My latest article, based on communiques from ONIC (national indigenous organization) and conversations with people on the ground in Colombia.
Colombia’s peasant, indigenous, and union organizations called for a major mobilization on May 15, 2006. With elections on May 28, 2006, the organizations sought to demonstrate their opposition to the Colombian regime’s Free Trade Agreement with the United States, its civil war, its relationship with the paramilitaries, and its proposed constitutional changes. The election is very quickly coming down to a contest between the current President, Alvaro Uribe Velez, and the political left candidate Carlos Gaviria.
On May 28, Colombia will elect a new President.
The current favorite is the current President, Alvaro Uribe Velez.
The candidate of the left is a jurist named Carlos Gaviria. Carlos Gaviria is a supporter of the Indigenous and Popular Mandate. I do not know him, but I know people who do, and what I have heard is very good. If he were to win, there would be new breathing space for Colombia’s incredible and diverse popular movements and the country would have a decent chance of turning around. There would still be the problems of the US, the paramilitaries, and the military itself, threats of coup and assassination much more direct than in any other country in the hemisphere (and that is saying a lot). But if the elected government and the movements could navigate these, the consequences would be enormous: for Colombia, it would mean a chance at peace and a possible end to the civil war. For Latin America, it would mean the loss of the strongest ally of the strongest enemy of the independence and integration of the continent. And indeed, there would be global consequences as well – also, I think, very good.
For this reason, the US – and its first line of defense, Uribe, the military, the paramilitaries, the media in Colombia – will stop at nothing to prevent it. The presidential campaign is already truly filthy. Uribe has implied Carlos Gaviria’s campaign is communism in disguise that will turn the country over to the guerrillas. The paramilitaries have threatened the opposition to Uribe with death – despite the fact that they aren’t supposed to even exist any more, having ‘demobilized’. One of Carlos Gaviria’s advisors has been assassinated. An advisor to another prominent opposition member (from a different party) has also been assasinated.
There have been massacres in the countryside, threats against all of the social organizations. Having created this context with violence, the Colombian establishment is hinting at a ‘national emergency’ to deal with the violence. Those sorts of ordinances could be used against the opposition’s campaigns and demonstrations.
The indigenous movements have called a national mobilization for May 15 on the central issues of the elections: ‘free trade’ with the US, Uribe’s proposed constitutional changes, Uribe’s approach to war.
Much is at stake in this mobilization. The government will try to crush it and demonize it. If the government succeeds, Colombians will continue to mobilize under horrible violence and threat for a better country, though their short-term hopes will be dashed and the war prolonged. If the government fails, the mobilization will open breathing space over the next two weeks for the challenge to Uribe and beyond.
Below is a translation of a call written by a member of ACIN, the Association of Indigenous Councils of Northern Cauca, on the mobilization.
*The Time Has Come to Walk the Word*
All this is difficult to see, understand, resist, and change. It demands unity, creativity, intelligence, solidarity, commitment, sacrifice and much work, but also much joy and much desire for life. — The Indigenous and Popular Mandate
The mobilization has begun. The demand for the right to another country, one of liberty, solidarity, justice, and dignity, is being made. An uprising of conscience that reaches from the smallest to the highest level has began.
Colombia is not the country we have dreamed of. Today more than ever, we stand by what we stated in the Indigenous and Popular Mandate: “The state that should protect us persecutes us.” The recent events confirm this. Under the banner of the mobilization, the Black, Mestizo, and Indigenous communities of Suarez and Morales have marched to the city of Cali to demand the fulfilment of the agreements that have gone unfulfilled for 20 years. In Cali they were met by ESMAD (public forces). There are wounded and detained. In recent days advisors of Piedad Cordoba and Carlos Gaviria have been assassinated. So have 10 campesinos in Meta. One group of social organizations has been threatened with death by ‘demobilized’ paramilitaries.
These events are accompanied by a series of declarations by the establishment. President Uribe has said that the elections offer a choice “between [Uribe’s policy of] Democratic Security and communism in disguise that will hand the country over to the FARC.” His ex- minister Fernando Londoño reinforces his words, and one of his most loyal followers, also one of the worst enemies of the indigenous movement, Cauca’s governor Juan José Chaux Mosquera, has said that he sees dangers of terrorist infiltration in the social mobilization. At the same time the paramilitaries have threatened the Colectivo de Abogados Jose Alvear Restrepo, ONIC, CUT, and other social organizations. Already terrorized communities such as those of San Jose de Apartadó and Arauca, as well as the indigenous Kankuamo people, have been under attack.
The project that threatens life has no respect for borders. That’s why it is called “globalization.” It has reached into our communities and homes in every part of Colombia and the world. It inflicts war, propaganda, and all of the power that war and money can bring down on us. The persecution is for a very specific reason. It is a direct response to the strengthening of peacful, democratic political processes in Colombia under the Indigenous and Popular Mandate, which includes peasant, indigenous, unions, women’s movements, and all popular sectors. These sectors have found a political expression in the candidacy of Carlos Gaviria, which has gained momentum and become an electoral threat to the regime.
Colombia is awake and aware that we are in a moment that will define our history. Slowly but surely, people, communities, and organizations have joined the project of conscience to defend life. From all over the continent we hear words of action and practice in the construction of a new history. The continent rose up against the FTAA. Bolivia has gifted us with the nationalization of its own resources. Immigrants have challenged the empire and lift their voices for their rights in other lands even as they are forced to flee their own due to systematic impoverishment of their home economies. The Zapatistas in Mexico have gifted us with their Other Campaign.
The struggles throughout the continent and the reasons for the uprising are the same ones that move us. And they move us because the future of Latin America is being decided here, in Colombia. The US ignores the mobilizations and actions of our countries because it counts on its most durable program, Plan Colombia, and its unconditional ally, Uribe, to implement its corporate project. That is why they say: “Either Democratic Security or you are all communists . . . either you fall in line or go to Bolivia, Venezuela, or Brazil.”
We make this call to those who know how to listen to the words of Mother Earth. Our call comes from the mother that cannot be owned, the mother of all. It is time to get together, see each other’s faces, hear each other’s voices, open the way to the word, and continue to build the country that we all dream of. On May 15 it will not be Colombia mobilizing, but the Popular Movement in the Continent mobilizing from Colombia.
Yesterday Elvia Escue brought a small bag to the commission that is collecting food in Santander de Quilichao in preparation for the mobilization.“This is my support for the mobilization,” she told the commission. A bag of rice, a bag of potatoes, an onion. Where did it come from? From a humble home–one household among the 32 million poor people in our country. Out of a history of more than 500 years of viewing liberty, justice, and solidarity on the horizon and choosing these principles in everyday acts, the mobilization has begun.
So in spite of all the strange border incidents of the past year and a half, Colombian paramilitary raids into Venezuela, attempted deployment of Colombian tanks against Venezuela, displacements of Colombians to Venezuela due to paramilitary massacres, all the while Colombia accusing Venezuela of aggression, it seems that Colombia’s President Alvaro Uribe Velez is in Venezuela right now for meetings with Venezuela’s President Hugo Chavez Frias. On the agenda: a 205km, $98 million natural gas pipeline project that will cross both countries and make it possible for countries to export gas through Central America.
Again, for all the trouble on the border, it’s important to remember that these two countries are very closely linked, as are the fates of their peoples, politically, geographically, culturally, historically. They do $2.5 billion USD of business per year. There are some 2 million Colombians in Venezuela.
If there is any news of what was discussed at the meeting tomorrow, I’ll report it here.