Sunday, April 20, 2008

The New Democrat Foreign Policy Agenda for Latin America, Part I: Sacrifice Colombia, Conceal a Crime Against Humanity


Connecticut Senator Christopher Dodd

I have a short excerpt to post from a speech Connecticut Senator Christopher Dodd gave recently, which I found on the Oppenheimer Report on Latin America blog. Oppenheimer thinks this talk suggests that Dodd may be "running for Secretary of State," and I think I agree. But I also think that Dodd makes a very subtle presentation of what are in fact some major changes in store for U.S. foreign policy in general, and Latin America in particular in this speech, should the Democrats gain control of the White House. I am going to present this analysis in two parts. In the second one I will discuss the "Multi-Polar" synthesis the Democrats are now pushing and its implications for Latin America. But in this first installment, I want to show how the manipulation of public debate so as to conceal from the American people a terrifying reality the Colombians face every day represents, in the aftermath of the decision to prevent a vote on the Free Trade Agreement in Congress, a very subtle twist of the knife in their backs.

Here is the quote:

". . . Colombia still struggles with the demobilization of paramilitaries, impunity and other human rights violations.

It has made progress towards advancing its citizens’ security and establishing the rule of law.

Colombia has faced a 40-year onslaught waged by powerful terrorist organizations bent on destroying the state.

Thousands of citizens were murdered and kidnapped. In one particularly brazen instance, guerillas linked to the Medellin drug cartel laid siege to the Colombian Palace of Justice for 26 hours, and assassinated eleven Supreme Court Justices.

In light of a violent history, and in light of the complex challenges still facing Colombia, it seems to me our narrow focus on a bilateral trade agreements makes little sense. Bilateral trade with the United States is important, but it’s only one element.

“Free Trade” between Colombia and America is not a panacea—we should stop selling it as such.

President Uribe of Colombia has focused his efforts on engaging the United States, but he needs to apply the same energy engaging his neighbors.

President Uribe needs to spend as much time travelling to Argentina, Brazil and other neighbors as frequently as he travels to Washington.

In doing so, he will be forging deeper political, social and economic relationships.

Latin America’s security, and economic future isn’t just tied to bilateral deals with the United States.

Regional trade and political engagement will far better serve everyone’s interests along with independently negotiated and instituted trade deals with the United States. . . ."

Symbolic Communication Among Democrats:  Prevent a Discussion of the FARC

The first thing I noticed about Dodd's comments on Colombia is that he begins with one of those acts of symbolic communication that sends a signal that is mutually understood among partisan allies present that "the party line" will be developed now. Dodd introduces Colombia with a reference to the difficulties the paramilitaries present for the country and then goes on to associate the paramilitary problem with the larger context of violence in Colombia's recent history, which has the effect of proposing that the paras are Colombia's central difficulty, since he only names one other organization through the remainder of his introduction; the Medellin Cartel, who were effectively destroyed by the early 1990's. And following the usual format for policy speeches, it is after his initial presentation of Colombia's problems that Dodd then proceeds to give his recommendations for a proper American foreign policy he feels would address those difficulties. But let's hold off on examining those recommendations for a moment, since I plan to get to them in a second blog, because first I want to focus on the introduction Dodd gave, because what was not said symbolizes the key piece of information he communicated.

Dodd gets all the way through his discussion of Colombia's problems and goes on to make his recommendations for addressing them without once mentioning by name the two thousand pound elephant sitting in the room; the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia -- the FARC. Later in the speech, after presenting his suggestions for changes in U.S. policy with respect to Colombia, he does refer to them twice, but those two brief references are made completely outside of his introductory analysis of the important issues for Colombia and U.S. foreign policy; they are instead oblique references to the recent border incident with Ecuador and how the crisis was averted through a Colombian apology given within the context of a joint meeting of Latin American leaders.

Dodd's decision to omit any direct reference to the FARC when he presents his brief analysis cannot be considered an accident. One could argue, as I am sure Dodd would, that he at least tangentially includes them when he mentions "powerful terrorist organizations" who are "bent on destroying" Colombia's government. But if they are so powerful and their goals are so terrible, why can Dodd not call them by name? The answer is that he must maintain that crucial symbolic communication to his fellow partisans that there will be no open discussion of the FARC's assault on Colombia's people and institutions because that will draw attention away from the problem of the paramilitaries and undermine the political justification for killing the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement.

Christopher Dodd understands what every other partisan opponent of the U.S.-Colombian Free Trade Agreement shares in common; that they must prevent public discussion of the FARC's activities in Colombia in order to avoid public scrutiny of their decision to kill the agreement. "Keep the focus on the paramilitaries" is the party line read out from the congressional Commissars as they order the invocation of the symbolism of El Salvador in the 1980's, when government-sponsored paramilitary death squads killed thousands, a situation totally unlike the Colombian paras, who were organized outside of government auspices and really represented a popular response in various locales to the inability of the Colombian government to protect them from the depredations of the FARC and other leftist guerrilla groups. The opponents of the Free Trade Agreement cannot let the FARC become part of the public discussion, which amounts to a decision to at least in part conceal the FARC's activities from the American public. That is a political crime, because the FARC are perpetrating what can truly be called a crime against humanity.

Over the past two decades alone the FARC have killed thousands of innocent Colombians in direct attacks and terrorist bombings. They have kidnapped thousands more, some have been released when ransoms were paid, some killed when negotiating terms were not followed, and over 700 still remain in custody. They have laid waste entire sections of the rural countryside which are now virtually uninhabitable due to the FARC's presence. They have forcibly conscripted thousands of young Colombian boys and girls to serve within their ranks, killing many of those who refuse to do so or who merely demonstrate they cannot be trusted. And they have built a narcotics trafficking empire that earns them hundreds of millions of dollars a year and involves them with drug producing and distribution networks that extend everywhere from Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Panama, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Honduras, and especially Mexico; all of whom have been named in revelations of the FARC's activities. When you add up the sum total of the human suffering the FARC has inflicted and continues to inflict upon human beings, it becomes difficult to deny the truth -- The FARC are currently committing a crime against humanity that involves mass murder, terrorist attacks, kidnapping, extortion, and widespread narcotics trafficking. By comparison, the paramilitaries, who have their own terrible history that mostly predates this decade, are now within a demobilization process monitored by human rights groups -- something else Dodd omitted from his analysis -- and look nowhere nearly so threatening.

Every day in America we live with spin as a fact of political life. It is something we really cannot avoid. But there must be limits to the extent to which spin can take us. The concealment of a crime against humanity is beyond any acceptable limit and anyone who tries to take a discussion of the FARC off the table acts to conceal the crime. Such actions are crimes in and of themselves.


1 comment:

Martha Colmenares said...

Un gran aporte tus excelentes análisis para dar a conocer la realidad tantas veces alertada en su momento y sin embargo, no fue atendida.
Un abrazo, Martha