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. He lives in Vermont. He can be reached at: ronj1955@gmail.com.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

Weekend Edition
August 26, 2016
Friday - Sunday
Louisa Willcox
The Unbearable Killing of Yellowstone’s Grizzlies: 2015 Shatters Records for Bear Deaths
Paul Buhle
In the Shadow of the CIA: Liberalism’s Big Embarrassing Moment
Rob Urie
Crisis and Opportunity
Charles Pierson
Wedding Crashers Who Kill
Richard Moser
What is the Inside/Outside Strategy?
Dirk Bezemer – Michael Hudson
Finance is Not the Economy
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Bernie’s Used Cars
Margaret Kimberley
Hillary and Colin: the War Criminal Charade
Patrick Cockburn
Turkey’s Foray into Syria: a Gamble in a Very Dangerous Game
Ishmael Reed
Birther Tries to Flim Flam Blacks  
Brian Terrell
What Makes a Hate Group?
Andrew Levine
How Donald Trump Can Still be a Hero: Force the Guardians of the Duopoly to Open Up the Debates
Howard Lisnoff
Trouble in Political Paradise
Terry Tempest Williams
Will Our National Parks Survive the Next 100 Years?
Ben Debney
The Swimsuit that Overthrew the State
Ashley Smith
Anti-imperialism and the Syrian Revolution
Andrew Stewart
Did Gore Throw the 2000 Election?
Vincent Navarro
Is the Nation State and Its Welfare State Dead? a Critique of Varoufakis
John Wight
Syria’s Kurds and the Wages of Treachery
Lawrence Davidson
The New Anti-Semitism: the Case of Joy Karega
Mateo Pimentel
The Affordable Care Act: A Litmus Test for American Capitalism?
Roger Annis
In Northern Syria, Turkey Opens New Front in its War Against the Kurds
David Swanson
ABC Shifts Blame from US Wars to Doctors Without Borders
Norman Pollack
American Exceptionalism: A Pernicious Doctrine
Ralph Nader
Readers Think, Thinkers Read
Julia Morris
The Mythologies of the Nauruan Refugee Nation
George Wuerthner
Caving to Ranchers: the Misguided Decision to Kill the Profanity Wolf Pack
Ann Garrison
Unworthy Victims: Houthis and Hutus
Julian Vigo
Britain’s Slavery Legacy
John Stanton
Brzezinski Vision for a Power Sharing World Stymied by Ignorant Americans Leaders, Citizens
Philip Doe
Colorado: 300 Days of Sunshine Annually, Yet There’s No Sunny Side of the Street
Joseph White
Homage to EP Thompson
Dan Bacher
The Big Corporate Money Behind Jerry Brown
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
DNC Playing Dirty Tricks on WikiLeaks
Ron Jacobs
Education for Liberation
Jim Smith
Socialism Revived: In Spite of Bernie, Donald and Hillary
David Macaray
Organized Labor’s Inferiority Complex
David Cortright
Alternatives to Military Intervention in Syria
Binoy Kampmark
The Terrors of Free Speech: Australia’s Racial Discrimination Act
Cesar Chelala
Guantánamo’s Quagmire
Nyla Ali Khan
Hoping Against Hope in Kashmir
William Hughes
From Sam Spade to the Red Scare: Dashiell Hammett’s War Against Rightwing Creeps
Raouf Halaby
Dear Barack Obama, Please Keep it at 3 for 3
Charles R. Larson
Review: Paulina Chiziane’s “The First Wife: a Tale of Polygamy”
David Yearsley
The Widow Bach: Anna Magdalena Rediscovered
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail