Dr. Dawg

Colombia: "Security is improving"

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Colombian democracy in action.jpg

“We kill trade unionists because they interfere with people working.” —former paramilitary leader Carlos Castaño

Stephen Harper loves the way the government of Colombia operates. Defending the Colombia-Canada free trade agreement passed in 2009 with the support of the Liberals, he ludicrously claims that concerns about human rights in that country are merely protectionism in disguise.

Harper’s dark vision of governance needs to be more widely shared among Canadians.

If murdering trade unionists and human rights activists, and driving the poor off their land by the millions to make way for “development” is your thing, then by all means keep supporting Harper. Or, if you’re a Liberal, throw your full support behind Bob Rae and the morally imbecilic Scott Brison, who seem to have no difficulty with this sort of thing either.

If you happen to support human rights, however—and most Canadians are decent folk who do—maybe it’s time to take a stand. Here are some inconvenient truths:

From 1987-2008, more than 2,500 unionists were assassinated in Colombia. More union activists, in fact, are killed each year in Colombia than in the rest of the world combined. These murders usually go unpunished. And they are continuing to this day.

The country is crawling with paramilitary groups working in concert with government forces to suppress the indigenous population, eliminate human rights defenders and murder trade union leaders.

Between 3-5 million people, mostly indigenous, Afro-descended and peasant farmers, have been forcibly displaced from their homes.

The new government of Colombia, with an eye to international public relations, recently passed a toothless law supposedly permitting people to reclaim their land. But here is what Amnesty International has to say about that:

“It is hugely significant that the law acknowledges that the rights of victims of the conflict must be respected. However, many will be denied their right to full reparations,” said Marcelo Pollack, Amnesty International’s Colombia researcher.

Financial compensation will only be granted to those who suffered abuses after 1985, and only those whose lands were stolen after 1991 will be able to claim them back. Many recent victims of paramilitary groups are also excluded because the authorities claim such groups demobilized in a government-sponsored process that began in 2003.

“Failing to acknowledge that paramilitary groups continue to threaten, forcibly displace or kill thousands of people, including human rights defenders, trade unionists and community leaders, and sometimes in collusion with the security forces, is of grave concern,” said Marcelo Pollack.

There are also concerns over the lack of effective measures in the law to ensure the safety of those returning to their lands, and that some returnees may find themselves forced to work alongside, or ceding effective control over their land, to those who displaced them, often violently, in the first place.

Given the onerous demands of the law on those soliciting the restitution of lands, many victims could also find it difficult to prove ownership of their land.

Meanwhile, what AI describes as a full-blown “human rights crisis” in Colombia continues.

Indigenous, Afro-descendant and peasant farmer communities are particularly hard hit by the on-going human rights crisis in Colombia. These communities face killings, threats and other human rights violations and abuses committed by the security forces, paramilitaries and guerrilla forces. On the one hand, human rights violations and abuses are committed as part of efforts to secure military control of regions. On the other, they are often committed to advance powerful economic interests and undermine the capacity of Indigenous and Afrodescendant communities to oppose the development of these interests on their lands.

Here are a few examples of what has been happening just over the past few weeks:

Item: August 9, 2011

Francisco Pineda and Everto González, two members of the community council of Caracolí, north-west Colombia, have been subjected to enforced disappearance by paramilitaries. Amnesty International fears their lives and the lives of other members of the Afro-descendant community may be at risk. Source: Amnesty International

Item: June 19, 2011

10 Bogotá-based Colombian NGOs and eighteen individuals, including human rights defenders, several of them belonging to women’s NGOs, received a death threat by email from the Black Eagles Capital Bloc. The email read: “Death penalty to the guerrilla bitches of the FARC that are opposing the policies of our government.”

Item: May, 2011

Afro-descendant and Indigenous communities in the Curvaradó and Jiguamiandó River Basins in North West Colombia are being threatened and harassed by paramilitaries. On 20 April 2011, around 150 paramilitaries set up camp in Curvaradó River Basin, Chocó Department. They have since used this camp as a base for operations in the area and despite a heavy military presence and patrols by the XVII Brigade of the Colombian Army, no apparent attempt has been made by the authorities to confront them.

On 5 May, 11 paramilitaries surrounded Sixta Tulia Pérez and Blanca Rebolledo, two women leaders of the Afrodescendant community in Caracolí, in the Curvaradó River Basin. The paramilitaries tried to rip their clothes off and grabbed a child who was with them. One of them hit Sixta Tulia Pérez with a whip. They told them: “This is a warning … the boss has money to order the government what to do… to get you out of here.” Later that day the same paramilitaries threatened women leaders in front XVII Brigade soldiers, who did not react when asked to help.

On 7 May, the same perpetrators tried to surround Blanca Rebolledo again. She ran away and sought refuge with community leader Liria Rosa García. When the paramilitaries realized that they had phoned for help, they said they would cut-off Liria Rosa’s head.

But here is what Canada’s leader has to say:

“We can’t block the progress of a country like this for protectionist reasons, and you trying to use human rights as a front for doing that,” Harper said in Colombia’s presidential palace after being asked about critics who cite human-rights concerns in dealing with the country.

He’s lying.

The purpose of a free trade agreement with Colombia is all business and profit. And nothing spells “profit” like a docile, non-union labour force.

Chris Spaulding, Talisman’s manager in Colombia, said while there are risks, things are getting better.

“The general trend is that the security situation is significantly improved here,” Spaulding said.

“For years and years and years, the industry knew there were significant resources here, but couldn’t get in to explore, develop, produce because of security problems.

“Security issues now are significantly better. The industry can get in, start to progress the projects.”

Talisman, a multinational oil company, knows all about “security,” of course, and there’s already a sizeable body count to prove it.

Colombia, not to put too fine a point upon it, is a hellhole. The place is so frankly evil that even the US Congress can’t bring itself to agree to a free trade treaty with it, although Obama is hoping to ram a bill through later this year.

But for Harper (and his Liberal allies) “Colombia is a wonderful country with great possibilities and great ambition, and we need to be encouraging that every step of the way.”

“Security” will see to that, of course: put more plainly, many more dead and tortured bodies. Just the price of business as usual.

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This page contains a single entry by Dr. Dawg published on August 11, 2011 11:50 AM.

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