<i>"The Name of Our Country is América" - Simon Bolivar</i> The Narco News Bulletin<br><small>Reporting on the War on Drugs and Democracy from Latin America
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Uribe the Teacher

A Few Things the Colombian President Forgot to Mention in His Speech in New York Last Week on Education


By Laura Del Castillo Matamoros
Managing Editor, Narco News

October 4, 2007

BOGOTA: Last Thursday, one of the great luminaries of contemporary Latin American thought graced New York’s Sharaton Hotel with his presence. The occasion was the Clinton Global Initiative’s annual conference, led by ex-president Bill Clinton, that same philanthropic figure who devised one of the noblest initiatives in the history of social, military and economic aid that a great power has ever offered an underdeveloped country: Plan Colombia.


Uribe presents the “Colombia is Passion” award to Bill Clinton.
Photo: D.R. 2007 Agencia EFE
We are speaking, kind readers, of nothing more and nothing less than the philosopher-president Alvaro Uribe Vélez, who, with his speech at the September 27 forum on education in conflict and post-conflict zones, has reached a new milestone in reflection on the education problems facing Colombia.

What follows is the brilliance with which the president left the auditorium stunned:

“In my country we have a great obstacle to education: illicit drugs. That is why we need to eradicate illicit drugs, because terrorist groups force rural families to cultivate coca and not to send their children to school.”

Of course. Why didn’t it occur to anyone sooner? All the experts on the subject have been wrong: the problems in education lie not in the lack of opportunities, nor in economic inequalities, nor in the lack of resources that the state provides to public schools and universities. No, President Uribe hit the nail on the head. The problem of education is another product of the great evil of the contemporary world: coca.

This concern over the country’s educational situation was what brought Uribe to the United States last week, hoping to meet up with his old friends and win over some of the holdouts in the Democratic party. Fortunately, many ended up seeing Colombia from a new perspective, as a country where there is really no “armed conflict” or “civil war,” where there are no more paramilitaries but rather guerrillas and drug traffickers, as the president claimed on Thursday before the UN General Assembly. These are more than enough reasons for one to realize that the president has done nothing but guard the country’s future; a future in which foreign multinational corporations play a deciding role (many of them, in return for tax breaks, create foundations that give notebooks to poor kids). This is why we must fight those terrorists, who don’t let the corporations work as comfortably as they deserve. And for that to happen, more resources are needed so that the second phase of Plan Colombia can happen. That way, everybody wins. It is truly incredible that some resentful people go through the trouble to question the social component of this project.

In fact, today new and innovative pedagogical learning models are being built, led by soldiers from the Colombian army. In many rural areas of the country, it is quite common for military troops, funded by Plan Colombia, to commandeer school buildings as security checkpoints, temporary barracks or shelters to protect themselves from the terrorists. Surely, Uribe must have been proudly thinking about such actions when he spoke at the conference of how important it is for children to cultivate values like living within a community and solving problems peacefully. In Colombia, despite the tension it might provoke, the army doesn’t hesitate to approach children through recreational activities. Just look, kind readers, at this moving story, taken from the Prensa Rural website, and which clearly shows how harmonious the coexistence is between the troops of the army’s 15th Brigade and the children who live in the municipality of El Tarra (department of Norte de Santander):

“…That same day (August 18, 2007), at 9 pm, in the village of El Milagro in the municipality of El Tarra, Mrs. Ofelia Oscuro sent her three children to the local school. At the school, troops from the 15th Mobile Brigade set up a military checkpoint. When the children arrived, the soldiers forced them to remove their cloths, verbally mistreated them and finally did not let them continue into the school to receive classes normally, but rather sent them home after these outrages. The oldest of the children was just 10 years old.”


State-of-the-art rural school in the Cimitarra River Valley
Photo D.R. 2007 Agencia Prensa Rural
And if the children can’t go to school due to the fighting, no problem. The Colombian Army is always willing to make it up to them with fun activities like excursions to military bases, with sweet incentives, supported by the government. Activities like Club Lancita (in military jargon, a diminutive form of “lanza,” a work many soldiers use to refer to their comrades), or practical training sessions where the children are prepared to serve as informants in their own communities. Of course, the non-governmental organizations, devoted to dirtying the good image of the armed forces, criticize activities like these that complement rural children’s education. Just read this article from last year by the Coalition Against the Involvement of Children in the Colombian Armed Conflict, to get an idea of how they complain.

It seems like these activists are unable to understand that in a country like this one – where there is no “conflict,” just “terrorist attacks” – fear and shock therapy can become great didactic learning tools. And that’s not to mention that these activities aim to convert those peasant children into the soldiers of tomorrow. One must realize that in the long term, just like in natural selection, only those who deserve to enter university (that is, those who can pay for it) will be able to. In that sense, those children out there don’t have many options. And so the best thing is for them to continue educating themselves as adults in our armed forces, conveniently defending the interests of those luckier than them. In this way, we will be able to live in harmony and, while we’re at it, avoid them turning into social leadera, trade unionists or other such communist abominations.

I should add that with these activities, the armed forces help children to remain optimistic amid the offensive against terrorism, like all the good Colombians who believe in the government. Not like those foreign organizations, who only see the dark side of everything. Just look at this quote that accompanies a drawing of an upside-down pig that the psychologists of something called the Ecuadorian Inter-Institutional Committee had Diego Maldonado – a boy who lives on the border with Ecuador – do as they were carrying out a study on the supposed damage that fumigations cause in that part of the country:

“My piggy died and I loved him very much. He was going to help me buy a uniform so I could go to school. Whoever reads this and sees my drawing, please help me finish elementary school. All the plants and animals are gone and nothing’s left.”

