Category Archives: Contradictions

Environmental Crisis in Casanare- 20,000 animals dead; What caused it?

Since last week, dryness in Colombia’s eastern Casanare state have resulted in the environmental devastation and the death of over 20,000 animals, mostly chiguiros, alligators, cows/cattle, pigs, turtles, deer, fish and birds. The crisis has centred around northern Casanare in the municpality of Paz de Ariporo.

chiguiros in Casanare. Photo credit: RCN La Radio.

The environmental crisis in Casanare has hit a nerve in the Colombian media and in social media networks. Generally, the crisis has been attributed to varying degrees to land use and climate change, although there is controversy about what actors bear what responsibility. Here  is a brief overview of what is being said and by whom.

According to local authorities, the crisis has killed off almost 10% of the animals in the region. There hasn’t been any rainfall in the savanna since December. Some environmentalists have attributed the crisis to cattle-ranching activities, others to the exploitation of oil in the region; the National Entrepreneurs Association (ANDI) President Bruce Mac Master says that climate change, and not oil companies,  is the culprit.

Whereas government environmental agency, the IDEAM, is saying that is is a ‘normal’ part of the dry season, environmentalists Wilder Burgos and Leon Paz says that usually the dry season leaves some water, and that this is unprecedented.

The Colombian Minister of Mines and Energy, Amylkar Acosta Medina, says that its would be premature to blame oil companies; Acosta said that the main agent here is the State, and he reminded that there are other activities in the region which leave a significant environmental footprint such as agribusiness (particularly Palm Oil cultivation). Acosta defended the presence of oil companies in the region, arguing that oil extraction can actually help the water supply as “for each barrel of crude that is extracted, approximately 10 barrels of water are being extracted”.  

Acosta also mentioned that should an extractive project threaten an aquifer or a zone of “hydric re-charge”, it would be protected by the Ministry of the Environment.

The Minister of the Environment, Luz Helena Sarmiento, for her part, attributed the crisis to an overexploitation of the land (particularly agriculture and large-scale cattle-ranching), a lack of care towards water deposits, and local climate change. Breaking from Acosta, Sarmiento mentioned that oil exploitation “may be” also having an impact.

The President of Colombian Petroleum Association (la Asociación Colombiana del Petróleo), Alejandro Martínez, said that given the “industry standards” there should not be an impact on bodies of water or their sources. Martínez also cited that the oil industry accounts for “only 0.35% of national water consumption”.

However, others are pointing fingers at the oil industry. According to Norbey Quevedo Hernández at El Espectador, since 1973 large-scale rice cultivators in Casanare switched to cattle-ranching/pastoralism due to the armed conflict, and an economic crisis related to contraband. In 1991, Quevedo tells us, oil deposits were found in Cusiana and Cupiagua, and the presence of oil companies followed, leading to significant environmental changes in the region. Citing the government’s Institute for Hydrology, Meteorology, and Enivronmental Studies, Quevedo argues that oil exploitation led to soil erosion due to deforestation.

Although the responsibility of oil companies is still in dispute, many sectors of the local population are attributing the environmental crisis to them.

It’s estimated that the crisis will take around 1 billion pesos (COL) to be properly addressed; oil companies in the region have promised to donate around 205 million. One Colombian lawyer has argued that companies should not have to take on the cost of the crisis at all, given how these are “speculations withou basis” to the claims that oil exploitation is contributing to the prolonged dry season. The Governor of Casanare, Marco Tulio Ruiz Riaño, called the companies collective offer “ridiculous” and countered that each company should pay 100 million. Representatives from the oil companies are apparently going to meet internally and offer a new proposal.

There is uncertainty around whether or not CORPORINOQUIA, the a local government agency, did the proper diligence in terms of planning to mitigate a potential emergency like this. The Minister of the Environment said that state agencies like Corporinoquia have been focusing solely on attending extractive companies in the region, and not on the stewardship of natural resources.

At the same time, an advisor to the Governor’s office in Casanare, Carina Rojas, has criticized the national Environmental Ministry for excessively giving out environmental licenses, that it has enabled deforestation, has insufficient controls, and is ignorant of what oil companies are investing in terms of compensation. Sarmiento has argued that there has been no excess in environmental licenses.

The Agustín Codazzi Geographic Institute (IGAC) has given five “sins” culpable for the crisis: excessive cattle-ranching, the lack of ground-water retention, oil exploitation activity, and the little productive resources of the soil/its acidic nature and low-fertile nature which has a delicate organic surface layer.

