Cuban anti-terrorism fighter returns home to hero’s welcome
By Paul Teitelbaum on March 4, 2014
Fernando González Llort, one of the Cuban Five anti-terrorist heroes, returned home to Cuba on Feb. 28, after serving his entire unjust prison sentence of 15 years. González was released from the federal prison in Safford, Ariz., the day before when he was handed over to U.S. Immigration officials and deported.
González was met at the Jose Marti International Airport by Cuban President Raul Castro, his mother, Magali, spouse Rosa Aurora and two sisters. Rene González (no relation), the first of the Cuban Five to be freed, was also there to greet his comrade, whom he had not seen since their trial in 2001. The mothers of all the Cuban Five and the spouses of still-imprisoned Hernández and Labañino were there to greet him, too.
On March 2, a concert was held at the University of Havana to celebrate González’s return and truly give him a hero’s welcome. “I publicly reiterate my infinite gratitude for these 15 years of support and struggle that I know will not cease until Gerardo, Ramón and Tony have returned,” González told the crowd, referring to the three members of the Five who remain unjustly imprisoned in the United States.
In an interview with the CubanitoenCuba blog right before his release, González explained how solidarity and the support of the worldwide “Free the Five” movement helped sustain his capacity to resist and survive inside the cruel U.S. incarceration system. “Knowing that you can count on the understanding and support of a whole militant people and hundreds of thousands of friends worldwide inspires more confidence in victory,” he said. “We would never have given up our principles. However, the solidarity and support that we have received from the Cuban people and so many other friends everywhere make your sentence easier to bear and become to us a commitment of resistance and combativeness.”
This points out how imperative it is that progressive activists everywhere redouble our efforts to free all of the Cuban Five. We must bring the campaign to free the Cuban Five into our community groups, unions, schools, neighborhoods and news media. Endorse and spread the word about the International Commission of Inquiry, which takes place in London March 7-8 (voicesforthefive.com), and endorse and participate in the upcoming third annual “5 Days for the Cuban 5,” which takes place in Washington, D.C., June 4-11 (5daysforthecuban5.com).
From Ukraine to Venezuela: U.S. wages dirty wars
By Fred Goldstein on February 26, 2014
Destroying the Ukraine government through an armed insurrection is part of a broader strategy by U.S. imperialism to colonize the former Soviet republics and encircle Russia. The right-wing forces now running Kiev would let the Ukrainian masses become debt slaves to U.S., French and German banks.
Feb. 24 — Washington has escalated its global campaign of reactionary subversion from Ukraine to Venezuela. A takeover in Ukraine would bring the Pentagon and Wall Street to the borders of Russia. In Venezuela, the Bolivarian Revolution is crucial to the bloc of countries resisting U.S. imperialist domination in Latin America.
The U.S. ruling class would like nothing better than to weaken Russia and return it to the semicolonial status it was heading toward immediately after the collapse of the USSR, when Boris Yeltsin was president. It would also like to return to the era of Yankee imperialist domination of Latin America that prevailed until the victory of the Cuban Revolution in 1959.
Right now the big imperialist powers in Washington, Berlin, Paris and London, who preach democracy to the skies, are hailing the overthrow of the democratically elected government of Victor Yanukovich in the Ukraine.
To be sure, the Yanukovich government was corrupt and no friend of the working class. It was an instrument of a section of Ukrainian oligarchs. But the same can be said of the forces that overthrew him. Furthermore, he is no different than dozens of government leaders supported by Washington around the world. The corrupt character of Yanukovich has nothing to do with why Washington joined in his overthrow.
The destruction of the Yanukovich government by armed insurrection and the installation of pro-Western puppet politicians is part of a broader strategy by the European Union, in cahoots with the U.S. imperialists, to colonize the former Soviet republics and encircle Russia as part of a new cold war.
Phony call for ‘democracy’
Yanukovich was overthrown by a combination of illegal political scheming by the pro-imperialist parties in the parliament, weeks of demonstrations by right-wing, pro-West forces, and finally, by threats and violence from fascist shock troops who took command of the streets and spearheaded the takeover.
The big business media portrayed this as a contest between the western Ukrainians, who want to align with “democratic” Europe and the West, versus the eastern, Russian-speaking Ukrainians, who want to align with autocratic Russia.
This is a completely superficial view that conceals the essence of the conflict. With Ukraine facing imminent bankruptcy, Yanukovich was vacillating over whether to align the country’s economic relations with Europe or Russia. The EU offered paltry loans that would impose conditions of austerity and privatization and hinge on the release of right-wing, pro-EU billionaire politician Yulia Timoshenko from prison.
EU, U.S., IMF over Ukraine
Russia, on the other hand, offered a $15 billion loan, a one-third reduction in the price of gas and favorable trade relations. Yanukovich, whose base is in the Russian-speaking East and South of the country, decided to accept Russia’s terms. This infuriated the EU, Washington and all the oligarchs, bourgeois and middle-class elements who wanted to integrate with Western capitalism and imperialism.
The right-wing forces who now prevail in Kiev preferred to put Ukraine in the position of becoming a debt slave to German, French and U.S. bankers and the IMF. This is the same agenda imposed on Greece, Portugal, Spain and Italy, as well as several countries in Eastern Europe. These forces would sacrifice the national economic interests of Ukraine, and especially the interests of the working class, to be with Western imperialism. They chose bondage to Western finance capital rather than emergency assistance from Russia.
This is not to say that the capitalist, expansionist Putin regime, in making its offer, was guided by anything other than a desire to retain its sphere of influence in the former Soviet republics for the benefit of Russian oligarchs, bankers and industrialists who are living off the spoils they plundered when they broke up the economy of the Soviet Union.
Fascist shock troops pave the way
But in the struggle between Russian capital and Western imperialism, the worst outcome is for Washington, Wall Street and the Pentagon to extend their reach to the borders of Russia and gain domination over the former Soviet republics. U.S. imperialism is a far more dangerous enemy to the people of the world than Russia. Their victory in Ukraine would strengthen their empire and give them more resources to oppress and exploit workers in the U.S.
The political victory of Western imperialism was carried out with fascist intimidation and without a shred of capitalist democracy. Laws were passed and the Ukrainian Constitution was changed by a rump parliament. Members opposed to the right-wing takeover were physically attacked or intimidated by the anti-Semitic, ultra-nationalist Svoboda Party inside the parliament and by the anti-Semitic, pro-Nazi forces of the Right Front in the streets. Illegal votes were taken in an atmosphere of terror and intimidation while over 100 members opposed to the right-wing takeover were absent and there was no quorum.
The parliament took charge of the police and ordered them to retreat from the battle in Independence Square just as the fascists were getting more and more aggressive. The withdrawal of the police from the square — the site of government buildings, including the presidential quarters — set the stage for fascist squads, under the command of the Right Front, to take charge of the entire area. In the midst of the crisis, Yanukovich fired the head of the armed forces, indicating the military was letting the fascist offensive proceed.
As shown by the now infamous “f… the EU” phone call between U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Geoffrey Pyatt and U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for European Affairs Victoria Nuland, Washington was vying with the EU for control of the situation and discussing who to pick to lead the new government, while relying on the fascists to get rid of the elected government of Yanukovich.
Right now, fascists in Ukraine are burning down Ukrainian Communist Party headquarters, toppling statues of Lenin and defacing monuments to heroes of the World War II victory over Nazism. With the stench of fascism all around, the imperialist powers are feverishly working to fashion a new government that will align with the West.
The parliament has issued a warrant for the arrest of former president Yanukovich for “mass murder.” This is completely fraudulent. The fascist forces in the square were armed, not only with clubs but with firearms. They were threatening the government with violence. Ultimatums were issued for the resignation of Yanukovich and force was imminent if he did not resign.
Police were attacked and the government did what any government would do: it fired in self-defense against an invasion by armed fascists. People died on both sides of the conflict, including police. As to the “civilians” who were killed, it should be noted that the fascists were “civilians.” If anything, the Yanukovich government was much too vacillating in its own defense.
Tymoshenko reports to her masters
Once the government was overthrown and Yanukovich fled from Kiev, Yulia Tymoshenko, who led a similar pro-Western coup in 2004 (the so-called Orange Revolution), was released from jail. She rushed to the platform in the Maidan and harangued the crowd, promising to integrate with Europe, among other things.
Her first phone calls were “with Angela Merkel as well as with Stefan Fule, a top European Union official, and with Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., Christopher Murphy, D-Conn., and Richard Durbin, D-Ill. Tymoshenko also met with ambassadors from the United States and EU countries. “ (New York Times, Feb. 24)
Clinton: ‘re-Sovietize’ the republics
As to imperialism’s broad strategy, it was to keep Ukraine from joining the Russian-sponsored Customs Union, an economic alliance of Russia with Belarus and Kazakhstan. Last November, the EU tried to get Ukraine to join the so-called Eastern Partnership. Yanukovich, along with leaders of several other former Soviet republics, turned it down, and the whole scheme to absorb the republics into the EU fell apart.
In December 2012, then Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, speaking in Dublin, revealed the attitude and strategy of U.S. imperialism: “There is a move to re-Sovietize the region. It’s not going to be called that. It’s going to be called Customs Union; it will be called Eurasian Union [proposed by Putin in 2011] and all of that. But let’s make no mistake about it. We know what the goal is and we are trying to figure out effective ways to slow it down or prevent it.” (upi.com, Dec. 7, 2012)
Of course, the last thing on the mind of the Putin regime is to “re-Sovietize” anything. He heads a counterrevolutionary, capitalist government. Clinton was merely trying to redbait the Russian government.
However, the fascist armed insurrection in Ukraine’s Independence Square is the means to accomplish the goals stated by Clinton and the State Department. Ukraine is to become a vassal state to the EU, the U.S. and the IMF and be cut off from its natural, regional alliance with the Customs Union.
Venezuela under U.S. attack again
In the Western Hemisphere, Washington is also fighting to set up a “democracy” for the capitalist oligarchs in Venezuela in much the same way they are bringing “democracy” to Ukraine — by organizing and financing a right-wing mobilization in the streets of Caracas, San Cristobal and other cities. Fortunately, the masses in Venezuela, unlike in Ukraine, are mobilized to defend the Bolivarian Revolution established by Hugo Chávez.
Furthermore, the politics of the struggle are clearly understood by the Venezuelan masses and the entire progressive population of the world. The goal of Washington is to overthrow the Bolivarian Revolution and restore the domination of U.S. imperialism in the country.
Washington lost that domination when Chávez came to power in 1998. He took control of the oil revenues and created institutions to empower the masses and improve their health, education and living conditions on a wide scale, eventually declaring socialism as the goal of the revolution.
The pro-U.S. right-wing was defeated in a coup attempt to oust him in 2002, and has lost election after election, by large margins, since then. It has been unable to regain political power by democratic, parliamentary means. Thus the CIA, the counterrevolutionary bourgeoisie, working with the reactionary regime in Colombia, embarked on a new campaign of subversion and destabilization to destroy the government of Chávez’s successor, President Nicolás Maduro.
Washington has unleashed aggressive right-wing forces led by Harvard-educated Leopoldo López. López has ties to Colombia’s former president, Alvaro Uribe, who ruled by death squad. López is now in jail for his role in organizing demonstrations of youth in the wealthy areas of Caracas and fomenting a violent attack on government installations.
The wealthy business community in Venezuela has continued to destabilize the economy by hoarding goods, causing serious shortages for the masses. The resulting price increases and inflation are then blamed on the Maduro government.
The masses in Venezuela are in a more advantageous position than the working class in Ukraine. They are far more organized, politically conscious and determined to defend the revolution, which has brought real gains for the people. But given the U.S. record of counterrevolutionary subversion in Chile, Nicaragua, Guatemala, El Salvador and many other countries in Latin America, this campaign must be taken deadly seriously.
Unlike in Venezuela, in Ukraine the masses have already suffered a setback in the West of the country. It remains to be seen if a counter-offensive can be mounted in the Russian-speaking eastern, industrial section of the country, where there is deep opposition to the right-wing takeover. The parliament has just passed a law that says the official language is Ukrainian only.
However, if the imperialists are able to implement their austerity programs, the economy is more privatized and Western corporations move in for the kill, the working class is going to see clearly what the present right-wing takeover was about. This will lay the basis for a new chapter of resistance by the working class in Ukraine.
Goldstein is the author of “Low-Wage Capitalism” and “Capitalism at a Dead End,” which has been translated into Spanish as “El capitalismo en un callejón sin salida.” The books are available on Amazon.
Holiday Greetings from Leonard Peltier
Greetings my relatives, friends, and supporters:
In this season of giving, receiving and acknowledgement of blessings, I want to acknowledge all of the people who have helped me all of these years and I want the supporters outside the U.S. to know I appreciate them also. Sometimes I am at a loss for words.
Some of you probably have experienced moments like that when you are overwhelmed with thoughts and remembrances of loved ones that for some reason you cannot see or who have gone on.
I know a lot of you are concerned about the children and getting them gifts for Christmas; I was listening to a program recently that was talking about just such things and how everyone was so concerned at this time of year. I want to just touch on that for a moment. I would like to say there are so many of our children around the world that need our help ALL the rest of the year, and that their disappointments do not just come on Christmas or some other holiday- they come EVERYDAY when they do not have enough to eat or they do not have someone to care for them. I want to encourage you all to think of these things and also about our elders, and the people suffering in hospitals, and of course in prisons, where just receiving a letter in the mail is like a holiday to them, or an elder who sees a familiar face and it is like a holiday to them, or a child who gets to eat all he wants … that’s a holiday.
Among our people there was always a celebration of the Solstice which usually falls around the 21st or somewhere about there. There were always prayers at these times and often ceremonies; but gift-giving was a year-round thing that our people did. Maybe I am being a bit over sensitive or sentimental at this time of year, as are a lot of people, but again I want to thank you for ALL the support you have given to me, and for the gifts you have given the children on the reservations and the letters you write to me and to other men and women in prisons. I know there are groups that get together, like the one in Portland Oregon, that regularly writes letters to prisoners. These things are greatly appreciated and I have no doubt that you will be blessed by these good things you do. I know some of you in your giving sometimes might be extending your resources, but I recall one time in a fasting ceremony that I was doing; I was told, those who give of their extra are appreciat ed and blessed but those who give what they cannot afford– that is sacred.
I pray in a sacred way, that each of you will be blessed this coming year. Find a sacred way you can help heal the Earth, heal our troubled children and make a better place on this planet for ALL to dwell. Jesus, Mohammed, Buddha, Gandhi, Black Elk, Chief Seattle, all of the well known spiritual leaders in the past had one thing in common: they were willing to think and act outside the box. In a world filled with materialism, those of you that have been helping protect the Earth, the children, the elders and victims of injustice are of that same caliber.
I pray that you enjoy your holidays, that you feel the blessings of your actions, and that the Creator speaks to you in a kind and gentle way. Give someone a hug for me, and tell them, “This is from Leonard Peltier.”
Your friend always,
In the spirit of Crazy Horse Leonard Peltier Mitakuye Oyasin
Federal judge rules in favor of banks and political dictatorship in Detroit bankruptcy decision
By Abayomi Azikiwe on December 3, 2013
Dec. 3 — Judge Steven Rhodes has ruled that a state-imposed emergency manager was acting legally when bankruptcy was filed over and above the objections of the people of Detroit. The judge also said that pensions guaranteed under the Michigan constitution could be diminished.
Rhodes stated that even though Kevyn Orr, the emergency manager and a former partner in corporate law firm Jones Day, did not negotiate in good faith with unions, pensioners and creditors, such a process was impractical. There was no recognition or acknowledgment of the role of the banks and the corporations in the financial destruction of the city and its people in today’s eligibility decision.
Republican Gov. Rick Snyder appointed Orr in March against the wishes of city residents and elected officials. Facing widespread opposition to his restructuring policies in the courts and in the streets, Orr filed for bankruptcy in July.
This ruling took place today at the same time as union members, retirees and community activists demonstrated outside the courtroom in downtown Detroit. The protesters carried signs calling for bailing out the people not the banks and in favor of cancelling the bank debt that they say is completely illegitimate.
