In this episode, I talk to Greg Wilpert, founder of venezuelanalysis and author of Changing Venezuela by Taking Power, about the Venezuela Crisis, the Constitutional Assembly, and possible ways out of the crisis. We started with a detailed discussion of the economic crisis in Venezuela that I think will be of great interest.
Colombia & Venezuela
The following is the English translation of episode 23 of The Ossington Circle. The discussion featured the host Justin Podur, Professor Anna Zalik from York University, activist Manuel Rozental from Pueblos en Camino, and activist Oscar Sampayo from the Environmental and Extractive Studies Group in Magdalena Medio. The discussion focused on the activities of Parex, a Canadian mining company operating in the Colombian region of Magdalena Medio.
Justin: Welcome to the Ossington Circle. This is a special episode, because, well, first it's in Spanish and second, we have three guests instead of the usual one. The topic today is Colombia and the extractive industry, focusing on the Parex corporation, Parex is a very interesting corporation, with an interesting role in Colombia – I will give the floor to the participants to delve into this topic, We have here Oscar Sampayo, member of the group of extractive and environmental studies of Magdalena Medio. We also have Professor Anna Zalik, professor at York University whose research on extractive industry focuses on the global South. And we have Manuel Rozental, activist with the Pueblos en Camino collective. Manuel has been a guest on this program twice already and probably will return many times in the future. Well, guests, thank you for being here in the circle.
Manuel: Thank you so much Justin, Anna hello, and hello Oscar.
Justin: Okay. Let's start with Oscar. You are in a research group, investigating the role of extractive industries in Colombia, in Magdalena Medio, tell us a little about the context, the current situation and the role of this company called Parex.
Oscar: Greetings Justin, greetings Manuel, Anna, listeners of the world and America. We are here located in the Magdalena Medio region, in Barrancabermeja, the main port within the coast in Colombia, which recently a multinational upgraded through its auxiliary called Impala, so Barrancabermeja is now largest port that exists today in Latin America. It's a port of 1.5 km and a half on the river and a depth of 1km.
Aqui esta la transcripcion de la discusion que se realizo en The Ossington Circle Episode 23, entre:
- Justin Podur, anfitreon.
- Prof. Anna Zalik, York University.
- Manuel Rozental, Pueblos en Camino.
- Oscar Sampayo, grupo de estudios ambientales.
En la discusion tratamos el caso de la compania Canadiense Parex y cuyas actividades de fracking en el Magdalena Medio en Colombia.
Justin: Bienvenido al círculo Ossington, este es un episodio especial, porque, bueno, primero está en español y segundo tenemos tres invitados, y vamos a hacerlo. El tema de hoy es Colombia y la industria extractiva, sobre todo vamos a hacer una investigación de la corporación Parex, Parex es una corporación muy interesante, con un papel en Colombia interesante, voy a dar a los invitados la palabra para profundizar en este tema, tenemos aquí Oscar Sampayo integrante del grupo de estudios extractivos y ambientales del magdalena medio, tenemos también la profesora Anna Zalik, profesora en Nueva York University investigadora de industria extractiva con un enfoque en el sur global, Manuel Rozental también activista con el grupo “Pueblos en camino tejiendo autonomías”, Manuel ha sido invitado en este programa dos veces ya y probablemente muchas veces en el futuro.
Bueno invitados gracias por estar aquí en el círculo.
Manuel: Muchas gracias Justin, Ana hola, y hola Oscar, un abrazo.
Justin: Ok. empezamos con Oscar, cual es, usted está en un grupo de investigaciones, investigan el papel de industrias extractivas, en Colombia, en magdalena medio, cuéntenos un poco sobre el contexto, la situación actual y el papel de esta compañía, en particular que se llama Parex.
In this episode I talk to Maria Paez Victor of the Canadian, Latin American, and Caribbean Policy Centre and the Louis Riel Bolivarian Circle about Venezuela's revolution, Chavismo, Maduro, the Venezuelan opposition, and the idea of the upcoming Constituent Assembly.
