FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

The Culture of Fear Continues in Colombia

by DANIEL KOVALIK

Back in 1996, Noam Chomsky wrote a quite terrifying piece about the U.S.-backed “Dirty War” in Colombia, and in Latin America generally, entitled, “The Culture of Fear.”  [1]  This article was an introduction to the magnificent book by Father Javier Giraldo, S.J., entitled, The Genocidal Democracy.   In this piece, Chomsky wrote,

“Two facts should be uppermost in the minds of North American readers of Father Giraldo’s documentation of the reign of terror that engulfed Colombia during the “Dirty War” waged by the state security forces and their paramilitary associates from the early 1980s.   The first is that the “democra-tatorship,” as Eduardo Galeano termed this amalgam of democratic forms and totalitarian terror, has managed to compile the worst human rights record in the hemisphere in recent years, no small achievement when one considers the competition.   The second is that Colombia has had accessories in crime, primary among them the government of the United States . . . [which has] helped to train and arm the assassins and torturers of the narco-military-landowner network that maintains ‘stability’ in a country that is rich in promise, and a nightmare for many of its people.”

As Chomsky further explained, the U.S. bears primary blame for Colombia’s paramilitary state which has carried out this terror against its own population because the U.S. created the paramilitaries haunting Colombia.   Chomsky cites Colombia’s former Minister of Foreign Affairs Alfredo Vasquez Carrizosa who explained that during the Kennedy Administration, Washington ‘‘took great pains to transform our regular armies into counterinsurgency brigades, accepting the new strategy of the death squads.’”  Chomsky explains that the “‘Dirty War’ escalated in the early 1980s – not only in Colombia – as the Reagan administration extended these programs throughout the region, leaving it devastated, strewn with hundreds of thousands of corpses tortured and mutilated people who might otherwise have been insufficiently supportive of the establishment, perhaps even influenced by ‘subversives.’”

In the 1980’s, the U.S. support for death squad states in such countries as El Salvador, Guatemala and Colombia was fairly well known amongst the U.S. population, and was discussed in the press on an intermittent basis.   I recall, for example, watching news segments about this phenomenon on 60 Minutes and even remember that this was a topic of conversation in the U.S. Catholic Church.  Today, however, this is not a matter of public discourse, is hardly ever mentioned in the press, and most Americans, even ones very well informed, have therefore been led to believe that such death squad states are a thing of the past.

The new report by Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Buenaventura, Colombia, however, demonstrates that the “Dirty War” is not a thing of the past, but is in fact ongoing, and that the paramilitary state the U.S. helped to construct back in the 1960’s continues to reign over Colombia to this very day, and with continued U.S. backing.  [2]

In the port town of Buenaventura — a city, which, by the way, was to be a model city for the glories of free trade – HRW found that “entire neighborhoods were dominated by powerful paramilitary successor groups . . . who restrict residents’ movements, recruit their children, extort businesses, and routinely engage in horrific acts of violence against anyone who defies their will.”   Amongst their “horrific acts,” these paramilitaries “have ‘disappeared’ scores – and possibly hundreds – of Buenaventura residents over the past several years.  They dismember their victims and dump their body parts in the bay and along its mangrove-covered shores, or bury them in hidden graves . . . .”   HRW relates that “[i]n several neighborhoods, residents report the existence of casas de pique – or ‘chop-up houses’ – where the groups slaughter their victims,” many times while they are still alive.

Moreover, as HRW explains, the police and navy which are supposed to be protecting the civilians of Buenaventura — 84% of whom are Afro-Colombians — do nothing in the face of this violence, or, in some cases, actually cooperate with the paramilitaries.   And, while the public authorities have hundreds of cases of abuses on their docket to investigate, the number of those prosecuted for human rights abuses approaches zero.   Therefore, while it is generally known by the community, including the police, where the “chop-up houses’” are, nobody will report them.

As the result of this state of terror, tens of thousands of civilians have been forcibly displaced from Buenaventura.  As HRW explains, “[e]very year since 2011, more people have been forcibly displaced in Buenaventura than in any municipality in Colombia:  22,028 residents fled their homes in 2011, 15,191 in 2012, and 13,468 between January and October 2013, according to official figures.”   While HRW does not draw the link, it is notable that the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement (FTA) was passed in 2011, and that the violence in Buenaventura is largely being spurred on by paramilitary groups fighting over control of the lucrative ports which were built to accommodate the increased trade brought about by the FTA.

However, Buenaventura is not an isolated case.   Indeed, just as Father Javier Giraldo described in his book, The Genocidal Democracy, Colombia continues to be a paramilitary state, with at least 40% of the national Colombian legislature having links to the paramilitaries which are becoming ever more powerful in Colombia and which are carrying out a “Dirty War” throughout that country.

While it is remarkable that such death squad violence continues to haunt our Hemisphere into the 21st Century, what is even remarkable is that the U.S. government, which helped create the death squads to begin with, takes no responsibility for this violence, continues to fund the state and military which help perpetuate it and even fails to acknowledge that these death squads continue to exist.   Of course, the U.S. media is quite complicit in this state of affairs given that it rarely if ever reports on it.

Instead, the U.S. media fixates only on the crimes, real and imagined, of the U.S.’s adversaries.  Consider, for example, how much the U.S. focuses on the recent violence in Venezuela even though that violence — much of it committed by the opposition which the U.S. favors — pales in comparison to the violence taking place in Colombia.  This again proves the proposition put forth by Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman that in this world, there are “worthy victims” and “unworthy victims,” the only “worthy victims” being those who are victimized by the U.S.’s ostensible rivals and enemies.   The victims of Colombia – one of the largest recipients of U.S. military aid in the world – sadly constitute “unworthy victims,” and are therefore barely spoken of.

Daniel Kovalik is a labor and human rights lawyer living in Pittsburgh.

Notes. 

[1] http://www.chomsky.info/articles/199607–.htm

[2] http://www.hrw.org/reports/2014/03/20/crisis-buenaventura

[3] http://bit.ly/1jibKWN

 

 

Daniel Kovalik teaches International Human Rights at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law.

More articles by:

CounterPunch Magazine

minimag-edit

bernie-the-sandernistas-cover-344x550

zen economics

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
Ajamu Baraka
Malcolm X and Human Rights in the Time of Trumpism: Transcending the Master’s Tools
John Laforge
Did Obama Pave the Way for More Torture?
Mike Whitney
McMaster Takes Charge: Trump Relinquishes Control of Foreign Policy 
Patrick Cockburn
The Coming Decline of US and UK Power
Louisa Willcox
The Endangered Species Act: a Critical Safety Net Now Threatened by Congress and Trump
Vijay Prashad
A Foreign Policy of Cruel Populism
John Chuckman
Israel’s Terrible Problem: Two States or One?
Matthew Stevenson
The Parallax View of Donald Trump
Norman Pollack
Drumbeat of Fascism: Find, Arrest, Deport
Stan Cox
Can the Climate Survive Electoral Democracy? Maybe. Can It Survive Capitalism? No.
Ramzy Baroud
The Trump-Netanyahu Circus: Now, No One Can Save Israel from Itself
Edward Hunt
The United States of Permanent War
David Morgan
Trump and the Left: a Case of Mass Hysteria?
Pete Dolack
The Bait and Switch of Public-Private Partnerships
Mike Miller
What Kind of Movement Moment Are We In? 
Elliot Sperber
Why Resistance is Insufficient
Brian Cloughley
What are You Going to Do About Afghanistan, President Trump?
Binoy Kampmark
Warring in the Oncology Ward
Yves Engler
Remembering the Coup in Ghana
Jeremy Brecher
“Climate Kids” v. Trump: Trial of the Century Pits Trump Climate Denialism Against Right to a Climate System Capable of Sustaining Human Life”
Jonathan Taylor
Hate Trump? You Should Have Voted for Ron Paul
Franklin Lamb
Another Small Step for Syrian Refugee Children in Beirut’s “Aleppo Park”
Ron Jacobs
The Realist: Irreverence Was Their Only Sacred Cow
Andre Vltchek
Lock up England in Jail or an Insane Asylum!
Rev. William Alberts
Grandiose Marketing of Spirituality
Paul DeRienzo
Three Years Since the Kitty Litter Disaster at Waste Isolation Pilot Plant
Eric Sommer
Organize Workers Immigrant Defense Committees!
Steve Cooper
A Progressive Agenda
David Swanson
100 Years of Using War to Try to End All War
Andrew Stewart
The 4CHAN Presidency: A Media Critique of the Alt-Right
Edward Leer
Tripping USA: The Chair
Randy Shields
Tom Regan: The Life of the Animal Rights Party
Nyla Ali Khan
One Certain Effect of Instability in Kashmir is the Erosion of Freedom of Expression and Regional Integration
Rob Hager
The Only Fake News That Probably Threw the Election to Trump was not Russian 
Mike Garrity
Why Should We Pay Billionaires to Destroy Our Public Lands? 
Mark Dickman
The Prophet: Deutscher’s Trotsky
Christopher Brauchli
The Politics of the Toilet Police
Ezra Kronfeld
Joe Manchin: a Senate Republicrat to Dispute and Challenge
Clancy Sigal
The Nazis Called It a “Rafle”
Louis Proyect
Socialism Betrayed? Inside the Ukrainian Holodomor
Charles R. Larson
Review: Timothy B. Tyson’s “The Blood of Emmett Till”
David Yearsley
Founding Father of American Song
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail