AEP 63: Coffee, Tourism, and Lithium imperialism in Latin America with Yanis Iqbal

Commodity imperialism in Latin America

Independent journalist Yanis Iqbal, based in India, has written a series of articles about commodities and imperialism in Latin America. He presents some of his findings on coffee in Colombia, tourism and the displacement of Indigenous people in Honduras, and lithium imperialism in Chile and Bolivia.

AEP 60: Colombian ex-president Alvaro Uribe Velez under house arrest

Alvaro Uribe Velez under house arrest

With Manuel Rozental. On August 4 2020, the Supreme Court of Colombia ordered ex-president Alvaro Uribe Velez, now a senator, under house arrest pending an investigation that he suborned witnesses in a case about paramilitarism.

Mayor of Medellin in 1982, governor of Antioquia from 1995-1998, and president of Colombia from 2002-2010, Alvaro Uribe Velez has been implicated in the “para-politica” scandal in which politicians from his party signed pacts with paramilitary organizations to commit crimes in their jurisdictions; in the “false positives” scandal in which the Colombian military killed perhaps 10,000 completely innocent people and dressed their corpses up as rebel fighters to inflate death counts; the “wiretapping” scandal in which he used Colombia’s intelligence agency to spy on his political opponents; and now the accusation that he has suborned witnesses on these and other cases.

What is behind this turn against such an all-powerful and seemingly untouchable politician? And what will he do next? Submit quietly? Agitate for a constitutional change to the judiciary? How much fight does this 68-year old politician have in him yet? We tackle these questions after a highly compressed timeline of Uribe’s career as one of the principal architects of Colombia’s endless war.

AEP 58: Mafiosity, the current stage of Colombian capitalism

Mafiosity may not be the highest stage, but it is definitely the current stage

Manuel is back on the show for this one. How does an Indigenous community that has recovered land and autonomy end up back under state authority? How does a territory go from winning a life and death struggle for food sovereignty to growing a hemp monoculture? And how do mafias and ultra-rightwing (fascist) political movements work together to destroy everything?

GUEST POST: 21st Century Fascism? I’m afraid so.

by Hector Mondragon, November 12 2018. Translated from Spanish by Justin Podur.

Facing the wave of growth and success of political and social movements of the ultra-right, it is necessary to ask: are we witnessing the rise of a series of fascist movements in many parts of the world as occurred in the 1930s? Or is fascism an unrepeatable historical phenomenon limited to the period between the two world wars?

Some consider that fascism only arose to prevent the victory of socialist revolutions or to stop the communists, but “fascism did not triumph when the bourgeois was threatened with proletarian revolution, but rather when the working class was weakened and put on the defensive.” The role of fascism was not to overcome the socialist revolution but to “erase the conquests of reformist socialism.”i

In Germany it was the social democrats that liquidated Rosa Luxemberg and Karl Liebnecht and stopped the communists fifteen years before the Nazi triumph. The Soviet Republic in Hungary was stopped by the invasion of the Rumanian army sent by the Liberal party. In Italy the occupations of the factories and the workers’ councils were stopped by the Liberal Party two years before the triumph of the fascists. Fascist propaganda insisted and insists always on a “communist threat” but for the past 90 years, capitalism has used the fascist “solution” to destroy reforms and human rights after the “communist threat” has been defeated.

What then is the difference between the Italian blackshirts, the German brownshirts, the Rumanian iron guards, the Ukrainian flagmen, the Hungarian arrow cross, the Spanish falange or the Croation Ustache – and today’s ultra-right parties?

All of the protagonists of European fascism of the last century professed a visceral hatred of Jews, expressed in extreme form in Germany, Ukraine, Romania and Croatia and culminating in the Holocaust. Today, by contrast, with the exception of Ukraine’s Svoboda, Hungary’s Jobbik, Greece’s Golden Dawn, the KKK and a few small neonazi groups, the majority of the global right is pro-Israel and supports the extermination of the Palestinians.

In general, on the xenophobic right, anti-Semitism has been replaced by Islamophobiaii, hatred of refugees, and particular racisms, like that expressed on the US right against Mexicansiii. In other aspects, however, despite its diversity, the 21st century ultra-right bears a growing resemblance to the European fascism of the 1930

. This is not coincidence. Fascism is a phenomenon specific to the crises of certain phases of the imperialist and capitalist order.iv v vi

Those who believe in the “end of history” – that colonialism is a thing of the past and capitalism is the final historical order – incorrectly discard the notion of a rebirth of fascism. The reality is very different. In this century so far, imperialist wars have destroyed Iraq, Libya, and Syria, all as a way of resolving the cyclical crises of capitalism. The recolonization of the Middle East is a fact. Colonialism was in retreat during the period that began with the fall of Nazism and ended with the US loss in Vietnam. It has returned with force in the past three decades.

To understand how fascism arises from the necessities of internal and external imperial wars, Hitler’s January 27 1932 speech to the industrialists at Dusseldorf is instructive. This speech convinced big business to support the Nazi solution.vii

Hitler explained that the defense of private property required a dictatorship like that of the Fuhrer. Because private property is the result of economic inequality and different classes of citizens, to defend private property it would be necessary to impose political inequality, hierarchy, and authoritarianism. Hitler explained that England did not just go to India sell its wares; it obliged India to buy them by invading the country. If the businessmen wanted the success of their enterprises, they had to support Nazism to conquer new markets and resources in the wider world and destroy the “Bolshevism” that was damaging the racial and national unity needed for victory.

