Interview with Manuel Rozental on the July 22-28 (2007) Mobilization

Interview with Manuel Rozental, Recorded July 27-2007
By Maria Olaya
Produced by Cailey Campbell
Far Too Canadian, Friday mornings from 7-9am on CFRU 93.3 FM in Guelph



Maria: We have with us on the line Manuel [Rozental] and going to talk with us about what is going on in Colombia and specifically in the North of the Valle of Cauca with the Nasa community marching [to] Bogota.

Maria: Hola buenos dias Manuel.

Manuel: Buenos dias

Maria: [Would you like to introduce yourself] to the audience here [of] Far Too Canadian?

Manuel: Thank you, it’s nice to be here. My name is Manuel Rozental and I’m part of what we call and what you know well the Tejido de Comunicadores or the Communication Network of the Association of Indigenous Councils of Northern Cauca. This is the communications group that is part of the indigenous community and part of these efforts to tell people throughout Colombia and elsewhere of a caravan that has been moving since the 23rd of July from Southwestern Colombia, from the city of Santander de Quilichao to the city of Bogota where they arrived yesterday.

Maria: Would you tell us what is the motive for this mobilization?

Manuel: The essential motives and objectives are two. One is that Colombia has become a country with owners and without people; a country owned by a few and the people are absent; the projects of the people, their own desires, aims and feelings of the people are ignored by those who own the country for the purpose of profit accumulation and exploitation of its people and resources. So the decision has been made to convene, to invite people, to weave a new country from the pain that everyone has been feeling [and] from the dignity that is required weave a country into a new one. A new country that has no owners. And once it happens, once it becomes what it should be, it’s actually a country that belongs to peoples and to life. So the caravan and the motive and the visit is to invite everybody from all sectors, from different paths and walks of life to join together in weaving this new country from where it is now.

Maria: Are they planning on meeting with President Uribe to dialogue in particular about matters affecting the aboriginal community but also to talk about the objectives that they have for this march?

Manuel: I guess the easiest answer to that question is no. But the explanation is this. Indigenous peoples and most people in Colombia have been insisting on dialogue with the government and with everybody. And the current administration and the Colombian regime has been insisting on war, bullets and no dialogue.

I guess the best image to give people who are listening here is today the front page of El Tiempo, the largest newspaper in Colombia had two [pieces of] news that contrast each other and which will give you the image. On the one hand it is President Uribe, the Colombian President, making a statement where he is going to try and get the support of the Colombian people to transform the death squads or the paramilitaries and have them recognized as political representatives; to give them a political status. This means that you get the worst assassins and terrorists who kill people and who continue to kill people for profit throughout the country you transform them into recognized politicians.

On the other hand there is the image of the native people in the caravan together with Professor Moncayo a man who has been walking more than a 1000 km from Southern Colombia to try to obtain a humanitarian agreement between the government and the FARC so that his son and others can be released and this man with the indigenous community is saying we want peace, we want a new country with social justice for everybody. So while the government wants an agreement to provide status to assassins and terrorists, people want terrorism to go and for peace and justice to happen.

[At] this time there will be no attempt to talk with an illegitimate government that has lost its credibility that is immersed in corruption and terrorism that is dealing in the drug trade and that is committing horrendous crimes. [At] this time people are meeting amongst themselves to build the new country that is different from the one that we have in a peaceful way.

Maria: Recently, about a week ago, [Canadian] Prime Minister Harper was in Colombia talking with Uribe about a free trade agreement and that he wanted to cooperate with the country. Can you give us a perspective on this visit by Harper to Colombia or perhaps even more broadly in Latin America, what is the impact of this visit over there?

Manuel: Yes, I think that’s a fantastic question. I think it’s important for people to reflect on this visit.

When we talk about Colombia and the mobilization taking place now and what is happening there, people seem to look at or listen to what is going on as if it’s taking place “over there” or “somewhere far away” that has nothing to do with Canada. In fact there’s some complacency or a sense of charity in listening to this, when in fact what people in Colombia are calling for is something very pertinent to Canadians! What they’re saying is either people have their own projects for their own dignity or people are being manipulated by a few who do have their projects for-profit and are using them and their country. Now this applies entirely to Canada and to Prime Minister Harper’s visit to Colombia and to other countries in Latin America. But most emblematic of all is his visit of all to Colombia.

[With regard to] Colombia, even in the US Congress and many people in higher levels of political power in the US which has been the greatest support for Uribe’s administration and that administration is the closest ally that the US has in Latin America, even the US at the moment is refusing to provide any further support to the Uribe regime because of its links to death squads because of its human rights abuses because free trade is tied to the assassination of union leaders because the hands of this regime are covered with blood, it is this regime that Prime Minister Harper chooses to visit in Latin America. And he goes there and says openly that he will provide every support possible to this regime as he visits President Uribe. So what he’s actually doing is endorsing one of the worst regimes if not the worst regime [on] the continent, the bloodiest regime on this continent and one that is questioned even within the Bush administration today and Harper goes there to support it.

The reason is simple: profit. Harper represents corporate interests within Canada and without Canada. I mean without Canada in both senses. Not paying attention to Canada and Canadians and going outside of Canada. What Prime Minister Harper has done in his visit to Colombia and is planning to do is establishing links with Colombia’s elite through multinational corporations, Canadian and US, and establish mechanisms to extract resources and wealth from the country at the expense of Colombian people.

So this is the Harper throughout Latin America. It’s linked to transnational interests elsewhere and that is why Canada is also in Afghanistan and elsewhere. And so my question, if I could ask Prime Minister Harper here, came from somebody else that I heard recently, a professor at the University of Toronto said if he wants to help democracy in Colombia as he said why isn’t he supporting the mobilization of people today and providing funds for people who want to mobilize and transform a regime of oppression and exclusion into a democracy for life and freedom? I guess the answer is easy, because the Harper agenda is the Bush agenda and it’s a transnational corporate agenda.

The sad thing is that Canadian people don’t seem to react to this and Harper wouldn’t even dare to behave the way that he’s behaving and go to this regime if there was any political reaction from the majority of Canadian people, but there isn’t. And this ties into the mobilization of native peoples and others in Colombia. The dignity of the people there, they have called for people to mobilize and to construct a country without owners for the people. Isn’t that applicable entirely to Canada [where people] have allowed some owners to run their country and their foreign affairs for them at the expense of our lives and our freedom.

Maria: Manuel I think that people are probably wondering in which ways they can help and what they can do to not allow this government to intervene in [the affairs] of other countries. What are the practical ways in which people can help and by which people can do things.

Manuel: Well one of them is happening right now right here and that is allowing different voices and different words to be heard that is an extremely practical way. Let the message get through, find places and spaces where people can talk about the other Canada, the other Colombia, the reality of what’s taking place and engage in these kinds of activities. Like what you’re doing today through the radio.

But other practical things that I would suggest [take place] is to invite people to find out about the mobilization in Colombia. Perhaps you can provide the website later on, there’s a section in English what is happening and why and how it can be supported. It’s Now there are some ideas there of what might happen.

My suggestion in Canada is that it’s urgently needed for Canadians to put a mirror [up to] what is happening in their government. Gatherings and meetings with people throughout the country are urgently needed to look into Harper’s foreign policy and to study [it] and to make conscious decisions about this.

I would suggest, there are good pieces of information around, for example, Linda McQuaig’s recent book Holding the Bully’s Coat. I have seen very few that show what has happened so clearly and with so much evidence to Canadian policy with regard to US and corporate interests. For example reading something like that, that book, and sitting together to discuss it. Opening spaces for Canadians to look at their own lives and their own society and their country and their place in the world consciously which is something that hasn’t really happened.

But I will say, with all respect and humbly, one thing that should not be done is to do charity is to think that “we are going to help them.” In fact, they are helping us already. The people that are mobilizing for a new country to weave [together] people, to transform societies, to [develop] popular projects are far ahead I’m afraid and sad to say of most Canadians who have been pushed into ignoring decisions, political decisions and the lives of their neighbours in their own country as well as the lives of others outside. So renewing Canada, transforming passive, selfish Canadians into conscious people who are interested and committed to people in the planet; so it’s a long project, but we’re late already in starting.

Maria: Thank you very much Manuel for all of the background about what is happening. We will definitely keep updating on what is going on in this regard.