FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

They are Not Collateral Damage

by RON JACOBS

Burlington, Vermont

“Everybody knew but nobody wanted to know.”

While this quote can’t describe the approach every resident of the United States has when it comes to their government’s foreign policy, I think I can truthfully state that it is how most of the US’s conscious residents deal with the exploitation, dehumanization, and murder that goes on in their name.

The quote is a line from one of the testimonials provided in Daniel Bland’s English translation of Colombian journalist’s Alfredo Molano’s The Dispossessed: Chronicles of the Desterrados of Colombia (Haymarket, 2005). The person giving this particular testimony is a young man who is relating the story of his boyhood to Molano. The boy Tonito tells a story of domestic tranquility interrupted by murder and war—most of the murders perpetrated by the Colombian army and police with the aid of the paracos—the paramilitaries who often work with and for the government. That government works for the US multinationals and their interests. When the paracos aren’t working on the same side as the army, they are working to expand their control of the drug trade—a business whose ties to legitimate organs of government and capital are known in a general way but not detailed.

Molano’s book is informed by his own exile. After a series of threats to his life because of his stories in Colombian newspapers, he left Colombia for Spain, where he received refuge. However, he could not leave the displaced people of Colombia behind. So, he continues to tell their story in the hope that the stories themselves will move people to end the misery and bloodshed.
Underlying the testimonials within is the understanding that displacement in Colombia is not a side effect of the war in that country. The displaced are not what the Pentagon calls collateral damage. As Mabel Gonzales Bustelo writes in the first appendix to this translation, displacements in Colombia “are a weapon of war and part of a strategy to accumulate economic gains.” One of the women in the book remembers the oil bubbling up through the earth and, looking back, makes the connection between its appearance in her village and the appearance of the army and the paracos. Almost all of the stories include a mention of someone being killed after being accused of providing food and drink for the guerrillas—knowingly or not. If one reads these well-written tales of desperation and death with this in mind, the murderous inhumanity of the army and the paracos becomes both easier and more difficult to comprehend.

The people telling their stories in these pages are for the most part just regular country people. If they have any connection to the armed actors in the Colombian civil war, it is through a relative or friend. This is what makes their plight even more compelling. They are victims of violence only because they are attempting to live their lives—feed their children, shelter themselves and their loved ones, and put food on the table. Sometimes that means working on a banana plantation and sometimes that means growing coca or marijuana for the drug trade that the US government insists on keeping illegal (and consequently quite profitable for almost everyone involved).

Although Molano makes the point that the guerrilla forces in Colombia are responsible for some of the violence against the civilian population, he cites figures that contend that the vast majority of the murders and displacements are committed by the government forces and the paracos. While this is not news to those in the north who have followed the developments in Colombia, it is certainly worth emphasizing, especially since the US government tries to spin the story in the opposite way, blaming the guerrillas for an equal amount of the violence if not the majority of it.

The Dispossessed is more than a collection of stories about people whose lives are not in their hands. It is a book about US trade policy and the evil that policy demands. It is told in a poetic prose whose beauty defies the ugliness and brutality it describes. The lives portrayed herein are lives lived against the odds. They are the lives so many people in the northern hemisphere could never survive because of the hardship and despair that permeates the daily fiber of Los Desterrados. They are also lives that the governments and corporations of the north (especially those of the United States) do not want their citizens and customers to know about. This is why Molano’s book is so important. If well-meaning North Americans knew of the evil perpetrated in their name, some of them would act. They would see through the lies about Washington’s “war on terrorism” and its “war on drugs” and understand that the only war being fought in Latin America is a war on those who would get in the way of corporate profits, legal and otherwise. This is why this book is important. It was a bestseller in Colombia. It should be one in the US as well.

RON JACOBS can be reached at: cobs@uvm.edu

Ron Jacobs is the author of Daydream Sunset: Sixties Counterculture in the Seventies published by CounterPunch Books. His latest offering is a pamphlet titled Capitalism: Is the Problem.  He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

March 01, 2017
Sharmini Peries - Michael Hudson
The Fictitious Economy: Hiding How the Economy Really Works
Joseph Natoli
The Fourth Estate vs. the Trump Regime
Kim C. Domenico
A Deconstruction of Whiteness: Unsafe Among My Own Kind
Yoav Litvin
American Dystopia – A Future of Racists, Snitches and Outcasts
Dan Glazebrook
From Kissinger’s Playbook: Flynn is Gone, His Russia Policy Lives On
Peter Mayo
Storming “Fortress Europe” in Search of a Social World
Sam Gordon
The Audacity of Sacrilege
Arnold August
Fidel, Political Power and the New Culture of Communication
Linn Washington Jr.
Black History in Cyberspace: British 3D App Game Features Forgotten Facts
Norman Pollack
Trump’s Neo-Fascist Discourse: CPAC Revisited
Nyla Ali Khan
Women in Conflict Zones: Escaping Masculine Socialization and Generating a Transformative Vision
Sam Husseini
Questioning Pelosi and Schumer
Jesse Jackson
Private Prisons Slam the Door on Justice
February 28, 2017
Behrooz Ghamari Tabrizi
A Paradigm Shift in the Middle East: Iran as the Solution, Not the Problem
Paul Street
Big Brother Capitalism Strikes Back
Stephen Cooper
Trump’s Pusillanimous Immigration Policy Imperils the Public and the Police
Vincent Emanuele
The Madness of U.S. Empire
Michael Sainato and Chelsea Skojec
We Need the Endangered Species Act Now More Than Ever
David Underhill
Oops, They Did It Again: Crowd Bowls Over Rep in Beery Alley
John Eskow
Jimmy Kimmel is a Total Dick and Other Reflections on the Oscars
Steve Horn
Trump’s Top Energy Aide, Mike Catanzaro Peddled Climate Change Denial
Jack Random
The Trump Diaries: Week Five
Robert Fisk
The Education of Marine Le Pen
Pauline Murphy
Felicia Browne’s Fight Against Fascism
Mary Lynn Cramer
Fearing the Trump Impeachment
Mel Gurtov
While Our Attention is Elsewhere, Climate Change Worsens
Dan Bacher
Extinction 2017: California Edition
Abel Cohen
The Trojan President: America Never Saw It Coming
February 27, 2017
Anthony DiMaggio
Media Ban! Making Sense of the War Between Trump and the Press
Dave Lindorff
Resume Inflation at the NSC: Lt. General McMaster’s Silver Star Was Essentially Earned for Target Practice
Conn Hallinan
Is Trump Moderating US Foreign Policy? Hardly
Norman Pollack
Political Castration of State: Militarization of Government
Kenneth Surin
Inside Dharavi, a Mumbai Slum
Lawrence Davidson
Truth vs. Trump
Binoy Kampmark
The Extradition Saga of Kim Dotcom
Robert Fisk
Why a Victory Over ISIS in Mosul Might Spell Defeat in Deir Ezzor
David Swanson
Open Guantanamo!
Ted Rall
The Republicans May Impeach Trump
Lawrence Wittner
Why Should Trump―or Anyone―Be Able to Launch a Nuclear War?
Andrew Stewart
Down with Obamacare, Up with Single Payer!
Colin Todhunter
Message to John Beddington and the Oxford Martin Commission
David Macaray
UFOs: The Myth That Won’t Die?
Weekend Edition
February 24, 2017
Friday - Sunday
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Exxon’s End Game Theory
Pierre M. Sprey - Franklin “Chuck” Spinney
Sleepwalking Into a Nuclear Arms Race with Russia
Paul Street
Liberal Hypocrisy, “Late-Shaming,” and Russia-Blaming in the Age of Trump
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail