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The Massacre in Tumaco is an Affront to Peace

By | 11/October/2017|

The police massacre of civilians on 5 October 2017 in Tumaco, southern Colombia, threatens the peace process and emphasises state failure to comply with the terms of the agreement.

The massacre by security forces of nine peasant farmers in Alto Mira y Frontera, a village in Lorrente in Tumaco (Nariño), on Thursday 5 October represents at least three serious problems for the Colombian peace process. First, it undermines the Havana agreement, particularly Point Four which emphasises voluntary substitution of illicit crops. Second, it raises issues of how security forces violate human rights and the right to protest when they intervene in social demonstrations. And third, it casts doubt on the possibility that the post-conflict will lead to democracy and the elimination of violence, more so when one considers other events taking place in different parts of the country.

Before addressing these issues, we must note that full clarity has still not been established about what happened in the collective territory of Alto Mira y Frontera, inhabited by around 4,000 families whose subsistence mainly depends on coca cultivation.

In a concise statement published that same day, 5 October, by the Ministry of Defence in Bogota, the army and the police claimed that the attack on the civil population was ‘apparently’ committed by the leader of a dissident FARC group who went by the alias ‘Guacho’. They also asserted that the dissidents were forcing the community to protest over eradication. According to the official version, the dissident group launched ‘at least five cylinder bombs at members of the Public Force [police] and the assembled crowd, before attacking demonstrators and the authorities with indiscriminate rifle and machine gun fire’, causing the deaths of four civilians and injuring another 14.

However, the National Coordinator of Coca, Marijuana and Poppy Growers (Coordinadora Nacional de Cultivadores Coca, Marihuana y Amapola, COCCAM) tells another version based on information from the community present during the incident. In a preliminary report, the organisation says that since 29 September peasant farmers had been protesting against the police deployment of at least 1,000 officers to conduct forced eradication. This saw around 1,000 people form a human circle protecting the crops they depend on for subsistence. But on 5 October, between 10.30am and 11am, the police ‘without warning opened fire indiscriminately upon the population’.

Regarding the Ministry of Defence statement, the COCCAM states that ‘there is no trace of explosive impacts in the zone, and if acts were committed against the police, there has been no report of any injured or dead members of the security forces’.

Furthermore, on 5 October, the Community Council of Pueblo Negro Alto Mira y Frontera, based in San Andrés de Tumaco, reported that the community had expressed several concerns over risks posed to its members by the presence of armed groups which compete for the territory and recruit young people, causing ‘displacement, confinement of hundreds of families and terror in different villages’. It said that ‘during recent weeks, armed groups have been pressuring the community … and seeking to use them as

The Massacre in Tumaco is an Affront to Peace

By | 11/October/2017|

The police massacre of civilians on 5 October 2017 in Tumaco, southern Colombia, threatens the peace process and emphasises state failure to comply with the terms of the agreement.

The massacre by security forces of nine peasant farmers in Alto Mira y Frontera, a village in Lorrente in Tumaco (Nariño), on Thursday 5 October represents at least three serious problems for the Colombian peace process. First, it undermines the Havana agreement, particularly Point Four which emphasises voluntary substitution of illicit crops. Second, it raises issues of how security forces violate human rights and the right to protest when they intervene in social demonstrations. And third, it casts doubt on the possibility that the post-conflict will lead to democracy and the elimination of violence, more so when one considers other events taking place in different parts of the country.

Before addressing these issues, we must note that full clarity has still not been established about what happened in the collective territory of Alto Mira y Frontera, inhabited by around 4,000 families whose subsistence mainly depends on coca cultivation.

In a concise statement published that same day, 5 October, by the Ministry of Defence in Bogota, the army and the police claimed that the attack on the civil population was ‘apparently’ committed by the leader of a dissident FARC group who went by the alias ‘Guacho’. They also asserted that the dissidents were forcing the community to protest over eradication. According to the official version, the dissident group launched ‘at least five cylinder bombs at members of the Public Force [police] and the assembled crowd, before attacking demonstrators and the authorities with indiscriminate rifle and machine gun fire’, causing the deaths of four civilians and injuring another 14.

However, the National Coordinator of Coca, Marijuana and Poppy Growers (Coordinadora Nacional de Cultivadores Coca, Marihuana y Amapola, COCCAM) tells another version based on information from the community present during the incident. In a preliminary report, the organisation says that since 29 September peasant farmers had been protesting against the police deployment of at least 1,000 officers to conduct forced eradication. This saw around 1,000 people form a human circle protecting the crops they depend on for subsistence. But on 5 October, between 10.30am and 11am, the police ‘without warning opened fire indiscriminately upon the population’.

