(Translated by Kevin Funk and Susan Tritten)
By Angeles Díez
April 3, 2009
Danilo, Ana Maria and Marcela visited the Haydee Santamaria Association this week during their stay in Madrid to bring us the voices of the Colombian resistance. Colombia is a country at war. In spite of and counter to the official image that simulates, conceals and exports “democratic normalcy,” by just scratching the surface, we find in Colombia one of the clearest examples of capitalism in an all-out orgy of barbarity. Facing this monster, resistant peoples rise up from Colombia to Palestine, developing strategies of struggle, a thousand ways to say NO.
Only a few days before the London meeting of the G-20, capitalism’s visible head, our Colombian compañeros were invited to participate in a meeting on The Rights of Peoples Against Globalization and Its Reform [i]. They would share the floor and ideas with the Palestinians. What do these two peoples have in common, two cultures apparently so distant from each other? Land.
In the documentary “Resisting for Peace,” the two struggles are related as one, defending their land from plunder, saying no to colonization, not forgetting, remembering the names, the trees, the victims, that is, defending all of humanity.
Danilo tells us, “to resist in order to defend the land is the expression of the dignity of a people.”
We Live in an Authoritarian State That Kills the Body As Well As the Soul
Danilo Rueda defines the Colombian State as neofascist because it is a privatized state with ties to the drug mafia. It’s a mafia State that has created a mafia culture. “It’s the logic of getting everything with the least effort possible, whatever is easiest, the logic of effective justice because it’s immediate. You pay money to get something that someone else has; it’s do-it-yourself justice. Paramilitarism has become the logic of the State and its citizens.”
But modern authoritarianism looks different from what we are used to seeing in Hollywood movies about Nazis and fascists. It’s an authoritarianism that is camouflaged in liberal institutions: the parliament, justice… The multiple human rights commissions, established liberties, are, little by little, in Colombia, “legitimizing the authoritarian State.” Tell me what you brag about and I will tell you what you lack, as the Spanish saying goes.
Danilo tells us, “In Colombia we live under State repression expressed, for example, in 1,500 peasants executed and presented by the State as terrorists killed in combat. Also 6,800 people detained illegally, counter to all the formalities of a liberal state, without proof, without due process, where witnesses are paid to accuse those they don’t even know. The techniques of repression have been demonstrated; they are consolidating a political power clearly expressed in the exercise of government by President Alvaro Uribe Velez, who has the means to control the courts, the means to point out and publically stigmatize, through the media, those he considers the opposition. The President tries to show that there is no domestic armed conflict. That is to say, what was a peasant resistance, initially based on a liberal philosophy, became an armed uprising that defined itself economically through communist ideas, the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), and another armed uprising inspired by the Cuban Revolution, the ELN (Army of National Liberation). He tries to show that neither is justified. His objective is to create the illusion that there is nothing that would explain an armed rebellion, that is to say that in Colombia democracy has always existed, that the basic necessities of most people are met, that poverty does not justify rebellion because there are institutional channels to resolve those conflicts and demands, and that those who practice violence are sick beings, terrorists.
“The discourse that any opposition is terrorism has been maintained basically since Sept. 11, 2001. This attitude explains why rehabilitation camps are created in view of the policy of democratic security. That sick population has to be cured by military treatment and so military forces become providers of health care and education; they become judges, the ones who resolve domestic issues, the ones who are going to guarantee business development, for example, oil in the Arauca area near Venezuela. They’re considered rehabilitation zones. That’s what the country as a whole is experiencing, marginal territories completely occupied and delineated by the military who give the people three options, each a trap: be displaced, assume the military’s way of thinking, or develop proposals and acts of resistance. There are only three possibilities: you’re with me, you leave, or you turn yourself in.”
The Paramilitarization of the Colombian State
The second element that Danilo tells us about is the paramilitarization of the State. He explains that paramilitarism has become the State’s strategy, a form of terrorism in which armed civilians are the expression of the privatization of the State. This means that the formality of the public good continues to be proclaimed while the private paramilitary sector, linked to the land, decides the direction of the State. Danilo places the roots of the paramilitarization in 1962, when a United States government mission arrived in Colombia, and he sees as a precedent the French military forces who taught their counter-terrorism manuals that the French army used in Algeria.
