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Issue #1925      July 27, 2020


Give peace a chance

Colombia’s Ethnic Commission for Peace and Defense of Territorial Rights held their fifth annual assembly in July. This comprised three days of discussions, held virtually, between the leaders of Colombia’s Afro and Indigenous communities and special guests including acclaimed US academic Noam Chomsky and Francia Marquez, 2018 Winner of the Goldman Environmental Award. The assembly’s theme was Crisis of Capitalism and People’s Alternatives: Good Life, Nature and Peace. The event was an excellent example first-nations utilisation of Peacetech (technology for peace-building purposes), being broadcast on Facebook Live to over 30,000 viewers across twenty-one countries.

Colombia: a failing peace process and a failing state?

The initial hope generated through formalisation of the Havana Peace Accords, signed in 2016 by the government of Colombia and its major military rival FARC, by 2020 has largely dissipated. Gross inequality which exists within Colombian society fuelled this war for fifty-two years; the World’s longest-running conflict. The majority of fighting has been in Colombia’s rural departments, areas predominantly inhabited by Indigenous and Afro-Colombians. These ethnic groups have therefore been the most heavily affected by this rural war but are largely considered “invisible,” not part of Colombia’s bustling core cities like Bogota and Medellín. Conflict caused over 5.2 million people to flee their homelands, to become refugees or Internally Displaced Peoples (IDPs); second only to the seven million refugees produced by Syria’s recent war. Indigenous and Afro-Colombian hopes and aspirations to finally return to homelands and territories, to be provided with crop-substitution programs and alternatives to growing coca, to the end of aerial fumigation of illicit crops with glyphosate and to justice and governmental accountability have been dashed.

Since peace was declared and the FARC hung up their weapons, hundreds of Indigenous and Afro-Colombian leaders have been murdered by new armed groups; assassination is now a daily occurrence. Indigenous and Afro-Colombian populations are terrorised, forced to grow illicit crops or allow illegal mining to occur on their territorial lands.

The Colombian State has increasingly failed to provide adequate basic services to these rural communities, such as health, education and security. It is now widely acknowledged that the Peace Process is failing, due to the inability or unwillingness of the government to implement it. A 2019 terrorist attack on Bogota’s Police Cadet School led the Colombian and US governments to classify the National Liberation Army’s (ELN) ten peace negotiators in Cuba as culpable. The Colombian state now requires their extradition and is accusing Cuba of harbouring terrorists, even though they are part of a peace delegation.

The recent COVID-19 pandemic has been unsuccessfully handled by the Ethnic communities didn’t want to be bound to the National logic of development as it seldom served them, just the “common good” of profits. Colombian state hospitals around the country are at breaking point. Colombia’s economy is heavily tied to global oil prices, so the Peso has faltered recently. Corruption and links to Narcos plagues Colombian politics, and the country is now considered the World’s most corrupt state. With over 1.8 million Venezuelan refugees fleeing their homeland, now residing in its major cities, Colombia is facing an uphill battle to remain afloat as a functional state.

The ethnic commission meeting

The main theme of the assembly was the 21st century crisis that capitalism was producing on planet Earth and how Ethnic Communities should react. Noam Chomsky raised three main points of concern: (1) the imminent threat of nuclear war (2) the impending environmental crisis that global warming is producing and (3) the deterioration of democracy across the world. Chomsky reiterated the fact that the only hope of dealing with the first two crises is a vibrant democracy and how US president Donald Trump is systematically destroying all aspects of democracy across the US and the globe. To conclude, Chomsky stated that we had to recognise that “we are all in this together.” He focused on internationalism as the means by which numerous groups could collaborate internationally to overcome their problems. He stated that groups had to get organised and take opportunities as they arose, and that we needed to recognise “how to use resources in a way that will benefit rather than destroy local communities.” Chomsky stated that once these movements began, they could rise to great heights. He gave the Black Lives Matters organisation as a prime example of how things can grow and expand. “The brutal murder of one black man in the US had, within a couple of weeks, grown into the biggest popular movement in the history of the USA.” Chomsky rounded off by stating that “people can be reached, but you’re not going to read about this kind of stuff in the newspapers, as it is not the kind of thing that power systems want you to know about or understand.”

Francia Marquez highlighted the fact that ethnic communities had been living in harmony or Buen-Vivir (good living) with nature for 1,000s of years and the concept was something that needed to be recaptured. “Mankind cannot build its well-being on the suffering and destruction of something or someone else,” she said. Francia reiterated that Indigenous and Afro-Colombians had been forcibly moved to cities by conflict over the past 50 years, where “everything costs money, […] previously, eating and drinking did not cost us anything.” Protecting the environment and producing all that is needed from the land were key aspects of her message. Francia reiterated that Afro-Colombians had endured slavery and constantly rebelled against it. Today’s slavery was in the form of structural racism. Being terrorised by armed groups, assassinated on a daily basis, and not provided any basics services from government like health, education, and security couldn’t be tolerated. The COVID-19 Pandemic highlighted the fact globalisation was not working for Planet Earth and that Capitalism was very weak at its core.

The meeting ended with a traditional music group from the Cauca region of Southern Colombia.

Next article – Freedom for Simon Trinidad

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