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Displacement, Free Trade Agreement

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

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 was intent on populating their colonies, while the latter is not. Apart from a few military bases, embassies, banks, corporate holdings, sub-contracted industries, retail outlets, plantations and a few other institutions and “national interests”, they are by and large willing to leave the hands-on management of their colonies to hand-picked local agents that 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 on the part of the local population. Local agents must guarantee their benefactors will have unfettered access to the markets, resources and wealth of the nation as well as provide 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 President Alvaro Uribe’s claim that the conflict in Colombia is over. Corporate investors that 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 problem and 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 relatively safely enter the country and extract resources without fear of i) having their workers kidnapped, being extorted, or having their property destroyed by the left wing insurgency; nor fear of ii) having to meet cumbersome environmental, labour, tax and royalty requirements. The strength of the armed left-wing 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 4 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 turned over to foreign and local business interests.

That very same military 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 the leadership of artisanal miners and peasant organizations are still being threatened and assassinated by paramilitary organizations which have been shown to have ties with the Colombian government. 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 peasant, Afro Colombian 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.) Their access to even the most basic necessities such as food is in jeopardy since they will lose direct access to food when they lose their lands, and will 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. They 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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About CPT Colombia

CPT (Christian Peacemaker Teams) Colombia is an International organization seeking to be allies for and partner with communities who are threatened with displacement and violence. We try to support their initiatives to promote justice and peace and their resistance to attempts by those who oppress them and seek to dispossess them of their land, culture and livelihoods.

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