In this speech, unusually light on Hitler’s characteristic constant attacks against the Jews, Hitler focused on “Bolshevism”: not just the need to stop it, but also to stop it from dividing the people and spreading a mentality opposed to the singular national interest. The businessmen applauded loudly for several minutes. Hitler’s program for big German business included a wave of privatizationsviii ix – and was only stopped by the fall of Nazism itself.

For Milton Friedman and the Chicago School to impose neoliberalism on Chile, it was not just necessary to prepare an elite of Chilean economists. It was also necessary to install Pinochet’s “Patria y Libertad” to impose the laws of the market.

Vilfredo Pareto, the economist considered by neoliberals as the precursor of their “libertarian” ideas, raged against strikes as the enemies of an economic optimum. He hated the worker’s movement’s taking over factories. He celebrated the ascent of Mussolini to power. Even though Pareto himself was not a fascist, the fascists made him a senator-for-life. In the first few years of his government, Mussolini followed Pareto’s prescriptions to the letter, destroying political liberalism, reducing state administration in favor of private enterprise, reducing property taxes, favoring industry, and imposing religious education.x The capitalists and neoliberal economists would prefer not to associate with fascists and repudiate their ideology, but they acclaim it when it is time to smash “Bolshevism” and go to war with other countries.

As it did 90 years ago, fascism today liquidates the gains of workers and collective rights, cleanses universities and schools, and promotes war. When the domination of transnational capital is not maintained merely by the laws of the market, it is maintained by direct violence. When institutional solutions are insufficient, the mass mobilization of one part of civil society is used against the rest.

Colonialism has strengthened. What is today called “extractivism” was once called “accumulation by dispossession”. It reigns throughout multiple parts of the world, an expression of the strength of colonial enterprises that have existed for centuries. It is the exact same primitive accumulation that occurred in the original phase of colonialism.xi xii

In the 20th century, war was integrated with colonial enterprise and the destruction of competitor capital (as we saw in Iraq, Libya, and earlier in Yugoslavia) in a way that foreshadowed the destruction of local capital, the conquest of new markets, new investment zones and sources of land, minerals, gas and petroleum.

But imperialism, colonialism and war are not in themselves fascism, which is a mass movement based in the middle class and the unemployed, mobilized in diverse forms – including armed militias – to destroy workers’ rights and organizations and perpetuate war in the interests of transnational capital and landowners. In Latin America, the landowners always have their paramilitary bands at the readyxiii.

In contrast to other forms of authoritarianism, the success of fascism is guaranteed by the mass mobilization of the middle class against the “enemies of the nation”, be they Jews, Communists, Africans, refugees, Muslims, or Mexicans.

As the Nazi philosopher Martin Heidegger said, “ …it can accordingly seem that there is no enemy. It is then a fundamental requirement that the enemy be found, brought to light, or even created so that this stand against the enemy may take place… with the goal of complete extermination.”xiv

The state that persecutes the enemy, according to the theorists of nazism, is not merely the judicial institution, but the people’s Being intrinsically united with its leader (Heidegger). It’s not a state machinery, but the people organized by the nazi party organized through its Fuhrer that is the source of law (Rosemberg). It is not the law that establishes order, but the “movement” that imposes an order, from which the law springs(Schmitt).xv

This is why Gramsci, in his Prison Notebooks, presented the thesis that civil society is itself a form of the state. This makes the problem of emancipation more complicated and more dramatic. “Civil society could very well express violence and oppression not inferior to that of the state, and very unscrupulous besides, and it will tend to exercise this violence without obstructions since it has no concern with even the pretense of impartiality.”xvi

The idea of needing to attack an enemy was and is a part of an ultra-right wing strategy, with false information used to agitate about the fantasy of the enemy. The great theorist of what is now called “fake news” was the publicist of Siemens and the Reemtsma tobacco company, Hans Domizlaff, who began his application of marketing techniques to politics in 1932.xvii

According to Domizlaff, “people can believe in gross lies or, in any case, there can be found freedom for action if lies are openly told and obstinately maintained…xviii the masses cannot be educated, only domesticated, led, and voided.”xix

In the 21st century the role of enemy is assigned in Europe and the US to migrants, especially refugees or to “terrorist” Muslims. In Latin America it continues to be “communists”, the political left, as it was in the time of the Doctrine of National Security.

But more and more, in the north and in Latin America, LGBTQ communities are targeted, called the “gender ideology”, with propaganda about apparent “scientific” research into gender. This is not new.

Homophobia was one of the hooks the Nazis used to win over religious sectors. Magnus Hirschfield’s theory of the “third sex” and his books on homosexuality and transgender were attacked. Hirschfield’s Institute for Sexual Research was the target of homphobic attack. Its administrator Kurt Hiller was sent to a concentration camp in March 1933 and on May 6 the building was occupied and its archives, photos, and library were confiscated to be burned in the famous book-burning of May 10, 1933.xx

The bonfire linked the “judeo-bolshevik conspiracy” and the third sex. Homophobia played a mobilizing role in the bonfire and in the concentration camps. The annihilation of the third sex occurred alongside the extermination of communists, unionists, Jews and Roma – the extermination of the enemy. The state apparatus, from its perch in the universities to its gas chambers, was rooted in the “people’s Being” directed by its leader.

The ultra-right of the 21st century, especially in Latin America, has rediscovered the role of homophobia. The struggle against “gender ideology” was embedded in the “No” vote against the Colombian peace accords and has moved millions of votes from Brazil to the US, including Costa Rica, where an important group of churches joined these homophobic manipulations with enthusiasm.

The manipulation of religion by the ultra-right is not limited to homophobia. For more than one hundred years the right has developed a theology of war. The spread of Wahhabism in the Muslim world has served as the basis for Al Qaeda and the Islamic State, and the “dispensationalism” of Cyrus Scofield has played a role in the West in creating a war theology, nourishing militarism on the evangelical right-wing.

The Islamic State is apocalyptic: it is preparing for the final battle of history, in which Jesus and the Mahdi will fight alongside them. “Dispensationalism” also views war in the Middle East as anticipation of Armageddon and considers US support for Israel part of a divine plan. The faithful expect to be transported directly to heaven before seven years of great disasters, at the end of which will occur the great battle of Armageddon, when Jesus will return to defend Israel.xxi

As the Nazis struggled against the conspiracy outlined in the “protocols of the elders of Zion”, the Latin American ultra-right struggles against the conspiracy of the Forum of Sao Paolo, which they believe wishes to impose communism and homosexualism. Bolshevism, however, has changed: it is no longer a Jewish conspiracy but the source of conspiracy, since Israel is now an ally and the Palestinians the enemy.

The ultra-right of the Americas is diverse, but its common symbols and leaders are always anti-communist, loyal to the US, and loyal to the transnational corporations. Under these three principles, religious fundamentalism can easily co-exist with the debauched life of Donald Trump. The white supremacists of the US are not in agreement among themselves about anti-Semitism. But the Klan and the neo-Nazis continue to co-exist and to coordinate on common projects like the wall on the border with Mexico.

The ultra-right in Europe is more divided. There are anti-EU and pro-EU ultra-rightists. There is one anti-Semitic right and another Islamophobic right. In Israel, the extermination of Palestinians signals fascism; in Islamic countries it’s Wahhabism; in India it is Hindu supermacy and there is even a Buddhist right-wing in Thailand and Burma. All of the ultra-rights deny our common humanity, are xenophobic and racist, homophobic and enemies of human rights and of international law.

Not every ultra-right is fascist. Several have given rise to diverse Bonapartes,xxii xxiii whether by electoral movements or by military-parliamentary-or judicial coups. Laws and repressive means strengthen state oppression, but fascism is not simply the repression of the system towards its enemies. The triumph of fascism is a qualitative change. xxiv xxv

For fascist regimes to establish themselves it is not sufficient for there to be a fascist party, nor is it sufficient that the president be a fascist. Fascism requires a mass movement that is capable of smashing the organizations of workers and of minorities, and capable of supporting perpetual wars. Fascism in the 21st century is reaching that point.

It is time to resist.

i BAUER, Otto (1936) Zwischen zwei Weltkriegen?. Bratislava: Eugen Prager Verlag, p. 136.

ii HUNTINGTON, Samuel 1997 O Choque das Civilizações e a recomposição da ordem mundial. Rio de Janeiro: Editora Objetiva.

iii HUNTINGTON, Samuel 2004. ¿Quiénes somos?: los desafíos a la identidad nacional estadounidense. Barcelona: Paidós Ibérica.

iv MANDEL, Ernest (1969) El Fascismo. Revolta Global, p.10.

v POULANTZAS, Nicos (1970) Fascismo e Ditadura. Porto: Portucalense, 1972, p. 13.

vi DIMITROV, Jorge (1935) “La ofensiva del fascismo y las tareas de la Internacional Comunista en la lucha por la unidad dela clase obrera contra el fascismo”; Informe ante en VII Congreso Mundial de la Internacional Comunista, 2 de agosto de 1935. Selección de trabajos. Buenos Aires: Estudio, 1972.

vii HITLER, Adolf (1932) “The Dusseldorf Speech of 1932”; C N Trueman editor. The History Learning Site, 22 May 2015.

viii BUCHHEIM, Christoph and Jonas SCHERNER (2006).”The Role of Private Property in the Nazi Economy: The Case of Industry”. The Journal of Economic History 66(2) 390-416 (406). Cambridge University Press.

ix BEL, Germà (13 de noviembre de 2004). “Against the mainstream: Nazi privatization in 1930s Germany”. Universitat de Barcelona i ppre-IREA.

x BORKENAU, Franz (1936) Pareto. New York: John Wiley & Sons, p.40.

xi HARVEY, David (2004) “El ‘nuevo imperialismo’: acumulación por desposesión”; Leo Pantich & Colin Leys (Ed.) El nuevo desafío imperial, p.p. 99-129. Merlin Press-Clacso.

xii MARX, Karl (1867) El Capital, v. I, c. XXIV-XXV. Fondo de Cultura Económica, México, 1974, p.p. 607-650.

xiii See the character Attila in the film Novecento, by Bernardo BERTOLUCCI (1976).