Check out the think tank: http://calccentre.ca
To receive information from the Circulo Bolivariano Louis Riel, and join their mailing list, get in touch.
[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.
The U.S. has announced funding for a new Plan Colombia as the country moves towards a resolution to its civil war. What is its real purpose?
Colombia's peace process has entered its final phase. Agreements have been reached on land reform, political participation, and the rights of victims. The discussions are now focused on ending the conflict and implementation and verification of the accords. The deadline for a final agreement is March 23, and it might be met.
In this last phase of negotiations, Colombia's president reached out to the US for aid. On February 4, a new initiative was unveiled in Washington by presidents Santos and Obama: the new version of Plan Colombia, which they called “Paz Colombia”. Obama began by commemorating the success of Plan Colombia, a plan that brought military helicopters and escalated aerial fumigation to the country. “We were proud to support Colombia and its people as you strengthened your security forces, as you reformed land laws, and bolstered democratic institutions,” he said. “And after 15 years of sacrifice and determination, a tipping point has been reached. The tide has turned.”
Santos elaborated on the successes since Plan Colombia was rolled out in 2000: “Today we can say without a doubt that the goals that we had in 2000 — such as fighting the drug war, strengthening institutions, and imposing the rule of law, and to take social programs to great parts of remote Colombian territory — those objectives have been met.”
The history of Plan Colombia is slightly different than that presented by Obama and Santos. As lawyer Dan Kovalik outlined in this article for TELeSUR English, the problems the presidents claim Plan Colombia solved were mostly made worse by it.
Take Santos's objectives, which Plan Colombia supposedly met: The drug war? There may be a peace agreement between the government and FARC, but the drug war promises to go on and on. The rule of law and the strengthening of institutions? These were certainly areas of struggle over the past 15 years, but any gains made there were fought for by the people, not flown in by the military helicopters of Plan Colombia. Social programs and protections? Many have been lost under neoliberalism – some have been preserved by struggle by Colombia's movements.
What preceded this 17-year Bolivarian era? A corrupt power-sharing electoral machine (resulting from the Punto Fijo Pact, signed by the country’s main political parties and effectively keeping them in power) ruled Venezuela after a period of dictatorship ended in 1958. From 1958 to 1998, Punto Fijo administered poverty for the population, enforcing it through limiting press freedom, police violence, and even state-sponsored murder and disappearances. I went to a very moving event in Caracas in 2004 in which survivors of the “dirty war” of the 1960s and 1970s commemorated their lost loved ones.
The beginning of the end for Punto Fijo was the 1989 riots — known as Caracazo — that were sparked when people woke up to doubled bus fares. The army was called. Hundreds of people were killed. In 1992, a group of army officers, among them Hugo Chavez, tried to overthrow Punto Fijo. When the coup failed, Chavez went on television to call on the soldiers to stand down, took responsibility, and went to jail. When he got out, he advocated an electoral and constitutional path to change. Twenty successful elections later, the Bolivarians have lost the legislature.
Why did they lose? From 2008 on, and especially since the oil price drop in 2014, Venezuela's oil-dependent economy suffered, as did the Bolivarian social programs and the people that benefited from them. Macroeconomic mistakes by the government in an already difficult situation fed the black market in dollars and the smuggling economy (see analysis by Greg Wilpert), which led to major suffering, frustration and a loss of support for the government.
Continuing problems of corruption within the state, as well as crime, also hurt. Both of these problems preceded the Bolivarians, but the revolution was not successful enough in dealing with them. The opposition earned points campaigning on both.
The Bolivarians accomplished much since arriving on the scene. Massive barriers to health care and education were removed. Social services were built where there had been none. Before it became the target of smugglers, a program guaranteeing affordable prices for staple grocery and other items was very successful.
On Sept. 23, Colombia's President Juan Manuel Santos traveled to Cuba to sign an agreement with the FARC on transitional justice. "Peace is close," he told the press. An agreement on justice and reparations for victims was one of the most contentious areas of discussion, and one on which Santos and FARC had exchanged some harsh public words over recent months. The FARC announced their willingness to lay down their arms; the possibility of a truth commission has also been discussed. Coming at one of the most dangerous points in the talks, and on one of the most difficult areas of negotiation, this agreement is a breakthrough moment.
