Colombia in Negative
On the Opposition to Uribe’s Government and Other Affronts to the Establishment
By Laura del Castillo Matamoros
Narco News Editorial Columnist
February 22, 2005
“The opposition, those that dissent with the ideas of the government or its ruling party, will be protected with the same care as the friends or partisans of the government.”
– Alvaro Uribe Vélez
These days, after objectively and dispassionately analyzing the first two years of President Uribe’s term, it is possible to conclude that, in the end, the economic and social policies and the concept of security imposed during his rule have not been so inadequate, ineffective, and dangerous as one might think.
Yes, kind readers, as a Colombian, one should think these things through. One should make an effort to leave behind all negative thoughts about the President’s performance, leave negativity behind in order to look at the positive aspects of his term: security on the highways, has let decent Colombians, tradesmen, and foreigners travel with peace of mind, increased tourism, and inspired confidence among foreign investors. Kidnappings, homicides, and massacres have decreased, miraculously, thanks to the president’s “democratic security” policy (Spanish PDF).
The economy has also shown a great improvement at the macro level. More spots have opened for students in both basic and university education. What’s more, last year 3,553,000 low-income people signed up for subsidized healthcare. All of this, of course, according to the official figures that bring such joy to Colombian citizens and should bring around all those “lost sheep” out there.
Since Uribe took office, one can’t help but be reminded of one of those dollhouses she played with as a child, in which everything functioned in perfect harmony, and whose inhabitants worked together (thanks, in our case, thanks to the informant networks, community policing and peasant soldiers, programs the government has instituted so that civil society might also form an active part of the fight against terrorism).
So then, among all this “return to hope,” it’s possible to wonder why some people oppose the Uribe government. Is it that they want to destabilize the country? Are they guerrillas? Agitators, maybe? People who, blinded by their political militancy, just want to discredit the government? What follows are some examples, not to be followed by those Colombians of impeccable morals.
The opposition in Congress: No doubt, a true embarrassment for the noble ruling class of our country. It is made up of congressmen and congresswomen like Carlos Gaviria of the Democratic Alternative, Piedad Córdoba of the Liberal Party, Antonio Navarro Wolf of the M-19, and Samuel Moreno of the Democratic Pole, among others. One can always see them when the time comes to criticize anything the president does: they don’t like it that the United States illuminates us with their constant interventions in the country’s internal affairs; they believe the government’s reforms of Colombian law are antidemocratic and come at the expense of the poor; they propose a diplomatic solution to the armed conflict (but please, understand that the president has now said that we cannot talk of “armed conflict,” but rather of “terrorist threats”); they complain that Plan Colombia has generated more investment in war than in social programs. Likewise, they hope to fight in defence of democratic liberties. And they support all kinds of popular mobilizations. Simply abominable. And the most serious danger is that these people are uniting more and more. In fact, the Democratic Pole and the Democratic Alternative have decided to merge their political objectives and name a single candidate, either Samuel Moreno or Carlos Gaviria, to face Uribe in the 2006 elections.
But what do they hope to achieve? Why don’t they dedicate themselves to working to keep the nation’s interests safe? Why don’t these negative people follow the example of legislators like Representative Yidis Medina, who after publicly announcing that she would vote against the re-election gave way at the final hour to a sudden attack of faith that made her change her mind? Just look at the political benefits she has gotten thanks to her newfound optimism. But of course, like Carlos Garviria, who insists on saying that “offering benefits in exchange for votes is a crime of bribery,” there are certainly some stubborn members of Congress. Piedad Córdoba, for instance, still complains that her website is subject to hacker attacks. Alexander López Maya, representative from the Del Valle department, showed up at the top of a list of political, labor, and human rights leaders to be assassinated in order to fulfill the main political objective of a plan designed by active and retired military officers, known as “Operation Dragon.” But why such an uproar? If these patriotic heroes just want to guarantee our security, why are these congressmen being so subversive?
Human rights organizations: This includes groups like the José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers Collective, the Center for Popular Research and Education, the Association of Family Members of the Dissaperared, and the Colombian Lawyers Committee. These people are still supposedly “reflecting” and “thinking about the country.” Their supposed function is to promote human rights and denounce the abuses committed against those rights. During President Uribe’s administration they have done nothing but criticize his “democratic security” policy and the work of the armed forces. In mid-April of 2004 they caused quite a scandal over members of the army that “accidentally” murdered an entire family of peasant farmers in the town of Cajamarca, department of Tolima. They seem to have trouble understanding that a country also learns and grows from its “mistakes.” They should learn from the president, who always gives “good faith” to everything done by those under his control, as he said in a statement at the time: “I am convinced of the army’s good faith in this error.” And besides, one never knows, it might have been a family of guerrillas, like those that get scooped up in mass arrests. Remember, kind readers, that according to the president, these non-governmental organizations are “mouthpieces for terrorism.” Worst of all, they insist that they must exist, because, supposedly, a real democratic government is strengthened by its critics. And they still find it odd that in the last two years, thirty-three human rights activists have been assassinated or disappeared. It’s that, with such a negative, destructive attitude towards the dark forces of the state, those forces have no choice but to do their job.
