Monday, March 30, 2009

Twelve years of being the change

On March 23rd the Peace Community celebrated twelve years of existence and resistance with a small ceremony and a brief march to the cemetery in village center of San Jose where many of the Community’s dead are buried. Those present honored, with two minutes of silence, the memory of the 184 Peace Community members killed in the last twelve years, and reaffirmed their resistance against a litany of state crimes: massacres, forced displacement, rapes, extrajudicial executions, food blockades, house burnings, robberies, and threats.
According to the state, however, the Peace Community just needs to get over the past. In a recent meeting, an army official complained to us that the Peace Community is always harping on the past, and that they should move on and think about the future. “Things are different now,” he said. “We train the soldiers in human rights. In fact, the army has declared 2009 ‘the year of human rights’.”

If I myself, an outside observer, can’t forget the brutal history of the Peace Community, how can those who’ve actually suffered it actually forget a past that includes, just 4 years ago, the massacre and dismemberment of 5 adults and 3 children, committed by the army in collaboration with paramilitaries? The state wants to wipe the slate clean, and so condemns the Community for conserving the memories and demanding and end to impunity.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Accumulation by dispossession

I frequently get asked by friends and family outside of Colombia about the hows and the whys of the armed conflict here. Most folks outsiders have heard that there’s some sort of war here, and know that drugs is somehow related, but that tends to be the extent of their knowledge.

What I’ve come to understand more deeply since being here is that – like most armed conflicts in the world – the Colombian conflict continues because it serves the interests of the rich and powerful (Iraq, anyone?). The government does not, in fact, really try that hard to end the violence. Instead, it exploits the conflict, using it to further its desires to enrich its land-holding and multinational corporation-owning friends. President Uribe, himself the owner of vast expanses of land in the Urabá region, has been particularly interested in and efficient at such enrichment for himself and his cronies. I think it’s safe to say that the government isn’t even really that interested in completely getting rid of the guerrillas, because they serve the role as the enemy that justifies the war. At the same time, the guerrillas and narco-paramilitaries themselves are often happy to push people off their land in order to cultivate coca and generally control territory.

War is profitable and beneficial in obvious ways for the military-industrial complex: in generates income and employment for the arms manufacturers, the military and police, intelligence agencies and the companies that supply such equipment, etc. In the case of Colombia, though, it also provides a way gain control of another source of vast riches: the incredibly fertile Colombian land and the natural resources – copper, oil, carbon, emeralds etc. – that abound. Displacement (see previous post for more on displacement) of the rural population from its land as a result of the violence is not just an unfortunate accident of the violence. Uruguayan journalist Raúl Zibechi calls it “accumulation by dispossession.”

Sunday, March 15, 2009

A quick visit to Ecuador

Last week I returned from a much-needed vacation to Ecuador. I say much-needed because given the nature of this work, I am always working: always on call, always a little tense, always anticipating the next crisis. For this vacation I really wanted to leave the country, because even when I'm in some other part of Colombia my phone is still on, Colombian news still reaches my eyes and ears, and I can't really turn off the tension. Luckily, the perfect opportunity fell into my lap: a friend traveling in Ecuador and a cheap plane ticket.

The highlight of the trip was a visit to Otovalo, a pueblo about two hours north of Quito. Otovalo is known for its Saturday crafts market, in which indigenous weavers and artisans come down from the mountains with their wares. The place is PACKED with bags, shawls, scarves, sweaters, necklaces, tableclothes... basically anything woven you could ever want. And yes, I did make a few purchases, in preparation for my upcoming move to chilly Bogota.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Who isn't the government illegally tapping?

I recently returned from vacation, hence the lack of blog posts. I therefore post below a note from FOR's most recent Colombia newsletter about the latest intelligence scandal in Colombia. My addition is the too-unbelievable-for-fiction fact that Uribe government officials, rather than calling for a full investigation, have insinuated that because Semana, a widely-regarding news magazine, uncovered the story, it has ties to the guerrillas.

Less than two months after the interception of FOR's email - along with other 150 email accounts - was revealed, a new scandal of spying on opposition emerged during the last weekend of February. The weekly magazine Semana uncovered a massive wiretap operation carried out by the Department of Administrative Security (DAS), the Colombian secret police that answers directly to the President.

The targets this time included Supreme Court Justices who are investigating members of Congress close to President Uribe, including his cousin Mario Uribe. The Uribe government have fiercely attacked several of those justices, accusing them of "engaging in witness trafficking" and political persecution. Over the past 18 months, the justices and their families have also been targeted for harassment, including one whose home was broken into with just a laptop stolen.

Ivan Velásquez, the justice handling the parapolitica investigation, reportedly had more than 1,900 phone calls intercepted in a three-month period and has been subject to a "man to man" surveillance. In October 20007, "Tasmania," a right wing paramilitary leader, was reportedly bribed to falsely accuse Velásquez of manipulating testimony. No one has been charged for any of the attacks on the justices.