The 40th round of negotiations between the Colombian government and the FARC guerrilla organization ended on August 30th. Ten days before, the FARC had declared another unilateral ceasefire, one of many that have taken place during these multi-year negotiations. Colombia's second-largest guerrilla group, the ELN, have also been in secret negotiations with the government and may begin an official negotiation soon, according to Colombian newspaper El Tiempo (Sept 7). There continue to be signs of significant investment in peace by the government and reasons for optimism about an accord. A package of constitutional reforms to facilitate a peace accord was scheduled to be debated in Colombia's Congress on Sept 11.
El Tiempo also reported an unusual step taken by the U.S. Ambassador, who on September 8 hosted Colombian government representatives as well as ex-president Alvaro Uribe Velez to try to win Uribe over to the peace accord. Uribe has been the leader of the opposition to peace, running his own intelligence network, leaking information, and posting inflammatory tweets. While Uribe was in office, from 2002-2010, his policies aligned seamlessly with the U.S. of the War on Terror. If the U.S. Ambassador is, as El Tiempo reports, trying to coax him into acting less of a spoiler, that is a sign of strong support for an accord from the U.S.
A guest blog by Sheila Gruner
The caravan arrived in Tumaco last night and today the streets filled up for 3-4 hrs with Afrodescendents, Indigenous people, campesinos along with students, urban activists and a host of other allies. Chants of companero Genaro Garcia - Presente! Presente! Presente! rang through the ally ways, entered windows of schools, shops and offices and resonated against graffitied walls with messages for peace and the urgent need for dialogue to end the conflict.
There was an entirely cohesive voice as this mass of people, many of whom had only recently met, and perhaps never did get a chance to speak directly, moved through the streets in an act of solidarity and outrage and celebration of a possible new society. It was the voice of those who have suffered such loss themselves and understand the urgency to denounce and to be present in a way that still celebrates life and what has been achieved so far, in the defense of collective well being and the deep ties to land that were referred to throughout the days of the caravan.
Without the unilateral ceasefire declared by the FARC the march may not have been possible. The police presence was limited, although did trail the caravan and coordinate with the organizers. The some 200-250 people were marshalled by the Guardia Cimarrona and organizers from the Congreso de los Pueblos who left a sense of complete dedication to the task, many being disciplined and dedicated young people who lead and flanked the crowd until it reached its destination in the public space where the culminating political and cultural event took place.
The march itself started at Tumaco's City Hall and moved through many neighbourhoods, sending a clear message of support for the family and community affected by the loss of Genaro and to make a statement that the invisibility and violent and longstanding silencing of Afrocolombian communities of the Pacific and elsewhere, the attempted erasure of their historical vindications and attacks on social organizations, is deeply unacceptable and can not be tolerated.
Sheila Gruner is in Colombia marching with the Caravan for Peace "Genaro Garcia". The following is a guest blog about the march.
A Caravan for Genaro - guest blog by Sheila Gruner
The Caravan for Peace to Tumaco "Genaro Garcia" is currently underway, starting in La Maria Piendamo, to Popayan, Pasto and on to Tumaco, engaged in diverse actions and expressions of solidarity with the family, community and Afrodescendent movement of slain activist and leader Garcia.
Genaro Garcia was a tireless human rights defender, working on behalf of displaced people and the Black communities of the South Pacific coast in Colombia. The legal representative of the AfroColombian community council "Alto Mira and Fronteras", Genaro defended the territorial and political rights of his community, including the rights to autonomy and self determination and to live free from the impositions of external armed groups vying for control of his region. He was highly recognized at the national level as well as by international organizations (link to IAHRC article).
I met Genaro at an encounter organized by the Black Communities process (PCN) and the Indigenous Authorities Gobierno Mayor in December 2014, a meeting aimed at developing a collective inter-ethnic position regarding the effects of the peace process and how to ensure the rights and well being of Afrodescendent and Indigenous people are not undermined in the process - but rather maintained and strengthened.