**In â€˜The Lord of the Ringsâ€™, the orcs are the foot soldiers of the evil lord Sauron. They are also the cannon fodder, doing the dirty work while their bosses look on.
The most palpable result of paramilitarism in Colombia is the process of displacement of 3 million peasants who were dislodged from their land by violence. That land has ended up in the hands of large landowners. Another important result is the extermination of the most radical union leadership, liquidated by the dozens every year. The end result: the disappearance of the hard-won gains of labor struggles and the public enterprises and entities defended by the unions. It is all a very successful process from the point of view of those with economic power.
Today, the results of illegal violence are institutionalized by way of constitutional reforms that eliminate fundamental rights or the mechanisms for defending those rights. At the same time, the paramilitary apparatus is being legalized in agreements with the government. The main effect of this will be to hide those who are behind paramilitarism and those who have benefited economically from it.
If the Uribe-paramilitary reconciliation project is consolidated, a new model will have been created to resolve the problems generated by impunity in the Southern Cone, which consigned the memory of the Chilean and Argentinian military dictatorships, as well as the Uruguayan civil dictatorship, to oblivion. The laws guaranteeing impunity to those responsible for the dictatorships have been seriously questioned at the international level.
If the Colombian model can gain international recognition, it will, by contrast, guarantee impunity for crimes against social movements by way of an agreement with supposed â€˜rebelsâ€™. The very possibility that this agreement could become reality has unleashed a wave of paramilitary attacks and assassinations throughout the continent.
The attempted assassination of the president of the Confederation of Indigenous Nationalities of Ecuador, Leonidas Iza on February 1 is revealing of the methods and instruments being developed in Latin America to stop the massive struggle against neoliberalism and â€˜free trade agreementsâ€™ in the continent.
That attempt was no isolated incident. In Ecuador the ecologist/campesino activist Angel Shingre and the petroleum researcher Patricio Campana followed. Five years ago, Jaime Hurtado, an Ecuadorian left leader, was assassinated by Colombian paramilitaries.
The situation in Venezuela is much more severe. There, more than 80 campesino leaders fighting for the application of the agrarian reform law, the socialist doctor Doria, an advisor to the campesinos, three unionists, and a member of a Bolivarian co-op, were all assassinated this year. In June 2002, the Autodefensas Unidas de Venezuela (AUV) was created with the support of the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC).
On February 27 it became clear that the Venezuelan opposition wants to make up what it has lost in mass support with weapons and fire: a small group burned a seat of the MVR (Fifth Republic Movement, the party of Chavez), while another attacked the alternative radio station Radio Perola. Various opposition members fired pistols and revolvers.
In Brazil, the study â€œMurders on the Latifundioâ€ documented the assassination of 44 leaders of the Landless Rural Workerâ€™s Movement. The armed bands of the latifundistas have moved violently against the demarcation of indigenous lands.
Bishop Pedro Casaldaliga has been threatened with death for his support of the Xayante indigenous, who face incursions onto their lands by soya cultivating agribusiness. On January 6, in Roraima, the rice landlords managed to stage a massive kidnapping, taking three priests who were supporting collective title for the indigenous there. The right-wing armed bands are doing more than just increasing their activity: they are growing bolder and more confident with time.
Last December, the same thing was happening in Mojos, Beni, Bolivia: armed bands of the landowners threatened indigenous and campesinos and the nuns and non-governmental organizations that were defending the rights of the communities to the land. In this town, a furious municipal employee, having not been paid on time, acted on an entirely individual basis and murdered the mayor. This was used as a pretext by the armed bands to sow terror in the region and prevent the recovery of lands by the peasants. The cocaleros of Chapare have raised the alarm that paramilitaries are being trained there to try to destroy their social movement.
Paramilitarism is incessant in Honduras and is coming back to life in Argentina with paramilitary attacks like Santiago del Estero, threats and assassinations like the one against Sandra Cabrera, secretary of a womenâ€™s association. Even the â€˜ton ton macoutesâ€™ and the â€˜cannibal armyâ€™ are stars: they have been converted from the authors of terrible atrocities into triumphant rebels, part of the â€˜democratic oppositionâ€™, the â€˜civil societyâ€™, of Haiti.
Right-wing armed bands play a key role in these moments when Latin American mass movements are making their presence felt through mobilizations or elections. In most of Latin America these bands do not even have the pretext they have in Colombia today (or that they had in Guatemala in the 1980s or Argentina in the 1970s) of â€˜fighting the guerrillasâ€™. But their objective is exactly the same as what they have won in Colombia. Far from having destroyed the guerrillas, they have made a bloody contribution to the imposition of legislation that helps transnationals and latifundistas and the imposition of free trade agreements, all with a guarantee that the financial powers and the state that uses them go unseen and without blame.
The model has its difficulties, however, as shown by the failure of President Uribeâ€™s visit to Europe; in the accusations of the Italian Attorney-General against the Colombian paramilitaries for links to the italian â€˜ndrangheta mafia; in the extradition orders against the leaders of the AUC by the US; and in the occasional scandal that comes about when Colombian officials are caught carrying cocaine or trying to cover it up. When the time comes, the United States will not be questioning the impunity of the massacres, the annihilation of the union leadership, or the social cleansing of peasants from their lands. It will question â€˜narco-traffickingâ€™, however, and this will be the smoking gun, the proof the US needs in order to deal with these â€˜orcsâ€™ once they have done their dirty work.
[translated by Justin Podur]
HÃ©ctor MondragÃ³n is a Colombian economist.