Freedom For Mother Earth!
Señor Álvaro Uribe Vélez
Presidencia de la República
Cra. 8 No..7-26, Palacio de Nariño, Santa fe de Bogotá.
Fax: (571) 566-2071
Re: liberar la madre tierra !
The kids at National Planning have a view of the country that looks down from the commanding heights of the towers of 26th Street. Their view of the country used to be from the beltway that ringed Bogota. Later, when they opened their business consulting office, they discovered how the country looked from their private helicopters. There are some exceptions: a few come down to Sasaima on Sundays to play golf – of course, they only do so after they’ve called the local Battalion to ensure their security – and the vast majority have laundered their engineering degrees from Colombian universities with PhDs in economics from provincial gringo universities. They don’t understand anything other than figures. Figures, after all, are the only way to measure the value of everything in terms of money, which is in the end what is of interest to them. It is their specialty. They assume the world began on the day they put on their tie and, with their father’s (or their uncle’s) connections, signed their first contract. I say these boys have come to tell us that the land (and the concentration of land ownership) has ceased to make any economic sense.
What is happening in the country (which they don’t see from their office windows) is a long-term agrarian revolution with worrisome signs. Let’s not talk now about what has already past, the cause of things like La Violencia of the 1950s, the birth of the guerrillas of the 1960s, the illicit cultivation of the 1970s, the massacres of the 1980s, and the displacement of whole peoples in the 1990s. Let us talk instead of 4 million hectares that have passed from the hands of the rural, blue-blooded aristocracy, to the hands of the don Bernas and the Macacos, pure-blooded narcotraffickers and paramilitaries. That simple transformation could explain for us many of the alliances that are now being signed and that constitute a new kind of agreement on governability that has a single premise: in land, there is no turning back – what has been sold, has been lost.
So for their crimes, the paramilitaries have been sentenced to ownership of haciendas where they are to serve out their terms. This same principle applies for the lands from which the peasants and indigenous have been dispossessed. Many of these lands are now set to become cattle ranches or palm oil plantations. They will not be returned. The case of Jiguamiando and Curvarado is the best expression of the Uribe government’s will to reconciliation: by way of paramilitary bullets, they have stolen the ancestral lands of the Afro-Colombian communities to transfer them to the palm entrepreneurs who, with complete freedom, will certainly prepare a very original model for labor relations: employing paramilitaries with licenses to use chainsaws at their discretion. At the end of the day, they are trying to turn Choco into a colony of Antioquia with its own army (1). The highway that will end up destroying Darien (the most biodiverse remaining jungle on the planet) to open the way for investors (‘investors’ being the favoured current term for ‘crooks’) is the opening gambit for this strategy. So, too, in the Amazon, is the planned highway that will join Belem do Para with Tumaco. The planners argue that in Colombia this route will use several rivers and therefore will not be, exactly, a ‘highway’. I suspect that this argument is an attempt to greenwash the environmentalist foundations of the water and forestry legislation that is currently making its way through Congress, close to approval. They are major moves towards putting profit before all other functions: the slogan is, then, to sell the water and wood at any cost.
Nothing can be expected from the shining Reparations Commission (Colombia’s version of the ‘Truth and Reconciliation Commission’) on the land question. It will not return the holdings. Instead, it will justify and legalize the dispossession. I admit that there will be ceremonies presided over by generals and archbishops to deliver some poor quality lands confiscated by the National Directorate of Narcotics to clients carefully pre-selected by Incoder (the National Institute for Agrarian Development). But the general picture will not change. The repairs designed by Pizarro (who heads the Reconciliation Commission) will not be more than the opening chapter for new and maybe bloodier carnage. Badly made peace leads to renewed conflict.
And if in the Atrato river region it rains, in Cauca it thunders: the Nasa indigenous people will not stop – even though they have paid with their lives – in claiming their territorial rights. This last Thursday (November 10) there were 46 wounded and a young leader of the movement was murdered. The tantrums of the ranchers of Ambalo, El Japio, and La Emperatriz won’t make any difference. The land will end, some day soon, in the hands of the indigenous. They know what resistance is and that is why they affirm the meaning of their struggles with quotes from Ecclesiastes: “The sun rises, the sun sets, and it doesn’t think of anything but rising again, like the one who loves his land and will die to defend it…”
El Espectador, November 13, 2005
1) Choco, with some of the richest lands in Colombia, is in the hands of the country’s poorest people – the Afro-Colombians. Antioquia, meanwhile, is the home of the wealthiest business interests. It is Uribe’s home state, where he was once governor.