Regarding the Ministry of Defence statement, the COCCAM states that ‘there is no trace of explosive impacts in the zone, and if acts were committed against the police, there has been no report of any injured or dead members of the security forces’.

Furthermore, on 5 October, the Community Council of Pueblo Negro Alto Mira y Frontera, based in San Andrés de Tumaco, reported that the community had expressed several concerns over risks posed to its members by the presence of armed groups which compete for the territory and recruit young people, causing ‘displacement, confinement of hundreds of families and terror in different villages’. It said that ‘during recent weeks, armed groups have been pressuring the community … and seeking to use them as

Che in Gaza

By | 8/October/2017|

The Egyptian Revolution of 1952 saw the establishment of an anti-imperialist government led by Gamal Abdel-Nasser. As a result of subsequent political developments, Ernesto ‘Che’ Guevara made a celebrated visit to Palestine in 1959.

Guevara’s visit to Gaza in 1959 was the first sign of transforming the Zionist colonisation of Palestine from a regional conflict to a global struggle against colonialism. The trigger was the meeting of Asian and African states, known as the Bandung conference, in 1955 and the resulting Non-Aligned Movement, whose members had just recently shaken the yoke of foreign domination. The stature of Nasser, as a world leader in the struggle against imperialism and colonialism, brought world leaders to see for themselves the devastating results of the ethnic cleansing of Palestine, clearly demonstrated in Gazan refugee camps.

The Gaza Strip became the symbol of Palestine. This tiny sliver of land (1.3 per cent of Palestine) remained the only place raising the flag of Palestine. It carried a major part of the Al Nakba burden when it became the temporary shelter for the inhabitants of 247 villages, expelled from their homes in southern Palestine. Villages in the south were ethnically cleansed by the Israeli military operation Yoav, also termed ‘The Ten Plagues’, in October 1948. Not a single Palestinian village remained. This act of total ethnic cleansing was propelled by several massacres which took place in Al Dawayima, Bayt Daras, Isdud, and Burayr, among others.

Refugees, now corralled into Gaza Strip, were not immune from Israeli attacks even after their expulsion. The Majdal hospital was bombed in November 1948, as was the nearby Al Joura village, which stood on the site of ancient Ashkelon and from which many future Hamas leaders would emerge. In January 1949, Israelis bombed food distribution centres in Dayr Al Balah and Khan Younis at peak hours, leaving over 200 bodies decimated by air raids. These raids led the usually restrained Red Cross to describe it as a ‘scene of horror’.

Occupations and resistance

The occupation of Palestinian land and the expulsion of its population gave rise to a resistance movement, known then as the fedayeen. These resistance fighters crossed the Armistice line to attack the occupiers of their land.

In order to stop the incursions of the fedayeen and eliminate the idea of resistance, Israel continuously attacked the Gaza Strip refugee camps. In August 1953, Unit 101, led by Ariel Sharon, attacked the Bureij refugee camp and killed 43 people in their beds. In August 1955, Israel, again led by Ariel Sharon, blew up the Khan Younis police station killing 74 policemen. In the same year, the Israelis killed 37 Egyptian soldiers in Gaza railway station and a further 28 who were on their way to defend the others. The last attack changed the course of history in the region.

Fig 1

Egyptian president Gamal Abdel-Nasser, whose revolutionary government assumed power in Egypt in July 1952, signed the first armament deal with the Soviet Bloc for arms denied to him by the

What is Obama doing in Latin America?

By | 5/October/2017|

Obama wants to salvage his image, but he arrives in Latin America sponsored and invited by the worst elements that can be found in our countries.

In his previous journey, when still US president, Barack Obama came to bless the conservative restoration in Argentina. He didn’t have the courage to pass through Brazil, where a coup government had just been installed – with his indulgent silence. Now he comes as ex-president, representing his Foundation, financed by big economic conglomerates.

In the last month, Obama has had conversations with the Northern Trust bank, with the Cantor Fitzgerald bank, and with the private investment firm Carlyle Group. His foundation is financed generously by donations from Microsoft and from the electronics sector giant Exelon, both with contributions of more than a million dollars. Obama has already spoken at multiple Wall Street conferences, receiving around $400 thousand a time.

In São Paulo, Obama will participate in an event hosted by the economic journal Valor, from the O Globo group, sponsored by the Spanish bank Santander. Cynically, he says that he comes to ‘listen to youth leaders’. He’s not going to find any youth leaders there. For that, he’d have to turn up without bank sponsors; he’d have to go to the periphery of São Paulo and Buenos Aires. But with the sponsorship from the companies that finance his foundation, he comes more to seek new business opportunities for those same companies, particularly in the processes of privatisation that the Macri and Temer governments are putting into practice.

In Argentina, Obama will have a meeting with business leaders and, it has been announced, with Mauricio Macri. In Brazil, by contrast, he won’t dare to meet with Temer, who has the support of only 3 percent of the Brazilian people. He’ll have a meeting in Córdoba about the ‘green economy’, organised by the Advanced Leadership Foundation, which has its headquarters in Washington, with the support of the Inter-American Development Bank, the Organisation of American States, the Mediterranean Foundation and Boston Seguros.

The Obama that’s coming to Latin America now has nothing to do with the Obama that was elected as first black president of the US. That Obama would go to the black communities in Brazil, would take an interest in the destiny of Milagro Sala and Santiago Maldonado. He would speak with the popular leaders and not the bank directors.

It’s traditional for a US ex-president to organise his foundation and travel around the world, looking to maintain his own spaces, financing his travels with the support of donations from big private US companies. The only one of the former north American presidents to have put a foundation at the service of global democratic causes has been Jimmy Carter.

Obama doesn’t hide the fact that he’s working on behalf of big US corporations, not in support of civil entities, human rights, defence of democracy, the promotion of social politics. He comes to Brazil invited by the O Globo group, which has always been on the side of the worst causes. He comes

Celebrating Violeta Parra: Five of her Best

By | 4/October/2017|

On the centenary of Violeta Parra’s birth, we select five songs by the legendary Chilean folk musician who continues to inspire musicians and social movements alike.

Through her music, the folk singer Violeta Parra championed social justice and political affirmation among her fellow Chileans, particularly the rural poor and working classes marginalised and repressed by ruling sectors whose interests directly contradicted the basic rights of the majority population. Having grown up in southern Chile’s impoverished countryside, Violeta’s seething outrage at the indignity and suffering she witnessed imposed upon her people was offset by the harmonious serenity of songs which brimmed with political agency. However, she suffered depression for many years and committed suicide in 1967 at the age of 49.

Even prior to her death, Violeta Parra was a huge influence across Latin America. Along with the Argentinian folk musician Atahualpa Yupanqui, she inspired the nueva canción movement which resituated traditional folklore towards socio-political goals, understanding that music was a far more effective tool for developing political consciousness in the popular sectors who often had little access to radio or television and endured high illiteracy rates. Musicians such as Mercedes Sosa, Victor Jara, Facundo Cabral and Silvio Rodríguez drew inspiration from Parra’s music and exported her ideas of human dignity and popular unity around the world. Today, musicians across Latin America and the world continue to reference her work and, more importantly, her galvanising message.

To celebrate the centenary of Violeta Parra’s birth on 4 October 1917, here are five of her greatest songs. You can listen to the playlist on our YouTube channel here: Feel free to add your own suggestions in the comments section below.

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Best of the Web September: 2017

By | 3/October/2017|

Our monthly selection of the best articles on Latin America from around the internet.

1)We’ll See Each Other in Bogotá (Isabel Peñaranda & Gerald Bermúdez/Jacobin)
The western hemisphere’s oldest guerrilla army, the FARC, is putting down their arms and becoming a political party. What does the future hold for them?

2)Memento Mori: a Requiem for Puerto Rico (Miguel A. Cruz-Díaz/Counterpunch)
Puerto Rico is dying. Let those words sink in. Three and a half million people are without power, water, fuel, food, and support. This isn’t some uninhabited atoll. This is where I grew up. This is where my family lives. This is my home.

3)Honduras, the Deadliest Country in the World for Environmental Defenders, Is About to Get Deadlier (Heather Gies/Upside Down World)
Activists in Honduras could soon face up to 20 years in prison for simply marching in the streets after Congress passed an article of the new Criminal Code last week that opposition lawmakers claim criminalizes social protest as a form of “terrorism.”

4)These 15 Documentaries Dive Deep Into the Experience of Undocumented Immigrants (Manuel Betancourt/Remezcla)
You can learn about the perilous journeys these migrants make, get educated about how gender and sexuality crucially complicate their lives, and how everything from one’s education to working conditions become tied up in the fear and shame that often accompanies being undocumented.

5)Grassroots Action Confronts Impunity Three Years After Ayotzinapa (Dawn Paley/NACLA)
“The government, after they disappeared the 43, they tried to say it was an isolated case, and we screamed ‘no!’ It isn’t an isolated case, it is systematic. It happens many times a day in different parts of the country.”

6)Hélio Oiticica’s Place for People (Miguel Salazar/The Nation)
The Brazilian artist’s manipulations of color and space became a way for him to challenge society’s inequalities.

7)Adam Feinstein’s Five Latin American Cinema Masterpieces (Adriana Elgueta/Sounds and Colours)
He’s a major authority on film, and Latin American cinema in particular. With that in mind we asked Feinstein to pick out five of his favourite Latin American films.

8)Rumbas in the Barrio: Personal Lives in a Venezuelan Collectivist Project (Sujatha Fernandes/Verso)
The autobiography workshops of the Misión Cultura, instituted in 2005 as part of a broader Bolivarian project, aimed to “give words, voice, to us, those always silenced” and build up a popular alternative archive of people’s  histories.

9)Brazil’s Latest Outbreak of Drug Gang Violence Highlights the Real Culprit: the War on Drugs (Glenn Greenwald & David Miranda/The Intercept)
Supporting a failed policy by hoping that, one day, it will magically succeed, is the definition of irrationality. In the case of drug laws — which spawn misery and suffering — it is not only irrational but cruel.

Documentary

10)Chile Under Pinochet: Colour of the Chameleon (Andres Lubbert/Al Jazeera English)
A son confronts the uncomfortable truth about why his father fled the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile.

José Martí, Life and Legacy

By | 25/September/2017|

In the obituaries, eulogies and commentaries in the aftermath of Fidel Castro’s death, there was little mention of José Martí, the Cuban Revolution’s most important influence.

José Martí is widely recognised as the most-respected thinker and theoretician of Cuban independence. Marti’s appeal as a freedom fighter, poet and philosopher was universal, or ‘the most universal’ as Fidel Castro once stated.

While many have attempted to appropriate Martí’s teachings, Castro’s interpretation of the independence hero as an anti-imperialist thinker has shone a light on some of Marti’s truly radical ideas, wresting his legacy away from those who wish to co-opt his early writings to justify their US apologism.

Martí called on Cubans of all social distinctions and races to unite in the fight for an independent republic, drawing inspiration from the ideas of Simón Bolívar. He recognised that the independence struggle had to include whites and blacks alike, and all those he deemed the ‘natural elements’ of America.

No master military tactician, Martí died in battle at the early age of 42, unable to see the culmination of the Cuban War of Independence. While expelling the crumbling Spanish Empire was his life’s guiding mission, Martí, ever the long-term strategist, was aware that official statehood would be just the first step in achieving a truly liberated Cuba.

Acknowledging that the Empire had been in decline for the best part of two centuries, he correctly predicted that the biggest future threat to Latin America would be that posed by the burgeoning US Empire – an expansionist and racist system as equally rapacious as any colonial power.

In 1886, with victory over Spain far from assured, Martí issued a warning against those who wished to ‘sell’ Cuba’s sovereignty to ‘the clever neighbour which wants to bleed us dry on our very doorstep … in order to grab, with its hostile hands, its selfish and disrespectful hands, what fertile land is left of ours’.

José Martí (Juan Batista Váldes)

It was around this time, while exiled in the USA, that Martí underwent a process of radicalisation, introducing many Latin Americans to the idea that North American expansionism, both territorial and economic, was a very real threat to the Cuban nation. Marti’s close analysis of his country-in-exile made him conscious of the corrupt nature of its political elite and the inequality inherent in monopoly capitalism, despite having started his ideological path as an ardent liberal and defender of US democracy.

By now, Martí had been sufficiently exposed to the dangers of the US political system to realise its proximity to corrupt European models. He dispelled any lingering admiration he may have once held towards the US in an essay published in 1886: ‘This republic, through an uncontrolled cult towards wealth, has fallen into the inequality, injustice and violence witnessed in monarchic countries … America, as such, is the same as Europe!’

Martí became aware that US economic strength was based not only on incessant expansion outside of its borders, but also on internal suppression of workers and minorities.

Singing for Survival

By | 22/September/2017|

Women in Chile are challenging gender-based violence through song, continuing a national tradition of music as a tool of social justice and human rights.

In mid-May 2016, in the chilly hours before dawn, a young woman was found lying unconscious on a pavement in Coyhaique, a city near the southern tip of Chile. She was hypothermic and her eyes had been gouged out. One year on, the name Nabila Rifa, as well as the horrific details of her former husband’s attack, witnessed by her four young children, are familiar to many Chileans. With the Criminal Court of Coyhaique’s ruling of 2 May 2017 that sentenced Nabila’s aggressor for attempted femicide and serious injury, her name become synonymous with justice. However, two months later the Supreme Court’s dismissal of the attempted femicide charge, lowering the sentence to 18 years, proved that justice is as elusive as ever for victims of violence against women in Chile.

In early May, some 1,600 kilometers to the north, in Santiago, a song was released that aims to become a cultural tool to prevent crimes such as the one Nabila endured. On 5 May, ‘Nunca más, mujer’ (‘Never again, woman’) was performed during the national congress of the Chilean Network against Violence to Women and follows in the footsteps of the Canto Nuevo (New Song) movement which emerged in the mid 1970s as a dissident expression against the Pinochet dictatorship. Just as the distinctly Latin American rhythms of Canto Nuevo inspired hope and resistance to the repressive Pinochet regime, ‘Nunca más, mujer’ emerges from a collective effort, striving to become much more than a melodious tune.

Whereas the Canto Nuevo protagonists considered the political violence practiced by the dictatorship as the target of their music, ‘Nunca más, mujer’ has culturally-rooted violence against women in its sights. And while the pantheon of Canto Nuevo singers was largely male, this song was written, arranged, and performed by women.

‘Nunca más, mujer’ emerged from a workshop for women songwriters, convened in November 2016 by US singer, feminist and peace activist Holly Near and the Santiago-based Educación Popular en Salud (Popular Education in Health, EPES) Foundation.

Near’s song ‘There’s a woman missing in Chile’ and her performances with Inti-Illimani across the United States in the 1980s helped ignite condemnation of the Chilean dictatorship’s human rights violations. In songs such as ‘Singing for our Lives’, her voice also rallied thousands against sexual violence in Take Back the Night campaigns that began in the 1970s and resumed with force in the early 2000s, as well as the Marches for Women’s Lives, in the United States.

Since its founding in 1982, the EPES Foundation has developed an innovative participatory methodology that empowers working-class women to fight for the right to health. Its approach to social determinants of health, from a gender focus, has shaped public health policy on issues such as HIV/AIDS prevention and violence against women.

Under Chile’s military dictatorship, thousands of political prisoners were tortured but women prisoners, in particular, were subjected to sexual violence. Today, the governmental

Film Review: Chicago Boys

By | 20/September/2017|

How Salvador Allende’s progressive government in Chile in the 1970s was overthrown with the help of a small group of US-trained Chilean economists.

Millions of CIA dollars pumped into the rightwing media to undermine a socialist government. Destabilisation of the economy, creating widespread civil unrest. A potential military coup.

Venezuela, 2017?

No. This was Chile in 1973 when, following Salvador Allende’s surprise election victory, the rightwing in the country and the US were deliberating how to intervene and prevent the delivery of a socialist programme without courting worldwide condemnation.

The award-winning documentary ‘Chicago Boys’, which gets a screening in London on Saturday 23 September, takes us back to the 1950s where it all began. It was then that a small group of Chilean students had been given grants to study economics at the University of Chicago under Milton Friedman.

They were a close-knit group of ‘fun-loving’, hardworking students who jocularly dubbed themselves ‘the Mafia’. In the film they maintain that they were not ‘party political’ but some of them were rightwing Catholics and members of Opus Dei, the fascistic cult which flourished in Franco’s Spain.

The Boys’ world view ran counter to the many Latin Americans who viewed democracy and socialism as indivisible — the fight for democratic elections was indistinguishable from the fight for social welfare — but this was especially the case in Chile, where communists and socialists were able to win power electorally. But that victory was short-lived.

After completing their studies, the Chicago Boys returned to Chile to teach at the Catholic University in Santiago. Without their input and collaboration after the Allende government was overthrown, the military junta in Chile would have been incapable of governing the country. One of the group, Sergio de Castro, became the Minister for Economics in the dictator Augusto Pinochet’s government.

In this brilliant investigative film, the Boys are interviewed in depth about their involvement in economics, the Pinochet coup and the Chilean experience. They are more than happy to talk.

Asked whether he knew about the killing, disappearances and torture that took place during his time as minister during the Pinochet regime’s most brutal period, de Castro answers: ‘I didn’t know absolutely nothing’. A significant double negative.

He recalls climbing a hill in Santiago on the day of the coup to watch the bombing of the presidential palace where Salvador Allende would be murdered. As flames poured out of the palace’s windows, he felt, he says, an ‘infinite happiness’.

In statements reminiscent of leading nazis at the post-war Nuremberg trials, he and his fellow economists deny any knowledge of, or involvement in, human-rights abuses. They were ‘only concerned with economics’, not ‘politics’.

But they add that it would not have been possible to make the necessary changes in Chile without an authoritarian regime and without ‘some’ violation of human rights.

The documentary’s makers, journalist Carola Fuentes and film-maker Rafael Valdeavellano, have unearthed home movies of the first class of Chicago Boys studying and socialising in Santiago and they reveal how ideological the Chicago Boys were.

Trained not only in the technical aspects of

Best of the Web: August 2017

By | 17/September/2017|

Our monthly selection of the best articles on Latin America from around the internet.

1) Brazil: rural land conflicts are part of a planned project of killing (Luciano Velleda/Latin America Bureau)

A damning report from the catholic church’s Land Commission denounces the mounting death toll in rural conflicts.

2) When Salvador Allende told us happiness is a human right (Luis Sepúlveda/The Nation)

Now, for the first time, an adviser recalls a remarkable 1971 conversation with Chile’s socialist leader.

3) Borders and the Displacements They Create are Human Artefacts (Jacqueline Bhabha/Revista: Harvard Review of Latin America)

Displacement implies some measure of compulsion to leave home, when staying put, overwhelmingly the preferred default option, is no longer viable.

4) FARC’s step towards peace in Colombia must not be met with another ‘political genocide’ (Jan Boesten/The Conversation)

Even with the peace process apparently underway, the threat is still there – and since the negotiations began, threats against social leaders and assassinations have not receded, but surged.

5) Strangling Puerto Rico in Order to Save It (Mark Weisbrot/Center for Economic and Policy Research)

A US congressional board’s remedy for Puerto Rico’s financial ills will only deepen the island’s impoverishment for decades.

6) Using radio to confront climate change in Peru (Neil Giardino/Al Jazeera English)

Radio hosts use indigenous language radio broadcasts in Peruvian Amazon to raise awareness and rally isolated villages.

7) The Media on Venezuela: Double Standards and First Impressions (Ricardo Vaz/Investig’Action)

A dissection of the common fake news techniques used by the mainstream media in its reporting on Venezuela.

8) A New Life for Indigenous Languages in New York City (Hannah Wallis/NACLA)

How two radio shows in New York City are uniting indigenous immigrant communities from Latin America.

9) Argentine Paper Stood Up to the Generals, but Succumbed to Market Forces (Daniel Politi/New York Times)

The Buenos Aires Herald opened its doors nearly 141 years ago, but became legendary by exposing forced disappearances during the 1976-83 military dictatorship, a chapter of Argentina’s history that other papers whitewashed.

Documentary

10) The Hour of the Furnaces – Part 1: Neocolonialism and Violence (Fernando Solanas & Octavio Getino, Argentina, 1968)

Argentinian filmmaker Fernando Solanas’ controversial look at the past, current and future politics of Latin America.

 

The Violence of the Peace

By | 29/August/2017|

The dominant approach to peace in Colombia represents the consolidation of an economic model imposed through ongoing corporate and state-backed violence.

On 30 November 2016, the Colombian Congress ratified a peace deal with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The process had required more than four years of negotiation, with the final accords signed only weeks after the rejection of a previous deal in a plebiscite dominated by a hawkish far-right.  With the ratification of the agreement, humanitarians across the world breathed a collective sigh of relief. 52 years of armed conflict was at an end. One of the last remnants of Cold War communist insurgency had been put to rest and the vicious counterinsurgency that had terrorised the country would surely have to cease.

On 6 March 2017, Colombia Reports, the main English language news source on Colombia, published an article with the ominous title, ‘Is Colombia going from war to peace to genocide?’. At least 23 social leaders had already been killed in the first three months of peace. Fears of a renewed and intensified wave of violence at the hands of rightwing paramilitaries appeared to be justified.

There has been so much opposition to the accords from bellicose beneficiaries of the war that ‘peace at any price’ is often portrayed as the only fitting response of those with progressive politics. After all, the argument goes, is anything not better than war?  Those in the most conflict-affected regions voted overwhelming for the peace deal, and surely we always knew there would have to be compromise? This is the blackmail of the either/or.  We are encouraged to think in binaries.  Either war or peace. Incivility versus civility. Evil versus justice. Either this peace or the continuation of an intolerable violence. Those who express caution about the peace deal’s prospects for paving the way to ‘post-conflict’ must be churlish or, at best, naively idealistic.

Extreme violence is often batted away as something belonging outside of modernity, the work of unintelligible Others that development and humanistic intervention is poised to overcome. Violence is framed as an absence: an absence of order, of the rule of law, of a suitably strong state. For peace to be possible, we must plug the gaps: reintegrate combatants, implement law and prosecute perpetrators, fill the stomachs of those whose poverty might otherwise constitute a grievance. The state, meanwhile, is a neutral third party, the overseer of prosperity, the source of security, the protector of lives that would otherwise (as Hobbes would have it) be ‘nasty, brutish and short’.

Yet the ongoing repression of human rights defenders and community leaders is not an aberration. The recent wave of killings is not a sign of the ineffective or incomplete implementation of the Colombian state’s post-conflict agenda. ‘Peace’ marks the consolidation of an order imposed through massacres and selective assassinations.  Violence permeates the fabric of peace. Only when we see this can we understand its distinctive colour.

A very short history of the last ninety years 

State-backed repression in Colombia

Best of the Web: July 2017

By | 2/August/2017|

Our monthly selection of the best articles on Latin America from around the internet.

1) As Momentum Grows to Remove Brazil’s President, New Pressure Campaign Sparks Rage (Glenn Greenwald & Erick Dau/The Intercept)

Temer himself has now been formally charged with accepting bribes, making him the first sitting president in Brazil’s history to be a criminal defendant while in office.

2) Which Way Out of the Venezuelan Crisis? (George Ciccariello-Maher/Jacobin)

As Venezuelans go to the polls this Sunday, the country faces a choice between deepening revolution and an elite-enforced rollback.

3) Why I Chose to Not be Latinx (Hugo Marin González/Latino Rebels)

Being of Latin origin resonates as of being a colonial trophy for Latin Europe, while “Hispanidad” only covers a very limited percentage of my cultural heritage.

4) Being Arab in Latin America (Lamia Oulalou/Le Monde Diplomatique)

The first wave of migrants from the Middle East to Latin America were accepted by the locals as hardworking mercantile successes. Newer arrivals have had a harder time.

5) Is Guatemala the Next Uber Frontier? Taxi Drivers Say ‘Hell No’ (Jeff Abbott/In These Times)

More than 1,000 taxi drivers took to the streets of Guatemala City on June 7 to protest the arrival of the ride-sharing app, Uber, to Guatemala. The workers blocked bus routes and shut down sections of the historic center of Guatemala City, before they drove to the municipal building to demand a dialogue.

6) The Surrealist Continent (Oriana Baddeley and Valerie Fraser/Verso)

Throughout the twentieth century the concerns of artists in Europe and North America have had an obvious impact on the art of Latin America, yet it is important to recognize the particular significance of movements such as Surrealism or abstraction within a non-Western context. 

7) A New Generation of Paramilitary Groups is Killing Social Activists in Colombia (Bladimir Sanchez Espitia/The Real News)

Bladimir Sanchez Espitia discusses recent cases of human rights violations by paramilitaries in Colombia.

8) Tropical deforestation in Paraguay and our BBQ (Toby Hill/Open Democracy)

On a vast, hot plateau in Paraguay, a little-known environmental crisis is playing out.

9) Is Lula’s sentence ‘another coup’? (Vanessa Baird/New Internationalist)

Brazil’s ex-president was the favourite for next year’s election. Are the corruption charges politically motivated?

DOCUMENTARY

10) A young mother commutes from Mexico to the US (Andrea Kurland/Huck Magazine) 

Karla Nutter commutes every day from Juárez, Mexico to El Paso, Texas, straddling a line that her husband is barred from crossing. Her story is shared in Mitad Y Mitad (Half and Half), an original Huck film.

 

 

Fidel Castro, Global Statesman

By | 7/December/2016|

The achievements of the Cuban Revolution created the most profound socialist model anywhere in the world.

Fidel Castro Ruz was in my view the greatest popular leader of the 20th century; certainly the greatest to emerge since the Second World War. He inspired and led to victory a revolution of a profoundly radical character in a small country barely a stone’s throw from the greatest imperialist power in history, and turned that revolution into a beacon of social and economic justice for Latin America, indeed for the world. Against the expectations even of the great majority of his followers, he successfully steered what was initially a democratic and reformist process towards complete rupture with the hegemonic power and rapid transition to one of the most profound, if not the most profound, socialist model anywhere on the globe.

Relying initially on the participatory democratic consensus of a mass movement inspired by revolutionary momentum, Fidel and his comrades later accepted the need for institutionalisation of a popular democracy, expressed in the 1976 Constitution and further refined in the 1990s. Although unashamedly a one-party system, it incorporates more effective measures than in most similar systems to ensure popular participation and separation of party and state.[1] When in the mid-1980s the Soviet Union embarked on the controversial course of glasnost and perestroika, Fidel was alone among communist leaders in warning that the manner in which these reforms were being implemented could lead to the complete collapse of the USSR. For this he was vilified by many as a Stalinist, but as those who knew him and knew Cuba pointed out, this was far from the truth: Fidel was simply reaffirming the need for clarity in maintaining independence and socialism, and simultaneously the originality of the Cuban process.

