February 15, 2008


To Whom Are We Accountable?

Reflections on the Conflict in Colombia

By Heidi Andrea Restrepo Rhodes

On February 4th, hundreds of thousands took to the streets in Colombia and worldwide to protest the FARC-EP (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia-Ejército del Pueblo/Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army). Online and media debates have been rife with arguments that are increasingly polarizing an issue that requires a far more complex attentiveness. We are so quick to point fingers while the binary of “for or against” rings familiar for both U.S. and Colombian citizens, as the rhetoric of anti-terrorism proliferates, particularly in this post-9/11 world, conflating neo-liberal politics with State heroics. The notion of the nation’s ‘internal enemy’ has been amplified in the social imaginary, allowing for ‘national security’ to extend its reaches into the folds of the everyday, impinging on what once were, for many of us privileged with citizenship in the United States, assumed freedoms. For Colombia, the effects of Uribe’s Democratic Security and Defense Policy remain alarming as such polarization mandates patriotic allegiance from the nation’s citizenry, and freedoms are also interfered for the promise of the public’s protection. And yet, the complexity of this moment cannot be reduced to this alone. A vigilant inquiry would require a more profound exploration of the socio-political histories and present, of Colombia’s internal politics, and of U.S-Colombia relations.

But today, as we stand to make something of our present, of the worlds which hold meaning for us, I hope we can ask ourselves, “To whom are we accountable?” In any political act, (and I would contend that no act is devoid of politics,) what are the ethics with which we arrive? When we choose to fill the streets with our bodies and voices, for whom do we march, with whom do we speak? Numerous organizations constituted by marginalized groups within Colombia have already denounced the march as a pro-war injunction towards increased militarization in an already hyper-militarized state. The United States funded ‘Plan Colombia’ has sent five billion dollars to Colombia since the year 2000, with roughly five and a half million budgeted for 2008. Over 70 percent of this has directly funded State military and defense programs. What could the public be capable of in refusing the reductionism of anti-FARC politics, and instead, attempting an analysis that asks our communities, our States, the world, “what are the structural conditions of history that produced this moment as we each live it differently in the present?” and “security for whom, from what, and why?” Who are the multiple victims of violence in such a program of national cleansing?

It should be noted that the FARC recognize themselves as a collective representative of Colombia’s rural poor in a decades-long struggle for land rights, against oppression by Colombia’s wealthy ruling classes. Uribe’s national support stems mostly from the middle and upper classes who remain intent on maintaining their economic and social privileges: an endeavor which has been justification for the ‘parapolitics’ of the State, for increased neo-liberal policies and implementation of ‘Plan Colombia’ which necessarily includes the continued cultivation of international corporate relations and staunch regulation of the body-politic. This is an endeavor which must be marked as classed, as peasants in the Chocó region have been forced by the Colombian Army and paramilitary forces to flee their homes and over three million Colombian citizens have been displaced internally since the beginning of the 21st century. It must be marked as racialized, as thousands of individuals from Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities throughout the country have been murdered in order to clear land for corporate development. And it must be marked as gendered as women’s bodies are raped and mutilated, as sexual violence continues to be utilized as a weapon of war on all sides.

This is not to defend the numerous violences perpetrated by the FARC, but to examine the rampant public and State demonization of rebel forces in Colombia. It is to bring into question representations of the FARC as a resistance movement and contrast them to those of the State and contingent paramilitary groups, mainly the AUC (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia/United Self-Defense of Colombia) which are also responsible for profuse violences within the country. This is an internal war at hand, with documented violences including over 15,000 disappearances in the last 20 years, 40,000 politically-related deaths since 1990, and over three million displaced, making Colombia’s internally-displaced population the second largest in the world, second only to Sudan.

While certain territories are occupied, intimidated, and violated by FARC members, so are other regions occupied, intimidated and violated by the Colombian Armed Forces, paramilitary forces, corporate sponsored-private military forces, as well as national and private forces funded by U.S. tax dollars, with the numbers of human rights violations perpetrated being heavily outweighed by the latter contingencies. If one is to be diligent in asking of the effects in the here and now, one must note that the construction of the FARC as the Colombian Nation’s internal enemy too often allows this last point to be deserted in the name of the fight for security. And so again, I ask, “security for whom, from what, and why?”

February 21st will mark the three year anniversary of the massacre at Mulatos in the San José Peace Community in the Urabá region, where eight individuals, including community leader Luis Eduardo Guerra and his family, were mutilated and murdered at the hands of Colombian military troops, their bodies dumped in shallow graves. All too often, citizens in rural areas are killed by military and paramilitary forces, their deaths fraudulently reported as success against the opposition. Will our politics allow for violence like this to be forgotten? Will those living on the margins, los de abajo, continue to shed their blood and be silenced for demanding justice?

And, as we take to the streets, or don’t; as we make a stand for the freedoms we have inherited, and rage against the injustices we have endured: what does democracy mean to us? Does justice mean self-determination for the privileged few, or for all? In what ways are we holding our governments accountable towards the collective welfare of the body of the nation, towards sanctioning peaceful rather than violent means of governance? And, perhaps in this moment, most importantly, with what urgency are we, as residents within Empire, or as citizens endowed by the state with certain privilege, pointing our gazes inward to question our own collusions and complicities in the violences that ravage our communities, our countries, our world? How can we use the privilege we have to intervene on injustice in all its complexities, to perform action in struggle, in solidarity with those who need it most?

To whom are we accountable?

Ms. Rhodes is a scholar-activist of Colombian and U.S. heritage, working for the rights and self-determination of disenfranchised communities within both Colombia and the U.S.  She currently resides in San Francisco. Email: addy0406@gmail.com

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