Yesterday’s Obama-Uribe meeting Back in Bogotá
Jul 012009

We are alarmed by news that on Sunday a FARC guerrilla unit ambushed the vehicle of Pedro Arenas, the mayor of San José del Guaviare, in the southern Colombian department of Guaviare.

Mr. Arenas is a longtime friend, a former social-movement leader known to many in Washington for his articulate critique of the aerial fumigation policy and his repeated calls for increased alternative development investment in his home department, which is one of Colombia’s principal coca-growing areas. (See posts from our April 2008 visit to Guaviare.)

The subject of two previous posts to this blog (2008 video, 2005 post), Mr. Arenas belongs to a locally based center-left political movement and has run afoul of both paramilitaries and guerrillas in the past. But this is by far the FARC’s worst-ever attack on him.

While nobody was killed, the president of San José del Guaviare’s town council, Marcos Baquero, is still missing. We condemn, and urge others to join us in condeming, the FARC for a vicious act of barbarism that will only serve to isolate them still further, both internationally and in the department of Guaviare. If the FARC are holding Mr. Baquero, we demand that they release him, immediately and unconditionally.

Here is a translation of Pedro Arenas’s statement on what happened. The attack also received coverage in Colombia’s El Tiempo newspaper, and on the AP wire.

Yesterday [Sunday] at 11 AM, when I was going from San José to La Carpa (a town about 50 kilometers from the county seat), we were the object of an attack with bombs and gunshots. I managed to get out of the area in an armored truck, but a departmental legislator was wounded – we rescued him two hours later – and we lost the president of the municipal council, compañero Marcos Baquero, who belongs to the Green Party. Since then, we haven’t heard a thing from Marcos and we want him to reappear unharmed.

Guerrillas of the 7th Front of the FARC committed the attack. Several of them took our secretary of education and a reporter from the community radio for half an hour to the chief of their group, who presented himself with the alias of “Jesús.” He told the reporter that his attack was aimed at the mayor, and that it was a message to show that they were very much alive, and that – according to them – “nobody is speaking against the fumigations.” The reporter and the secretary were freed, the departmental legislator is out of danger.

In La Carpa we were carrying out an activity of the mayor’s office with the support of several government agencies, which we call “services fairs [ferias de servicios],” in the framework of a strategy of preventing displacement; we bring health, technical assistance, SENA [vocational training], SISBEN [central government assistance to municipalities], subsidized regime [central government health care], sports and culture among other social services, to help the campesinos in their places of origin. I left La Carpa in an army helicopter, after speaking to about 1,000 campesinos who gathered there. In the same helicopter were also five police who were in the caravan and who were “lost” for nearly 3 hours in the zone.

This time we have saved ourselves from an ambush, but our councilman has disappeared, and I ask you to raise your voice for his return. Marcos is a campesino, leader of an association of producers, student in the ESAP [national public administration school], and a member of our political movement. This is his first time in politics and he represents the very region in which the attack occurred.

It is quite curious that the FARC would carry out this attack against me, accusing us of saying nothing against fumigations, when the truth is that we have a lifetime of commitment with the campesinos and of denouncing the damages that the spraying causes to the local economy and the environment. For the past 15 years, every day we have asked for more commitment and investment in alternative development, in roads and productive projects to help the campesinos. I did it as a councilman, departmental legislator and representative in Congress, and now as mayor I have not lowered my guard on this issue. I am still working constantly to get decisionmakers to change this policy, and instead to carry out a program of integral rural development.

This is a tremendous error on the part of an armed organization that has attacked us, ignoring the fact that, perhaps the only voice that has remained alive and aloud about the damaging effects of the fumigations has been ours. It is absurd that they would try to do away with our political process in Guaviare and to silence our voices.

19 Responses to “FARC attack on the mayor of San José del Guaviare”

  1. Chris Says:

    There’s always been a rift between the FARC and the San Jose del Guaviare community… the AUC was known to operate in and essentially “protect” the community.

    How do you think that plays into all of this? If at all…

  2. Adam Isacson Says:

    There are politicians in Guaviare who have been close to the AUC and other paramilitaries, including the governor elected in 2007, who is now in jail awaiting trial for ties to alias “Cuchillo.” Pedro’s political group is independent of all that, and Pedro has had his share of problems with Cuchillo – in fact, until Sunday I had the impression he considered the paramilitaries the bigger threat.

