To cut down a rebellion

Colombian riot police surround thousands of indigenous and labor activists in Cauca, in southwest Colombia. The number of protestors remains around 10,000, and has been that high for a week, according to on-site reports. Most of the demonstrators are indigenous Nasa people from the region, struggling to stay on their land. Others are sugar cane-workers fighting for their rights. The riot police have attacked them repeatedly, injuring dozens with tear gas and killing several with live ammunition. Beyond the police killings and injuries there are those carried out by the paramilitaries, who supposedly don’t exist any more, but have nonetheless, in the past few weeks, murdered a women’s rights activist and her whole family, several indigenous leaders, several indigenous people who were not involved in any protest activities at all, and several protesters in live fire attacks.

The international environment is favorable to the Colombian state’s strategy of making its enemies invisible before physically attacking them. The US electoral spectacle is a black hole for attention, mainstream and alternative. The US Democrats have a slightly different position from the Republicans on free trade with Colombia, and the question of murdered union leaders even made it into a presidential debate (McCain ignored it, while Obama actually suggested that Colombia’s murdering union leaders was a bad thing). The policies of privatization, social service cuts, militarization, and the pillage of Colombia’s resources by multinationals have been bipartisan for decades. But so has the dispensability of individual Colombian leaders and contractors of dirty work. Perhaps Colombia’s President, Alvaro Uribe Velez, and his team, are worried that their heads could roll if there is a change of administration in Washington. Perhaps they are trying to accelerate their own program to destroy local opposition before this occurs. That may explain the particular brutality of the past few weeks.

The causes of the protest run deeper, however. The history of this part of Colombia mirrors much of Latin America. In the 1950s, hundreds of thousands of people were thrown off their lands through massacre, violence, and civil war (an event called “La Violencia”). Many of these people were then forced to come back to lands that had been theirs, and work as insecure laborers on massive sugar plantations owned by a wealthy elite. Some groups, like the indigenous Nasa of Northern Cauca, over decades of struggle, succeeded in winning back their lands and recovering much of their culture and traditional economy. Many others, including thousands of Afro-Colombian cane workers, struggled hard just to keep themselves and their families alive.

Today, the economics of sugar plantations are absurdly exploitative. In a full 14-hour day of work, a cane cutter can harvest some six tons of cane, one of which they get paid for. That ton gets turned into 200 kg of refined sugar that sells for about $120. The cutter gets, before deductions, about $2.50. After deductions, it’s about $1.50.

The plan is for such plantations to expand massively. And, indeed, much of the land of the 3.5-4 million internally displaced people in Colombia (the majority of whom are Afro-Colombian and a huge disproportion of whom are indigenous) has been taken over by sugar plantation owners. The plan is not just for refined sugar, but also for biofuels. Long after Venezuela’s oil runs out, North Americans will still be able to pour the products of Colombia’s sugar plantations into their car engines.

The enemies of this plan are the indigenous and peasants who want to stay on their land and use it to grow food and a decent agricultural economy, and the labourers who want to be able to survive on their wages. Both are treated the same way: to false accusations, to arrested and murdered leaders, to tear gas, and to bullets. The cane workers have been on strike since September 15 and their demands are heart-breakingly minimalist. They want to have an actual contract, rather than the piecework system they have now; the right to unionize; and a decent salary and working conditions.

On October 19, the indigenous protesters held a press conference to outline their position. “We don’t have a government in Colombia”, said Nasa spokesperson Feliciano Valencia. The indigenous authorities announced their own agenda: “No to the economic model and the FTA´s with the US, Canada and Europe, removal of legislation that impoverishes peoples, destroys and denies rights and freedoms, delivers the wealth of the country to corporate interests and has not gone through consultation with those affected. No more war and terror as the main Government policy. Respect and application of international and national agreements and establishment of the conditions that will allow the people to construct a new, possible and necessary country.” Next Tuesday (Oct 21), they announced, they will march from the site where they are gathered, La Maria Piendamo, to Cali. They will be joined by other movements and organizations. They will accept a dialogue with the government but the military must cease fire and remove itself from the territories.

Colombia’s movements continue to shoulder more than their fair burden against one of the most brutal regimes in the hemisphere. The regime can’t be allowed to drown out their story.