Several social and environmental activists have written to the UN and the Organization of American States, in which they attribute to the crisis to cattle-ranching and resource extraction in the region.

Finally, Carlos Victoria at Las2Orillas shares an interesting reflection on the crisis. Victoria asserts that the crisis is but one of many in Colombia, and a product of colonial and neo-colonial concepts of seeing the Earth as a “resource” to dominate, destroy, and profit off of. Victoria says that this logic of trade liberalization, and ‘globalization’, is a concept of development that benefits elites and is in the service of accumulating capital. Victoria also argues that the apolitical and “neutral” response from environmental sciences have only served to legitimate the government’s narrative around the Casanare crisis. He calls on them to no longer be “co-opted by neoliberalism” and to assume an ethical responsibility to the citizenry.

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Yves Engler: Harper Supports Saudi Monarchy

Originally published on Rabble.ca on March 24, 2014. Written by Yves Engler.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper claims to take “strong, principled positions in our dealings with other nations, whether popular or not.” But, even the most ardent Conservative supporters must wonder what principled position is behind the recent government-sponsored arms deal with Saudi Arabia that will send over $10 billion worth of Light Armoured Vehicles to one of the most anti-woman and repressive countries in the world.

Saudi Arabia is ruled by a monarchy that’s been in power for more than seven decades. The House of Saud has outlawed labour unions and stifled independent media. With the Qur’an ostensibly acting as its constitution, over a million Christians (mostly foreign workers) in Saudi Arabia are banned from owning bibles or attending church while the Shia Muslim minority face significant state-sanctioned discrimination.

Outside its borders, the Saudi royal family uses its immense wealth to promote and fund many of the most reactionary, anti-women social forces in the world. They aggressively opposed the Arab Spring democracy movement through their significant control of Arab media, funding of authoritarian political movements and by deploying 1000 troops to support the 200-year monarchy in neighbouring Bahrain.

The Conservatives have ignored these abuses, staying quiet when the regime killed Arab Spring protesters and intervened in Bahrain. Worse still, the Harper government’s hostility towards Iran and backing of last July’s military takeover in Egypt partly reflects their pro-Saudi orientation. In a stark example of Ottawa trying to ingratiate itself with that country’s monarchy, Foreign Minister John Baird recently dubbed the body of water between Iran, Iraq and the Gulf states the “Arabian Gulf” rather than the widely accepted Persian Gulf.

Ottawa hasn’t hidden its affinity for the Saudi royal family. Baird praised a deceased prince for “dedicat[ing] his life to the security and prosperity of the people of Saudi Arabia” and another as “a man of great achievement who dedicated his life to the well-being of its people.”

“I am very bullish on where the Canadian-Saudi Arabian relationship is going,” Ed Fast told the Saudi Gazette in August. On his second trip to the country in less than a year, Canada’s International Trade Minister boasted about the two countries’ “common cause on many issues.”

Fast is not the only minister who has made the pilgrimage. Conservative ministers John Baird, Lawrence Cannon, Vic Toews, Maxime Bernier, Gerry Ritz, Peter Van Loan, and Stockwell Day (twice) have all visited Riyadh to meet the king or different Saudi princes.

These trips have spurred various business accords and an upsurge in business relations. SNC Lavalin alone has won Saudi contracts worth $1 billion in the last two years.

As a result of one of the ministerial visits, the RCMP will train Saudi Arabia’s police in “investigative techniques.” The Conservatives have also developed military relations with the Saudis. In January 2010, HMCS Fredericton participated in a mobile refueling exercise with a Saudi military vessel and, in another first, Saudi pilots began training in Alberta and Saskatchewan with NATO’s Flying Training in Canada (NFTC) in 2011.

The recently announced arms deal will see General Dynamics Land Systems Canada deliver Light Armoured Vehicles (LAVs) to the Saudi military. Canada’s biggest ever arms export agreement, it’s reportedly worth $10-13 billion over 14 years.

The LAV sale is facilitated by the Canadian Commercial Corporation, which has seen its role as this country’s arms middleman greatly expanded in recent years. The Conservative government has okayed and underwritten this deal even though Saudi troops used Canadian built LAVs when they rolled into Bahrain to put down pro-democracy demonstrations in 2011.