  3. Jaime Bustos Says:

    Adam, I am not pro guerrillas, (nor do I care to be dubbed that way) but I know that the Pastrana Peace process was partly spoiled because of paramilitary groups passing off as guerrillas. But judging by what you say, mainly that the AUC was the main threat, couldn’t it have been another one of those false flag operations so common in the colombian territory?

  4. Marcos Says:

    I wonder why it’s always a false flag operation when it’s something that would make FARC look bad and never, absolutely never, when it’s the other way around. It’s only natural that FARC would never do this, it’s impossible. FARC has always been willing to do everything good, never willing to do anything bad. It must not, and cannot, be them.

    Regards,

    Marcos

  5. Jaime Bustos Says:

    Marcos, don’t be such a smartass, Adam said “until Sunday I had the impression he considered the paramilitaries the bigger threat” Go hash your browns and come back when you’re full.

  6. Adam Isacson Says:

    It was FARC. As Pedro’s statement says, two members of his delegation were taken to talk to the local commander, “Jesús.”

    In a later communication, Pedro tells me that even though he is not a supporter of President Uribe, “Jesús” said the FARC considers him to be the same thing, “lying in bed under the same blanket,” simply because, as mayor, he is a representative of the state.

  7. Camilo Wilson Says:

    The ultimate way to end the legions of tragic occurences that befall well-intentioned, peace-loving Colombians like Pedro Arenas is for the insurgents and the government to sit down and dialogue. Neither side, for different reasons, wishes to accommodate well-intentioned, peace-loving Colombians so long as it interferes with their political agendas. The FARC clerly see Arenas as representing the Colombian State–and the Uribe government.

    As has been said now for some years, some sort of dialogue regarding a prisoner release could be a start down a long road to end these ocurrences and the carnage of the internal war. (According to a recent news report, the FARC have killed at least 187 police and soldiers this year. And the FARC have probably also lost as many from their ranks–Colombians, that is, not “terrorists”.) Uribe and his supporters are to my mind the major obstacles to such dialogue at the moment.

    If the Obama administration really wants to promote peace in Colombia, it should push Uribe down the path of dialogue. But for that to happen, the Obama Latin America team must realize that the long-term regional political costs to the U.S. of Colombia’s conflict outweigh the short-term political costs (largely domestic in character) of taking a firmer stance vis-a-vis Alvaro Uribe. And unfortunately, I don’t see that as happening.

  8. Chris Says:

    Dialogue will not work. This has to end the way it did in Sri Lanka, unfortunately Colombia is not an island…

  9. Camilla Says:

    Maybe President Uribe’s democratic security wasn’t such a bad idea after all. Maybe US funds for military action ought to be increased, not decreased. Welfare handouts are all well and good but jobs are even better – and I don’t mean welfare-bureaucrat jobs.

    Jobs can only exist if there’s democratic security and a decent climate for investment. That’s THE VERY THING you are opposed to in trying to halt the free trade treaty, terrified Uribe might just get credit for it.

    The first and foremost of all human rights is the right to personal security. That’s what democratic security is all about. No welfare handout social program will substitute.

    When will people learn? How many FARC attacks does it take?

  10. Adam Isacson Says:

    Camilla, Pedro communicates constantly with the security forces, and always travels to rural areas with a significant police escort. That’s not the issue.

    The debate has gone well beyond what you’re talking about. The question is now, “Once the security forces are in a zone, they can’t stay in such numbers – nor should they – so what happens next?”

    The Colombian government (at the operational level anyway) is wrestling with this. So are we with these visits to “integrated action” zones. Nobody serious is talking about assistentialist “welfare” payments made in a vacuum of governance.

    It’s time to stop counseling that the military alone be sent to deal with every problem, which just hasn’t worked. The response has to be far more sophisticated than that. Reducing it to security alone is a mistake.

    And it’s not clear whether a free-trade agreement will have much impact in isolated places like Guaviare that really only have near-term hopes of reaching domestic markets like Colombia’s larger cities.

