I was looking back over my files on Colombia for the past year, trying to put together an article about it. Just write some straight history. Colombia’s seen a mixed year. Brutal paramilitary violence, to be sure. Ongoing massacres, assassinations, neoliberal restructuring, an outbreak of yellow fever. But also the indigenous Minga for life, the quiet development of alternatives, the ongoing creation of the kind of movement that could change the country some time in the future. For Venezuela things have been better than bittersweet. There have been some defeats, some senseless deaths, but mostly it has been a period of growth – of movements, of the kinds of social innovations that save lives and strengthen dignity, and of democracy. The referendum victory is just one example. How about the rest of South America? Definitely mixed. Lula had a full year in power – and used it to occupy Haiti. Argentina is recovering economically because it virtually defaulted on its IMF debt, as the NYT even acknowledged lately. In Bolivia they had gotten rid of the old boss the year before but discovered – well, you know the line. In Ecuador I’m told they know they could overthrow the new boss any time they want, but they want to figure out what to do when they do.
Nothing good for Haiti in 2004. But Haitians have survived worse and they’ll survive this. The question is really for the rest of the world. How much longer do Haitians have to fight this white supremacy and have anything they create to show for it stolen from them while the world is totally indifferent? You could ask the same about Africa, with its conflicts in Sudan and Congo, with its thousands of preventable deaths from starvation and AIDS, all the while the vilest hypocrisy on display as westerners debate whether we should bomb one set of Africans to help another as the west keeps up the plunder and extortion (I am choosing my words carefully here, which is why you could be forgiven for feeling that I am understating my case).
With Asia, still reeling from the Tsunami that overshadows everything else, it shouldn’t be forgotten that 2004 is the year that the Hindu fundamentalists were thrown out in India, and not a moment too soon. That was a very powerful thing, even if they put a neoliberal at the helm and there’s corruption and so on.
West Asia is pretty unmixed and horrific. The onslaught against the Palestinians continues unabated, with Yasser Arafat’s death changing nothing. The slaughter of Iraqis proceeds without any end in sight. And yet – for defenceless people facing a superpower and its proxy, there are small victories. The Palestinians are still in Palestine after everything Israel has done, with the US backing it, to ethnically cleanse and murder them. The Iraqis retain the potential both to oust their occupiers and build something decent, if a meaningful anti-occupation movement could be built in the US.
Ah, yes, and North America. Canada had a chance to hand the whole thing over to the fascists and decided against it, only to discover what we’re always the last to know – you don’t ever get what you voted for. Usually you don’t even not get what you voted against. The United States would have had that problem had John Kerry won. But he didn’t, and Bush did, and that could be the worst thing that happened in 2004, and I realize that between the Tsunami, the Lancet study, and the near total lack of a difference between Kerry and Bush, that might be a ridiculous thing to claim. But I do feel it’s too early to tell. If Bush’s election was the low point for movements in the US, if we can learn things and start to do things that work better, then maybe something can be salvaged from this wreck of a year. Maybe one way of looking at it is that thanks to the courage of beleaguered people all over the world, there is still time to do so. We owe them for that. Things are bloody and bad. But it ain’t over yet.
Happy New Year. See you in 2005.