One community leader, Marian Kramer, co-chair of the Michigan Welfare Rights Organization, told the crowd outside the court, “They’re attacking the pensions of the public employees. Everybody else better start standing up, cause you’re next on the chopping block, because it sets a model for the rest of the country.”
Ruling will affect other cities, ruin people’s lives
The decision has national ramifications for municipalities across the United States facing similar problems in the aftermath of the worst recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s. According to leading financial publications, dozens of states in the U.S. have pension systems that are considered underfunded. The decline of revenue sharing from the states and federal government can only mean more austerity for urban residents.
Since 2008, the banks have been bailed out to the tune of at least $14 trillion while poverty, unemployment and political repression have escalated for the overwhelming majority of working and oppressed people.
David Sole, a retired city employee in the Department of Water and Sewerage and an organizer in the Stop the Theft of Our Pensions Committee, said outside the courtroom after the judge’s decision that the ruling “exposed Rhodes as an agent of Wall Street. Retirees will be driven out of their homes into the streets. We will be living in cardboard boxes if our pensions are cut and health care eliminated. This is the same federal court system that justified slavery for over a hundred years. We cannot expect justice from them.”
Most people in the city of Detroit viewed the bankruptcy proceeding as a foregone conclusion. The right to vote and to collective bargaining has been largely stolen under the guise of a ruling-class response to the economic crisis.
Detroit is the largest per capita African-American-populated city in the U.S. The emergency manager law, which voters turned down in November 2012, has disenfranchised over half of the African-American people in the state of Michigan.
Even though the people voted against emergency management, the right-wing-dominated state legislature immediately passed another law reinstituting political dictatorship on behalf of the banks. In addition to the emergency manager law passed last December, state lawmakers, along with the governor, made Michigan a right-to-work state.
No mention of role of criminal banks and corporations
The economic crisis in Detroit is the product of the restructuring of capitalism over the last six decades. Census reports going back to the 1950s reveal that large-scale capital flight and the loss of jobs and household income have driven down living standards inside the city.
In 1950 Detroit had a population of approximately 1.8 million people. Today there are only 700,000. After the theft of hundreds of thousands of industrial, service, professional and skilled jobs, Detroit was then targeted in the late 1990s and early 2000s for racist predatory lending. Subprime mortgage lending to Detroit residents led to 100,000 home foreclosures. These figures speak volumes in regard to the ravages of capitalist exploitation and national oppression.
Banks and other financial institutions profited immensely from the eradication of neighborhoods through fraudulent loans. City and state officials, along with the federal government, refused to place a moratorium on foreclosures, evictions and utility shutoffs, resulting in the loss of 25 percent of the city’s population between 2000 and 2010 and of corresponding tax revenue.
City workers and retirees have been blamed consistently by the corporate media for the crisis. This is being done despite the fact that municipal employees have faced massive layoffs and pay cuts over the last decade.
These well-documented facts, however, were not taken into consideration by Judge Rhodes. In line with the right-wing agents of the banks and corporations, the bankruptcy court placed the onus of the crisis on the backs of the workers and oppressed.
During the course of the bankruptcy hearings and trial, more than 100 people filed objections to the proceedings. Pensioners, residents, homeowners and workers outlined for the court why the bankruptcy filing was unjustified and illegal.
The proceeding violated the political will and the right to self-determination of the people of Detroit. After Orr was appointed emergency manager in March, his former law firm, Jones Day, was given a multimillion-dollar contract to represent the city in the restructuring and bankruptcy.
This was done despite the fact that Jones Day has financial institutions such as Bank of America as its clients. It has been reported in the corporate media that up to $62 million in contracts have been given to outside firms for “consulting fees” to carry out the wholesale robbery of the city and its population.
Lawyers for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees have already filed an appeal of the eligibility ruling. These attorneys will also seek an appeal in the federal Sixth Circuit in an effort to place a stay on the bankruptcy proceedings.
Hypocrisy of bourgeois democracy
Many protesters outside the courtroom were angered because their voices in opposition to emergency management and bankruptcy were completely ignored by Judge Rhodes. People’s attorney Jerome Goldberg, who represented a pensioner in the trial, said that an upcoming hearing on whether a deal drafted by the emergency manager to borrow $350 million from Barclays in order to pay off Bank of America and United Bank of Switzerland for a questionable interest rate swap deal from 2005 will reveal the “true character of the bankruptcy court.”