To read more about and to financially support the cane workers:

The statement of the indigenous movement:

Justin Podur is an activist with Pueblos en Camino ( and a Toronto-based writer. His blog is

Correo canadiense interviews me on Hector Mondragon

Canada’s spanish language newspaper Correo Canadiense published an interview with me on Hector Mondragon a couple of days ago. It was conducted in Spanish and it is published in Spanish but I wanted to include it here for completeness, as things can disappear on the web sometimes… so I am including it in its entirety below, as well as the link. It was a faithful interview. The journalist, Elizabeth Meneses, was quite thorough in her questions and the answers are very close to what I remember saying (and thinking). Given the nature of the topic and the importance of precision, this is very much to her and Correo Canadiense’s credit.

In any case Hector has written his own words, and they will appear here and elsewhere as soon as we can get them in english.


“Los movimientos sociales no somos terroristas”, Justin Podur

En Colombia investigan conexión Canadá con las FARC


Posted: 2008-09-05

Main Photo
El ex jefe guerrillero Raúl Reyes. EFE

El escritor y activista de Pueblos en Camino en Canadá, Justin Podur conoce a Héctor Mondragón, el hombre que la semana pasada apareció en un informe del periódico El Tiempo, como alguien conocido del ex líder guerrillero colombiano Raúl Reyes.

“Héctor es una de las voces mas creíbles y sólidas que piden por el cambio y una salida negociada del conflicto en Colombia. El es una persona que tiene un perfil hecho en Canadá y en Europa”, dice Podur en entrevista con CORREO Canadiense.

Podur sale en defensa de Mondragón, después que el reporte de la publicación colombiana le involucrara con Liliana Obando Villota, alias ‘Sara’, quien fue capturada el pasado 8 de agosto y acusada de recaudar fondos a nivel internacional para la organización terrorista FARC.

La detención de ‘Sara’ se hizo posible a labores de rastreo entre Canadá y Colombia.
Según agentes de inteligencia citados por el diario colombiano, ‘Sara’ tendría sobre sus hombres la responsabilidad de coordinar las células de esa agrupación en Canadá.
“Y en un correo del 2 de abril del 2006, ‘Reyes’ le escribe a un hombre identificado como Héctor Mondragón: “Quiero presentarle a la camarada Liliana (….) ella trabaja conmigo y al mismo tiempo presta accesoria a Fensuagro (Federación Nacional Sindical Unitaria Agropecuaria) en su trabajo de relaciones internacionales. Naturalmente se trata de una camarada de absoluta confianza”, cita El Tiempo, sobre el texto de uno
de los correos enviados por Reyes, quien fuera dado de baja en un operativo del ejército colombiano el pasado mes de marzo.

“No creo en esta historia del portátil de Raúl Reyes porque hay un informe de Interpol que dice que después de 48 horas que tuvieron el laptop, hubo cambios a miles de archivos. No podemos tener confianza en eso”, dice Podur, quien cree que se trata de un montaje.

Héctor niega vínculos
En un correo electrónico enviado a sus amigos mas cercanos, Héctor niega cualquier vínculo con el grupo guerrillero Farc.
“Hoy se lanza contra mi algo que nunca existió”, dijo Héctor en el email que también llego a Podur.

“Conozco a Héctor personalmente y políticamente. Personalmente él nos ha dicho que el supuesto correo de Reyes nunca existió. Es su palabra y yo creo en él”.
Agrega Podur que “políticamente, él es un pacifista, el ejemplo de alguien que practica la no violencia y la lucha del cambio social a un costo personal increíble; se trata de una persona que esta viviendo en la clandestinidad y ha perdido mucho de su vida familiar”, asegura Podur.

En su descripción acerca de Mondragón, Podur menciona que Héctor ha sido un activista desde su época universitaria, que ha ensenado cursos en universidades estadounidenses y que fue galardonado con una beca por su trabajo en derechos populares por parte de Human Rights Watch.

Economista de profesión, Héctor Mondragón habría estado en Canadá en el año 2000, a través de un evento organizado por el grupo Solidaridad Colombia.
“Yo no lo conocí en esa oportunidad sino un año después cuando fui con Acción permanente por la paz, con un grupo de pacifistas que tuvimos la oportunidad de reunirnos con él y Héctor nos dio su análisis de la coyuntura política colombiana como economista y líder de los movimientos indígenas”, dice.