Danilo says that, according to official data, out of 25 million hectares of cultivated land, 6.8 million hectares are for beneficiaries of paramilitary groups. “We’re talking about official information, which means it could be much more, because they don’t consider lands held collectively by African-American or indigenous communities. In these areas appropriation is not usually carried out through eviction as in mestizo peasant areas, rather they take a direct form of corporate occupation. These 6.8 million hectares cleared by military violence coincide with extractive projects by mining companies, infrastructure projects, some of them with capital from Spanish entrepreneurs, for example, in the coastal zone, everything that has to do with water or agrobusiness related to palm oil. We begin to discover that the reason they say that there is no armed conflict or that the Colombian State is being paramilitarized is for economic interests, just the same as it is with most of the conflicts in the world. There are geostrategic interests for the model of capitalist society.
“What we are experiencing and living today is, in some way, an exercise in neofascism. This privatized state is a police state tied to the drug-trafficking mafia. It is a State where the president’s farms and his estates were places where people of the political opposition were executed, or they are estates where paramilitary commanders are in charge. They are extradited when they begin to talk about the ties and strategies of control by the State, control of traditional political parties or the creation of new parties to take power.”
For Danilo, the third element that the Colombian State manages is the peace process. In official discourse, it’s about moving the peace process forward, but none of this is true. “Between 1997 and 2002, the effort to dominate was not only military in nature, but it also became political and social. There are 32,000 combatants. They have taken control of legislative and executive powers; they have taken over economic plans for the global market (the drug trade, agrobusiness, ties with extractive and oil or mining operations. . .) So it was necessary to create a mechanism of impunity for these criminals.”
The Colombian State creates mechanisms to guarantee impunity for its crimes. Danilo tells us how the State provided judicial mechanisms so that the paramilitary forces implicated in displacements and assassinations of peasants would have a way to avoid serving their sentences. “In exchange for telling everything they knew, they would get a maximum of eight years. They would fulfill the sentence at the moment they handed over their arms and they would be taken to agricultural farms that they would share with peasants. It’s a model of reconciliation and land restitution in which land taken from the peasants is held in a land bank, and in which, after the paramilitary forces ask for pardon they are given land next to the peasants so that they can work together in agrobusiness. If the paramilitary soldiers did not tell the whole truth or they continued to commit crimes and were linked to drug trafficking, they would be extradited.
“Curiously,” he tells us, “when they begin to talk about implications surrounding the President, about how the State security apparatus was used by the paramilitary troops, about how attempts were made against the President to gain publicity and to implicate the FARC, about how votes were bought for seats in the House or the Senate, for mayors or the president himself, they were extradited.”
Paramilitarism Creates a Culture of Violence
“Paramilitarism exists as a strategy of the State and a way of thinking by the citizens. Today anyone who speaks out against President Uribe is the enemy. Anyone who criticizes the President is a terrorist or friend of the FARC.
“Dressing differently is going against morality. Social workers are threatened. But this society that is being built in Colombia is part of what’s happening on the planet. All this occurs in zones where the highest proportion of biodiversity is concentrated. It is in our countries where the oxygen vouchers are. Who pays for these oxygen vouchers? Developed countries like Japan and Canada.” Ana Maria says that they are payments made to a community in exchange for maintaining forest resources, but that that resource is controlled by paramilitary forces. These countries can consume more oxygen because they pay compensatory fees. “At the same time there’s the energy crisis. They cultivate palm oil or sugar cane in our countries for ethanol or agrofuels. For whom? The ones who control these businesses in Colombia are the paramilitary organizations. What happens in this world, what we consume in this world, is related to what happens in Colombia and other Latin American countries.”
Marcela Was Displaced by Paramilitary Forces When She Was Ten
“In November of 1997 paramilitary troops came to the place where we were living,” continues Marcela. They burned the houses, they stole the cows, the cattle we had, and everyone had to leave with just what they had on their backs. The same thing happened in Choco, in Cacarica, in Meta. In some places it was mass displacement and in others it was selective.
“The pretexts for their coming were, ‘the thing is, we’re coming to finish off the guerrillas and you’re collaborators with them so we’re going to kill you.’ That was the pretext. And we told them that we weren’t guerrillas. I was ten years old and from what I could gather, I knew that I wasn’t a guerrilla and neither was my dad. I have a lot of brothers and sisters; we were all scared; my mom just cried. We were displaced. We spent four years stuck in shelters because we couldn’t return to our land. Then we realized that the same soldiers who had displaced us were coming back to help us. The same thing in Cacarica, in Meta, exactly the same, the same faces that we saw, with armbands; then we saw them dressed as soldiers. So growing up as we did, we realized, we began to understand that places where there had been displacements were precisely the richest lands. For example, there was a lot of water on our land. Afterwards we realized that the displacement was not because we were guerrillas, but because they were going to build a dam.