xiv HEIDEGGER, Martin. Gesamtausgabe, 36/37, Sein und Wahrheit. 1. Die Grundfrage der Philosophie. 2. Vom Wesen der Wahrheit, Frankfurt am Main, Klostermann, 2001, éd. por Hartmut Tietjen, [GA 36/37], 90-91.

xv FAYE, Emmanuel (2005) “El derecho y la raza: Erik Wolf entre Heidegger, Schmitt y Rosenberg”. Heidegger: La introducción del nazismo en filosofía. Madrid: Akal, 2009, 2018, capítulo7.

xvi LOSURDO, Doménico 1997. “Com Gramsci, para além de Marx e Gramsci”; Crítica Marxista 3-4. Roma.

xvii DOMIZLAFF, Hans (1932) Propagandamittel der Staatsidee. Altona-Othmarschen.

xviii DOMIZLAFF, Hans (1952) Brevier für Könige. Massenpsychologisches Praktikum. Hamburg, Institut für Markentechnik, p. 208.

xix Ibidem, p. 288.

xx BAUER, Heike (2017). The Hirschfeld Archives: Violence, Death, and Modern Queer Culture. Temple University Press, p. 92.

xxi SIZER, Stephen (2006) Sionismo cristiano ¿hoja de ruta a Armagedón? Bósforo libros, 2009.

xxii THALHEIMER, August (1928) “Über den Faschismus”; internes Dokument der Komintern, 1928 ; Gegen den Strom, theoretischer Zeitschrift der KPD(O), 1930.

xxiii TROTSKY, Leon (1934) “Bonapartism and Fascism”; New International, 1(2): 37-38.

xxiv Ibid.

xxv DIMITROV, Jorge; op. cit.

translated by Justin Podur

The people of Colombia are cracking up the walls of war and authoritarianism

“Sorry if my protest has cause a traffic collapse, but your indifference has caused our country’s collapse.”

The protests that started with the national strike called by Colombia’s central union on November 21 to protest pension reforms and the broken promises of the peace accords have persisted for two months and grown into a protest against the whole establishment. And the protests have continued into the new year and show no signs of stopping.

The end of the decade has seemed to bring an unstoppable march of the right wing in Latin America as elsewhere. The 2016 coup in Brazil that ended with fascist Jair Bolsonaro in power, the 2019 coup in Bolivia, the continuously rolling coup in Venezuela, all showcased the ruthlessness of the U.S. in disposing of left-wing governments in the region. Right-wing victories at the ballot box occurred in Chile in 2017 and in Colombia in 2018, where the electorate rejected the left-wing Gustavo Petro and embraced Iván Duque, a protege of the infamous former president Álvaro Uribe Vélez. But with the new wave of protests, the unstoppable right-wing juggernaut is facing many challenges.

In Chile, three months of protests, still going, are demanding the resignation of President Sebastián Piñera and the reversal of a range of neoliberal policies. Even in the face of the police and army using live fire against protesters, they have not let up.

Ecuador is another peculiar case, in which Lenín Moreno ran as a candidate who would continue left-wing policies, but who promptly reversed course upon reaching power in 2017, including revoking the asylum of Julian Assange, who is now in a UK prison. Reopening drilling in the Amazon, opening a new U.S. airbase in the Galapagos, getting rid of taxes on the wealthy, and doing a new package of International Monetary Fund austerity measures was enough to spark a sustained protest. Moreno’s government was forced to negotiate with the protesters and has withdrawn some of the austerity measures.

In Haiti, protests have gone on for over a year. Sparked in July 2018 by a sharp increase in fuel prices (the same spark as for the Ecuador protests), they have expanded to call for the president’s resignation. In Haiti, as the protests have dragged on, some of the country’s elite families have joined the call for the president’s resignation, which will make it even more difficult to find a constitutional exit from the crisis.

In Colombia, after winning the runoff in 2018, President Duque may have felt that he had a mandate to enact right-wing policies, which in Colombia have usually included new war measures in addition to the usual austerity. But combining pension cuts with betraying the peace process was simply stealing too much from the future: Young people joined the November 21 protests in huge numbers (the lowest estimates are 250,000).

The sustained nature of the protests is striking. Rather than one-offs, the protests have been committed to staying on until change is won. We may hear more this year from post-coup Brazil and Bolivia as well.

At the heart of Colombia’s protest is the issue of war and peace. To say Colombians are war-weary is an understatement. The war there that began (depending on how you date it) in 1948 or 1964 has provided the pretext for an unending assault on people’s rights and dignities by the state. Afro-Colombians were displaced from their lands under cover of the war. Indigenous people were dispossessed. Unions were smeared as guerrilla fronts and their leaders assassinated. Peasants and their lands were fumigated with chemical warfare. Narcotraffickers set themselves up inside the military and intelligence organizations, creating the continent’s most extensive paramilitary apparatus. Politicians signed pacts with these paramilitary death squads. The war gave the establishment an excuse for the most depraved acts, notably the “false positives” in which the military murdered completely innocent people and dressed their corpses up as guerrillas to inflate their kill statistics. Even though the guerrillas, with their kidnapping and too-frequent accidental killings of innocents, were never popular with the majority, Colombians have backed peace processes when given the chance. And Colombians didn’t look kindly at the major betrayals of peace processes in the past, like the one in the 1980s, when ex-guerrillas entering politics were assassinated by the thousand. From 2016, when the new peace accords were affirmed, until mid-2019, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) tallied 138 of their ex-guerrillas murdered; more than 700 other activists were killed in the same period, including more than 100 Indigenous people since Duque came to power in 2018.