Justin Podur y Héctor Mondragón mantienen contacto vía email y la ultima vez que se vieron fue en el 2004, cuando el escritor canadiense estuvo en el departamento del Cauca, Colombia.
Para Justin, Mondragón es un objetivo del gobierno colombiano porque éste “ha tomado acciones contra movimientos populares y sociales y Héctor es un ejemplo de esto y por eso es un objetivo”.

–Usted que conoce a Héctor, puede decirnos ¿cual es la posición de él frente a las Farc?
El está muy cerca de los movimientos indígenas del norte del Cauca y estos grupos reclaman autonomía frente a todos los actores armados, eso significa un no al estado, los grupos paramilitares y a las Farc. Puede que esa guerrilla haya tenido o todavía tenga ideales pero ellos no están de acuerdo con las estrategias y violaciones de derechos humanos que las Farc ha hecho.

–¿Conoció o escuchó de Liliana Obando Villota, o Sara?
-Nunca he escuchado de ella ni por reputación su nombre, sólo cuando lo leí en el artículo de El Tiempo. No conozco a todos los que estaban trabajando con solidaridad.
Todos los movimientos armados tienen conexiones internacionales, pero también los movimientos pacíficos y sociales que nunca levantaron armas y que están opuestos a los paramilitares tienen conexiones y no necesariamente son miembros o grupos que apoyan a las Farc. Ellos no quieren estar en un lado o el otro. Y este montaje que están haciendo va en contra de todos los procesos sociales.

— Para usted, ¿quien es Héctor Mondragón?
El es mi héroe en el sentido de que si yo pudiera ser como él, sería un honor. Me gustaría tener su claridad analítica, moral y valor en todos los sentidos.

The desperate lies of a criminal regime

I would have preferred to do some kind of letter to the editor, but it won’t work. The need to react precisely precludes writing in Spanish, the need to write quickly precludes finding a translator, and the need to explain a great deal precludes the writing of a short letter. This article concerns the recent articles in el Tiempo, Colombia’s national newspaper, on the FARC in Canada.

Continue reading “The desperate lies of a criminal regime”

The desperate lies of a criminal regime

I would have preferred to do some kind of letter to the editor, but it won’t work. The need to react precisely precludes writing in Spanish, the need to write quickly precludes finding a translator, and the need to explain a great deal precludes the writing of a short letter. This article concerns the recent articles in el Tiempo, Colombia’s national newspaper, on the FARC in Canada.

For the record these are: “Las Farc en el Canada” (24/08/08) and “Rastrean giros de sindicatos de Canadá a la ONG Fensuagro que habrían terminado en las Farc” (29/08/08).

Continue reading “The desperate lies of a criminal regime”

The Para-Uribe Regime, the Extraditions, and Justice in Colombia

by Justin Podur, Dawn Paley, and Manuel Rozental

A New York Times article by Simon Romero on August 15 suggested that the International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo was going to investigate the FARC in Colombia, and its connections to other countries. In the 12-paragraph article, one paragraph (the 10th) noted that the ICC would also look at paramilitarism:

Continue reading “The Para-Uribe Regime, the Extraditions, and Justice in Colombia”

The Para-Uribe Regime, the Extraditions, and Justice in Colombia

By Justin Podur, Dawn Paley, and Manuel Rozental

A New York Times article by Simon Romero on August 15 suggested that the International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor Luis Moreno Ocampo was going to investigate the FARC in Colombia, and its connections to other countries. In the 12-paragraph article, one paragraph (the 10th) noted that the ICC would also look at paramilitarism:

Continue reading “The Para-Uribe Regime, the Extraditions, and Justice in Colombia”

Another major massacre in Colombia

Today’s El Tiempo headline is about a massacre of 34 peasants in the Colombian department of Norte de Santander. The peasants were apparently ‘raspachines’, those campesinos who occupy the lowest rung of the agricultural economy, harvesting coca leaf for small wages. They were doing this harvesting in a paramilitary-controlled zone. Survivors, quoted in El Tiempo, say it was done by the 33rd front of FARC. A very pro-FARC perspective can be found at the ANNCOL website. I went there looking for either a claim of responsibility, an apology, or an angry denial of the smear campaign accusing them of the massacre, but nothing so far.

The truth is, the strategy of the war, increasingly adopted by the FARC, is to kill civilian ‘supporters’ or ‘sympathizers’ rather than combatants — in this case, as Wilson Borja (a very decent member of the Colombian Congress) said, they killed poor peasants who were victims of the whole system long before they were killed — in his words, “those who benefit least from the illicit business”.