“It was terror. Then we found out that is was to plant bananas, it was that they wanted to build the Panamerican highway, in Curvarado it was to plant palms, it was because there were companies behind it that were there to get hold of the land that they had taken from us in order to develop megaprojects. In Curvarado, in Palma, in Meta, in Dabeiba the dam; in Putumayo, oil. . . .
“Monsters all of them, with the government’s support, since they control the paramilitary soldiers and the Army. What were our communities supposed to do? Go back so that they could kill us or look for a way to organize so that we could go back and recover our land? In my community we began to create a plan to get our land back, civil resistance to demand our rights from the government and a guarantee for our safe return.”
Ana Maria Experiences National Support in Displaced Communities
Without national and international support, these communities would be isolated and they would easily be displaced again. Ana Maria says their resistance also depends on us.
“I speak for all the communities.” Marcela tells us about concrete acts of resistance. “We constructed a plan for our lives, with our identity, with our principles, with our symbols, with the flag, the anthem. . . Each community is similar in organization. As a way of protecting our life, in our case, in 2001, we organized to get land for a temporary settlement. It wasn’t our land; but in 2004, the Army came and displaced us again.
“Right after that, we noticed what they had done in Chocó. They had created humanitarian zones, a place to live, to protect life, where the people could live. This area is clearly defined and no one who is armed can enter. In Cacarica they had already tried this experiment and we did the same in Dabeiba. We put up some symbolic barriers with wire with signs that say ‘no armed person enters here.’ That’s to protect lives and the land. We’re in a small town, but to make a living, we have to farm, so we have to go out to the fields, so then we mark off the boundaries and declare them biodiversity zones. We mark the boundaries and say that megaprojects are not permitted; these are the strategies that we’ve put together to protect ourselves. They respect us a little more because that’s protected by international human rights laws and the organization Justice and Peace helps us register complaints. But the threats continue and they’ve killed some of our people. But it’s a struggle and we try to protect ourselves in the middle of a conflict that we all face.
“We try to resist because we are small communities, but we try to create community development plans. I’m a teacher. I teach in the school and we try to create our own educational projects so that the children will learn what we want them to learn, not what the government imposes, because the government mandates what the children have to learn and turns them into machines that reproduce the system. What we try to do is teach them our plan for community life so that they know why we are there because many children have been born since the displacement and they haven’t been able to live the way we lived before. We want the young people to learn resistance.
“How do we resist? We fight so that the school where the children and young people learn is inside the humanitarian zone, so that they learn with us, with those who have grown up inside the community. I teach them abut the experience and history that I know well. As for health, we try to depend as little as possible on medicine or on what the market promotes. Medicine should be made with herbs and plants from the community, in order to depend as little as possible on commercial products. There are people who are `pranic’ healers with energy from the water, the trees, and the land. This is also a form of resistance. In the area of agriculture we’re trying to farm without the chemicals and agrotoxins that the market promotes. We want them to be ecological products, clean and healthy, to depend as little as possible on the market and to build our own things from our being as peasant men and women, from the earth. We resist from our small space.
“Although the threats continue, we constantly lodge complaints about what happens to us. We have international support through the Justice and Peace organization. They register complaints about what happens to us; they don’t leave us to fend for ourselves. Other times friends like you come and visit us and it seems that the soldiers don’t want to create problems and they respect us a little more.”
Acts of Resistance in the Communities Are Varied
“We are trying to unite all our organizations and so we participate in the National Movement of Victims of State Crimes. We are indigenous people, Afro-Colombians, peasants, social and human rights organizations; we are a great deal of people working together. We have meetings; we participate in marches. In February of this year, we held a conference in Curvarado that was about the peasants of Colombia and of the world too and about our opposition to the extractive mining of Careperro hill, which is in a communal indigenous area of Curvarado. The mining companies want to extract all the minerals there. It brought together all the indigenous communities to say no; we are not reconciled to the destruction of that place. For the indigenous people it is sacred, blessed, where the spirits are. If they’re destroyed, if we permit it. . . I don’t know. . . Life is destroyed.
“Other acts were, for example, when we went back to the land from which they had displaced us, we found that they had planted palms, that they had planned and organized to expel us. We got the communities together and we planned to face that monster and we decided to go and cut down palm trees and began to sew corn and beans to eat. That really annoyed the companies, but it was our land. All the communities joined together to do it.
“As for memories, we decided not to let them be lost; we decided to write them down. We have monuments in Dabeiba, the tree of life, an enormous tree where the names of everyone who was assassinated before the displacement are carved. In Cacarica, there’s a monument and a rap group that sings the history of the community. In Meta, in Putumayo, everywhere there is resistance. We have memory houses. We put photos of the people in them, names of our neighbors who were assassinated, seeds native to our region, objects from the homes from which we were displaced. They’re collective spaces; they’re being built everywhere. It’s the memory of resistance. We’re part of an alternative network together with other movements. I’m here to share our history and the resistance that we bring from all parts of Colombia, to show another face that the media doesn’t show. Our reality is hidden, we live another reality there. The paramilitary forces haven’t been demobilized; I have seen them. They continue displacing and assassinating people. I see them dressed as soldiers, then as civilians and so on. . .”
The Resources of Cooperation Serve to Finance Paramilitary Troops
Danilo says that resources from the international community, cooperative resources, are being used to pay the paramilitary forces who are not being demobilized. “Supposedly 20,000 paramilitary troops were demobilized. They are people who appropriated land, who assassinated, and who sit on the board of directors of corporations and their demobilization is financed through international cooperation. For three years they pay them three times the minimum salary of any Colombian worker. They finance their training. The community of Madrid finances them as well as municipal governments of the Spanish Socialist Workers Party. Only with social justice can there be a solution, not in that way.”
Two Fields of Resistance Where We Can All Meet Together
For Ana Maria, Marcela and Danilo it’s necessary to think of resistance as a joint effort, by everyone, built collectively, shared by everyone who is willing to say no. They address us, those of us who are listening, and they tell us that each one has to resist in his or her context. “You also are saying NO.”
The question is how we join together, how we unite. “For eight years, we have been trying to weave together. . . with larger expressions like the landless movement in Brazil, with smaller communities such as Santo Tome in Madrid, with the Mapuche movement, trying to build on the basis of shared principles. Not only is there resistance in the south, but also in the north. We have created a network where we can begin by getting to know each other, in solidarity in urgent actions, in solidarity with the dynamics that permit us to find each other. There are alternative networks where we come together.”
For Danilo there are two areas of struggle, two fields where we can all come together, the fight against impunity and the fight against globalization. In those areas we all unite.
“In the field of impunity your experience with Franco’s regime comes to mind, the effects of repression that continue, the fear of speaking out more forcefully, or the fears of the collective subconscious. We have to learn from that because we’re a society that lives in terror. We need to learn from your legacy. Even more because we don’t believe that the judicial apparatus that exist today can deliver justice, not the United Nations, not the International Court of Justice. So through memory, we have to honor the victims, honoring the historical meaning of their struggle in the present because we give it new meaning. There’s an initiative from the International Center of Memory. For their generation, for ours, and for humanity, it’s important. We have to design what truly democratic states should be. We learn from the mothers of the Plaza de Mayo that they, for example, are capable of getting on a plane and when it’s in flight, they stand up and say aloud, ‘Here’s a person guilty of genocide; there’s a person guilty of genocide on this plane, he’s in first class; his name is . . .’ It’s an exercise in social justice. We have to resort to ways that are accessible to us, that are grass-roots ways to make accusations. It’s clear that it is necessary to work with the United Nations, with the European court, but the processes of dignifying people iare carried out in a different way.
We have to see how to confront the problem of globalization in a practical way. There must be other ways of conducting trade.
It’s really important for all of us to know what is going on in each place. On April 25, in the network, we are going to celebrate the first ceremony honoring people in Italy during the day of the partisans. We invite you all to come. Also, petitions are made by communities and groups in the network. There was a petition from the Palestinians and from the people of Afghanistan (in particular from one group that has been resisting since the empire decided to change tactics in Iraq and concentrate on Afghanistan, so it was important to us that we lend our support there.)
In addition to that, this is how global knowledge of resistance is built. We have to know each other, to recognize each other and to overcome our isolation.
The meeting closed with a commitment by everyone to spread the resistance of the peasant committee from Colombia.
[i] The meeting with the title “Resistance and South-North Alternatives for a World in Crisis” took place on Thursday, April 2, in the Circulo de Bellas Artes in Madrid.