Who is there like Alvaro Uribe Velez? Who can stand against him? The mass media spend their days hopelessly trying to demonstrate that all of the country’s problems are on the verge of solution: any day now, the government is going to win the war; any week now, there won’t be even a bush of coca left in Colombia; there won’t be unemployment; everyone will vote ‘yes’ to the October 25 referendum that will legitimate the IMF structural adjustment and the constitutional reforms that are going to establish the ‘Estado Comunitario’ and the country will be absolved of its human rights responsibilities under international law, since all these responsibilities are doing is preventing the government from striking the final blow in the war against terror.
The president’s advisors, concerned with his public image, study the polls measuring the result of these media campaigns. The polls say that Uribe’s approval rating is 64%. But there’s fly in the ointment: 62% disapprove of the government’s economic policies on jobs and prices. To cover the fiscal deficit the government has raised sales taxes and fired 30,000 state employees. To cover the sales and municipal taxes, street selling-an activity that enables 10% of the population to survive– has been banned all over the country.
According to official statistics, production has increased by 3% since 2003, but food sales have fallen by 7%. The industry that has grown most in this period has been construction, but new housing builds for poor people have decreased by 50%. These data summarize the drama of extremes that Colombia lives: the wealthy, for whom the government works and works, and the poor, ever poorer. It’s a scandal: an economic ‘recovery’ purchased by the hunger of working people. The labor ‘reform’ approved last December transferred $3 billion dollars per year from the pockets of workers to their employers. A sixth of this sum will be paid by employers to the government as a special war tax, for the first two years.
The ‘economic team’ works day and night on the budget and yet for all their work the hole in the budget won’t go away. How to plug it? One proposal is to advance the sales tax increase that, by 2005, will pay back the new debt that was borrowed to pay for the economic ‘recovery’. The imminence of a general strike called for August 12 by the worker’s and peasant’s unions and the bitter taste from the surveys made the ‘economic team’ back down. So, new accounts and new proposals: collect taxes on the retirement pensions of the elderly and send tax evaders to jail, and print more money. The holes of 2004 haven’t been plugged and the corks planned for 2005 are floating away because of popular mobilization.
The destruction of social and political opposition is seen as an indispensible part of this program. The liquidation of state enterprises has been accomplished through outright militarization, with Telecom, Ecopetrol, and the hospitals. The open intervention of the army and police against workers resisting privatization supplements the secret war of assassination of union leaders.
To prevent the occupation by workers and patients against privatization, the University Hospital of Cartagena was militarized on July 24, just hours after Carlos Barrero, leader in the hospital worker’s union ANTHOC, was assassinated in the neighbouring city of Barranquilla. There have been 96 unionists assassinated since Uribe came to power. The Uribe government didn’t start this social genocide: it has been prepared over a period of years.
The debate about how to close the floodgates each day has its ceremonial, public, virtual component and a real component seen not only in the dirty war, but also in each request by the president for the intervention of the ‘international community’ in the Colombian armed conflict.
The end of the war does not seem to be on the immediate horizon, however. The total number of hectares fumigated since Plan Colombia began is three times as high as the number of hectares under illicit cultivation at the time. The drug warriors insist that only a few hectares are left, but the countryside tells a different story: production continues and the campesinos have adopted a new scheme of dispersed cultivation in the jungle to avoid satellites and planes.
The super-popular super-government needs to destroy the popular struggle and needs imperial troops. The real cork that will plug the hole is a fascist project with help from external troops.
The fascist regime is growing above all with each massacre: massacres like the one that occurred in the indigenous community of Betoyes in Arauca, where a pregnant youth had her stomach opened and the fetus torn out. It is growing with each assassination of social and popular leaders. It is borne out in the institutional growth of para-police groups like the ‘Ecological Foundation’ that beats up on the street sellers in the city of Pereira, where one of the street sellers’ leaders was beaten to death in broad daylight in a Police van.
It is growing as well with a ‘peace’ agreement between the government and the paramilitaries. A false reconciliation between those who were never enemies, it permits a self-pardon to benefit all of the intellectual and financial authors of paramilitarism, including the latifundistas (who owned one third of the land 20 years ago and now own half the country’s land) and those employers who paid for the assassination of over a hundred unionists a year.
The public face of the new regime is in the constitutional reforms. These reduce the number of congress people to eliminate those few alternative political formations that have managed to survive the dirty war. They permit arrests and detentions without judicial order. They return the country to the territorial divisions of the 19th century. They eliminate the possibility of judicial action to defend collective economic, social, and cultural rights. And they strengthen executive power to facilitate the re-election of Uribe.
The general strike of August 12 and the referendum of October 25 are events that will define the future of Colombia.
[translated by Justin Podur]
Hector Mondragon is an economist and journalist in Colombia.