Volume , Number 0
There are no articles.Commentary
There are no articles.Culture
There are no articles.Features
Hearts & Minds
Jan knippers Black
There are no articles.
NOTE: Z Magazine subscribers and sustainers have access to all Z Magazine articles here and in the archive. The latest Z Magazine articles available to everyone are listed in the Free Articles box at the top of the table of contents, and are starred in the list below. Questions? e-mail Z Magazine Online.
D espite the horrors that face those fighting for better societies across the world, there are few countries on earth where trade union leaders can only access their offices by climbing out of bulletproof jeeps, surrounded by bodyguards holding semi-automatic weapons, to walk through a metal room equip- ped with electronic steel gates, and finally start work in a bomb proof office. This is not a description of a poverty-stricken central African state or a banana republic. This is one of Latin America’s oldest “democracies.” This is a country with some of the most desirable commodities and richest soils in the world. This is Colombia. One teacher or lecturer has been killed every week in Colombia this year—from 27 teachers assassinated in 1999 to 83 murdered in 2002. This makes organizing in FECODE —Colombia’s biggest union—virtually impossible in many areas of the country. Ninety-five percent of these abuses are carried out by paramilitary death squads—extreme right-wing armed militias, which have documented links to the official armed forces and the authorities. A special paramilitary group called Death to Trade Unionists has been established. Why does it happen? “Because they know they can get away with it,” one victim’s relative told us. Impunity from prosecution is the norm in Colombia.
It is difficult to get beyond the idea that this terror applies to a handful of radical union leaders who are in total opposition to the government. For every case of assassination, there are hundreds of cases of displacement—teachers fleeing their homes on pain of death. One high school social sciences teacher from Risaralda Department, near the city of Peirera, received a condolence card inviting her to her own funeral. This was followed by phone calls, letters, and people following her home. She knows of teachers being shot in front of their pupils.
Another teacher worked in a school outside Bogota for 23 years. Persecution began 15 years ago. Her house was raided many times. Like all persecuted trade unionists, she is accused of being a guerrilla—a tactic that normally means you are being set up for “cleansing” operations. Her two teenage daughters were also targeted. She told us how her husband was kidnapped and then killed by paramil- itaries. Her daughters were not even able to go to the cemetery to see their father’s grave.
Teachers and lecturers are not the only members of society targeted—it also applies to progressive lawyers, priests, students, any form of trade unionist, or just small farmers who happen to live in the wrong area, usually near an oil pipeline. The Department of Arauca has been turned into a militarized zone by the government—what one teacher described as a “laboratory for war.” In the first 8 months of militarization, 3,000 have been arrested, there have been 1,300 raids on people’s houses, and 90,000 people have had their details entered into a security database.
Disappearances are even more effective instruments of terror and oppression than assassinations. In the past five years 5,000 people have “disappeared” at the hands of paramilitaries. Most of the disappeared are eventually found dead—their bodies bearing the marks of the most horrific torture imaginable.
The government’s response is that these are all lies—the disappeared have run off to the guerrillas, been kidnapped, or have run away with their lovers. It is difficult to imagine a more cold-hearted response to the disappearance of a family member, but it is a response that enables the government to stand up to its responsibilities under international law.
Students are also prime targets. Chalk outlines of bodies are drawn on the ground at the entrance to the National University in Bogotá, representing students assassinated and disappeared by the terror infrastructure over the last ten years. In a particularly worrying development, students at the University of Altantico in Antioquia were assassinated in front of a classroom in which they were being taught.
“The student movement has been historically affected by violence, but in the 1990s repression started getting really severe,” a group of law students at the National University explained, “and it is directly related to resistance within the small number of public universities against privatization and militari- zation of the university system.”
In Cucuta, paramilitaries imposed a curfew on young people. Night school students have given up their courses in fear. Women students had been banned from wearing tight tops and jeans. Punishment was meted out by acid being thrown at the offending students or a knife being used to cut the bare skin on their stomach.
Universities are also being incorporated into President Uribe’s “informer network.” Reminiscent of policies pursued in what are normally described as police states, Uribe is aiming to build a million-person network of eyes and ears for the Colombian state. This is being pursued with particular vigor on campuses where we were told “there’s always someone ready to point out student leaders.” In the last 5 years between 60 and 70 student leaders have been disappeared.