The social movement comprised of peasant farmers, indigenous, and Afro-Colombians: The disgrace of under-development, ladies and gentleman. These characters are currently complaining because the government has introduced a constitutional reform that would eliminate their right to a special legal protection – specifically, a “tutela” complaint (PDF) – when they feel their collective, environmental, social, economic or cultural rights are threatened (ay, yes, so much complaining is frankly unbearable). They propose a more just agrarian reform, in which it would not just be the landed elite who possesses high-quality farmland. They propose a halt in fumigations, which are supposedly destroying the environment and causing health problems in members of local communities; that less priority be given to highway, hydroelectric, and petroleum mega-projects and more importance placed on the protection of the ecosystem. And they claim that because of the violent plunder of their land by paramilitaries, they have been forced to flee and endure the daily assassinations of community members, especially their leaders. They also complain of harassment from different guerrilla groups and that the government shows no interest in actually protecting them.
Don’t they know that the land belongs to those that make it produce in great quantities, with current technology (that is, the technology that only big landowners have)? Aren’t they aware that, thanks to the fumigations, thousands of North American youth will stop consuming drugs? (They’ve been saying this for years, right?) And how could priority not be given to the mega-projects, if foreign investment has been so key to this country’s progress? On the other hand, if highways are not constructed, how could the government organize its merry caravans of tourists and businessmen? How can they ask the government to invest manpower in their protection when it has to concentrate on protecting the property of the foreign corporations that work here and believe in the potential of our country? These people definitely want us to be left behind… they should really just finally come to the cities, where we need men as manual laborers, kids to clean windshields in the streets, and women as domestic servants. And if they don’t want to move, they should enter the new program for campesino (peasant farmer) soldiers. In the case of the indigenous, they should let their officials join up with the armed forces, as the government proposed to the Civic Guard of the Nasa people in the Cauca department, who of course did not accept the proposal. What an incredible inability to see the positive side of things!
The labor movement: So much is needed to invest in the war, and these slackers are demanding better pay and decent working conditions. The nerve! How inconsiderate! Right now, their fight is against the privatization of public companies. Such is the case of the oil workers’ union (called the USO by its Spanish initials) which is trying to stop this from happening to Ecopetrol (the Colombian oil company). Another such struggle is occurring with the Cali Municipal Workers Union and their fight to keep public companies from being privatized in that city. They say their problem is not just the loss of labor rights that these changes are generating, but also with the voracity of the foreign firms that want to acquire the companies that, according to them, belong to all Colombians. Really, they should first be thankful that they have enough to survive. The president is totally correct when he says that their benefits are already too high, that they are living in privilege and that the company should be liquidated.
Neither are the unions on board with the application of a bilateral free trade agreement with the United States, nor with the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), which, as the government says, will strengthen the economy and development of our country. The unionists believe that these types of alliances just give more privileges to multinational corporations in order for them to have more control over their investments, exploiting natural resources and taking advantage of widespread poverty, hiring qualified workers who don’t demand too much money. So much social resentment! If we followed the example of the colonial push of the developed countries, where the world has no barriers (and culture is the least important thing of all), we would already be much farther along. Really.
What’s more, they take the increase in taxes the government has placed on basic family products (from seven percent, the Value Added Tax only went up to ten… not much, right?) and public utilities, the rising tuition costs for public schools, the rise in fares for public transportation, and other new costs, as some kind of attack. They question whether the government will really use this new revenue to reinvest in social programs, as claimed, or whether it will all just go to the war budget. And, of course, they claim that despite these tax and fee hikes, they have not been able to reach an agreement with the government over a possible salary increase…
And there are still those who make a big fuss about the fact that seventy-two trade union activists were “eliminated” last year alone. What a way to complain! As they say, that which isn’t useful just gets in the way. Hopefully they will realize that the only thing the government wants is to teach them the value of hard work and sacrifice. They only have to take into account that the great industrial societies were formed, in part, thanks to the workers who worked more than eight hours without rest, and often, without eating well. And look where those societies are today. We have so much left to learn.
The movement in defense of education: With everything the government has given them, they still complain. Aren’t there more spots for low-income children? Don’t they have computers now for poor schools? But no, they still complain. Mostly made up of public school students, unions like the Colombian Educators’ Federation (FECODE) and the Education Workers’ Union, and non-governmental organizations dedicated to education issues, this movement is demanding that the quality of public education be improved, better working conditions for teachers, and that academic programs in public universities not be shortened or closed (as is happening at the National University). As they see it, there are still far too few spaces for students in the education system, especially for those that are victims of displacement and those with mental or physical disabilities. So? They should work and learn to earn their bread with the sweat of their brows from an early age. And as to the quality of working conditions… just shut up, and get used to what’s there, since in the end, education is a favor, not a right.
And just the same, the movement for the defense of public health complains about the closure of hospitals, the lack of medical resources, and personnel layoffs (as if they don’t understand that any reform in favor of privatization requires sacrifices). The journalists who criticize the government claim that violations against freedom of expression have gone up, and that the list of their dead, threatened or persecuted colleagues gets ever longer (the result of sticking their noses in where they don’t belong).
What dark-minded people. Hopefully, they will eventually stop organizing so many marches, which look so ugly coming down our streets and cause so many traffic problems.
Fortunately, there are still some good, refined Colombians, who understand that in our country – where today we can all live together in harmony – one needs to see the positive things in our institutions and our rulers if she doesn’t want to be killed.
Because showing one’s dark side becomes, let’s say, uncomfortable, in the nation of “Uribistic” happiness. That’s just how it is…
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