no. 35.
The initial communique from the Northern Cauca indigenous councils on the kidnapping of Arquimedes Vitonas, the mayor of Toribio and activist in the indigenous movement, has been translated. I include it below. I will try to put something together soon on the kidnapping for the ZNet site this weekend. Below the communque are emails and phone numbers that you can use to pressure the government—and it is almost certainly the government that is responsible.
ASSOCIATION OF INDIGENOUS AUTHORITIES OF NORTHERN CAUCA, PROJECT NASA AND MUNICIPAL MAYOR’S OFFICE OF TORIBÍO CAUCA, COLOMBIA, COMMUNICATE TO PUBLIC OPINION:
The whereabouts of the indigenous authorities of the Municipality Toribío is currently unknown. On Saturday, August 22nd, 2004, they left from the Toribío Reserve located in the Municipality of Toribío Cauca, for the Department of Caquetá in the Municipality San Vicente del Caguan (former neutral zone of the FARC used for negotiations with the government, and now controlled by the Armed Forces) located in the Alta Mira Reserve, Veredes Laureles. The commission is composed of: Plinio Trochez, current governor of the Indigenous Authorities of the Toribío Reserve, Arquímedes Vitonas Noscue, current Mayor of the Municipality Toribío, Gilberto Muñoz Coronado, Coordinator of CECIDIC, former Mayor of Toribío, Rúben Darío Escue, Acting Governor of the Indigenous Authorities of San Francisco, and Erminson Velasco, driver of the vehicle in which they were traveling together. Since their departure, no news has been received in Toribío from the Commission.
On August 25th, 2004, the Municipal Representative if Toribío received a phone call in the afternoon from the Secretary of the Government Department of Cauca saying that it had been brought to his attention that the Mayor and his accompanying commission had been kidnapped. He gave no mention of who the possible perpetrators of this act could have been and spoke of an armed group of unknown identity. This information was received by the Government Secretary on the afternoon of August 24th; which for unknown reasons was only released today August 25th, 2004, at 4 pm.
The Commission was on its way to fulfill prior agreements that were made on behalf of the traditional authorities of both Reserves, who had invited to the Municipal Mayor, as well as the former Mayor, given his experience in development planning and advising for life (development) plans, an activity beneficial to the residents of the Alta Mira Reserve in the Department of Caquetá. This activity has been planned since the majority of the communal authorities of Alta Mira were former residents of the Toribío Reserve, but had been forced to leave due to land scarcity. Of the members of the Toribío Mayor’s Office, the last piece of news was received on Sund! ay, August 22nd, 2004 when Gilberto Muñoz Coronado made a phone call from his cell phone to his wife, at which time they were still located in Neiva City.
We, the indigenous communities of Cauca have publicly announced the decision to carry out a mobilization in mid-September to protest the aggressions committed against our people by armed groups. Moroever, the mobilization is aimed at rejecting the package of constitutional reforms that the central government is promoting and that affects the autonomy, security and rights of indigenous communities through the negotiations for Free Trade with the United States. It is within this context that these confusing and disturbing events have taken place.
In Toribio the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca (CRIC) was born, recognized internationally for advancing an exemplary process for the entire continent, of autonomy and land recuperation. The Paez (also knows as Nasa) people have struggled in resistance since the colonial period and have been recognized by prestigious entities with the Prize for the best Development Plan, the First Prize for the Ecuatorial Initiative 2004, among others. Mayor Vitonas is a prestigious figure in his community having been recognized at the national and international levels. He has been honoured by UNESCO as a Master of Wisdom and was President of the Departmental Assembly of Cauca.
The responsibility for the uncertainty in which we find ourselves consumed, lies with the government and Armed Forces, who generated the information about the said kidnapping. Moreover, it is unacceptable the attitude of the departmental government who gave the information in a backward and unofficial manner and since then has denied knowledge of the events. We demand that the national government and the Armed Forces clarify these facts immediately, to sustain their sources with credible evidence and give us clear information about the whereabouts of the commission.
We request that the national and international communities intercede with the Colombian government to demand that the information be immediately clarified, that an official report is made, that the security and well-being of the commission is guaranteed, and that the steps taken thus far by the Armed Forces and departmental government be clearly explained.
The association of Indigenous Authorities from Northern Cauca, NASA Project and the Mayor’s Office of Toribio Cauca, Colombia.
Toribio – Cauca, August 25, 2004
(0928) 49 8281 Mayor’s Office of Toribio.