Poor boy! He’s been traumatized. All right, the government just recently concluded that the fumigations strategy was not as effective as had been thought and causes some minor damage to the environment. But one must look at the positive side of things: for example, in this particular case, if the pig dies, he can go work in the school garden. If the fumigations destroy the school gardens, they can plant them again, and if the boy gets sick from the herbicide sprays, well, let him put some effort into getting better and getting back to cultivating vegetables and raising animals so that he can study. It’s all a lesson in perseverance and tenacity – another way that Plan Colombia supports rural education.

But of course, the non-governmental organizations, the infamous “NGOs,” try to convince the poor that they should complain and promote underdevelopment. If they keep at it, Colombia is going to turn into another nation of bums, just like all the countries pulled down by Marxism, where education is free for all, where everyone follows the law of least effort. Fortunately, the presidents understands well that in a democratic country, education is an investment, not a public service, as he stated at Clinton’s conference:

“People should know that democracy provides opportunity for them to raise their social level. And the way that those people can raise their social level is education. In addition to that, education creates opportunities for more productivity, more competitively, and more income.”


Some of the educational toys children found by children living in rural areas of Arauca after military operations.
Photo: D.R. 2006 Pablo Serrano
“Those people” don’t understand a thing, and even want to turn their children into enemies of the state. Later on, those children can’t be stopped, and they begin to turn to subversive acts like the National Strike for the Defense of Public Education that took place last May. The situation was nearly out of control: classes were suspended in schools and universities for a month and a half. High school and college students occupied public educational facilities, and many teachers stopped giving classes and went out into the streets. All in protest of the cut in “transfers” (national funds sent to pay for regional public services) and the measures taken in the National Development Plan (including a cut in pension payments for university professors, forcing the universities themselves to assume the costs).

Fortunately, the Colombian government has experienced pedagogical teams in place to put a stop to all this ignorance: the ESMAD (Spanish initials for the National Police Mobile Antiriot Squad). They made sure to put “those people” back in their place in the only way it can be done: with a firm hand. Just read this fine example of coexistence from a communiqué of the District Educators’ Association, published in those days when the dangerous and uncultured masses tried to destroy the nation’s order:

“… police squads under presidential orders, without warrants or prior accusations, violently invaded educational institutions using teargas, jumping over walls, breaking down doors and intimidating everyone present in which ongoing assemblies were being held, and proceeded to evict the students by force, amid protests by defenseless neighbors. Several youths were injured in the course of these events and had to be hospitalized.”

The above occurred in one of the high schools occupied by its own students protesting the mediocrity, lack of resources and despotism that, they claim, are common in such institutions. Poor little things, surely they were being – as President Uribe said at the time – “manipulated by political interests,” because the children and youth of Colombia cannot, of course, think for themselves.

Maybe the pedagogues of the ESMAD were a little rough on them, but “those people” have to learn to appreciate what they have. How is it possible that they don’t know of the great sacrifice the government makes when it invests 20 percent of the United States’ generous aid to this country in social and economic programs, reducing the funds for eliminating terrorists (who surely must be leading those protests) and for the war on drugs to 80 percent – especially when the drugs are the real culprits in the educational crisis the country suffers?

The chapter on the Colombia’s educational situation in the report Lifting the Curse (Desaher el embrujo, published last year by the Colombian Platform on Human Rights, Democracy and Development) recognizes that the educational coverage for young children rose from 82 percent in 2002 to 88 percent in 2005. But despite this, as President Uribe would put it in one of his famous sayings – “instead of contributing, they have to criticize.” For the dissidents, the rise in coverage means nothing as long as the family is often unable to pay the costs of transportation, school supplies, lunches and uniforms. How can they be incapable of paying those nearly symbolic costs? The problem lies in the fact that they don’t know how to invest their money (they spend it all on food). As such, they don’t want to progress, compete, or rise socially. That is the real problem and one of the causes of the country’s underdevelopment.


March organized by youth “who can’t think for themselves,” as part of the National Strike for the Defense of Public Education in May.
Photo: D.R. 2007 Dan Feder
Ahh, yes. And they also complain in this report about the supposed lack of investment in quality education. What do they want? For the public schools to have the same level of teachers as the private schools, where children really are educated with the goal of productivity and competitiveness? Please – that kind of advanced education is a privilege only for the children of the good families that have written the history of this country in the color red. Those same children who will study in the best universities of the United States and Europe when they grow up, in order to come back later to Colombia and assume their positions of power. The other children, the ones who, politically and economically speaking, are the sons and daughters of nobody; the only thing they really need to learn is to read and write, in order to vote for the others come election time. And for that, there is no need for investment in “quality” education.

President Uribe definitely could not have explained any better how the education system works in Latin America’s oldest democracy. Surely, after the conference he was able to share a moment with President Clinton to remember the old times, when Plan Colombia was nothing more than an idea what would one day guarantee an education for both men’s grandchildren at Harvard, Oxford, Princeton or whichever one of those universities, where their children’s children can and deserve to end up… especially when this war between the ignorant shows no signs of letting up any time soon.

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The Narco News Bulletin: Reporting on the Drug War and Democracy from Latin America