Colombia & Venezuela

The Caravan for Peace to Tumaco - a guest blog

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.

#HackedTeam & Colombia: How Surveillance Helps a Violent State

In the past few years, debates about universal surveillance, software and internet freedom, privacy and civil liberties have opened through the efforts and sacrifices of people like Wikileaks, Chelsea Manning, Edward Snowden, and Anonymous. The governments and private security industry that have been exposed through leaks, hacks, and whistleblowing, have been forced to respond. Some of these responses involved attacking and prosecuting the messengers. Others have involved denial, apology, and the perpetually fresh doctrine of the "change of course": "yes, we used to violate people's rights, but that's all over now". Some public figures attempted to argue against privacy on principle: "If you have nothing to hide, why should you need privacy?" But, as Glenn Greenwald wrote, none of these anti-privacy people were willing to give him their email passwords on television, despite having nothing to hide.

A small number of those implicated in surveillance violations took a defiant stance, as in: "yes, we violate privacy, and we are very good at it." One security company, dedicated to offensive hacking, stood out as particularly defiant: The Italy-based Hacking Team, headed by David Vincenzetti. Go to their website today and watch the banners flash along: "DEFEAT encryption." "Total control over your targets." "Thousands of encrypted communications per day. Get them. In the clear." While many of Hacking Team's competitors were more sheepish, or at least discrete, about their violations of people's privacy rights, Hacking Team staked out a marketing space based on flamboyance.

With such a casual attitude to violating citizens privacy on behalf of their clients, the hack against Hacking Team that occurred on July 5 was almost inevitable, and it is very difficult to find any sympathy for Hacking Team's cries that their privacy has been violated. The hashtag #HackedTeam trended for quite a while, along with others like #IsHackingTeamAwakeYet.

The hackers released into the public domain the specialized software that Hacking Team uses to violate people's systems, exploits HT had discovered and were keeping secret to sell, as well as 400GB of email archives, presentations and documents. Wikileaks speedily made the email archives searchable online.

Colombia: The Early Signs of a Violent Peace

First published at Telesur English

In my last column, I described the Colombian peace process between the government and FARC. I discussed possible spoilers of the peace agreement, especially the role of the paramilitary-linked former Colombian president, Alvaro Uribe Velez. I also discussed the many things that the peace process will not solve, including some of the most gruesome violence occurring in Buenaventura, committed by the 'demobilized' paramilitaries.

Since then, we have seen some of the peace process's first murders of indigenous people, this time by the FARC. What happened is summarized in an open letter published by Pueblos en Camino. As the peace negotiations enter their final phase, the FARC faced its victims in Havana and acknowledged wrongs it has committed. On October 30, they made what WOLA called their "clearest recognition that it (FARC) owes something to its victims."

The Colombian Peace Negotiations: Prospects and Continuing Horrors

From TeleSUR English

It is now about four years since the unofficial initiation of the ongoing peace process between the FARC and the Colombian government (secret approaches were made starting in October 2010), and over two years since the official opening of talks based on a “General Agreement” signed on August 26, 2012. There have been thirty rounds of negotiations to date, which have brought negotiators from the government and the FARC to Havana.

The Washington Office on Latin America has created a website, colombiapeace.org, that collects documents and media reports in a single place, and has even arranged them on a remarkably complete, and ongoing, timeline (http://colombiapeace.org/timeline2014/), which we can use to begin to understand what is happening with the peace process.

The process is being supported by an unusually expansive set of actors. The Cuban government is hosting the talks. The United States government, the United Nations, most of the governments of Latin America, the Venezuelan government, are all supportive. Effusive statements have been made. Uruguay's President Pepe Mujica last year called the peace process “The most important thing happening in Latin America”. In July 2013, Argentina's President Cristina Fernandez suggested that the process could be opposed by “only idiots, those who do not love their country”. In November 2013, Ecuador's President Rafael Correa went further, suggesting that “only psychopaths” would boycott the process.