Goldberg told Workers World, “This decision by the federal court points to the necessity of the retirees mobilizing in the thousands. What’s more important than appealing Rhodes’ decision is to bring people into the streets to oppose this ruling.”
The trial on the Barclays swap deal will begin on Dec.17. The Moratorium NOW! Coalition to Stop Foreclosures, Evictions and Utility Shutoffs is calling for people to demonstrate outside the federal court in opposition to the payoff of Bank of America and UBS. These two financial institutions played a significant role in the mortgage crisis that has plagued Detroit for years.
In a leaflet circulated outside the federal courthouse, the Moratorium NOW! Coalition stated that “Beginning on Dec. 17 there will be a trial to determine if 20 percent of city income tax dollars will be pledged for six years after bankruptcy to make good on this gift to the banks. This trial will determine if Detroit is to remain permanently enslaved by the criminal banks.”
Despite the overwhelming vote in November 2012 against the emergency manager law, the slew of legal challenges to this usurpation of democratic rights, the filing of legal objections and the consistent petitioning and protests, the courts, acting on behalf of the banks, are committed to the blatant violation of the needs and rights of the workers, retirees and residents.
These developments illustrate clearly the failure of capitalism in the present period. Capitalism has proven to be incapable of addressing the economic crisis that has impacted not only Detroit but the U.S. as a whole and indeed the world.
As one organizer said during the rally outside federal court: “This ruling demonstrates the need for a fundamental restructuring of the political, legal and economic system inside the U.S. There is no justice for workers and oppressed people in the courts. Our only victory will come from the court of public opinion crafted in the streets in struggle against the bankers and the bosses.”
Colombia: The meaning of the peace process
By Berta Joubert-Ceci on October 19, 2013
Freedom in Colombia – International Day of Solidarity with political prisoners and in support of the peace process. An October 15th Coalition Action at the Colombian consulate
Historical events were plentiful in Colombia this past year: agricultural strikes, peace negotiations, people’s assemblies, large student demonstrations — in short, dynamism in social movements. Although the upsurge has not been massive enough to change the balance of power, it has been enough to give everyone a glimpse of the path toward hope for this country’s people, for whom hope up to now has been denied.
For more than a year, representatives of the FARC-EP (the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia-People’s Army) and the government of President Juan Manuel Santos have met in Havana, Cuba, for negotiations leading toward ending the armed conflict in this Andean country.
The talks began with the task of finding a “General Agreement for ending the conflict and building a stable and lasting peace.” But they are not merely conversations between opposing forces trying to reach a consensus. They reflect Colombia’s harsh reality that affects the vast majority of the population. They expose the enormous inequalities that exist in this country, which make a peace with social justice impossible. They also expose the lack of democratic guarantees for those who oppose the neoliberal policies that the U.S. imposes and the national government implements.
The armed insurgency waged by the FARC-EP, as well as the ELN (the National Liberation Army), are simply the expression of a people who face so much poverty, hunger and misery, with no other possibility of waging struggle. In Colombia, the struggle for human, social and labor rights is paid for with blood and with one’s life, as demonstrated by the hundreds of thousands of deaths of social and human rights activists, peasants, Afro-Colombians, students and trade unionists.
That is why this peace process is aimed at the entire Colombian population. The FARC has even created a page on the Internet “mesadeconversaciones.com.co” where the proposals not only can be read, but where they invite the general public to write their comments and suggestions. FARC representatives at the negotiating table study these comments and incorporate them into their proposals to the government. From the table they also made a call to hold forums on specific themes in Colombia to encourage active participation in the negotiations.
Of the six points on the agenda for the discussions, only the first two have been completed: (1) comprehensive agricultural development policy, (2) political participation, (3) end of the conflict, (4) solution to the problem of illicit drugs, (5) victims and (6 ) implementation, verification and endorsement,
Each step of the talks has been hampered by the government’s clear reluctance to achieve a solution other than that the FARC-EP unilaterally lay down its weapons. On the one hand, the government has refused to end the armed confrontation while carrying out the peace process. On the other hand, it has not allowed an open dialogue between citizens and insurgent forces.