At the end of August, a group of FARC members led by their former chief negotiator, Iván Márquez, announced that they were returning to the jungle and to the fight. They argued that the assassination of their members and the refusal of the government to comply with the other aspects of the accords demonstrated that there was no will for peace on the side of the government. Those FARCs who announced they were giving up on the accords were treated as having gone rogue: The government labeled them as criminal groups. Aerial bombardment (a war measure not normally the first recourse in dealing with “criminals”) quickly followed. When a bombing (also in August) by the Colombian air force of one of these rogue groups in Caquetá killed eight children and Duque labeled it “strategic, meticulous, impeccable, and rigorous,” he was greeted with much-deserved public revulsion. Duque was shaping up to deliver the same kind of war as always, only now under the flag of peace, its victims labeled criminals instead of guerrillas.

Eternal war does benefit some: those in the arms and security business especially, and those who want to commit crimes under the cover of war. But despite the many benefits of eternal war for the elite, normalcy also exerts a powerful draw. When Duque’s mentor Álvaro Uribe Vélez was elected president in 2002 and 2006, it was with the promise of normalcy—of peace—through decisive victory over the guerrillas. Instead, he delivered narco-paramilitarism, false positives, and, very nearly, regional wars with Ecuador and Venezuela.

One of Uribe’s early acts was to negotiate a peace agreement with the paramilitaries. Since the paramilitaries were state-backed, organized, and armed, this was a farcical negotiation of the government with itself. But when some of the paramilitary commanders began to speak publicly about their relationships with the state and multinational corporations, they found themselves deported to the U.S. At the time, the scandal was given a name—“para-política.” But to some of the investigators, it was better-termed “para-Uribismo.” Paramilitary commander Salvatore Mancuso—who had the temerity to talk about the Chiquita banana corporation and who is apparently going to return to Colombia sometime soon—is just the best-known name. Many others have found that being a paramilitary leads to a considerably shortened lifespan. Uribe, mayor of Medellín and governor of Antioquia during the heyday of the cartels, is named in numerous official documents as being close to both the narcotraffickers and the paramilitaries. The evidence keeps coming, as courts, now trying Uribe’s brotherkeep getting closer to the man himself.

After the first round of “Uribismo,” it was time to try a peace process. The betrayal of that process, initiated in 2012, and the new president Duque’s promise of yet another decade of “Uribismo,” has been a motivating force of the recent protests.

Uribismo entangles endless war with austerity and inequality. In a recent Gallup poll, 52 percent of Colombians surveyed said the gap between rich and poor had increased in the past five years; 45 percent struggled to afford food in the previous 12 months; and 43 percent lacked money for shelter. The social forces that typically fight for social progress and equality—unions and left-wing political parties—have traditionally been demonized as proto-guerrillas. With the government declaring the war over—and with great fanfare—people want the freedom to make economic demands without being treated as civil war belligerents.

But when faced with the November 21 protests, the government went straight to the dirty war toolkit, murdering 18-year-old protester Dilan Cruz on November 25, imposing curfew, detaining more than 1,000 people, and creating “montajes,” the time-tested use of agents provocateurs to commit unpopular and illegal acts to provide a pretext for state repression. Government officials have also tried to claim that Venezuela and Russia (of course) were behind the protests.

Part of the dirty war toolkit is to negotiate, and the government has been doing so with the National Strike Committee. No doubt hoping that the protests will exhaust themselves and any agreements can be quietly dropped as numbers dwindle, the government is dangling the possibility of dropping some austerity demands. Meanwhile, the negotiators are being threatened by paramilitary groups, and another mass grave of those murdered as military “false positives” has been unearthed. Uribismo has wormed its way into every structure of the state: Real change will have to be deep. By not giving up easily, the protesters have shown the way. These protests could be a crack in the walls of fascism that seem to have sprung up everywhere in the past decade.

Justin Podur is a Toronto-based writer and a writing fellow at Globetrotter, a project of the Independent Media Institute. You can find him on his website at podur.org and on Twitter @justinpodur. He teaches at York University in the Faculty of Environmental Studies. He is the author of the novel Siegebreakers.

This article was produced by Globetrotter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

The Ossington Circle Episode 34: Colombia’s Peace Process Fails, with Manuel Rozental

The Ossington Circle Episode 34: Colombia’s Peace Process Fails, with Manuel Rozental

I talk to friend and frequent guest Manuel Rozental about the breakdown of the (probably inaccurately named) peace process in Colombia, as FARC dissidents announce that the accords have failed and they are returning to war. We talk about war and peace in Colombian history and a global economy that profits more from war than from peace. 

Héctor Mondragón: The plan to Gaza-ify the Colombian Peace Process

[This important article is by the Colombian economist and activist Héctor Mondragón and argues that Colombia’s landowning elite are not interested in peace, even though negotiators have gone to great lengths to placate them. Originally in Spanish – translated by Justin Podur.]

To understand what is happening with the Colombian Peace Accords, it is necessary to identify the enormous political power held by Colombia’s large landowners. Without understanding the problem of the concentration of land ownership, it is impossible to understand anything that has happened in the country in the past eighty years.

The Socialist Worker’s Party of Germany in 1875 identified in their program the problem that the means of production were under the monopoly control of the capitalist class. Marx criticized their formulation for neglecting the “monopoly of the land owners (the monopoly of property in land is even the basis of the monopoly of capital)”. He added that even “in England the capitalist class is usually not even the owner of the land on which his factory stands.”

Now, in the 21st century, in Colombia the economic and political power of the large landowners is notorious. The prolonging of the armed conflict unleashed an agrarian counter-reform and millions of peasants are displaced. Colombia has become the country with the most expensive land in the region (1) and the majority of arable lands are not cultivated. (2). 

The armed conflict has become an anchor weighing down social movements and an obstruction in the path of workers and peasants’ struggles for their rights. It serves as the pretext for repression and murder of popular leaders. Indigenous Peoples, Afro-Colombians, peasants and unionists, and human rights defenders have paid the highest price in lives and suffering for the continuation of the armed conflict. They want an end to it.

The landowners have made their profits throughout the period of war. They have no interest in returning the lands they have stolen and want to continue the process of displacement. The war also serves those who impose mineral, petroleum, and other megaprojects that devastate the environment because it provides the pretext for the physical elimination of the leaders of opposition to these projects. These assassination campaigns are not unique to Colombia – they occur throughout Latin America and elsewhere in the world.

Those who profit from war will not accept any peace accord – not even one they were able to edit and redact – because they know that the main effect of the end of the armed conflict will be that the people, especially the peasantry, will be able to organize and mobilize as mass movements for their rights. This will not be tolerated unless it is imposed on them by a mobilization of millions of determined Colombians who refuse to accept a return to war and who refuse to believe systematic campaigns of lies.

Neither the peace accord signed in Cartagena on September 26, 2016 nor the one signed in Bogota on November 24, 2016 will be accepted by the spokespeople of the landowners and megaprojects because they will not accept any peace accord, ever.

The hope generated by the accord signed in Cartagena resembles the hope awoken by the Oslo Accords of September 13, 1993 between Israel and Palestine, for which Yitzhak Rabin and Yasser Arafat received the Nobel Prize in 1994.

The religious right never accepted the Oslo accords. Assassinations and attacks were the path by which the accord was eroded and finally torn apart. On November 4, 1995, after a huge demonstration of support for peace, Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated by a religious extremist. Rabin had just said in his speech: “I was a military man for 27 years. I waged war as long as there was no chance for peace. I believe there is now a chance for peace, a great chance, and we must make the most of it.”

As fighting resumed between the Israeli Army and Palestinian armed groups, Yasser Arafat was under Israeli house arrest in Ramallah from 2001, a violation of what was left of the Oslo Accords of 1993. The Israeli government has continued to build colonies on recognized Palestinian territory, bombed and invaded Palestinian towns hundreds of times, and converted Gaza into a ghetto where Palestinians are systematically murdered and massacred. Israel is governed by those who opposed the peace accords, those who declared Rabin a “traitor” – instead of peace, there is a racist nightmare.

Colombians have to do whatever we must to defend peace, to avoid what has occurred in Palestine – to resist the planned Gaza-fication of Colombia’s peace process. Unfortunately, things are moving in the direction of Gaza-fication.

First, through a massive fraud, thousands of voters were misdirected by messages that told them their retirement pensions would be reduced and their social services eliminated if peace accords were approved; that the peace accord “promoted homosexuality” and the “gender ideology”; that taxi medallions would be seized to be given to demobilized guerrillas; that many respected and famous people (who were pro-peace accords and voted “Yes”) were going to vote “No”. The result of the failed plebiscite on the accord was the consequence of a fraud – but it was used to modify the accords.

Second, the modifications of the accords have come at the expense of the peasants, communities, and the promised rural reform.

The deterioration of the text of the peace accords could only be justified if the new accords would bring in an armed actor that has, so far, not agreed to peace. At the end of the day a peace accord is between enemies – it is not a piece of legislation defined by voting by the population. A peace accord is what it is precisely because it does not reflect the thinking of any of its signers who agree to it – it is essentially an agreement on mutual concessions by those who had been at war. And yet in this case concessions to landowners were given without any promises by them to agree to peace. Indeed, they continue to advance their own plans for the continuation of the war.

Third, and worst, since the days before the signing of the accords and more so in recent weeks, a new wave of assassinations of Indigenous, peasant, and Afro-Colombian leaders has been unleashed. Those who have questioned gas fracking in Cesar have been arrested and detained. In Caqueta, they have been assassinated. The young governor of Putumayo, who challenged traditional landowners and is a firm defender of peace and rural rights, has been ousted. The leftist former mayor of Bogota, Gustavo Petro, was fined 67 million dollars because he lowered bus fares while in power.

Fourth, the mayor of Bogota, Enrique Peñalosa, sent the police to destroy the Campamento de Paz, a camp which had been set up in the Plaza de Bolivar in anticipation of the ratification of a peace accord that would end the armed conflict.

Fifth, before ratifying the new peace accord, the national government ratified a law that seeks to regulate prior consultation with Indigenous, Afro-Colombian, and other groups in the country. According to Indigenous organizations, it is an “affront without precedent”, one which contravenes national and international jurisprudence and, if adopted, would violate the fundamental collective rights of these groups.