Speaking of which, despite the remarkably wide-ranging support for a negotiated solution to the conflict, Colombia's former president Alvaro Uribe Velez is staunchly opposed, as is his political party (which lost at the polls earlier this year, in an election which effectively became a referendum on the continuation of the peace negotiations). Whether the Argentinian and Ecuadorian presidents were thinking of Uribe when they mentioned “idiots” and “psychopaths” is, of course, unclear. Uribe's attempts to spoil the peace process go far beyond running against it in an election, however, a point to which I will return.

Hugo Chavez, Presente

I only started paying attention to Hugo Chavez and Venezuela at the time of the 2002 coup. At the time, I was deeply engaged with the Canada Colombia Solidarity Campaign. Friends I was making were on the run, living underground, trying to work in a context of disappearances and massacres, assassinations and torture, in a country that was being reshaped by a massive military program called Plan Colombia. We believed at the time that Plan Colombia was not just about Colombia, but about the whole hemisphere and very specifically about Venezuela, its oil wealth, and its uncooperative government. But I didn't know much about that government or think much about it other than that it was up to Venezuelans to decide, and it seemed to me that they had decided.

In the 48 hours or so that the 2002 coup lasted, I interviewed some Venezuelan activists who had gone underground, and they gave me some readings (Richard Gott, Juli Buxton to start). I looked at the data. When Chavez was restored, I started following Venezuela closely. The Revolution Will Not Be Televised became my favourite documentary. And over the next 11 years, with two visits to Venezuela, I saw so much to admire. Everywhere I went in Venezuela, as I heard the language, saw the people, saw the physical landscape, I was reminded of Colombia. But the everyday paranoia and fear of the regime that I could feel in Colombia didn't exist in Venezuela. While Colombia was living through this nightmare of displacement and violence in its US-sponsored counterinsurgency, Chavez's Venezuela was actually making real progress for its people. That Colombian nightmare was always in the back of my mind whenever I heard about Venezuela, that if the US had their way, Venezuelans would be living that nightmare too.

The welfare and the democratization, the regional and international diplomacy, are all huge achievements, a tremendous legacy. But for many of these years I have thought of Chavez's legacy in terms of avoided losses. Thousands of people *not* massacred, millions *not* displaced, thousands *not* dying from preventable diseases, tens of thousands of opportunities for education *not* wasted, for fourteen years. Almost a generation.

Greg Grandin, in his article On The Legacy of Hugo Chavez, wrote something that I really felt:

The Latest Colombian Peace Process

Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos has reinitiated a dialogue with the FARC. Talks began in Oslo and will continue in Havana. The Colombian government suspended orders to capture the 29 members of FARC's negotiating team as long as the negotiations take place, but have warned that they will be arrested if they try to leave Cuba.

The talks will deal with five issues: the end of armed conflict; land reform; guarantees for the exercise of political opposition and citizen participation; drug trafficking; and the rights of the victims of the conflict.

Implementing the Bolivarian Revolution: Julio Chavez in Toronto

On October 10/09 Venezuelan former mayor, now state legislator Julio Chavez spoke at the University of Toronto sponsored by Hands off Venezuela and the Louis Riel Bolivarian Circle. He came in sporting the unassuming Bolivarian fashion: red T-shirt, red baseball cap (with a Canada logo on it), jeans, and sneakers, and fired up a powerpoint presentation.

An award weirder than Obama's Peace Prize

Seriously. The Colombian magazine, Semana, and its owner, Alejandro Santos, just won a COHA award for Excellence in Print Journalism.

Santos comes from one of Colombia's most powerful families and Semana, while I'll admit that it is an indispensable source (like El Tiempo), is thoroughly an establishment outlet. COHA, meanwhile, is also indispensable, but perhaps I thought it was a little more oppositional in outlook than it actually is. So I was a little surprised to see the award.

The M-19 Palace of Justice Takeover in 1985: New Documents

The amazing National Security Archive strikes again, this time showing how the Colombian army is responsible for the deaths of 70 people when they raided Colombia's Palace of Justice following the guerrilla group M-19's takeover of it in 1985.

The most striking note in it, that accords with anecdotes I've heard from people who were around at the time and knew people who died, was the two contradictory cables that came from the US Embassy, spaced two days apart: