A Way out for Colombia
I didn't go to Colombia looking for understanding, although it was there for me in the form of razor-sharp analysts who do their work under fire. I didn't go looking for hope either, although I found some of that too, in the very same people. What I went looking for was credibility, and priorities.
Credibility, because I wanted to be able to face those who claim human rights workers are tools of the insurgency. I wanted to be able to stare down the argument that the only solution to the conflict is the continuation of the war, which isn't a war between guerrillas, paramilitaries, and the armed forces, but a war of people with guns against people without them, and a war of people with power against the earth itself. Priorities, because I wanted to know what Colombians thought were the most urgent priorities for North American activists.
What I found was extraordinary people like those of the Centro Unitaria de Trabajadores (CUT), a union central who told of the war against Colombian workers, a war prosecuted by straight violence as well as by the economic restructuring, privatization, and unemployment wrought by globalization. People like Afrodes, the organization of the Afro-Colombian displaced, who told of how they are being displaced from their resource rich lands even as the constutitional guarantees of their rights to those lands come into effect, to make room for megaprojects. People like the Organizacion Femenina Popular and the Ruta Pacifica de Mujeres, who talked about the impacts of the war on women and their readiness to become authors of peace.
These people and their organizations are the way out of this conflict for Colombia. After hearing, in the villages of Putumayo, that everything is set for a new round of fumigations of campesinos in the winter, it's hard to think of anything but stopping that horror from happening. After reading RAND's 'Colombian Labyrinth' (http://www.rand.org/publications/MR/MR1339/) and the nightmare 'future scenarios' they lay out for Colombia and Hector Mondragon's fear of a 'humanitarian intervention', it's hard to think of anything but trying to stop those before they start. But we have to think a way out of this thing.
The way out is a negotiated solution with civil society at the table with decision making power. The Guatemalan peace process gave civil society an advisory capacity, and some of the problems with that process come from the limited role assigned to civil society.
The negotiations will also have to rehabilitate the armed actors. Impunity will have to end. Otherwise there will be a repeat of the 1980s, when the FARC guerrillas tried to 'go legitimate' and form the Union Patriotica political party, a success at the polls that was systematically destroyed by assassinations by the military and police of about 3000 party members and leaders. The intellectual and material authors of the crimes against humanity being wrought against Colombians will have to be brought to justice. Some kind of truth commission will have to happen.
The war on drugs, and the prohibition, will have to end. Prohibition makes the price of drugs artificially high. A lack of development makes it the only sensible choice for campesinos. Treating drug addiction as a crime and not a health issue prevents a reasonable program for reduction of demand. Legalization, control, and education in the US and true development in the producing countries will have to happen.
The economic model that makes this conflict inevitable has to change as well. The model of exploitation and exclusion has to be replaced with an economy based on equitable cooperation and inclusion. There are such models and alternatives being built in Colombia right now, and the people trying to build them are being slaughtered.
That's what the CUT identified as a high priority, talking to us in their office overlooking Bogota-- through bulletproof windows. A chance for unionists, who are killed at a rate of 1 every 3 days, to flee the country for a while when under threat, to return to do their work later. I wondered whether it might make the killers think twice if every Colombian unionist who was threatened could go to North America and be replaced by a North American unionist for a little while.
Manuel Rozental and Sheila Gruner of the Canada-Colombia Solidarity Campaign
talked to me about short-term tactics for resistance. If we could make
assassinations, massacres, and disappearances counterproductive, we could keep
social organizations alive long enough to have a fighting chance. Manuel
suggested if a community under threat could displace to another community under
threat, make connections, and return home, rather than displacing to the city,
this would be a step to making displacement counter-productive. The Campaign is
going to develop a platform for solidarity to facilitate these kinds of
strategies and actions starting with a delegation to Colombia this August (http://www.yorku.ca/cerlac/minga/
In October, the Ontario Coalition Against Poverty is planning a mobilization to force Ontario's conservative government from office. They are a community anti-poverty organization that has made the connection between globalization and the economic model being applied to the world and the poverty, unemployment, and social devastation occurring in communities all over the hemisphere, even the first world. They are ready to bring the anti-capitalist globalization struggle home. The next round of anti-capitalist globalization protests in North America will be in Washington DC in September. This may not sound related to Colombia's struggle, but it is. Because it is unlikely that there will be a real end to the violence in Colombia as long as capitalist globalization expands. And it's unlikely that capitalist globalization will stop expanding until the struggles are brought home, to fight poverty and racism and destructive development as OCAP (and so many other community organizations) is trying to do. But if these struggles do succeed, and if solidarity actions are made strategic as the Canada-Colombia Campaign envisions, maybe we can make our way out of this mess.