The Colombia Support Network is pleased to present an English translation, authorized by the author, of the analytical document of Father Javier Giraldo, S.J., on matters which must be taken into account if the Peace Talks between the Colombian Government and the FARC-EP guerrillas are to result in a lasting, just peace with a truly democratic political system. The impediments indicated by Father Giraldo, as well as the remedies for removing these impediments, we believe provide an essential focus for debate and agreement upon the characteristics of the Colombian polity and Colombian society which are necessary to establish a truly democratic system upon which a lasting peace can be built. Those of us who live in the United States can readily see characteristics of our own society and political institutions for which the types of reform Father Giraldo suggests for Colombia could very usefully be implemented in this country. We welcome your response.
John I. Laun
Colombia Support Network
June 17, 2013
FOR THE EARS OF THOSE WHO ARE DISCUSSING PEACE TERMS
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator, with editorial review by John Laun)
One of the most important points on the agenda agreed upon by the government and the FARC for their peace dialogue in Havana is the problem of PARTICIPATION. That is being understood as the opening of possibilities for some former combatants to insert themselves into politics in Colombia in the traditional manner. Nevertheless, the very sub-themes of the agenda provide room for understanding that theme much more broadly and for analyzing the real obstacles facing ordinary Colombian citizens who want to participate freely and conscientiously in decisions that concern them. Here we will analyze FOUR WALLS that close off the possibilities for participation and we will suggest ways in which those engaged in the peace dialogues can tear those walls down.
Dr. Humberto de la Calle Lombana -National Government Delegates to the Peace Dialogues
Mr. Iván Márquez and FARC Delegates to the same Dialogues
With all due respect:
Now that study of the second point on the dialogue agenda that you are working on in Havana is near, which is the point referred to as political participation as a general theme, it contemplates as a sub-theme:
“the rights and guarantees for the exercise of political opposition in general, and in particular for the new movements that will arise after the signing of the Final Agreement. Access to communications media. Democratic mechanisms for citizen participation, including those for direct participation at various levels and on various subjects. Effective methods for promoting greater participation in national, regional, and local politics for all sectors, including the most vulnerable population, under equal conditions and with guarantees of security”.
I would like to propose that you consider some analysis and some reflections that have concerned me for a long time and that specifically have to do with this aspect of our national problems.
In the first place, I would like to invite you to take a good look at what we understand by the word “Peace”. The violence and conflict that affect Colombian society cannot be reduced just to the armed fighting, even though that is an expression, the most dramatic expression, of that conflict. The violence and conflict have very deep roots in Colombia, economic as well as political, historical and social, and peace will never be achieved without affecting those roots. For that reason, the points on the agenda agreed upon for these negotiations, such as problems of land, political participation, guarantees of rights, the victims’ situation and the drug problem, affect all of us and you need to listen and promote the participation of every social sector of the country in the search for solutions.
More specifically, on the aspect of political participation, the negotiations should not focus on finding formulas to guarantee the inclusion of the former combatants or of new groups or political movements in the electoral processes, with the aim of lubricating traditional mechanisms of political activity once again. This would only unleash, in the current circumstances, or indeed in new circumstances, genocides against the movements that are trying to create big changes. Or it would result in new forms of co-optation and corruption, through the assimilation of political customs by a handful of new members of the political establishment, who, because they would be such a small minority, would have no effect at all.
Before thinking about and finding ways that the new sectors can be integrated into the structures that are called “democratic”, I beg you to consider with sincerity whether those current structures are really democratic.
Is the access of the general public to the information and communications media really democratic? Does a right to truth and information really exist? What kind of “truths” are fed to the vast majority of the Colombian population? What kind of reading material about his/her own real life is furnished to the ordinary citizen? Can the suffering people really communicate with the rest of the suffering people?
Who can really participate in elections in Colombia? Isn’t it true that a person who decides to be a candidate for public office needs to have many billions of pesos? Who provides that money? What is the role of the parties? Does this not reveal an inescapable economic filter by which the most concentrated economic powers co-opt, condition, select and subjugate anyone who will hold public office?
How does the electoral apparatus work? Isn’t it a known and well-publicized fact that this system is entirely controlled by the drug traffic fused with paramilitarism? Did not the deeply rooted “parapolitics”, to the degree it was briefly scrutinized by our high courts, reveal the absolutely shameless dominion and control of the electoral system by the narco-paramilitaries? Did not the very judges who entered into those moral pigpens feel impotent and afraid to continue exploring and thus give up? Does not the country frequently receive leaked news of members of Congress and politicians supposedly arrested but who maintain intact the powers of the office to which they were elected through renewed structures? Does not the functioning of the electoral apparatus have all the characteristics of a “mafia” structure?
