COLOMBIA ANALYSIS: Neo-colonization – Towards a better understanding of the conflict in “post-conflict” Colombia

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CPTnet

17 January 2012

COLOMBIA ANALYSIS: Neo-colonization – Towards a better
understanding of the conflict in “post-conflict” Colombia 

by Stewart
Vriesinga

 

From colonization to
neo-colonization:

By today’s standards it is difficult
to justify the morality of the conquest and subsequent colonization of Africa,
much of Asia, and the Americas, by predominantly white, militarily-superior,
European powers during the previous millennium. What was once assumed as
evidently being God’s will–“Manifest Destiny” as it was called at
the time–is no longer a politically acceptable justification for the invasion,
genocide, dispossession and colonialization of other peoples’ countries and
other peoples’ lands.

But colonization continues. New
rhetoric and new politically acceptable justifications have replaced the old
Christian imperative that one must conquer in order to save the souls of the
conquered. New moral imperatives oblige the new generation of colonialists to
further freedom and economic development of the lost souls of the world, those
who are excluded from the benefits of free market economics and who still
wallow in the darkness of underdevelopment. It is this new rhetoric of
colonization that some refer to as neo-colonization.

As was the case with its predecessor,
in practice neo-colonization concerns itself more with the
“liberation” of the land and the wealth of the conquered than with
the liberty and freedom of the conquered peoples themselves. The major
difference between the colonizers and the neo-colonizers is that the former
were intent on populating their colonies, while the latter are not. Apart from military
bases, embassies, banks, corporate holdings, sub-contracted industries, retail outlets,
plantations and a few other institutions and “national interests”, neo-colonizers
are by and large willing to leave the hands-on management of their colonies to
hand-picked local agents who are willing to sell out their country and fellow
citizens. All in the name of freedom and economic development of course!

In return for financial, political
and military support, these local agents of the neo-colonialists must employ
any means necessary to repress all forms of resistance to the neo-colonial
corporate agenda by the local population. Local agents must guarantee that their
benefactors will have unfettered access to the markets, resources and wealth of
the nation, as well as providing the necessary infrastructure to enable
neo-colonialists to easily export the newly plundered national wealth from the
nation in question. If local agents comply, they will be richly rewarded. If
local agents turn against their benefactors, they will be deposed or even
assassinated. In Colombia the local agents of the neo-colonialists have done
their work well.

 

Has Colombia indeed entered a
post-conflict era?

Foreign and local investors seem to
agree with former President Alvaro Uribe’s claim that the conflict in Colombia
is over. Corporate investors who once abandoned their holdings in Colombia are
now returning en masse. Many new international mining corporations and other
corporations are joining them. Canada, the United States and the European Union
are all pursuing Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with Colombia. Has Colombia indeed
entered a post-conflict era?

Whether or
not one considers the conflict to be resolved depends largely on how one was
experiencing the conflict. Those who saw the conflict as problematic primarily
because it presented a threat to business interests and restricted their access
to Colombia’s vast national wealth are correct in their assessment that things
have greatly improved.

Mining corporations can now enter the
country relatively safely and extract resources without fear of (i) having
their workers kidnapped, being extorted, or having their property destroyed by
the left wing insurgency; and without fear of (ii) having to meet cumbersome
environmental, labour, tax and royalty requirements. The strength of the left-wing
armed insurgency is greatly diminished, and foreign mining and other
corporations can now count on military bases being built near their centers of
operations to protect them from left-wing insurgents. Adjustments to Colombian
laws have also been made that favour mineral extraction and other corporate
investors.

Furthermore, the fact that Colombia
has over four million internally displaced people, most of them displaced from
the rural sectors, actually favours the mining and other industries. Many of
the displaced were once occupying the very land that these corporations hope to
exploit. Hundreds of thousands more–many of them small-scale artisanal miners
and peasant farmers–face the prospect of future displacement when their mines
and land are taken over for foreign and local business interests.

The very same military that is charged
with providing security for the foreign mining companies is under investigation
for assassinating leaders of the organized communities and artisanal miners. It
has falsely accused community leaders of being guerrillas and thrown them in
jail. Furthermore, paramilitary organizations, which have been shown to have ties
with the Colombian government, are threatening and assassinating the leadership
of artisanal miners and peasant organizations. These human rights violations
actually facilitate the corporate take-over of Colombian resources.

Even the aerial spraying of peasant
food crops–along with the occasional coca plant–serves to depopulate the
countryside to make way for mega projects like mineral extraction and palm oil
cultivation.

 

The real victims of on-going conflict
and cultural genocide:

It is now clear that in Colombia the
victims of future violence are likely to be limited to those who non-violently
resist the neo-colonization of Colombia’s wealth and natural resources, not the
shareholders or personnel of foreign corporations. In this context, it is not
surprising that neo-colonialists, in their rush to push FTAs with Colombia, are
not deterred by the overwhelming evidence of ties between the right-wing
paramilitaries and the Colombian government, extrajudicial killings by the Colombian
state security forces, corruption, impunity and on-going human rights abuses.

For Canadians, North Americans and
Europeans, it is important to understand that this is a question of North
American and European-based corporations expropriating the wealth of Colombian
peasants, Afro Colombians and indigenous communities, most of whom have never
accepted neo-liberalism, free trade or the western economic development model.
Forcing them off their land is nothing short of cultural genocide! Neo-colonialists
may well believe that free market economics is the best development model for
them, and insofar as an FTA with Colombia would allow their firms to colonize
the wealth of Colombia’s marginalized peoples, it may well be economically
beneficial for them and the economies of their countries of origin. But that
does not justify the robbery and plunder of Colombia’s or any other nation’s
most vulnerable peoples.

The dispossessed and soon-to-be
dispossessed peoples of Colombia know that a free market economic development
model, whether or not it increases the GDP of the country as a whole, will not
benefit them. (The considerable economic activity of rural peasant societies
does not register in the GDP of the country since it is largely part of the
informal economy and not tracked or monitored in any way.) Dispossessed peoples’
access to even the most basic necessities such as food is in jeopardy since
they lose direct access to food when they lose their lands, and are often not
be able to find adequate employment to meet their and their children’s food
requirements in the cities.

In Colombia, as in much of the world,
free market economics does not provide employment for the people it physically
and economically displaces. The security and future of Colombia’s peasant, Afro
and Indigenous communities are clearly not served by this neo-liberal economic
development model. Communities should have the right to refuse it! As long as
that right is not being recognized–and it clearly is not–they should not be
threatened, displaced, imprisoned or killed with impunity for their refusal to
comply. Their culture and way of life should be respected and left intact. Any
government that disrespects that right is complicit in cultural genocide.

 

Resistance

For Colombian victims of neo-colonialism
and cultural genocide the conflict in Colombia is anything but over. They
continue to resist. They continue to proclaim their right to exist. They
continue to assert their right to their traditional lands and territory.

Christian Peacemaker Teams (CPT) in
Colombia will continue to stand and struggle in solidarity with them until
their rights are recognized. 

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