This sale and the Conservatives’ ties to the Saudi monarchy demonstrate exactly what principles Harper supports: misogyny, military repression, monarchy over democracy and commercial expediency, especially when it comes to the profits of a U.S. owned branch plant arms dealer.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

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Who is and is not a ‘paramilitary’? Erasing the changing nature of Colombia’s conflicts over land

A few weeks ago, Al Jazeera English’s “Fault Lines” program recently ran an interesting 20-minute investigative piece on the struggles of community leaders with respect to the Land Restitution process, which raises some questions about whether or not paramilitarism continues, or has changed in Colombia.

colombia-ley-de-tierras “Land & Life”, photo credit: InfoLatAm

Some context The Paramilitary Demobilization & Contested Narratives.

Since the 1920s (and arguably, since the 16th century), disputes over who owns land, whether land can be ‘owned’, who gets to benefit off of the land, have been deeply influencing Colombia’s armed and social conflict.

Although the FARC, the ELN, drug cartels, and the army/all armed actors in Colombia have displaced people off of their land and terrorized communities in order to exert social and territorial control over them, right-wing paramilitary groups working often on behalf of narcotraffickers and large land owners have been particularly tied to the question of displacement. Colombia is said to have the highest number of internally displaced people in the world (the Norwegian Refugee Council puts it at 5.5 million, and this documentary puts it at around 6 million). This is not  even counting those who were displaced outside of Colombia. Many in Colombia say that throughout the war, as much as 10 million hectares have changed hands.

What’s interesting here is that many analyses concerning Colombia’s Land Restitution Law follow a common, and relatively accurate, narrative – Colombia’s land restitution process is at serious threat because of the continued threats by armed groups to community organizers leading land claims. However, the Al-Jazeera documentary probes deeper into the ideological and semantic questions of these threats, which arguably, are of tremendous significance to the political moment in which the land restitution process occurs.

Firstly, the confederation of right-wing paramilitary groups known as las Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC, or the United Self-Defense forces of Colombia) demobilized in 2003-6 in a highly-criticized process which some victim’s groups saw as a granting of impunity    Many of the middle-rung paramilitary leaders who demobilized under the law (and were not extradited to the United States on drug trafficking charges) will start to be released this year.

Thousands of the former paramilitaries granted legal benefits under the demobilization process with the previous government of Alvaro Uribe (2002-2010), re-armed into groups that have been characterized by the government and some analysts as “criminal bands” or BACRIM, or armed groups that are primarily focused on narcotrafficking, and not actors in the armed conflict.

In the documentary, a functionary of the national government says that the BACRIM are not paramilitaries, for example, because they do not engage in combat with the FARC or the ELN.

Others, such as opposition Congressman Ivan Cepeda have argued that the BACRIM are neo-paramilitaries, or a continuation of powerful interests defending themselves with private armies. What is undoubted is that the human costs of paramilitarism, and the tactics of repression, threats, and cruelty imposed by these groups on the civilian population are very similar to the ‘old’ paramilitaries and are devastating. It is important to note however that the ‘old’ paramilitaries in the 1990s committed many large, atrocious massacres, and these are much less common now, although the selective murders of activists continue at an alarming rate in Colombia. It’s also worth nothing that violence perpetrated by the neoparas/BACRIM accounts for the majority of forced displacement currently.

At the heart of the question is what is the ideological motivation (if any) behind these paramilitary successor groups – if they have, like the Castaños – a clear anti-subversive, right-wing and seemingly fascist ideological motivation, or if they are “merely” criminal groups or drug traffickers and pistols-for-hire for powerful landed interests. This raises some questions about history – one of Uribe’s main challenges in beginning negotiations with the AUC in the early 2000s was that to do so they needed to have legally recognized political status (which they did not). Moreover, some have argued that even the AUC did not necessarily have a coherent guiding ideology as many groups were the private armies of (seemingly apolitical) narcotraffickers. However, in relation to land, it is clear that the AUC did have a clear pro-business, pro-land owner and anti-dissident agenda.

“Neoparamilitarism” in the Current Political Moment – Moving toward “peace”?

SantosRestitucion President Juan Manuel Santos Calderon giving land titles in Mampujan, Cesar at a land restitution ceremony. Photo credit: Caracol.com.co

The important point here is the political interests behind this seemingly abstract distinction – if the they do have an ideological motivation, then perhaps the “neoparas” are a continuation of paramilitarism in Colombia, but if they are not, this validates the official discourse that paramilitarism in Colombia ended in 2006 with the demoblization of the AUC. Under this logic, which is the government narrative and is often reproduced in Colombian media, the only groups left to negotiate with for “peace” in Colombia are the guerrillas.

Within this narrative is the conjecture of the “historic” 2011 Victim’s and Land Restitution’s Law and the current peace talks with the FARC guerrillas in Havana. Both initiatives by the Santos government are aimed at ending Colombia’s conflict (although, a conflict defined in certain ways) and providing ‘reparations’ for “moving forward” or establishing a so-called “peace”.

Although the Victim’s Law is a useful tool and has some interesting mechanisms for Victim’s (such as a reverse-onus for land-owners accused of having ‘dirty’ land to prove that they obtained it legally), the law, as explained by the Al-Jazeera documentary, is actually quite tepid in how much land can be redistributed, and in how much time (the law stops after a decade, and the backlog on land claims is enormous). Furthermore, according to one interviewee, the law won’t touch the land of large companies or land-owners who have their paper work in order. In other words, the Victim’s Law is not an agrarian reform to respond to not only the violent, largely paramilitary and narco-trafficker-driven, counter-agrarian reform/displacement crisis of the last 30 years, but it also leaves out the historic question of land inequality in Colombia (rooted in colonialism). Finally, there are questions about whether those displaced by the BACRIM/neo-paras (as these aren’t deemed as political actors in the armed conflict) will be eligible for restitution.

Therefore, the political categorization of Colombia’s armed groups in institutional and political terms shapes conceptualizations of the conflict, and subsequently, divergences between how the state wants to frame the war (or ignore it) and how people experience it in human and material terms (killings of leaders continue, land isn’t given back).

Ideologically, the Colombian state, the international community, and particularly academia, seems to prioritize political violence (as this threatens the state, and is more “sexy”/associated with mass and sensationalized violence). Prioritizing this violence also prioritizes its victims. However, that begs the question – what is an armed conflict, what is political violence, and what does it matter? Arguably, Mexico is currently experiencing a brutal civil war.  Politics also currently colours the mass wave of violence in Venezuela, which in recent years has had some of the highest murder rates in the world.

It makes little senses to create a hierarchy of violences, and of  its’ victims, according to rigid and problematic intellectual definitions of an ‘armed conflict’ needing to have a certain relationship to discourses (groups needing explicit political goals) and to the state (protecting or challenging its monopoly on violence).

Kyle Johnson in a guest piece over at Colombia Reports on the “neo-paras” offers a much more useful conceptualization:

The political at its root is the capacity to make and implement decisions that define, normally limiting, the rules of the game in society by imposing restrictions and permissions on certain actions; it is looking to establish a social hierarchy and decide who resides where in that hierarchy; usually the rules and hierarchy are reinforced through coercion and selected benefits for certain sectors of the population. This definition is far from most arguments about what constitutes political positions, political interests, etc. It is derived from classical political theory and some sociological concepts on political power, and it should be noted that one does not need a clear, well-developed ideological project to have a political side.

…..

Given the incredible historical importance that land has played in establishing the position of people in the regional social hierarchy, and thus the economic, social and political power large landowners have, the threats and violence against those who are reclaiming their stolen land back are effectively defining the place of certain actors in that hierarchy. …

Additionally, these coercive actions indicate that looking to gain stolen land back is not permitted in the areas under Urabeños’ control.

So in the Colombian context (and many others) the contention that is politics is largely rooted in land, and therefore the BACRIM/neoparamilitaries are definitely political actors as they are trying to close political space for actors wanting to claim it, using a language of ‘cleansing’ that harks back to the days of the AUC.   They also  seem to be in favour of business interests and against activists/community leaders and progressive sectors.

By re-defining the nature of politics to be something broader than explicit ideology or threats to the state, and armed political conflict, or by not creating a hierarchy of victims, hopefully this would open more institutional spaces for victim’s to have access to memory, reparations, justice, and restitution on their terms. However, as things currently stand, questions of whether paramilitarism continues in Colombia are seemingly being ignored by the state and some sectors of the media in their language and characterization of paramilitary successor groups as ‘criminal bands’ disconnected from the past paramilitaries. What the thesis of ‘neoparamilitarism’ does is throw a wrench in the the assumptions behind the Land Restitution process, the peace process, and notions of transitional justice in Colombia : the Justice & Peace Law was not just an abject failure in providing justice, but it also provided no peace and no transition. At a local level, conflicts over land continue in the same nature as during the height of the war and paramilitarism/paramilitarism was not stopped by the demobilization.

Validating the official discourse – that paramilitaries are over, land is being given back, and soon, the guerrillas and the war in general will be history, erases not only the current lived experiences of people in regions like Jiguamiando and Curvarado and the Urabá region, but also more structural, historical, and political underpinnings of Colombia’s conflict (land inequality and the brutal repression of peaceful dissidence). It also erases how Colombian democracy was shockingly co-opted by paramilitary groups, and that the alliances between certain businesspeople, politicians, and armed groups who displace and threaten peasants, Afro-Colombians, popular sectors, and indigenous people are something that has been overcome.

In other words, at this course, violence against Colombia’s peasantry will long continue after the FARC give up their arms, but the victim’s of Colombia’s war will be even more invisible; the war will be further denied.
PS – The International Criminal Court is looking at one paramilitary group, the ‘Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia’, popularly referred to as “Los Urabeños“.

Further reading: York University Professor Jasmin Hristov’s “Legalizing the Illegal: Paramilitarism in Colombia’s ‘Post-Paramilitary’ Era” is strongly recommended.

For another perspective, InsightAnalysis has a wealth of information on Colombia’s BACRIM.

At a local level, according to Ariel Avila,  it also seems that ‘parapolitics’, or alliances between neoparas/BACRIM are still occurring, reminiscent of the ‘parapolitica’ scandal that touched over a third of Congress, intelligence agencies, the military, and civil cervants.

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VerdadAbierta.com: “Justicia y Paz, en la recta final para llegar con macro-sentencias de ‘paras’ en junio”

Justicia apurada, justicia negada? Una importante noticia sobre el proceso de justicia y paz/justicia ‘transicional’

Publicado originalmente el el Lunes 13 de Enero en VerdadAbierta.com

“La meta de cerrar los procesos contra 16 ex jefes paramilitares y guerrilleros postulados a Justicia y Paz con una sentencia que englobe a todos sus subalternos antes de junio de este año ya va a mitad de camino. VerdadAbierta.com muestra el estado de esos procesos y los pronósticos que hacen fiscales y abogados de víctimas y postulados.

audiencia

Desde inicios del año pasado, la Fiscalía decidió cambiar la estrategia de Justicia y Paz, y darle prioridad a los casos contra 16 de los principales ex jefes paramilitares y guerrilleros postulados al proceso para poder conseguir sentencias definitivas en un menor plazo. Con la estrategia original, que pretendía juzgar a más de tres mil postulados a Justicia y Paz caso por caso, según ordenaba la Ley 975 antes de que fuera reformada, el cálculo daba que tomaría casi un siglo terminarlos, una contradicción en sí misma pues se trata de una justicia transicional. (Ver nota: El año decisivo para Justicia y Paz).

De ahí que se haya reorganizado el trabajo de la Fiscalía para sacar adelante inicialmente 16 macro-procesos – reducidos ahora a 13 para la etapa de juicio – encabezados cada uno por un ex jefe de los grupos armados que está postulado a Justicia y Paz, con el objetivo de que éstos terminen en 16 sentencias colectivas para ellos y quienes fueron sus subalternos, y en reconocimientos, colectivos también, a quienes fueron sus víctimas.

La meta de junio de este año no es gratuita; en ese mismo mes muchos postulados, incluidos jefes paramilitares, podrían comenzar a solicitar su libertad porque cumplen los ocho años de prisión, la pena más alta a la que pueden ser condenados en Justicia y Paz. (Ver nota: Así será la priorización de Farc y Auc en Justicia y Paz).

El nuevo método consiste en que primero la Fiscalía hace las imputaciones contra los postulados (las acusaciones por sus delitos) en audiencias preliminares frente a los Tribunales de Justicia y Paz, y luego, comienzan las audiencias concentradas, en las que se expone de una manera más detallada los hechos o crímenes por los que son juzgados los postulados; después, el incidente de identificación de afectaciones causadas a las víctimas, y termina con la sentencia y las posteriores audiencias de cumplimiento.

Hasta el momento, tres de esos procesos están por entrar a la última etapa de “audiencias concentradas”. Otros nueve macro- procesos se encuentran un paso atrás, en las “audiencias preliminares”, y los demás están en etapas anteriores.