These horrors cannot be seen in isolation from the economic policies of the government. The government has signed a development package with the IMF, which will increase the tax burden on the poorest while aimed at the liquidation of social security. Private companies are being brought into the education sector and an economic policy is underway which aims to privatize higher education. Teacher numbers have fallen from 312,000 to 280,000. Recruitment is frozen— when teachers leave their jobs for whatever reason they’re not replaced. Many teachers who have retained jobs have had their contracts changed from full-time, permanent employment to temporary contracts. In 1990 around 90 percent of university workers were employed on permanent contracts. This has now fallen to around 10 percent. The new temporary contracts are revocable at a moment’s notice without the need for a reason. The mass media is controlled by a tiny handful of people and either ignores or distorts the conflict to make it appear that the main human rights issue in the country is the kidnapping of the very rich by left-wing guerrilla groups.
Former trade union leader, now congressperson, Wilson Borjca, who walks with a limp from when he narrowly escaped an attempt on his life, sums up the situation in one phrase “Colombians are so poor because Colombia is so rich.” Colombia possesses 16 of the world’s 22 most desirable resources, most notably oil and gold. Yet just over 1 percent of the population owns 58 percent of the land while shanty towns rapidly expanding to give very basic shelter to Colombia’s 2 million displaced people—13 million people earn less than $40 a month, 3.5 million children are outside education, and half of the country is unable to access health care. Meanwhile increasing amounts of money are poured into paying off the national debt and building the security forces.
Uribe is desperate to sign the Free Trade Area of the Americas (ALCA), which will create the world’s largest single market and the effect of which will be to solidify Latin America’s place as a source of cheap raw materials, labor, and markets. Already the world trading system has seen Colombia’s food imports increase from 1 million tons in 1990 to 8 million tons today. A country of incredibly rich soil, where crops thrive, now imports basic food stuffs, including corn due to unfair competition. While U.S. agricultural subsidies will be slowly phased out after 2005, Borjca fears that by that time Colombians will already have lost their ability to compete, as mega-corporations buy up the country from bankrupt small farmers.
In Aguablanca outside Cali, families live cooped up, the beds are orange crates if they can’t find anything better, with a small piece of polythene covering their “home.” Broken glass litters the ground where children play in bare feet—many of them have sores and other signs of infection. There are no lights and no heat. There is a single tap to serve 750 families. The government’s reaction to these desperate people was seen in March 2003 when security forces demolished the settlement, including all the private possessions that the destitute had managed to bring with them. With no other option, the residents built the slum again and continue to be harassed by the police on a regular basis.
Colombia is now the biggest recipient of U.S. military assistance outside Israel and Egypt and their equipment is clearly not only being used to fight the “war on drugs,” which provided the initial pretext for the stepped up aid. Helicopters have been firing shells into densely packed neighborhoods. It is reported that, in one recent incident, 20 civilians were killed and no guerrillas. It appears to be a strategy well known from the Vietnam War: drain the water and you kill the fish. The fish are the guerrillas, the water the unfortunate. So far Uribe’s state of internal unrest has unleashed a huge wave of raids, security measures, and violence.
In this new security regime everyone it seems is fair game. Despite living in a “democratic” country, no one we spoke to felt they had any rights. “The government doesn’t need to give us a reason for arrests” one woman told us “they justify everything by talking about the insurgency.”
Trade union reports from Colombia read like a horror story. “The most dangerous country in the world to be a journalist/oil workers/public service workers/teacher/ lecturer.” All trade unionists we spoke to believed “there are even more dark times ahead.”
Despite the most dramatic frontal assault on social organization, Colombians refuse to have bonds of society broken. Trade unions, under attack in their own right, become social movements, protecting not just their own members, but fighting poverty at the same time. Communities build up around displacement and disappearance and fear and terror, summed up in the slogan “kill 1 of us and 10 more will fight back.”
It is not just the U.S. pouring “security assistance” into Colombia. The UK, which refers to Colombia as “one of Latin America’s oldest democracy”—has excellent relations with Uribe’s government—“a president doing his best in a very difficult situation to restore order in his country.”
Fascism is not a word that should be used lightly, but it is a term we heard again and again to describe the direction of President Uribe’s policies. Hope can only be pushed so far and it’s rapidly running out for Colombia. They look to our solidarity as a last defense against the horror their country has become.
Nick Dearden is an activist with War on Want and recently returned from a trade union trip to Colombia.
Z Magazine Archive
AnnouncementsLABOR - May 1 is May Day. Workers of the world will celebrate the 124th anniversary of International Worker’s Day. Born out of a call for an 8-hour workday in the United States, this day is an opportunity for all workers to show their solidarity with one another, as well as to renew the call for labor rights.
FARM CONFERENCE - The Farm Conference on Community and Sustainability will be held May 24-26 in Summertown, TN, in partnership with the Fellowship of Intentional Communities. Tour green homes, see sustainable food production, learn about solar installations, alternative education, midwifery, and more.
Contact: Douglas@thefarmcommunity.com; http://www.thefarmcommunity.com/.
PALESTINE - The Conference of the Palestinian Shatat in North American will be held June 3-5 in Vancouver. The conference will examine the future of the Palestinian liberation movement.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.palestinianconference.org/.
LABOR - The Pacific Northwest Labor History Association’s 45th annual conference will be held May 3-5, in Portland, OR. This year’s theme is Labor Under Attack: Learning from the Past and Preparing for the Future. A call for presentations, workshops and papers is currently underway.
Contact: PNLHA, 27920 68th Ave. East, Graham, WA 98338; 206-406-2604; PNLHA1@aol.com; http://www3.telus.net.
MARIJUANA - On the first Saturday of May marijuana legalization activists will hold informational and educational events, rallies and marches in over 300 cities around the world.
ECONOMICS - The Union For Radical Political Economics will hold its 39th annual conference May 9-11 in New York City.
RECLAIM THE DREAM - The 2013 Poor People’s Campaign & March from Baltimore to Washington D.C. will be May 11. Communities, schools and unions interested in participating are encouraged to contact the Baltimore People’s Assembly.
Contact: 410-500-2168; 410-218-4835; BaltimorePeoplesAssembly@gmail.com; Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Baltimore and the Baltimore Peoples Power Assembly, 2011 N. Charles St., Baltimore, MD 21218.
MOTHER’S DAY - The 17th Annual Mother’s Day Walk For Peace will be May 12th, in Dorchester, MA. The walk began in 1996 for families who had lost children to violence. The day has become a way for thousands of people to financially support the work of the Louis Brown Peace Institute.
Contact: http://www.ldbpeaceinstitute.org/; http://mothersdaywalk4peace.org/.
NATO 5 - An International Week of Solidarity with the NATO 5 has been called for May 16-21. Supports call on supporters to raise awareness of the NATO 5 and support funds for the defendants on the one-year anniversary of their preemptive arrests.
Contact: email@example.com; https://nato5support.wordpress.com.
MOUNTAINTOP - The 2013 Mountain Justice Summer Activist Training Camp will be held May 19-27 in Damascus, VA. It will be a week of workshops, field trips to view Mountain Top Removal coal mines, direct actions, and service project.
FEMINIST SCI-FI - The feminist science fiction convention WisCon 37 is scheduled for May 24-27 in Madison, WI.
Contact: WisCon, ? SF3, PO Box 1624, Madison, WI 53701; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.wiscon.info/.
ANARCHY FEST - A month-long Festival of Anarchy is scheduled for May in Montreal. The festival includes The Montreal Anarchist Bookfair (May 19-20).
Contact: http://www.anarchistbookfair.ca/; http://www.radicalmontreal.com/.
LABOR - The International Labor Rights Forum will present: Down the Supply Chain, Driving Corporate Accountability, on May 22 in Washington, DC. The Labor Rights Awards Ceremony and Reception will honor pioneers in supply chain worker organizing, working solidarity and international labor rights policy.
MULTICULTURE - The 26th annual National Conference on Race & Ethnicity in American Higher Education (NCORE) will take place May 28-June 1, in New Orleans.
Contact: SWCHRS, 3200 Marshall Avenue, Suite 290, Norman, OK 73072; 405-325-3694; email@example.com; www.ncore.ou.edu.
MEDIA - The 2013 Alliance for Community Media Annual Conference will be held May 29-31, in San Francisco, CA. Participants will include educators, community leaders, media professionals, journalists, nonprofit leaders, policymakers and students.
RADIO - The 38th Annual Community Radio Conference is schedule for May 29-June 1, in San Francisco, CA, with discussions and workshops.
Contact: 1101 Pennsylvania Ave. NW, Suite 600, Washington, DC 20004; 202-756-2268; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.nfcb.org/.
BRADLEY MANNING - On June 1, a rally will be held at Fort Meade in support of Bradley Manning.
BIKES - Bikes Not Bombs is holding its 24th annual Bike-A-Thon and Green Roots Festival in Boston, MA on June 3, with several bike rides scheduled, music, exhibitors and more.
Contact: Bikes Not Bombs, 284 Amory St., Jamaica Plain, MA 02130; 617-522-0222; email@example.com; www.bikesnotbombs.org.
LEFT FORUM - The 2013 Left Forum will be held June 7-9, at Pace University in New York City.
Contact: 365 Fifth Avenue, CUNY Graduated Center, ? Sociology Dept., New York, NY 10016; http://www.leftforum.org/.
VEGAN FEST - Mad City Vegan Fest will be held in Madison, WI, June 8. The annual event features food, speakers, and exhibitors.
Contact: 122 State Street, Suite 405 B, Madison, WI 53701; firstname.lastname@example.org; http://veganfest.org/.
ADC CONFERENCE - The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) holds its annual conference June 13-16, in Washington, DC, with panel discussions and workshops on civil rights, media and other topics.
Contact: 1990 M Street, Suite 610, Washington, DC, 20036; 202-244-2990; email@example.com http://convention.adc.org/.
CUBA/SOCIALISM - A Cuban-North American Dialog on Socialist Renewal and Global Capitalist Crisis will be held in Havana, Cuba, June 16-30. There will be a 5 day Seminar at University of Havana, plus visits to a cooperative, urban garden, community development project, social research centers, and educational & medical institutions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.globaljusticecenter.org/.
NETROOTS - The 8th Annual Netroots Nation conference will take place June 20-23 in San Jose, CA. The event features panels, trainings, networking, screenings, and keynotes.
Contact: 164 Robles Way, #276, Vallejo, CA 94591; email@example.com; http://www.netrootsnation.org/.
MEDIA - The 15th annual Allied Media Conference will be held June 20-23, in Detroit.
Contact: 4126 Third Street, Detroit, MI 48201; http://alliedmedia.org/.
GRASSROOTS - The United We Stand Festival will be hosted by Free & Equal, June 22 in Little Rock, Arkansas. The festival aims to reform the electoral process throughout the U.S.
SOCIALISM - The Socialism 2013 Conference is scheduled for June 27-30 in Chicago, featuring talks and panel discussions.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.socialismconference.org.
LITERACY - The National Association for Media Literacy Education (NAMLE) will hold its conference July 12-13 in Los Angeles under the heading, Intersections: Teaching and Learning Across Media.
Contact: 10 Laurel Hill Drive, Cherry Hill, NJ 08003; http://namle.net/conference/.
IWW - The North American Work People’s College will take place July 12-16 at Mesaba Co-op Park in northern Minnesota. The event will bring together Wobblies from branches across the continent to learn new skills and build One Big Union.
PEACESTOCK - On July 13th, the 11th Annual Peacestock: A Gathering for Peace, will take place at Windbeam Farm in Hager City, WI. The event is a mixture of music, speakers and community for peace. Sponsored by Veterans for Peace.
Contact: Bill Habedank, 1913 Grandview Ave., Red Wing, MN 55066; 651-388-7733; email@example.com; http://www.peacestockvfp.org.
CHILDREN’S DEFENSE - July 15-19, join clergy, seminarians, Christian educators, young adult leaders and other faith-based advocates for children at CDF Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee, for five days of spiritual renewal, networking, movement building workshops, and continuing education about the urgent needs of children at the 19th annual Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://www.childrensdefense.org.
ACTIVIST CAMP - Youth Empowered Action (YEA) Camp will have sessions in July and August in Ben Lomond, CA; Portland, OR; Charlton, MA. YEA Camp is designed for activists 12-17 years old who want to make a difference in the world.
Contact: email@example.com; http://yeacamp.org/.
LA RAZA - The annual National Council of La Raza (NCLR) Conference is scheduled for July 18-19 in New Orleans, with workshops, presentations and panel discussions.
Contact: NCLR Headquarters Office, Raul Yzaguirre Building, 1126 16th Street, NW, Washington, DC 20036; 202-785-1670; www.nclr.org.
LABOR - The Eastern Conference For Workplace Democracy: Growing Our Cooperatives, Growing Our Communities, will be held at Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA, July 26-28.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://east.usworker.coop/.