Remember that among ex-president Alvaro Uribe’s proposals to modify the accord was “limiting prior consultation”. In the new accord, Uribe’s proposal was rejected, but the government has put the proposal into legislation instead.

The changes in the new accord that affect peasants all came from Uribe – in some cases they had input from Andres Pastrana and Marta Lucia Ramirez. The changes are motivated by a desire to confront, weaken, or neutralize the important definitions in the original accord on the peasant economy.

The accords recognize “the fundamental role of the peasant, family, and community economy.” But this is precisely what the successive governments have denied. Uribe, in his first electoral campaign, stirred the Agricultural Society of Colombia (SAC) when he declared his lack of confidence in any autonomous role for the peasantry and proclaimed the need to subordinate peasants to the big landowners: “We will install in Barrancabermeja a peasant association, and demand that the contractors integrate with an efficient enterprise in San Alberto, so that associated peasants and business owners with a tradition of efficiency can take responsibility for the success of these projects.” (3)

This subordination of the peasant has already been imposed in practice through strategic growers’ associations, especially palm oil growers, during the years that Andres Pastrana was president. Pastrana was also the president that brought in Plan Colombia (4). The subordination of the peasant continued under Uribe’s governments, which received funding from the World Bank to support “associations of producers” of “small agricultural producers” with “private enterprise” (5). This experience did not help Colombian agriculture. By the end of Uribe’s second government, it was in one of the worst crises the sector has ever seen.

The following has been added to the peace accords:

“1.3.3.6: Associations. The government will foment and promote associations, links, and alliances between small, medium, and large agricultural producers along with processors, sellers, and exporters with the goal of guaranteeing economies of scale and competitiveness and value-added to contribute to the improvement of the living conditions of rural inhabitants in general and small producers in particular. Technical, legal, and economic (credit or finance) assistance will be provided to small producers with the goal of guaranteeing family and community economies that are balanced and sustainable.”

In this manner, the plans of the past three presidents, also the doctrine of the Chicoral Pact of 1972 – which stated that large producers were necessary to guarantee competitiveness – has been inserted into policy through the peace accords. In reality peasant agriculture can reach and in some cases exceed the efficiency of large-scale cultivation. And besides, independently of the scale of production, small producers are efficient when they have access to resources and when the environment permits. (6)

This modification works with the other: “The government will pass a law with the goal of promoting other forms of access to state lands, such as the assignment of usage rights.” The origin of this change lies in the government and the Zidres law, which states that the occupiers of vacant lands that do not meet the requisites for being granted title may “conclude contracts to real surface rights, which allow the use, enjoyment and layout of the rural properties they occupy.” Although the agreement limits this to medium producers, there is no doubt that land grabbers are very interested in this modification of the accord and have taken advantage of the “No” vote.

The traditional discourse has been inserted in the new agreement so that “big producers” and “medium producers” can try to neutralize – as they always have – any programs that favor the peasants.

One “principle” added to the proposal of the “No” promoters says:

“Rural Development: Rural development depends on a balance between different forms of production – family agriculture, agro-industry, tourism, commercial agreculture – on competitiveness and the necessity of promoting and encouraging investment in the countryside with a business vision of production as a condition of development; promotion and encouragement, under equitable conditions, of chains of rural production with other models of production, which could be vertical or horizontal at different scales. In all cases the peasant, family, and community economy will be supported and protected, strengthened and developed.”

The modified accord fortunately maintains the recognition of the fundamental role of the peasant economy, as well as the principles of Welfare and “Buen Vivir”. But it cannot be denied that even though they did not agree with the peace accord, the big landowners have succeeded in introducing their discourse into it. They will later be able to use it to impose their “balance” of activities, and to erode what was agreed upon about the participation of communities in planning and management.

The Colombian Constitution, from the preamble and first article, defines the country as a democratic and participatory republic. It is not a mere representative democracy. The text of the original accord developed this point when it sought “decision-making bodies at different territorial scales that include the presence of communities”. The modified accord now speaks of bodies “that guarantee the participation of communities in the process of decision-making.” That is, communities now participate – they don’t make the decisions.

The modified accord says that the mechanisms for participation “in no case will limit the powers of government or of its legislative bodies (Congress, Councils and Assemblies).” What the spokespeople for “No” denied to rural communities, they have claimed for themselves, limiting the powers of the President of the Republic to define the peace accords.

On the question of the campesino reserve lands, the modified accord simply adds that they will be “made by the competent authority in accordance with current regulations” – that was obvious in the previous agreement since there are clear existing regulations on these zones. Their application was frozen, first by decision of Uribe and after – by request of the Ministry of Defense! The original and modified agreement both seek the enforcement of the law on campesino reserve lands, which has been in force since 1994.

What has happened with the campesino reserves in the past 22 years shows that it is not about what a law, decree, or accord says, but about how the government can use the armed conflict to displace peasants from their lands and prevent peasants from exercising their rights.

In order to not return to the peasants what has been stolen from them, in order to continue with land grabs, in order to impose large-scale, open-pit mining, fracking, diversion of rivers for coal or for dams – the despoilers need for the conflict to continue. They need for there to not be peace and for Colombia to continue under the thumb of those who promoted the “No” vote in the peace accord.