  11. Camilla Says:

    Adam, without adecuate military assistance, everything is nothing. Welfare handouts and bureaucrat hiring for nation-building, or human rights “training” or whatever is fine. But it’s nothing if security is not adecuately addressed. Your blog seems full of lamentations about the level of military spending and your man McGovern is constantly trying to get military aid pulled or turned into welfare handouts. But you can do that all you like and all you get are The Projects plus terrorists. The first and foremost of all human rights is personal security, That’s why Giuliani made himself popular in New York and it’s why Uribe is popular now. It really means something to people to be able to walk around without worrying about getting blown up. I know you think only happens based on a misunderstanding and talking and counseling will fix it, but in reality, committed terrorists are different – only bigger force than what they can project will stop them. They’re terrorists, for crissakes, not people with mere disagreement. Aid and humanitarian accords won’t stop them. Force will. Maybe your man should know this.

    Meanwhile, your claim about Guaviare not benefiting from free trade is baloney. When the cities do well and expand their markets, demand rises for whatever the countryside wants to sell them. Trickle up. You are aware that Mexico’s grain production rose from 13 to 58 million tons in the dozen years after NAFTA? You can’t produce more grain without creating more jobs and that’s what happened in Mexico. I guarantee that free trade will be the best thing that ever happened to Guaviare. Your solution – which is doing nothing around trade – is the best way to ensure that no economic growth ever reaches Guaviare. What are you trying to do anyway, turn Guaviare into a nature reserve? And make its people into a human zoo? There’s no free trade in zoos and if something is not growing, if something has no opportunities, it dies. Why do you want to deprive Guaviare of any potential for growth from trade? Shutting out Colombia from free trade is exactly what FARC wants and it’s a shame you do too.

  12. Camilla Says:

    Sorry, this sentence is mangled: I know you think only happens based on a misunderstanding and talking and counseling will fix it, but in reality, committed terrorists are different – only bigger force than what they can project will stop them.

    Let me rephrase: You give the impression that peace is a sure thing so long as there are negotiations because the rationale for terrorism is merely misunderstanding that can be ‘dialogued’ away. But in reality, terrorism doesn’t happen based on misunderstandings, it happens because someone wants to kill someone else and scare a lot of survivors with the explicit aim of achieving power through terror. That’s what the dirtbags who tried to kill your friend meant to do. People like that can’t be dealt with through peace processes and dog biscuit rewards and handouts and peacebuilding and social programs. They can only be dealt through use of a bigger force than their own – military force.

    Meanwhile, you misread me, or else are throwing out a straw man or a false choice in saying I claim military force alone is sufficient for peace. I said welfare handouts and peacebuilding or community organizing or whatever are fine and dandy. But they are nothing if a place has not been made secure, as this FARC Marxist terror attack illustrates.

  13. chris Says:

    They are going to pass the FTA with Colombia soon… it’s desired in both parties…. the Democrats have been delaying it somewhat to give the illusion that they care for the thoughts of a minority of their constituency, but the whole Human Rights argument isn’t enough to stop it outright…

  14. Camilla Says:

    I hope you are right, Chris. Democrats who feel critical shouldn’t think this means they can’t still be critical or make a difference. Some editorial writers have argued that if they want to put heat on Colombia, they should do it through Plan Colombia funds, where it would hit DIRECTLY, instead of at free trade, which after all, benefits the private sector. I simply can’t understand why 46 million Colombians and their future should be held hostage to a few thugs who belong in jail. The one thing that will dry up the flow of thugs is real jobs and free trade will really do that. The private sector shouldn’t be held hostage to the acts of thugs or the ineffectiveness of the Colombian government. Thugs should be held accountable and if necessary the government. Not the private sector. Free trade actually yanks money from Colombian government coffers (via tariffs) and puts it in the pocket of nonkillers in the private sector. That’s something I favor, and the antitrade crowd does not. They think jobs just kinda float in out of the air and have nothing to do with investment conditions on the ground. Free trade is a NATIONAL program and therefore the whole national private sector will benefit. The only loser will be the Colombian government itself which will lose all that juicy tariff cash ($1 billion). But leftists who don’t want free trade are happier to see that cash in the hated Uribe’s pocket. This is their illogic.

