Keeping Order in the Neighborhood

Protests swirled around the Peruvian president in Cuzco when on May 23 he declared his support for the president of Colombia at the meeting of leaders of Andean and Amazonian countries. Support for Uribe staggered over the next few days, shaken by struggles of agriculturalists, students, and unions, whose mobilization in Puno was not spared a bloody repression. Was the point of all this to support Uribe? Of course not. The statement that Toledo was making, in no uncertain terms, was that the whole military paraphrenelia of Plan Colombia and the threat of US military intervention would also serve to maintain order in Peru.

The mass mobilization in the region in resistance to neoliberalism, the IMF, the ‘free trade’ agreements and the FTAA is notorious. Presidents Lula, Chavez, and Gutierrez were chosen as the electoral expression of this struggle. In Bolivia the active Movimiento al Socialismo and the constant, massive struggles, together with the growing disquiet in Peru, are changing the politics in these countries. But Colombia, in contrast, is the stick, displayed to intimidate not only other peoples, but especially these political leaders.

The president of Ecuador was the first to dance under the threat of this stick. Before he took power he visited Washington and Bogota and fell straight into the line of the enemies of those who had elected him. The rapid conversion of Lucio Gutierrez to the theory and practice of his adversaries-or, more aptly, to the adversaries of his electors-helped to restore the policies of the IMF in an even more radical form than under his predecessors. In Cuzco, it also made Gutierrez the mouthpiece of the Uribe-Bush proposal of threatening the Colombian guerrillas with external military intervention. Popular sectors in Ecuador, betrayed and assaulted by their president, have began to defect from his government. The worker’s unions, peasant organizations, and the powerful indigenous movement are ready to rise again.

On August 21, a popular mobilization will tell Lucio !Ya basta!. Gutierrez, for his part, will be meeting with Uribe the same day to try to come to agreement about a supposed new version of Plan Colombia. The president of Ecuador will hide between the demands of his people and the stick wielded by Wahsington.

The president of Bolivia is at no such crossroads. He is an employee of the US Embassy in La Paz, with the mission of defeating the indigenous, campesino, and union movement in Bolivia and its political expression. The Toledo-Uribe-Gutierrez proposal has, in Sanchez, an unconditional defender. A ridiculous accusation was made against a well-known Colombian campesino leader, resulting in his imprisonment in Bolivia on the grounds that he had gone there to ‘found a guerrilla group’. Uribe corroborated the accusation, not taking notice that his own Ministry of the Interior had certified the condition of the accused as a persecuted social leader who required special state protection.

The frequent communiques of the Bolivian government, ‘regrettably informing’ that its troops have killed opposition demonstrators, have provided a ready-made tone for the news from Peru: the students of Puno were swept up by the army “because the police had run out of tear gas.” In Ecuador in the following days, leaders of the oil-workers had to go underground, due to persecution by Lucio. When governments call for military intervention in Colombia, they are really hoping that Bush’s troops, ‘on the way back from Iraq’, will come to the aid of their own crisis-ridden regimes.

The declaration made at Cuzco didn’t call openly for military intervention because the governments of Brazil and Venezuela opposed it. The published formulation was the timid and conciliatory construction of the Brazilian delegation: it called the Colombian guerrillas to negotiate, and if it did not accept, it would study ‘other alternatives’. That is, a military intervention wasn’t announced, but nor was it renounced. The Venezuelan president denounced the formula as a trap that could trigger ‘a chain of armed interventions’ in Latin America.

The foreign policy of the Brazilian government coincides with its economic policies of trying to placate the IMF and international capital while simultaneously trying to keep the support of its electors. A difficult balance. Lula imposes a pension ‘reform’ in Brazil according to the dictates of international capital-and strikes force negotiations. Lula receives the Landless Peasant’s Movement (MST) wearing an MST hat himself. The MST demands that he fulfill the program of agrarian reform and the reaction of the landowners is to try to threaten and raise the Colombian stick: “self defense groups” armed by the latifundistas, and to inflict punishment on the leaders.

Paramilitarism is the ‘internal’ face of Washington’s stick. Colombian paramilitaries killed the main left leader in Ecuador, more than 100 Venezuelan campesino leaders and indigenous leaders of Panama-all in a zone where a new inter-oceanic canal is projected. This is a model that allows the expulsion of communities from their lands and the assassination of more than 100 unionists per year. It is on the verge of becoming a paradigm of impunity to avoid the difficulties faced by the Chilean and Argentinian generals because of the international pretensions of European justices. The ‘peace’ agreement between Uribe and the paramilitaries could become a successful model of self-forgiveness for war crimes.

But Washington’s stick is on display for a reason. Its objective is FTAA. In a meeting in Quirama, Colombia, on June 27, the ministers of external relations and commerce in the region were not quite ready to follow Uribe’s dictates. The agricultural enterprises were aware that they could be further devastated by ‘free’ competition from subsidized US products. They were more interested in regional integration by way of the Andean Pact and a strengthened Mercosur. Only Chavez dared to present the thought that an alternative without FTAA was possible. But no one dares to leave the stick trained not only on their peoples, but also on their own heads.

[translated by Justin Podur]

Hector Mondragon is a Colombian economist and writer.

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