The arguments against reparations for Africa are in the details: How can you possibly measure, and repay, for millions and millions of shattered lives over centuries? When a figure is settled on, and paid, is it all over? Can there be adequate compensation for centuries of slavery, colonization, and destruction? Can one group of people be held accountable for what their ancestors did? Where does exploitation in the present fit in?
There are stories that get into the news, and stories that don't. Sometimes when stories do make the news, they're provided without context. The recent near-breakdown of the peace process in Colombia is one example of a context-free story, reported in the major media. Worker's and indigenous struggles that are happening right now, in places like Cali and Cauca, are examples of stories that don't even make the news. Here we will provide some context first, and then three stories that you won't hear in the news about Colombia today.
Context: The IMF, the FTAA, and the Crisis
'If Osama bin Laden were hiding in the jungles of Colombia instead of Afghanistan, whose help would we enlist to find him? U.S. Army Special Forces? The Colombian Army? I don't think so.
Actually, we would enlist the drug cartels. They have the three attributes we need: They know how to operate as a covert network and how to root out a competing network, such as Mr. bin Laden's. They can be bought and know how to buy others. And they understand that when we say we want someone "dead or alive" we mean "dead or dead."'
Thomas Friedman New York Times - 28 September 2001
"Who in the U.S. benefits from fumigating Colombians?” the man asked me pointedly in the crowded community hall in a paramilitary-controlled part of Putumayo. Putumayo is a southern department of Colombia where the guerrilla insurgency is strong, where much coca is grown, where paramilitary massacres, disappearances, and assassinations are frequent, and where Plan Colombia is focused. It's also the focus of U.S. military assistance and fumigation programs.
There is too much at stake for social change to be a game. But if it were a game, the side that had the ability to think many moves ahead, anticipate its opponents moves, know what its goal was and move toward it relentlessly, would have huge advantages over the side that didn't.
If you had the chance to see 'Traffic', you know the War on Drugs is a sham. There's a good chance you know that its domestic effects are to imprison thousands and thousands of non-violent offenders who aren't dangerous, cut them off from their families and friends, destroy their life chances, destroy social bonds and devastate their communities, and lock them up in brutal places which are training grounds for crime. You probably know that the money and arms the US sends to countries like Colombia to 'fight' drugs ends up in the hands of paramilitaries who use it to produce drugs and kill civilians.
Perhaps you know about Plan Colombia, the violence of which is beginning to take effect. The Plan that sends $5 billion in military aid to the Colombian government to fight drugs, which translates to sending the Colombian military and paramilitaries $5 billion in advanced weapons to fight guerrillas and progressive social movements. Perhaps you know about the impunity with which trade unionists and human rights workers, journalists and legal workers are murdered in places like Barrancabermeja. Maybe you've read about the familiar process: small farmers, or indigenous people, or afro-colombians, on resource rich lands. Local elites and politicians cut a deal with multinational corporations to split the resources on the lands-- to build an oil well, or a hydroelectric dam. The only obstacle? The people who live there. So make refugees of them, and if they resist, murder them.
But if you're like me, you probably haven't had the chance to hear directly from the social organizations who are resisting this kind of development. You probably haven't had a chance to see the courage, intelligence, and resilience with which they resist and persist in pressing for a negotiated solution to the conflict between the government and the guerrillas. You probably haven't had a chance to see the diversity of the types of organizations, their strength, and their attempts to construct real alternatives to the destruction being meted out to them.
The Canada-Colombia Campaign made it possible for some of us to have that chance. It brought six activists from six different organizations in Colombia to Toronto, Montreal, and Ottawa to discuss the situation in Colombia, the connections with North America, and what genuine solidarity between activists here and there could mean.