  15. Camilo Wilson Says:

    • Free trade will in no measure favor those small farmers who reside in remote areas of Guaviare—or as for that matter, of Caquetá, Meta, Arauca, Putumayo, Casanare, Vichada, Guainia, Vaupes, Amazonas, Nariño, Norte de Santander, and Chocó. Nor will it do much for Afro-Colombians and indigenous populations in Cauca. Why? Because there are no economic “linkages” of a kind that would allow those populations to benefit. And please, don’t argue for free trade in the name of fighting illegal narcotics. The small-farm populations producing the illicit crops are not “linked,” they do not participate, they will not benefit.

    • In her enticing blog, Camilla paints a picture of thugs on one side, and the private sector on the other. This is very misleading, for many in the private sector—which is “private” indeed in Colombia—supported, and continue to support, right-wing paramilitaries, and were—are—perfectly willing to look the other way, when not actively participating in grave human-rights abuses against labor activists and other alleged leftists.

    • Colombia is a land with a socioeconomic structure that favors a relatively small elite. Until that structure in some measure changes, any gains from economic growth, or even free trade, will favor that elite. The gains will not filter “down.” The historical tradition in other countries also favors such an elite: Honduras (cf, the current polarization), Guatemala, El Salvador, Peru (cf, the recent violent conflict in Amazonas), Ecuador, Venezuela, and Bolivia, to name but a few. The so-called private sector in these countries is not much concerned about their socioeconomically marginal citizens. Colombia, and U.S. policy toward that benighted land, stand as a classic case with so much that is wrong in the hemisphere.

    • That elite, and those in the “private sector” who are part of it, are strong supporters of Álvaro Uribe. And Uribe clearly wants to favor them. This is part of the perverse, Colombian social contract. This is why free trade is important to Uribe.

    • A wave of elected left-of-center regimes have come to govern about 60 percent of the region’s population in recent years. Today’s regional poverty rate is above 34 percent (by some accounts, it may reach 40 percent), according to the latest figures (for 2007) from the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC). The region is one of the most unequal in the world. The region’s Gini coefficient, a measure of income distribution—Colombia is in the lead—hasn’t changed significantly since 1990. And what does this say for the so-called Washington Consensus?…

    • U.S. policy, and those who make it, seem ill-prepared to address this issue. And trust me, it is in the long-term best interests of the U.S. to address it. U.S. policy for a half-century or longer has rested on a view from “above”—from embassies and from the Washington policy-making elite. What is needed is for policy to incorporate a view from “below”—from the masses suffering in the impoverished urban barrios (Colombia’s tourist-popular Cartagena is but one example) and from the legions of neglected citizens in small towns and peasant hamlets throughout the region. These marginal populations—los de abajo, es decir—are demanding that their needs be addressed. And democracy, in a region with democratic elections but profoundly undemocratic societies, is not their foremost concern. The prospect that policy under an Obama administration is indifferent to this issue breeds cynicism. Like never before, a window of opportunity is open. Unlike former U.S. leaders and many today in Washington who have never lived close to poverty and exclusion, Obama himself can surely appreciate the view from “below.”

    • In regard to U.S. policy, I would like to suggest that readers—and especially my friend Camilla—take a look at two recent articles, one by Michael Gorbachev (“We Had Our Perestroika. It’s High Time for Yours”) in the Washington Post, the other by Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz (“Wall Street’s Toxic Message”) in Vanity Fair magazine. Both of these articles have a special message as regards U.S. Americas policy. The links to read them are as follows:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/06/05/AR2009060501966.html

    http://www.vanityfair.com/politics/features/2009/07/third-world-debt200907

  16. Camilo Wilson Says:

    Let me make some minor editorial revisions in my previous blog, as follows:

    •Free trade will in no measure favor those small farmers who reside in remote areas of Guaviare—or as for that matter, of Caquetá, Meta, Arauca, Putumayo, Casanare, Vichada, Guainia, Vaupes, Amazonas, Nariño, Norte de Santander, and Chocó. Nor will it do much for Afro-Colombians and indigenous populations in Cauca. Why? Because there are no economic “linkages” of a kind that would allow those populations to benefit. And please, don’t argue for free trade in the name of fighting illegal narcotics. The small-farm populations producing the illicit crops are not “linked,” they do not participate, they will not benefit.