Uribe’s courageous attack on the pacifists

This is good. Colombian President Alvaro Uribe Velez, the same guy who asked the US to do for Colombia what they were planning to do in Iraq, back in January when the war was being planned, wants international observers out of the country. He wants the Colombian police to arrest and deport them. These international observers are a miniscule fraction of what is needed in Colombia to prevent Uribe’s own military and police from torturing and slaughtering their way through Colombian communities. But these tiny efforts leave Uribe in a rage: “I reiterate to the police: if these [foreign human rights observers] continue to obstruct justice, put them in prison. If they have to be deported, deport them.” – Colombian President Álvaro Uribe Vélez, 27 May 2004. Specifically, he is upset about the presence of volunteers in the peace community of San Jose de Apartado, a community that has suffered massacre after massacre at the hands of Uribe’s own paramilitaries.

Here is a report from the Task Force on latin America, and below is a note from the peace community itself about harrassment of the international volunteers there.

Statement of the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó

The Peace Community of San José de Apartadó again denounces new attacks against it. Today, June 2 at 6 a.m. Army and police troops entered the town center of San José de Apartadó, where the Peace Community lives, together with the state intelligence agencies DAS [Department of Administrative Security, the state police] and SIJIN [judicial police]. Members of these two agencies spoke with representatives of Peace Brigades International (PBI), who were accompanying in San José, and asked for their documents. The PBI representatives presented over their documents in good order, but in spite of that, they were cited for June 3 to verify their information with the DAS in the town of Apartadó.

After that, the DAS and SIJIN agents as well as members of the security forces fanned out through the San José town center with video cameras, filming members of the community, their homes, and the community areas. They asked people of the community, who were then beginning their daily work, for specific community leaders Wilson David and Gildardo Tuberquia directly by name and exactly where they live. They also asked when the community meets and what they do in those meetings. They said that now the security forces will take total control of the town of San José and will put a police station in the town center. Meanwhile, several of them went to San José’s small stores and, although their owners indicated that they would not sell to them as part of an armed group, they did not respect this decision, treated them badly and by pressure forced them to sell their goods because, according to them, “just as you sell to the guerrillas, you also have to sell to us.”

The operations went on until 8:30 a.m., and the Army troops remained surrounding the San José town center, creating a situation of uncertainty for the community.

As a community we have to say that this action by the Colombian state worries us, because it is a result of the statements the president made [see “Urgent Call to Solidarity”]. In the first place, we are concerned regarding the international presence, as President Uribe himself expressed his willingness to deport foreigners who accompany San José, under the pretext that they have obstructed justice, which is totally false. The presence of international organizations fulfills an exclusively humanitarian function and of accompanying the community’s process. We are concerned and alarmed that they want to end our process, which bases its principles on a peaceful resistance independent of any armed group. The presence of the Army and police in the midst of our houses and schools puts us at risk as a civilian population, and for us it is clear that if this presence continues, we would have to withdraw in a new massive and forced displacement, while the San José town center would be inhabited by Colombia’s security forces. We are concerned that the security forces and intelligence agencies inquire [indaguen] about our leaders by name, that they want to know where they live and we wonder why.

For all these reasons, we ask for national and international solidarity, for urgent statements against these actions that appear to condemn us to a new displacement and a humanitarian crisis. We ask for statements against the harassment of our leaders, against the harassment of international group that, with their presence, encourage us to continue forward, as they are witnesses to the transparency of our process and of our daily life. We ask for persuasive statements that support a peaceful experience developed in the midst of war, and that we have maintained for these seven years in refusing to live with any armed group. The security forces have always been around San José; in fact, we have always asked how these attacks on the community can occur if the Army is surrounding the town. For more than two years we have demanded the permanent civilian presence of the state through someone from the offices of the National Ombudsman and the Inspector General. If what they want is to be in our houses and put at risk our children, then as a civilian population we will be obliged to a new displacement and perhaps lose everything that we have built in these years. But we believe that we have to do it, that we have to continue firm in our principles as a peace community, transparent principles for which many friends and family members have died, victims of an inhuman conflict. We reiterate that we continue in our decision to not collaborate with any armed group – guerrillas and paramilitaries-Army – and we demand of all armed groups that they not force the civilian population either to collaborate or live with them. It is a universal right.

JUNE 2, 2004