We in the United States are now experiencing both a federal government shutdown and a threat to exceed the debt ceiling, which would result in the U.S. Government not meeting its financial obligations. A foolish and irresponsible attempt to undue the Affordable Care Act (ACA) by a group of Republican members of Congress, who seek to require the Obama Administration to agree to changes in the ACA in return for their agreeing not to dismantle the government, has led to serious doubts throughout the world whether our government can be trusted to act rationally. The attempted undermining of the full faith and credit of the U.S. Government, and the scuttling of social norms and programs upon which our country has relied for decades, threatens to tear this country apart. The wild-eyed Republican reactionaries who are behind these contemptible actions, too dense to understand the consequences of what they propose, believe in a system of privilege for the wealthy at the expense of the great majority of the people of this country. In a word, they seek oligarchy. The gross stupidity of the Congressional Republicans, whose actions threaten to eliminate any shred of this country’s reputation as a just society should be obvious to us all—-except for the purposeful dumbing-down of this society. As the Republican Party works to undermine public education in favor of unaccountable, private for-profit charter schools—through a state voucher of public funds to support those who enroll their children in these charter schools in Wisconsin, where Governor Scott Walker has irresponsibly reduced funding for public schools, including the University of Wisconsin system—the party has demonstrated in spades its lack of commitment to an educated populace.

As the U.S. draws near its moment of truth, much the same is true of Colombia, for different reasons. President Juan Manuel Santos has set a policy agenda which seeks to invite foreign investment into Colombia on extremely generous terms to develop mineral deposits and oil fields. He also has entered into and promoted so-called “Free Trade Agreements” (FTA’s) with several countries. In doing so he has undermined the manufacturing base of many Colombian companies, while setting the stage for the destruction of peasant (campesino) agriculture in the countryside. In keeping with obligations resulting from the FTA with the United States, the Santos Administration implemented Decree 9.70, which prohibits the use by farmers of seeds from their previous year’s crop for their new plantings, forcing them to buy seeds which have been certified or registered by the Colombian government, principally those seeds produced by multinational corporations like Monsanto, and including transgenic seeds. When campesinos refused, or were unable because of cost, to purchase the certified seeds, the Santos Administration sent anti-riot police (Esmad) to confiscate and destroy the campesinos’ seeds. And a few days ago the Santos Administration in the person of Minister of Defense Juan Carlos Pinzon introduced a proposed law which would declare the protests by the campesinos to be crimes, punishable by prison terms of 1 to 5 years. The Santos Administration has refused give credit to the campesinos’ reasonable arguments that lack of subsidies and price supports for their products, combined with high prices for fertilizers, herbicides and insecticides, and particularly the competition from often-subsidized food imports under the FTA’s have made it impossible for them to continue farming. The Santos plan is, simply put, to eliminate small-scale agriculture throughout most of the country, thus forcing campesino families off their lands into the cities, where they will provide an abundant and cheap source of labor. In a country which already is reported to have the second most unequal distribution of income in Latin America, the Santos government’s measures are making this situation worse.

This is clearly shown by recent developments in Vichada province in the country’s eastern plains region. Here the Santos government has welcomed Cargill, a very large Minneapolis-based grain-producing multinational, celebrating the company’s purchase of tens of thousands of hectares of land for development of very large-scale corn and soybean crops. The property conveyed to Cargill was land protected by Colombian law for use by small-scale producers. The land was originally “baldios”, untitled lands whose sale was by law restricted to small-scale farmers. But Cargill obtained title to the land through subterfuge, as the law office of current Colombian Ambassador to the United States Carlos Urrutia set up fictitious “straw-men” to buy the lands from their owners and re-convey them to Cargill. Criminal charges may be brought for these illegal transactions. Cargill says on their Colombia project webpage that all of their Vichada crop will be marketed locally. Imagine the effect of thousands upon thousands of tons of corn and soybeans being dumped into the Colombian market!

It is significant that these actions by the Santos government are occurring just as peace conversations are taking place between the government and the FARC guerrillas. How can these discussions lead to a lasting peace when the government is bent on criminalizing social protest and undermining the economy of millions of Colombians through the unjust measures described above? Has not President Santos understood that there can be no lasting peace without justice? Clearly not, to the detriment of his country and most of its people.

Jack Laun
October 9, 2013

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