7 July 2008

'Colombia Lives In A Spiral Of Silence'

[Hernando Calvo Ospina, Colombian journalist living in France, contributor to Le Monde Diplomatique and author of the definitive book, ‘Colombia, Laboratory of Evil Spells’, interviewed before Betancourt’s release.]

You describe Colombia as a contradictory country. You say in your book it is not a de facto dictatorship and neither is it a formal democracy. What is the reality?

It is marvellous. I don’t say this because I am Colombian but because of it great natural riches, huge natural energy resources. But it is a led by a highly terrorist state. And when I say terrorist, I refer to its design as a structure destined to keep a large part of the population in hunger and terrorised.

How was such a network of power constructed?

First, on the part of the army and, when its international prestige was damaged, it went on to set up highly perfected paramilitary groups. Colombia is a state which serves a sector of the population that has almost everything and it serves the interests of the USA.

But it can’t be spoken of as a dictatorship as the government was elected.

No, it is not a dictatorship but if the numbers of deaths caused by political powers-to-be since 1980 are observed, it will be seen that there have been more assassinations and disappearances than all the dictatorships of Latin America since 1970.

The studies that the Uribe government circulate point to Colombia growing economically at a rate superior to its neighbours. The key, they say, is the achievements of the President’s democratic security plan.

One question is the GDP and the per capita income and another is the distribution of wealth among the population as a whole. A high percentage of Colombians live on less than a dollar and a very small percentage stockpile enormous wealth. We import coffee, potatoes and rice because it is more economic to bring these from outside.

And what has happened with those who cultivate them, with the Colombian farmers?

They cultivate coca leaves.

What is at the centre of conflict in Colombia?

Land. What is tragic is that this problem has, for many Colombians, come to be a question of confrontation between the state and the guerrillas because the government has finished with all types of civil resistance. This year, almost 20 trade union leaders have died. Farmers’ organisations have been liquidated. The Colombian oligarchy has enriched itself through the army with violent robbing of the most fertile lands. Others have enriched themselves through drug trafficking but that is kept very quiet. The guerrilla war was initiated by the Liberals of the Right after the assassination of Jorge Eliecer Gaitán.


The majority of the 50 guerrillas who created it were farmers of the Liberal Party.

Is there a military end to this conflict?

While the oligarchy and their political wing do not understand that they should sit down to negotiate the end of violence and debate reforms to alleviate very high poverty, the situation in Colombia will remain a quagmire.

FARC also lives off coca.

It is curious that before September 11, FARC was never branded as narco-guerrillas. It is clear they have committed crimes against humanity, against the Geneva Convention. In many areas under their control, the farmers cultivate coca to live, but it is also clear that they process coca leaf. The drug traffickers come from outside, buy the leaves and pay a tax to the guerrillas. If this is narco-terrorism, will then they are.

Is there no solution for Colombia?

Alvaro Uribe’s greatest fear is of no longer being useful to the USA. For example, if they saw that his plans to destabilise Ecuador were useless or if his discourse became a little nationalist. At once they will stop the help, take out the drug trafficking dossier that has his name and send him to prison

Is this not living in a state of permanent stress?

Uribe is the great social polariser in Colombia. His motto is: you are with me or against me. Even worse: if you are not with me, you are with FARC. And clearly, to whom this is said in Colombia is like putting a revolver to his head. It is Uribe who divides the country. There is a non-military opposition in Colombia but it is decapitated. We live in a spiral of silence.

Source: El Público

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