The profits of major corporations went up by 20% in 2004 in Colombia. Banks broke profit records. The stock market index doubled. The concentration of lands after years of violence was consolidated.
It can be understood then that there are those who want President Uribe Velez to be re-elected. That has nothing to do with the struggle against the guerrillas, who are making a resurgence, despite predictions and promises to the contrary.
Instead, what is pushing the re-election drive is the unprecedented well-being of the wealthy and the United States?s need to impose the Free Trade Agreement, no matter what.
Does the proposal to change the constitution to allow Uribe?s reelection have an echo at the popular level? The economy has not been so kind to those at the bottom. Basic food consumption has grown slower than the population, which means that per capita food consumption has decreased despite the vaunted economic recovery. The people eat less than they did, while the plutocracy celebrates and swears that they?ve never had it so good.
Neither the most publicized polls nor the most sophisticated public relations experts of the government ? paid by Plan Colombia dollars ? can hide the reality of social polarization that was expressed in the 2003 elections which cost Uribe the failure of his famous referendum.
More profoundly, the economic bonanza reveals its character as a bubble that can burst and disappear quickly. The growth in GDP, which barely reaches 4% a year, does not represent real growth in the national economy ? value added was just 1%, because prices and imports grew at a scandalous rate, reducing national economic activity.
Thus the current boom has an especially speculative character. The Stock Exchange is its main stage. Its ultimate fate is the overflow of dinero and its instrument is public debt TES which has not only sold everything public but has self-bought with public money, including Plan Colombia funds, constituting irresponsible self-loans that are preparing the way for future crises.
The global economy?s own ?re-activation? by way of the Iraq war is heating up as oil prices stay above $40 USD and have at times gone above $50. Interest rates, whose low levels made Colombia?s, and other countres?, fiscal ?miracles? possible, have begun to rise. The speculative AUGE cannot keep up with the rising interest rates. The Colombian saying goes that that which rises like a palm tree falls like a coconut. Uribe is playing Menem (the Argentine President who drove that country into economic ruin) and will try to get himself re-elected while the crisis stalls. He wants those who are sitting at the top of the palm tree to vote for him, preferably just before the country?s economy falls like a coconut.
As the businesspeople rejoice by day, the FTA negotiations occur by night. In secret the coup de grace for Colombian agriculture is being prepared, to be replaced with extensive areas, megaprojects like Plan Puebla Panama, dams, and the regional infrastructure of South America to raise speculative latifundium incomes and get rid of what remains of industry in favor of imports, controlled by the ?intellectual property? rights of transnationals, which adds very little value, uses cheap and exploited labor (thanks to the labor reform laws) and forced displacement (thanks to the war). This has been prepared, as much in the previous crisis as in the current AUGE, with its total or partial transfer of property of the big Colombian enterprises to transnational capital.
The FTA will replace the Constitution in this nefarious change, substituting the investor rights and commerce of US transnationals for the collective rights of Colombians.
The indigenous of Northeastern Cauca and other people of the municipalities of Toribio, Jambalo, Silvia, Caldono, Paez and Inza provided an example for the whole nation when they celebrated on March 6 the Popular Consultation on the FTA, in which 75% of the citizens voted. This level of participation has not been reached in any Colombian election, much less in Uribe?s referendum, even in this communities. In separate elections, youth from 14-18, considered adults in indigenous culture, also voted. 98% of voters said NO to the FTA. This was a major political victory against the Colombian government and the US. In other municipalities in Cauca, Narino, Caldas, and Tolima, similar consultations are being organized and there is a growing demand for a national consultation.
The massive protest expressed on May 18 2004 in Cartagena against the FTA, and then in the Indigenous Minga from September 13-18, the national strike and marches of October 12, was expressed again in 2005 with the anti-FTA marches on February 10. On April 7 it was felt in the Act of Indignation, a protest against the ?peace accord? with the paramilitaries and impunity and it will surge again on May 1. The national worker?s union central, CUT, and other worker?s centrals are studying the possibilities for a general strike against labor reform, FTA, privatization, and the price hikes on basic needs (health, education, the value added tax, electricity, and water).
The mass movement has the initiative. It is only thanks to that movement that the public still has access to the resources of Ecopetrol (the state oil company, partially privatized) or the Bogota phone company (the national phone company has been privatized). It will defend popular and national rights and seeks political expression to recover what workers and peasants have lost by way of assassination and displacement. Fumigations of illicit crops according to official data have not reduced one square centimeter of cultivation, but have functioned only to displace peasants.
Now the massacre against the Peace Community of San Jose de Apartado and more threats against social leaders are used to try to slow the popular mobilization. Despite this, the struggle against Uribe?s reelection will also be the struggle for a government that expresses the resistance of the nation and the working population, the defense of cultural diversity and of natural resources. Colombia has begun to join Latin America?s movement.
Hector Mondragon is a Colombian activist and economist.