by José David Torrenegra
July 27, 2011
Jose David Torrenegra is a
Lawyer specialized in Public Law and Political Activism in Colombia.
Not a week goes in Colombia without reports of
assassinations and persecution of labor and political activists.
Ana Fabricia Cordoba, gender activist and leader of displaced peasants, was
shot dead on June 7th inside a street bus, after she foretold her own death
due to constant threats and abuses against her family.(1)
Manuel Antonio Garces, community leader, Afro-descendent activist and
candidate for local office in southwestern Colombia received on July 18th a
disturbing warning that read,
“we told you to drop the campaign, next time
we’ll blow it in your house” next to an inactive hand grenade.(2)
Keyla Berrios, leader of Displaced Women’s League was murdered last July
22nd, after continuous intimidation of her organization and threats on
behalf of death squads linked to Colombian authorities (3), a fact so
publicly known after hundreds of former congressman, police and military
personnel are either jailed or investigated for colluding with
Paramilitaries to steal elections, murder and disappear dissidents,
forcefully displace peasants and defraud public treasury, in a criminal
network that extends all the way up to former president Alvaro Uribe and his
closest aides (4).
The official explanation for these crimes is also well known;
acronym which stands for “Criminal Gangs”, a term created from the Colombia
establishment including its omnipresent corporate media apparatus to
depoliticize the constant violence unleashed against union leaders, peasants
and community activists.
Human Rights defenders point to the unequal and unjust structures of power
and wealth which rely heavily on repression.
However, no matter how much
effort is put into misleading public opinion about the nature of this
violence, the crimes are so systematic and their effects always turning out
for the benefit of the elite that a simple class analysis debunks the façade
of these “gangs” supposedly acting on their own, and exposes the insidious
relationship between the armed thugs and seats of political power in
What we are dealing with is the expression of present-day fascism in Latin
In a country overwhelmed with unemployment and poverty - nearly 70% - and 8
million people living on less than U$2 a day who daily look for their
subsistence in garbage among stray dogs or selling candies at street lights
and city buses, is also shockingly common and surreal to see fancy cars -
Hummers, Porsches - million dollar apartments, country clubs and,
a whole bubble of opulence just in front of over-exploited workers, ordinary people
struggling merely to make ends meet, or at worst, children, single mothers,
elderly, and people with disabilities, without social security and salaries,
much less higher education and decent housing.
For instance, in Cartagena, a Colombian Caribbean colonial city plagued with
extreme poverty, beggars, child prostitution and U$400 a night resorts, you
can pretend to feel in Miami Beach or a Mediterranean paradise, and in less
than five minutes away you can also visit slums which would make devastated
Haiti look like suburbia.
The same shocking contrast can be experienced in all major cities in
Thus, in order to keep vast privileges of a few amidst inhuman
conditions of the majority, the elite needs to have an iron grip on
political power. And once its power is contested or mildly threatened by the
collective action of social movements, democratic parties and conscious
individuals, a selective burst of state violence is unleashed effectively
dismantling any kind of peaceful organizing by fear and demoralization.
The high levels of attrition suffered by activists raising moderate
democratic banners such as the right to assembly, collective bargaining,
freedom of expression and reparation from political violence, are the result
of decentralized state repression carried out by death squads led by high
state officers (5) who supply them with intelligence and economic resources
extracted from defrauding public treasury and money laundry in the narcotics
chain, where social investigators claim that most of the profit accounts for
institutional economy, the banks and the state (6).
repressive strategy differs from the one perpetrated by the military juntas
the ruled Argentina, Uruguay and Chile, among others, where public forces
exercised directly the political violence against dissidents without
pretentious democratic credentials, such as the ones constantly regurgitated
by the Colombian establishment, making it more difficult to expose its deep
dictatorial mechanisms that have disappeared more than 30000 Colombians (7)
in the last years of US backed “counterinsurgency” policies, far surpassing Pinochet’s reign of terror.
In Colombia, where the dominant social elite prevails, thousands of bodies
of the "disappeared" have been buried into mass graves, the assassination of
trade union leaders is the highest in the world (on a per capita basis
Meanwhile, several million peasants have displaced and impoverished.
In a context of brutal social repression backed by neoliberal policies, an
atmosphere of generalized fear prevails.
This state of affairs raises a basic question, as James Petras puts it:
does one pursuit equitable social policies and the defense of human rights
under a terrorist state aligned with death squads and financed and advised
by a foreign power, which has a public policy of physically eliminating
their adversaries?” (8)
Some in Colombia already found and an answer in the
preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a document that
constitutes the basis for all modern states:
Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous
acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a
world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and
freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of
the common people,
Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as
a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human
rights should be protected by the rule of law (9).
In the light of the exposure of the Colombian hybrid state which pits formal
democracy and excessive privileges for a few against brutal repression and
poverty for the majority, one must comprehend the existence of an armed
This class confrontation has resulted in a,
“polarization of civil
war proportions between the oligarchy and the military, on one side, and the
guerrilla and the peasantry, on the other”, (10)
...and is mostly funded by US
government using taxpayers money to back a rogue state and a comprador elite
that prefers to wage dirty war against its own population rather than yield
some political power and moderate social reforms.
Modernity hasn’t arrived
in Colombia, where few can enjoy excesses and vices of promised
‘civilization’ in fancy restaurants and country clubs, and most still live
In times when president Obama justifies his “humanitarian intervention” and
escalation of the Libyan civil war by having public opinion to believe
and U.S. bombs are there to protect civilians, and when the
Criminal Court applies selective justice as it rushes to levy charges
against Gaddafi for alleged crimes that pale in comparison to the ones
committed by the Colombian regime, the international community is turning a
blind eye to crimes against humanity in the shameful custom of double
standards and insulting those truly resisting with their teeth, the savagery
and abuse of power.
1. Euclides Montes. “Ana Fabricia Córdoba: A
death foretold”. The Guardian. June 13, 2011. http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2011/jun/13/colombia-women-victim-conflict
2. Red de Derechos Humanos del Suroccidente Colombiano ‘Francisco Isaias
Fuentes’. “Atentado y amenaza en contra del líder comunitario Manuel
Antonio Garcés Granja y detención arbitraria de dos testigos del
atentado”. July 18, 2011. http://www.colectivodeabogados.org/Atentado-y-amenaza-en-contra-del.
3. Red Latinoamericana y del Caribe para la Democracia. “Alerta:
asesinato de miembro de liga de mujeres desplazadas”. Julio 22 de 2011.
4. Simon Romero. “Death-Squad Scandal Circles Closer to Colombia’s
President”. New York Times. May 16 2007.
5. Garry Leech. “Exorcising the Ghost of Paramilitary Violence:
Reclaiming Liberty in Libertad.
6. Brittain, James (2010). Revolutionary Social Change in Colombia. New
York: Pluto Press. 129.
7. Kelly Nicholls. “Breaking the Silence: In search of Colombia’s
Dissapeared”. The Guardian. December 9, 2010.
8. James Brittain, op cit. Foreword. By James Petras.
9. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights. United Nations. 1948.
10.James Brittain, op cit. 144.