    •In her enticing blog, Camilla paints a picture of thugs on one side, and the private sector on the other. This is very misleading, for many in the private sector—which is “private” indeed in Colombia—supported, and continue to support, right-wing paramilitaries, and were—are—perfectly willing to look the other way, when not actively participating in grave human-rights abuses against labor activists and other alleged leftists.

    •Colombia is a land with a socioeconomic structure that favors a relatively small elite. Until that structure in some measure changes, any gains from economic growth, or even free trade, will favor that elite. The gains will not filter “down.” The historical tradition in other countries also favors such an elite: Honduras (cf, the current polarization), Guatemala, El Salvador, Peru (cf, the recent violent conflict in Amazonas), Ecuador, Venezuela, and Bolivia, to name but a few. The so-called private sector in these countries is not much concerned about their socioeconomically marginal citizens. Colombia, and U.S. policy toward that benighted land, stand as a classic case of so much that is wrong in the hemisphere today.

    •That elite, and those in the “private sector” who are part of it, are strong supporters of Álvaro Uribe. And Uribe clearly wants to favor them. This is part of the perverse, Colombian social contract. This is why free trade is important to Uribe.

    •A wave of elected left-of-center regimes have come to govern about 60 percent of Latin America’s population in recent years. Today’s regional poverty rate is above 34 percent (by some accounts, it may reach 40 percent), according to the latest figures (for 2007) from the Economic Commission for Latin America and the Caribbean (ECLAC). Further, the region is one of the most unequal in the world. The region’s Gini coefficient, a measure of income distribution—Colombia is in the lead—hasn’t changed significantly since 1990. And what does this say for the so-called Washington Consensus?…

    •U.S. policy, and those who make it, seem ill-prepared to address this issue. And trust me, it is in the long-term best interests of the U.S. to address it. U.S. policy for a half-century or longer has rested on a view from “above”—from embassies and from the Washington policy-making elite. What is needed is for policy to incorporate a view from “below”—from the masses suffering in the impoverished urban barrios (Colombia’s tourist-popular Cartagena is but one example) and from the legions of neglected citizens in small towns and peasant hamlets throughout the region. These marginal populations—los de abajo, es decir—are demanding that their needs be addressed. And democracy, in a region with democratic elections but profoundly undemocratic societies, is not their foremost concern. The prospect that policy under an Obama administration is indifferent to this issue breeds cynicism. Like never before, a window of opportunity is open. Unlike former U.S. leaders and others today in Washington who have never lived close to poverty and exclusion, Obama has, and so can surely appreciate the view from “below.”

    •In regard to U.S. policy, I would like to suggest that readers—and especially my friend Camilla—take a look at two recent articles, one by Michael Gorbachev (“We Had Our Perestroika. It’s High Time for Yours”) in the Washington Post, the other by Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz (“Wall Street’s Toxic Message”) in Vanity Fair magazine. Both of these articles have a special message as regards U.S. Americas policy. The links to read them are as follows:

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/06/05/AR2009060501966.html

    http://www.vanityfair.com/politics/features/2009/07/third-world-debt200907

  17. Jaime Bustos Says:

    This freaking Camilla is outright lying once more, the most wealthy private sector has been killing campesinos and unonists for years through the hiring of paramilitaries and there’s nothing that hints of their stopping these practices. I agree that a few thugs should not be putting a whole population in jeopardy. Only that besides the FARC thugs, Camilla once and again deliberatly misses to address the thug in the presidency with the legion of paramilitary crooks he controls. Nothing for the common sense which is forgivable, nothing for the intelligence which is offending.

  18. chris Says:

    Thanks for the links Camilo Wilson…

  19. MZR Says:

    Great post, Camilo Wilson. There may also be a link between the implementation of NAFTA and the increase in Mexico’s drug related violence. There doesn’t seem to be a huge body of research on this (yet) but there certainly could be a link, which would generally negate most of what Camilla is postulating. Although more research is needed, it is fair to say that NAFTA is doing little to alleviate drug related crime in Mexico.

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