Only very recently, on Oct. 1, was an interview from Cuba by journalist Antonio Caballero with FARC spokespeople Pablo Catatumbo and Ivan Marquez broadcast on Colombian television on the program “Las Claves” on the Capital Channel. In this interview they explained to the Colombian people how the discussions have developed. (canalcapital.gov.co)
National agricultural strike
When a major “National Agrarian and Popular Strike” started in Colombia on Aug. 19, it exposed the great need for an agricultural policy that benefits the people, that is, agrarian reform, the first item on the agenda for the negotiations.
While the problem of land tenure has been central to the conflict, the approval of the Free Trade Agreement with the U.S. in May 2012 has worsened the economic situation, especially for the Afro-Colombian, Indigenous and peasant populations. The increased cost of transport and production materials, the flood of cheap goods from the U.S. that compete with Colombian products, etc., are reminiscent of how the implementation of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) between Mexico and the U.S. provoked the uprising in Chiapas in January 1994. The consequence of NAFTA was the destruction of Mexican agriculture, throwing millions into extreme poverty and migration.
In all sectors of the Colombian peasantry, a deep and growing dissatisfaction finally exploded in August.
“The national agrarian strike is the result of the social discontent about the calamitous situation in which most of the rural population in Colombia live … due to the signing of the FTA that was designed primarily to benefit foreign capital and a few national oligarchs who are associated with them, said Jairo Jurado, member of the Patriotic March.’’ (andes.info.ec)
Peasant organizations defending their lands against the impact of FTA launched the strike with blockades of major highways. In a few days they extended the action throughout the country, and other sectors of the population — unions, students, etc. — joined in.
Santos’ government responded with massive violence. By Sept. 8, it had committed 660 cases of human rights violations, wounded 485, killed 12 peasants, made 262 arbitrary arrests, and threatened and harassed 52 people.
Although Santos tried to downplay the strike and nationwide struggle, by the end of August, “more than 300,000 people, including peasants, Indigenous, Afro-Colombians, workers, transport workers, students, and Colombians in general, were active in this just struggle.” (viacampesina.org )
After blockading for 21 days, the peasants ended the national strike but not the demonstrations. The National Agricultural and Popular Committee for Dialogue and Agreement (MIA) was formed to engage the national government in a dialogue. Despite several meetings with the government, Santos’ administration has yet to fully respond to the needs and the proposals of the MIA. The convening organizations say that the measures granted by the government have been insufficient and that the government speaks and promises but does not deliver. One of the demands of the strike was to “suspend and review, together with the organizations of small and medium producers, the free trade agreements with the United States, European Union, Korea and other countries.” (viacampesina.org)
The government’s response has been instead to intensify the criminalization of social protest in general. For a long time the Colombian government has accused leaders and social, student and union activists of being members of the guerrilla movement. Many women and men have been killed by paramilitaries, police or military forces. There are more than 10,000 political prisoners. Many people aren still missing and being threatened.
The Santos government wants to erase this reality and come up with a new face after the terrible rule of its predecessor, the paramilitary President Alvaro Uribe. But the situation has not only remained the same, it has been made worse by the intensified invasion of transnational corporations, particularly from the U.S., and the subsequent theft of lands from Afro-Colombians, the Indigenous and peasants.
One of the latest incidents that has outraged the people is that on Aug. 25 the government arrested and imprisoned Huber Ballesteros Gómez, a union leader who was a national spokesman for the MIA, Vice President of FENSUAGRO (the National Unitary Agricultural Union Federation) and member of the National Patriotic Board of the Political and Social Movement-Patriotic March, who was falsely accused of the crimes of rebellion and terrorism. Unions and other activists launched a national and international campaign demanding the immediate release of Ballesteros.
This is the real government response to the just demands of the Colombian people.
Therefore, it is essential that international progressive movements follow closely the peace process of the Colombian people and reject the violence of the state against the popular sectors. And those in the U.S. should demand that Washington end its military aid to the Colombian military machine.