(0928) 49 83 26 Nasa Project
Please direct letters to:
President of the Republic
Carrera 8 n. 7-26 Palacio de Nariño,
Santa Fe de Bogotá
Teléfono. +57.1.5629300 ext. 3550 (571 ) 284 33 00
Fax (571 ) 286 74 34 – 286, 68 42 -284 21 86
Ministry of the Interior and Justice
Carrera 8 # 8-09 – Bogotá
Ministry of Nacional Defence
Avenida El Dorado con carrera 52 CAN Santa Fe de Bogotá
Télex: 42411 INPRE CO; 44561 CFAC CO
E-mail de la Secretaría General: email@example.com
Attorney General’s Office
Carrera 5 n. 15-80 Santa Fe de Bogotá
Tel-fax: +57.1.342.9723, +57.1.281.7531
District Attorney General’s Office
Diagonal 22 B n. 52-01 Santa Fe de Bogotá.
Tel fax: +57.1.570.2022
Defender of the People
Calle 55 n. 10-32 Santa Fe de Bogotá
Vice President of the Republic
Presidential Council for Human Rights
Calle 7 No 6-54 Piso 3
Santa Fe de Bogotá, D. C.
Programa Presidencial de Derechos Humanos y DIH
I am writing to apologize for taking so long to write back. Readers were writing me asking about my safety. You are too kind. In fact it is not my safety that I am writing about right now. Nor the safety of the Palestinian political prisoners on hunger strike, which I should have been writing about this week. Today I need to write to you about Cauca.
Do you remember Cauca? I write about it a lot. I prepared a photo essay about it based on a visit I made in February of this year. Could you read it now, please? Could you please read this quote, in particular, that struck me so powerfully?
Part of the spirit of the Nasa’s movement is expressed by the mayor of Toribio, the town that is the historic heartland of this movement. Arquimedes Vitonas in a speech in Cali in February 2004, told the assembled leaders of the indigenous movement in Northern Cauca: “With this war, they can kill many of us, but they cannot kill all of us. Those of us who live will continue with our work. Those of us who die, will have died defending our process.”
Arquimedes Vitonas is a remarkable person, an exemplar of a remarkable movement. He is a graduate of Northern Cauca’s indigenous university. He is one of the leaders who was chosen to be mayor because the community knew he would follow their mandate and their plan. And I know personally just how much wisdom and integrity he has. A couple of years before I went up to Northern Cauca thanks to an invitation by the Nasa (signed personally by him) I interviewed him here in Canada. The thing about a leader like Arquimedes is that he really is a representative of a community and a process, and an attack on him is explicitly an attack against the community and against their process.
The Indigenous Councils of Northern Cauca believe that Arquimedes Vitonas was kidnapped three days ago, along with a number of other key indigenous leaders. They are still not sure whether it was the paramilitaries or the guerrillas who did the kidnapping. But they believe that quick and massive pressure can make a difference now. The usual people to write to:
President of the Republic: firstname.lastname@example.org
Vice President: email@example.com
Minister of Defence: firstname.lastname@example.org
Presidential Human Rights Programme: email@example.com
Now it seems that it really is all over, save for some possibly tragic and desperate acts by the opposition. At a 1:30pm press conference at the Gran Melia hotel, Carter and Gaviria both affirmed that their analysis and results confirmed the preliminary results of the National Electoral Council.
No Evidence, No Evidence, No Evidence
Specifically, Carter said: “After a long process of analysis, we conclude that our results are in agreement with the preliminary results of the Electoral Council.” Gaviria, who very obviously wanted there to be evidence of fraud, seemed full of regret when he said: “We have not encountered any evidence of fraud. If there are any specific claims, we are ready to investigate them… that is why we are here… we are ready to work with the opposition if there is any concrete information. But until now, we have no evidence of any specific cases of fraud.”
Both tried to clear up the difference between fraud and protest. Carter said: “I know that the Coordinadora Democratica is calling for demonstrations, and that is their right in a free society.” Gaviria said: “It is one thing to give your opinion or express doubts, but fraud is another thing.”
It actually gets worse for the opposition. Recall that at 5:30am this morning (the 16th), the opposition announced their own “results” of the referendum: 59% SI, 40% NO, and 8 million votes. Well, it turns out that BEFORE that announcement, according to Carter, and after Carter and Gaviria had seen the preliminary CNE results, Carter, Gaviria, and all five directors of the CNE—including the two, Zamora and Mejia, whose statements the opposition has been using to claim fraud. Everyone agreed that there had been no fraud. Everyone there agreed that the CNE results agreed with their own, including Sumate´s (the opposition electoral organ, whose mission was setting up the referendum) own information which stated that 55% had voted NO. So, after agreeing in a meeting as to the results, they came out publicly to dispute what they had already agreed to. Carter expressed confusion about it all.
This announcement is much more unequivocal than could have been expected. I thought there would be more “doubts” expressed, more talk of “possibilities” of “irregularities”, that kind of thing. But, no. The words “no evidence” came up over and over, not least because of the technical aspects of the system itself. Gaviria said “the system is designed in such a way that it is almost impossible to fake final results.”
