The Common Good
November-December 2002

The Other Front

by Hector Mondragon | November-December 2002

Nonviolence may be the untold story in Colombia's war.

Poor people on the Caribbean coast of Colombia recently blocked streets to express their dissent against a recently privatized electric company. Such acts of protest take place every day in Colombia. But social resistance does not make the news—only the violence, which disproportionately affects the poor, takes priority.

Even then the violence is presented as if it was unrelated to Colombia's economic and social injustice. Instead of decreasing, violence grows and is used in turn to justify more military aid. The escalation of violence hides increased repression and the criminalization of social opposition, even to the point of assassinating those who resist. The security plan of President Álvaro Uribe fits perfectly into the cycle: Guerrilla violence reaches new heights, and state-sponsored violence grows with it.

Simultaneously, U.S. military aid to Colombia has increased—with authorization to use it against the guerrilla forces. Fast-track trade authority was established to give George W. Bush the power to approve free trade agreements without congressional review. The Andean Trade Preferences Act—which increased corporate power under the guise of trade benefits—was extended. And while we saw accounting and financial scandals on Wall Street and wide fluctuations in the stock market, the United States granted unusual credit agreements to Uruguay to avoid the collapse of its banking system, and the International Monetary Fund loaned Brazil $30 billion with onerous repayment conditions.

All of this continues along the same path that led South America to its current crisis and to the economic and social disasters that aggravate the violence in Colombia. The U.S. government's strategic economic remedy is to absorb South America into the Free Trade Area of the Americas in an effort to integrate the economies of the Western Hemisphere into a unified free trade arrangement—that disproportionately benefits a corporate minority.

MANY LATIN Americans, however, see this direction as the cause of South America's chaos and do not want to continue along this route. They resist through large-scale protests—like those in Argentina, Uruguay, Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, and Venezuela. They resist through electoral political movements such as those in Bolivia, Venezuela, and Brazil. From Mexico all the way to Chile, rural communities are fighting the mega-projects that seek to expropriate their homelands.

In Colombia, 82 percent of our tax money is channeled toward national debt payments. Nevertheless, the government recently established a 1.2 percent property tax from which it hopes to collect $1 billion to pay for the war effort. (This includes calling up 40,000 army reservists and creating a network of civilian informants.) This is Colombia's financial contribution that parallels the U.S. aid package, together with greater privatization, the use of fast track for free trade, and offering a staging ground for imposing the U.S. will on Venezuela and other reluctant countries.

Under these conditions, the increased violence in Colombia will be a pretext for imposing "order" in the whole Andean region. Colombia is the test case. Here civilians struggle incessantly against neoliberalism, but their resistance is violently repressed. Labor unions that oppose privatization and campesinos who struggle for agrarian reform and against unrestrained imports are systematically assassinated with anti-terrorism as the pretext.

We have to stop and change direction. Protecting Colombia's agricultural production and redistributing the land through agrarian reform would contribute to a climate of peace. Replacing the neoliberal economic model would open up positive options to end the South American crisis. Until then, the poor suffer endlessly: Argentinean children eat rats, Uruguayans nourish themselves with grass, and bombs kill Colombians.

Héctor Mondragón was a member of Teusaquillo Mennonite Church in Bogota, Colombia, and was economic adviser to the National Council of the Agricultural Sector in Colombia when this article appeared. Translated by Janna Bowman.

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