Isn’t it evident that paramilitarism persists in the length and the breadth of this country? Will it be possible to hide any longer the origin and characteristics of paramilitarism, such as it was designed by a United States military mission in February 1962, commanded by Colonel William Pelham Yarborough, in the nature of a strategy of the State to involve civilians as clandestine branches (brazos) of the armed forces, intended to combat ways of thinking contrary to the imperial ideology, at a moment in which there was not any armed opposition in Colombia? Is it possible to ignore all of the official and clandestine manuals that promoted paramilitarism during these five decades and the semi-public strategies that promoted paramilitarism, such as the “Convivir” (supposed self-defense groups, literally “live together in harmony”) and the “Networks of Informants and Cooperators”, etc.? Is it possible to ignore much longer the frequent and multifaceted cooperation between the armed forces and the paramilitary structures, whether these are called “Bacrim” (“bandas criminals”, criminal gangs) or take various other names? Does it not constitute an affected ignorance when the character of paramilitarism is not perceived in its most varied versions, as an arm (brazo) that annihilates or tears apart the political opposition and those sectors critical of the dominant power?
All of that can only converge in an image that reveals to us the FOUR WALLS, which today are impassable, and which not only block political participation for some former combatants, but which also effectively prevent the most elementary political participation for the Colombian population in general, except for a narrow fringe of citizens who utilize for their benefit the discriminatory structures, or who arrange to open little breaches in these walls. Among these are the breach opened by some users of the internet (a small group of a certain economic and cultural level who above all live in cities) or those who open alternative movements that with great effort obtain small economic resources to promote a candidate who will have no power of any kind to confront the oceans of corruption and clientelism that condition, dominate and control everything.
It means nothing, then, to engage in a dialogue about conditions for political participation in a structure that is not participatory, but exclusionary, discriminatory, monopolized by corruption and submerged in the dynamics of co-optation by bribery or threats, and that does not reveal possible or effective means of correction.
Because of that I propose that, before diving into a dialogue about the possibilities for political participation for former combatants, your delegations should take on the problem of the FOUR WALLS.
Does it not constitute an unpardonable fiction to offer to those who have exercised armed opposition to the system, their participation in a non-participative system as a means of exiting their status as rebels? Are not the common people of Colombia, almost all of them, the ones who need to find ways of participation, at least to open big holes in the four walls?
To my way of thinking, the four walls have an intended order:
* First, the CULTURAL-MEDIA WALL, which is responsible for conditioning the most intimate levels of the people (their conscience) to convert them into adapted and submissive users of the governing political system. This wall projects all of its shadow upon the conscience of the people and molds them, on unconscious levels, into true robots, making them assimilate false values, a biased and manipulated reading of reality, induced hobbies and fashions, hatreds and fanaticisms, political preferences and even professional options and ethics, adjusted by means of subliminal techniques to the interests of the dominant elites.
* The ECONOMIC WALL is the second filter that blocks the conscientious and free participation of that already robotized population. The media echoes have already conditioned their conscience to accept that everything in the society ought to be susceptible to being bought and sold by order of nature itself, and that for what one most wants or needs one has to pay higher prices. Upon this base of psychic and media-induced adjustment to universalized mercantilization, one accepts, as something natural, to compete economically for power, silencing in the back rooms of the unconscious the colossal inequality of the competitors. Thus, the “democratic” dogma of competition accepts the inescapable factual conclusion that the poor can never have power nor political influence, even though they constitute the immense majority of the nation.
* But next comes the POLITICAL WALL, which is to say the electoral apparatus or machinery, as a third filter. It enthrones the mafia powers in real control of clientelism, making use at the same time of the enormous power to cover things up and disinform of the Media Wall and of the intimidating power of weapons linked to money (narco-paramilitarism) with the capacity to control even the anemic and corrupt justice apparatus. Tied to this wall, the parties converted themselves into administrative units for the buying of votes and for paying them with official posts, abandoning all ideological identity.
* Finally, the PARAMILITARY WALL closes the circle of obstruction of political participation. If there are groups that manage to pass through the three prior walls and still maintain the impulse for reform, or continue by some accident – as happened in the case of the U.P. (Union Patriotica) —the rule of terror, via genocide or some other form of extermination, will soon become aware of that persistence. The unpresentability of this wall has repeatedly led to disguising it and hiding it with the tattered rags of common crime which have never been able to hide the de-legitimizing shame of the State.
Changing this situation will not be easy. I am profoundly worried about the news that reaches us concerning pressure to sign a peace agreement quickly and that it be submitted to schedules that actually obey the ritual of consolidation of corrupt practices of fictitious participation, which are what the election processes are.