Outside the Melia hotel, a small group of a few dozen very unhappy opposition people were demonstrating. I asked them what they thought of Carter`s declaration. They said “Carter has never defended us”, “it was a fraud, they keep saying it was not a fraud but they have to show us the proof that it was not a fraud”, and other arguments of equal quality.
So, now that two has-been presidents, one a repressive war criminal president of Colombia (see 1990-1994), and the other a war criminal president of the US (see East Timor, Afghanistan, etc.) have made their declarations, Venezuelans now know that they can keep their president. It is not that bad, actually—Chavez made it clear that the CNE was the final arbiter all along. But it is equally clear that Carter and the OAS have played a role out of all proportion to the role they should have played. The very fact that we were all waiting for their declaration before relaxing shows that.
Notes on the Final Results, from Jorge Rodriguez of the CNE
And now, the final results are coming in as well, from the CNE. A press conference given by the CNE, shown on VTV, at 3:40pm. Jorge Rodriguez of the CNE mentioned various aspects, with some good quotes. First, the registered voters grew to some 14 million, and more voting stations are clearly needed, and closer to the people, to avoid lineups. The fingerprinting machines did cause delays: but for the most part, yesterday, congestion was similar in parts with fingerprinting machines as those without.
“Never before in Venezuelan history have so many voted. Never before. And certainly not with absolute peace, without any violence.” There were some “dangerous periods”. First, in the morning, the media mentioned that the machines were giving wrong results. “We believe this was a deliberate attempt to delegitimate the process. When we investigated, we found nothing—every time. It is technically impossible.”
Also, it is very dangerous to create matrices of opinion outside of the CNE. Websites started publishing results before Venezuelans had voted. The partisan sites started to declare their triumph – “this is not just dangerous, it is disrespectful to those still voting. Politicians have much to learn from the Venezuelans who voted. We never heard of any NOs attacking YESes in line. Not one.”
“If laws exist, they have to be respected. If not, can create a very dangerous situation. CNE ready to do whatever CD or Maisanta wanted. But only if it is going to calm the country. Not for another excuse.”
The best criticism of the opposition was this: “To say that there was fraud is to say that the CD was complicit in the fraud—it approved of the machines and was present through every part of the process. It is to say that CANTV was complicit in the software….”
“Carter has spoken. OAS has spoken. All have spoken to the transparency of the process. It is barbaric to ask for a recount after their prenouncements. How many meters do we have to go to please opposition, to get the same results?” Answering the claim that the CNE should not have published preliminary results: “how many times did the opposition complain that they wanted rapid results, threatening that they would publish their own results if we did not?”
NO seems to have won in every single state, with some states incredibly close. Even Zulia, the stronghold of the opposition, had NO winning by a slight margin.
President Carraquero of the National Electoral Council announced the preliminary result as of 3:47 am just now (4:10am) with between 94-96% of the results in. The result: 58% NO (4 991 483 million votes) and 42% SI (3 576 517 million votes). In other words, it´s all over, right?
It should be. The Electoral Council, which was perfectly good for everyone involved until now, is no longer good enough for the opposition. They announced just before the preliminary results that they would not accept the results. And now, as folks have said before, all depends on the Carter Center and the OAS. These groups are in frantic negotiations with the Coordinadora Democratica (opposition) right now. Rumour (I´ll confirm as soon as possible) is that Carter and Gaviria of the OAS are fighting. Carter apparently thinks that the vote ought to be accepted. Gaviria believes that some kind of “solution” should be sought in spite of the clear vote. I am having trouble believing in Carter´s insistence on democracy, but for argument´s sake let´s accept that that´s what´s going on. If that is what´s going on, and if Gaviria and the opposition have their way, it will be an abhorrent message from the world to Venezuelans, that they are on their own in trying to defend their democracy and that international bodies have no credibility to tell them anything. This could end up to be the case. But since we waited so many hours for the people to speak, we ought to give these groups a chance to save a minimum of credibility for themselves as well.
UPDATE (5:35am). In case anyone was worried that the opposition was going to do the right thing and respect the Venezuelan vote, Henry Ramos Allup dispelled that notion dramatically this morning in a televised press conference. According to the Coordinadora Democratica´s own figures (not really sure how they were collected, but some way far more reliable than the double-system of the machines), of 8 million votes counted, SI had 59% and NO 40.6%. Ramos said they would be spending today (Monday) gathering evidence to present to the international community.
This claim, without evidence like virtually every other claim of the opposition, gives the Carter Center, OAS, and international press a real choice. Will they respect the vote of the Venezuelans and their electoral authorities, which they have been praising all day, or will they opt for sleazy, evidence-free claims that are designed to sow chaos and undermine progress?
I wish I wasn´t so sure of the answer. (UPDATE: I was wrong! Not for the first time, about Venezuela. Carter and Gaviria stated clearly at a press conference at 1:30pm that they found NO EVIDENCE of fraud (and it was pretty clear Gaviria wanted to find evidence). So, there you have it. Much clearer than I thought.)