WOMEN/LYNNE STEWART- Radical Women is asking for support letters and cards to be sent to Lynne Stewart. Stewart is a civil rights attorney and political prisoner who is currently in jail. She has breast cancer and authorities have denied her request for transfer from her Texas prison to the New York City hospital where she received medical attention during a prior bout of breast cancer. Send messages and cards to: Lynne Stewart 53504-054, Federal Medical Center Carswell, P.O. Box 27137, Fort Worth, TX 76127.
Contact: 747 Polk Street, San Francisco, CA 94109; 415-864-1278; RadicalWomenUS@gmail.com; http://lynnestewart.org/; http://www.radicalwomen.org/.
HAITI/WOMEN - Haiti’s government is considering a legal reform measure that would prohibit and punish all sexual assault, including marital rape. MADRE and the International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict are launching a petition to raise international support for this push to address violence against women in Haiti.
Contact: 121 West 27th Street, #301, New York, NY 10001; 212-627-0444; email@example.com; http://www.madre.org.
SYRIA/MIDDLE EAST - The Middle East Children’s Alliance (MECA) is currently seeking funds to assist more than 200,000 refugees fleeing violence in Syria.
FOLK FESTIVAL - The Falcon Ridge Folk Festival will be held August 2-4, in the Berkshires, NY.
Contact: http://www.falconridgefolk.com/; firstname.lastname@example.org.
WAR RESISTERS - The War Resisters League will hold its 90th anniversary conference, Revolutionary Nonviolence: Building Bridges Across Generations and Communities, August 1-4, at Georgetown University. The event will focus on the U.S.’ long history of antimilitarism.
Contact: 339 Lafayette Street, New York, NY 10012; 212-228-0450; email@example.com; http://www.warresisters.org.
POPULAR ECONOMICS - The Center for Popular Economics is holding its 2013 Summer Institute August 4-9 at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA. No background in economics is needed for this intensive training. This year’s theme is, The Care Economy: Building a Just Economy with a Heart.
Contact: Center for Popular Economics, PO Box 785 Amherst, MA 01004; 413-545-0743; firstname.lastname@example.org; www.populareconomics.org.
VETERANS - Veterans for Peace is holding the 28th annual convention August 6-11 in Madison, WI. This year’s theme is, Power To The Peaceful.
DEMOCRACY - The Democracy Convention will take place August 7-11 in Madison, WI. The convention brings together nine conferences including topics such as media, education, defense, race, environment and others.
MEN - The 38th National Conference on Men & Masculinity: Forging Justice: Creating Safe, Equal and Accountable Communities, presented in partnership with HAVEN, will be held in Detroit, MI, August 8-10.
Contact: email@example.com; http://www.nomas.org/.
OCCUPY - An Occupy National Gathering will be held in Kalamazoo, MI, August 21-25.
Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org; http://occupynationalgathering.net/.
COMMUNITIES - The Communities Conference is a networking and learning opportunity for co-operative or communal lifestyles, with workshops, events and entertainment; scheduled for August 30-September 2 at the Twin Oaks Community in Louisa, Virginia.
LABOR DAY - The 29th annual Bread and Roses Festival, a celebration of the ethnic diversity and labor history of Lawrence, MA, will be held September 2, in honor of the 1912 Bread and Roses Strike. There will be music, dance, poetry, drama, ethnic food, historical demonstrations, walking & trolley tours.
Contact: PO Box 1137, Lawrence, MA 01842; 978-794-1655; http://www.breadandrosesheritage.org/.
OCCUPY WALL STREET - September 17 is the two-year anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Events are planned in New York City and worldwide.
TEACHERS - The 13th Annual Conference, “Teaching for Social Justice: The Politics of Pedagogy,” will be held October 12 in San Francisco, CA. The free event features workshops, resources, and free childcare.
Contact: 415-676-7844; email@example.com; http://www.t4sj.org/.
HAITI - International Action, which brings clean water and chlorinators to Haiti, seeks office space capable of housing up to six people and their office equipment.
Contact: Zach Bremer, Zbrehmer@haitiwater.org; 202-488-0735; http://www.haitiwater.org/.
MEDIA - The Union for Democratic Communications and Project Censored are sponsoring a joint conference on media democracy, media activism and social justice to be held November 1-3 at the University of San Francisco. Proposals for presentations, workshops and panels from activists and critical scholars are invited.