I am aware that an authentic peace has to contemplate radical transformations of many of our institutions, joined in one way or another to structural injustice and to the generation of multiple incidents of violence such as, for example:
*The forms of election of members of Congress; the lack of methods for control by the voters; the criteria for their remuneration; the role of the parties; their corrupt practices in the creation of laws and constitutional reforms; the deeply rooted clientelistic system; their lack of independence of other powers; their corrupt practices which are so deeply rooted and so consolidated that they have led to a very high percentage of members of the National Congress in prison.
* Such deep corruption of judicial power; the lack of mechanisms for control of the quality of their decisions; the venality of the justice system; its proverbial inefficiency and impunity; the systematic manipulation of procedural rules to absolve the guilty and condemn the innocent; the consolidation of a justice system based only on testimony as well as on the sale and the maximum degradation of testimony.
* The historic adulteration of the function of the armed forces and their ideological conversion to the service of foreign and elitist interests; criminal and antidemocratic doctrines taking root in their tradition; generation in their bosom of paramilitarism committing such horrendous and massive crimes; their genocidal and inhuman practices protected by anti-juridical privileges.
* The legalized empire of the market economy, focused on excessive profits, subjects the citizens’ basic necessities to maximum profitability, thus generating scandalous inequality, poverty, and misery, which are absolutely to be repudiated. The privilege that the largest transnational companies enjoy, their uncontrolled destruction of the environment and their perverse plunder of nonrenewable natural resources.
It is certainly impossible for such extraordinary problems to be analyzed and corrected within such tight time lines as in the current discussions in Havana, where the great absence is the Colombian nation with its diverse races, creeds, ethnicities, ideologies, professions and social and economic stratification—where only a single digit percentage have access to truthful information and to mechanisms of communication that are not manipulated by their fellow citizens.
The current peace conversations certainly have inescapable limitations keeping them from being able to face and affect the factors which are the greatest generators and motivating factors for the armed-social conflict that we are experiencing.
Nevertheless, I am convinced that a process like this one can at least OPEN DOORS for a more long-run solution to these factors. To my way of thinking, the subjects that are on the agreed-upon agenda touch upon vital points. Among those is the fundamental theme of PARTICIPATION. If an agreement could be reached that could open definitive breaches in the FOUR WALLS that obstruct participation, these dialogues would contribute to setting in motion a process which could lead to building a country that can start down the road to peace.
My proposal is aimed at designing, as the priority of priorities, a new legal framework for information and communication, to be placed in service together with three other key measures that affect the other three walls that obstruct participation. It would set a basic period for those democratic bases to be evaluated, so that a second phase in the peace process could be undertaken, one that would have a broad range of participation by the Colombian nation.
Tearing down the MEDIA-CULTURE WALL must constitute the priority of priorities to open up paths to PARTICIPATION. In effect, the basic and elemental condition of all participation necessary is access to the truth, to information that is not manipulated, and to free communication that is not gagged.
When one examines the current system of massive “information” that we have, one has to conclude that here we are not even close to having a right to the truth or to having a right to information. Information is not governed by any criterion of public service, but rather by the inexorable laws of the market. All of the mass “information” media are the private property of large economic conglomerates, some of which are transnational businesses and use transnational capital. Their governing principle is apparently the principle of profit and maximum gain. That is to say the “truth” is merchandise, which introduces the most radical contradiction within itself. A “TRUTH PRODUCT” can never be considered true and nevertheless that is the only “truth” that we have for mass consumption.
In our universities and communications faculties the criteria of “information marketing” or “techniques of publicity” govern. These disciplines have been converted into the refined science of lies and deception, of manipulation of the conscience and what the most opprobrious tyrannies have called “brainwashing”. Those merchandizing techniques have discovered massive and effective mechanisms to neutralize all ethical resistance to deceit by blending completely with psychological studies. They unscrupulously take advantage of every weakness of the human psyche. The media imposition of the competitive ideology has found a channel in soccer (futbol) and other sports for permanent consolidation and that explains the very high percentage of time occupied by this sport in the daily programming of the mass media. Media information is selective, calculated and takes sides. Among their technical methods, they include hiding their interests, like the surveys and opinion programs, whose malice is only perceived by a small fringe of people possessing a critical conscience. This media ideology stigmatizes and promotes, most of the time by messages that operate at unconscious levels or with subliminal messages, in accord with the economic, political and ideological interests of the powers they represent, which are without a doubt the most powerful in the nation. They create “angels” and “devils” to fit their interests and through their spokesmen they say they represent the whole country.
The mass media openly or subtly use defamation to neutralize positions that are uncomfortable for the powers that they actually represent. They have deeply enthroned an ethic in which the line between good and bad is defined by submission to or rejection of the structural axes of the governing system and its representatives. This implicit “ethic” requires a means to identify necessarily every critical or alternative opinion, especially when it attempts serious declarations, with the armed opposition, utilizing the only method they have to place those whom they consider an obstacle to their interests at the margins of what is legal.
It cannot be alleged that the slander is legally repressed; it is only in theory. The undersigned has been dragging along for many years with the destruction of his reputation by mass media like El Tiempo, RCN, Caracol, El Siglo, several radio chains and other mass media, without his civil rights actions (Tutelas) having been able to achieve any rectification. At the same time I have seen the good name of a whole town destroyed, as has happened to the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó, through enormously perverse media strategies promoted by El Colombiano, El Mundo and several radio chains, without their directors admitting—to say nothing of correcting or rectifying—the perversity of their cunning tricks, in spite of the fact that we showed them the criminal and fatal consequences of what they did.
All of this immorality is shielded by the phony principle of “freedom of the press” or “freedom of expression”. But, could we possibly call freedom of the press the freedom to publish whatever you want—including lies and libels of great proportions, reaching throughout the system with lethal effect—by those who have enormous quantities of money, when even the one who is libeled has no money and has to pledge several weeks of very low earnings to be able to publish a defense of his opinion? The inconsistency and the absurdity of this result are self-evident.
It is, therefore, necessary and urgent to change the legal framework of information and communication. It is necessary to begin to construct, from much farther back to point zero, the right to the truth and the right to information. In effect we have to confront the reactions of power of those who have utilized for their benefit, almost for centuries, the right to deception, to lying, to media manipulation and to brainwashing.
A first element of that new legal framework is to remove the massive and arbitrary control of information by the media companies and their decision-makers. To define the concept of “mass information”, I suggest gathering a group of experts who could suggest the levels of publishing and ratings, in each case, that begin to constitute mass information. If indeed there are newspapers in print that border or surpass a million copies for national distribution, there will be others with greater regional distribution that fluctuate between one hundred and two hundred thousand, but which have a powerful regional influence. For radio and television, we have to look at the schedules and audience ratings. Those that are classified as “mass information” ought to devote at least 70% of their content to give expression to the social sectors of the country, through mechanisms of election and permanent democratic control. A broad popularly-elected council should guarantee the right to information coming from the most unprotected sectors, as well as their opinions. It should formulate rules that would allow equal expression for all sectors and social organizations.
A legal transformation of those proportions is not going to guarantee the right to the truth and to information from one day to the next, but that transformation would progressively open the way, certainly in the midst of a lot of conflicting accommodations, to the truths that have been muzzled and repressed for centuries. Slowly, the right to truthful information would emerge.
It is necessary to acclimatize this fundamental basis of participation during prudential periods. In effect, taking part in political processes in the midst of oceans of fraud, with truth being muzzled and manipulated, makes no sense and just constitutes one more deception.
To complete the bases for participation that is authentic and not fictitious, it is necessary to conceive of other urgent measures to neutralize the other three walls:
* Elections require enormous amounts of money in order to take part, because of the well-known cost of billboards, quantities of publicity and other propaganda techniques, as well as the massive and inveterate vote-buying and buying of juries. It is more than evident that this excludes poor people from the power of decision or participation, not to speak of the moral rottenness of these mechanisms. A drastic election law ought to remove elections from the exclusive participation of those who have a lot of money and should take measures to make illegal that which requires money and consecrates obvious inequalities in candidacies.
* Even though the previous measure might limit somewhat the mafioso control of the electoral apparatus, it is not sufficient. Narcoparamilitarism has demonstrated enormous shrewdness and power to infiltrate and neutralize all of the controls that that have been undertaken, and in this their networks of relationships with the majority of government institutions have been a big help to them. It is necessary to make use of all of the methods and techniques used in democratic countries which permit the preservation of the vote from manipulation. Before that, we will have to purify fundamentally the institutions that take part in the electoral process.
* With respect to paramilitarism, the last wall that, through barbarism, eliminates parties and movements that show critical levels, it is evident that the nuclear factor in its great power is the multifaceted collaboration, by action or by omission, provided to paramilitaries by the armed forces. Because of that, it is in the hands of the President of the Republic, as Commander in Chief of the armed forces and guarantor of our rights, with sufficient constitutional authority to remove officers who interfere with obedience to the Constitution, to discharge without recourse the commanders of units in whose jurisdictions paramilitary structures operate. This measure would replace the evident complacency and support that paramilitarism has enjoyed until now and which otherwise would certainly continue. It is absolutely evident that the factor that keeps paramilitarism alive and functioning is the official support, by action and omission. Once this is broken, paramilitarism will disappear, and that depends on the political will of the Chief of State.
On leaving these concerns in your hands, I wish to insist that you not ignore the exclusionary reality of these FOUR WALLS, and that the eventual agreements on political participation not be converted into one more fiction which leaves intact these exclusionary structures that have dominated us.
Javier Giraldo Moreno, S.J.
May 19, 2013
(This translation may be reprinted as long as its content remains unaltered and the source, author and translator are cited.)