When Fidel’s foresight was vindicated with the fall of the Berlin wall and Soviet collapse, accompanied by the abrupt loss of 85 per cent of Cuba’s overseas trade and the tightening of the US blockade, virtually all observers assumed that Cuba would soon follow suit. That it did not, that it survived the extraordinary privations of the ‘Special Period’ of the 1990s, which would have brought down most governments in a matter of months, was a tribute not only to the revolutionary unity of the Cuban people, but also to the vision and determination of their leader. It was not only a matter of will-power (although that was essential): it was also the refusal, even in the most extreme economic crisis, to adopt the ‘austerity’ logic of cutbacks in social services and benefits. Workers kept their jobs (even if they were idle for lack of supplies), health care and education remained free, utility rates were frozen, rations were still distributed to all (when available): everyone could see that socialist principles were maintained even in the most adverse conditions.

Despite the grudging admiration of even the most hostile observers for this stoical resistance, many argued that both Fidel and socialist Cuba were ‘dinosaurs’ doomed to extinction in the New World Order. But here again they failed to

Soundtrack to the Struggle

By | 6/December/2016|

Contemporary Latin American women musicians are addressing pressing social issues through music.

¡Ay, qué manera de caer hacia arriba y de ser sempiterna, esta mujer!’ (‘Oh, the way this woman has of falling upwards and being eternal!’)

These are the opening lines to Pablo Neruda’s poem ‘Una Elegia para Cantar’ (An Elegy for Singing) in which he praises the virtues of Chilean singer, songwriter and artist, Violeta Parra. Parra’s exploration and popularisation of Chilean folk music was at the heart of the Latin American Nueva Canción movement of the 1960s and 70s. This radical period was defined musically by the fusion of folk-inspired instrumentation and lyrics advocating social and political change. Parallel movements such as Tropicália in Brazil and Nueva Trova in Cuba, which also arose at this time, created a platform for social and political dialogue. The contribution made by female artists played a central role in the development of these musical protest movements.

Through their deeply political lyricism and incorporation of African or Indigenous musical traditions, artists such as Gal Costa and Maria Bethânia in Brazil, and Mercedes Sosa in Argentina, contributed to the fight against injustice and oppression.

The legacy of these inspirational women continues to this day. Within the vast world of contemporary Latin American music, amongst the ever-growing range of styles and genres, there are powerful Latina voices channelling the spirit of the protest generation. In this musical selection, artistic genres range from Latino trap to cumbia through to Afro-Cuban jazz. Despite their musical diversity, they come together in building a new narrative for Latin American women.

Female solidarity, inequality, internationalism, racism and police brutality; a whole raft of issues are covered by these contemporary artists. In some cases, overt political messages are relinquished in favour of descriptions of the daily struggles. In other songs, the act of protest lies in the female artist’s defiance of traditional gender constraints that had previously limited their access to certain genres of music.

Hip-hop has a strong presence in this list. Flying in the face of the misogynistic and patriarchal undertones so often present in mainstream hip- hop, these artists are returning to the genre’s tradition as a platform for cultural resistance. Their rhymes draw attention to issues such as gender violence, lack of access to education and the struggle to make their voices heard within their own community.

When we put this music in the context of the urgent problems facing Latin America today – rising inequality, gender violence, poor education, environmental degradation and human rights abuses – the importance of protest music cannot be understated. Equally, neither can the important role Latin American women are playing in finding the solutions.

¡Arriba las Mujeres! Playlist

Listen to Ursula’s 16-track ¡Arriba las Mujeres! playlist on Spotify here and below, or on YouTube here and below. Ursula has written about six of the songs featured on the playlist below.

‘Poesía Venenosa’ by Rebeca Lane

Guatemalan feminist rapper Rebeca Lane’s socially conscious lyrics deal with the day-to-day realities of being a female hip-hop artist. In Lane’s view “hip-hop is a political movement”

Photography

By | 12/July/2017|

Last change of guard under military rule as Brazil prepares to return to democracy, Brasilia, Brazil, 1985 (Image/Copyright: Julio Etchart/julioetchart.com)

 

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Photography

By | 12/July/2017|

Last change of guard under military rule as Brazil prepares to return to democracy, Brasilia, Brazil, 1985 (Image/Copyright: Julio Etchart/julioetchart.com)

 

Visit our photography homepage

By | 12/July/2017|

Last change of guard under military rule as Brazil prepares to return to democracy, Brasilia, Brazil, 1985 (Image/Copyright: Julio Etchart/julioetchart.com)

 

Visit our photography homepage

Video

Visit our video homepage

Visit our video homepage