This is no matter of simple parliamentary opposition to the peace accords. There is a new deployment of paramilitary groups, operating with their usual impunity, to enclose each community and convert it into a ghetto, like Gaza. In Colombia the communities most affected by the war voted massively for the “Yes” side in the referendum – especially the Afro-Colombian and Indigenous communities. The enemies of peace are on the other side.

The defense of rural communities is also the struggle for food sovereignty. Donald Trump says he will protect the US from imports, but will promote exports, repeating the old history of The Big Stick to impose the consumption of North American exports, especially agricultural exports, on Latin America, produced specifically in the areas that voted massively for Trump. Without peace, they will continue to impose the destruction of our food sovereignty.

The struggle for peace is fundamental. It is the most important struggle right now for the defense of Colombian workers and especially for campesino, Indigenous, and Afro-Colombian communities.

1. Portafolio (2009) “Colombia tendría la tierra más cara de la región, según estudio de la SAC”, 30 de octubre de 2009.

2. DNP (2010) “Bases del Plan Nacional de Desarrollo 2010-2014: Prosperidad para todos”. Bogotá: Departamento Nacional de Planeación, p. 172.

3. Discurso en el congreso del la SAC el 8 de noviembre de 2001.

4. Gobierno de Colombia. “Plan Colombia: plan para la paz, la prosperidad y el fortalecimiento del estado”, 8 de marzo de 2000.

5. Grupo del Banco Mundial. Colombia. “Banco Mundial aprueba préstamo por US$30 millones para mejorar la productividad rural”, 21 de agosto de 2007.

6. Forero, Jaime et al. 2013. “La eficiencia económica de los grandes, medianos y pequeños productores agrícolas colombiano”; EfiAgrícola.

 

No to Peace in Colombia?

In the four years that it took to negotiate this peace deal, Colombia has been moving inexorably towards October 2, the day that the people could have their say about the deal that would end the five-decade long war. The polls predicted an easy win for the “yes” side. The government’s negotiators and the guerrillas (FARC) campaigned for a strong “yes” vote. This was the best deal that could be had, they said.

There are around 34 million Colombians eligible to vote out of a population of around 48 million. My own prediction was that about half of that would vote in the referendum and around 70% of them would vote “yes”.

But the ‘No’ won with 6,422,136 votes, defeating the ‘Yes’ who came in with 6,361,762. A difference of 60,374 voters. A difference of less than half a percentage point of the 12.8 million who voted. An even smaller fraction of the 21.2 million who didn’t vote.

With peace at stake, why was abstention so high? High abstention is a feature of recent elections – it was high in the 2014 election as well – with 32.9 million eligible voters in 2014, just 14.7 million voted, and only 7.8 million of those voted for the winner, President Santos.

But Santos and the peace bloc weren’t able to get that number to vote “yes”. What happened?

The polls predicting an easy “yes” victory may have played a role. Why would “yes” voters feel the need to vote if the outcome was a foregone conclusion? The “no” side, by contrast, was mobilized by the ever-polarizing ex-President and war candidate Alvaro Uribe Velez.

The areas most affected by the war voted “yes”, while most of the cities voted “no” (Bogota and Cali, however, voted “yes”). Hurricane Matthew may have played a role, since the Caribbean Coast has been severely affected by the war and was expected to be a “yes” stronghold.

Disenchantment with the process played a role. After four years of negotiations, the people were being asked to show up to rubber-stamp a process the parameters of which they did not have a say in setting. Most of them chose not to show up at all, and half of them voted not to give the rubber stamp. Though Colombia’s social movements voted “yes”, they had critiques of the process – that the war against the people would continue under this peace, that the economic model had been left untouched, that their voices were heard only in tokenistic ways at the table. These feelings, and not just the right-wing opposition organized by Uribe, may have contributed to the lack of enthusiasm for the “yes” side.

Before despairing of eternal conflict, however, let us clarify what this result was and was not.

It is certainly not a mandate for war. At a virtual tie (50.23% no, 49.76% yes) and with almost twice as many abstainers as voters, this can only be read as a sign of division and a lack of consensus, not the unequivocal statement of a vengeful electorate.

It is not driving FARC straight back into the jungle – certainly not right away. FARC immediately communicated that they view this result as a sign that they must work even harder for peace, and reiterated that they will continue to use only words as their weapons in the days ahead. The cease-fire stands. The negotiators will be back in Cuba this week.

President Santos walked out of the palace to a spontaneous demonstration of people chanting “We Want Peace! Not One Step Back!” and told them, and the media that he would continue to work for peace and that the peace process would continue to move forward. His next step was to call a meeting of all political parties to find a consensus process to move forward. It is unfortunate but inevitable that Uribe’s spoiler party will have to be a part of this process.

The most likely way forward will be to try to make adjustments to the accords that will make it acceptable to at least a substantial number of the “no” campaigners and try to pass them. The “no” side’s main issues were with the “transitional justice” proposals for guerrillas who had committed crimes, with some of the land reform and redistribution proposals, and with the conversion of FARC into a political party. Unfortunately these were also the key points making the deal acceptable to FARC – so the work of making the adjustments will not be straightforward or easy.

One of the campaigners for the peace deal, liberal former senator Piedad Cordoba, tried to find a silver lining, telling TeleSUR that voters had given Colombians an opportunity to dialogue again. Perhaps the “yes” side took the support of the people for granted. As the process moves forward after this turn, proponents of peace are unlikely to forget this hard lesson.