El 9 de diciembre del año pasado, Juan Pablo Hinestrosa, director de la Unidad de Justicia y Paz de la Fiscalía, defendió en una rueda de prensa el trabajo de la institución: “en junio de 2014, postulados como Fredy Rendón Herrera, alias ‘El Alemán’, y otros postulados de mayor y menor rango van a quedar libres por el vencimiento de sus penas cumplidas. La apuesta que hace la Fiscalía desde que empezó esta administración es lograr que cuando empiecen a quedar libres estos postulados se tengan sentencias condenatorias para así cumplir con lo que se llama Justicia Transicional”, explicó.

La justicia transicional colombiana, que se ha aplicado en varios países como una manera de dejar atrás la guerra, buscó suspenderles las condenas por sus múltiples delitos atroces a aquellos paramilitares y guerrilleros que se comprometieron a dejar las armas en forma colectiva o individual, e imponerles penas de máximo ocho años de cárcel, a cambio de que colaboraran con la justicia, la verdad y la reparación de sus víctimas. Y este año se cumple esa pena máxima de ocho años para muchos de ellos.

VerdadAbierta.com consultó a fiscales, abogados de postulados y de víctimas que participan en el proceso y coincidieron en que no es muy probable que se consigan fallos condenatorios de los postulados y sus subalternos en los cinco meses que faltan. Además, algunos de ellos advirtieron que no sólo importa la celeridad con que se adelanten los procesos, si no que se cumplan los principios generales de la Ley de Justicia y Paz de responderle a las víctimas y a la sociedad con verdad y justicia y una reparación debida.

Las cuentas
Hasta diciembre del año pasado se habían realizado las imputaciones contra nueve de los postulados. Cada una de estas imputaciones incluye la descripción de la larga lista de crímenes que confesaron los ex paramilitares o ex guerrilleros y su grupo o que el fiscal del caso documentó, según los tipos de delitos que Fiscalía fijó como prioritarios. Estos son: violencia sexual, desplazamiento forzado, desaparición forzada, reclutamiento de menores y casos de connotación, que son delitos seleccionados por el fiscal de cada grupo como masacres, secuestros, extorsiones a gremios regionales u homicidios de minorías o líderes de la comunidad.

Los procesos que van más avanzados son los de las Autodefensas Campesinas del Magdalena Medio, el del comandante del Frente 43 de las Farc, ‘Martín Sombra’, y el del Ejército Revolucionario Guevarista. Las audiencias concentradas están fijadas para el próximo 20 de enero en los tribunales de Justicia y Paz de Bogotá y Medellín.

La diligencia que hasta el momento más retrasos presenta es la de Diego Fernando Murillo Bejarano, alias ‘Don Berna’, que iniciará el 27 de enero con la imputación de cargos por su participación como comandante de los Bloques Héroes de Granada, Héroes de Tolová y Cacique Nutibara. (Ver nota: Magistrados ordenan indagar sobre espinosas verdades)

Al hacer los cálculos hay que considerar que la Ley 1592 de 2012 que reformó la Ley 975 de 2005 o de Justicia y Paz, no establece ningún tiempo límite de duración de las audiencias preliminares y la concentrada. Los únicos plazos establecidos son los de los intervalos entre la finalización y el inicio de una nueva etapa.

A mediados del año pasado, cuando se anunciaron los primeros avances de la estrategia de priorización, la Fiscalía había anunciado que el 31 de julio de 2013 tendría radicados los escritos de imputación de cargos para que los magistrados establecieran la fecha de inicio de las audiencias. Sin embargo, los cálculos eran optimistas para el volumen de trabajo que esto implicaba y los fiscales sólo pudieron terminar estas imputaciones entre octubre y diciembre o apenas están por terminar. Un fiscal le explicó a VerdadAbierta.com que las audiencias concentradas podrían tardar un poco más que las imputaciones, pues la formulación de cargos es más detallada. “Se abordan todos los casos con más profundidad –explicó –, ahí debe quedar muy claro quiénes fueron los autores y si fueron materiales o no, y presentar todas las circunstancias de tiempo, modo y lugar”.

En el siguiente gráfico puede visualizar mejor cómo es el proceso de priorización y el estado en el que se encuentran:

Se recomienda ver la presentación en pantalla completa.
Dé clic en Start Prezi y luego en el cuadro de la parte inferior

 

Infraestructura
Uno de los problemas que más llama la atención de los defensores de los postulados y las víctimas es la escasa infraestructura y personal con la que cuenta la justicia para hacer esta inmensa tarea. La mayor parte de la responsabilidad para dictar esas 16 macro-sentencias recae sobre los seis magistrados de conocimiento de Justicia y Paz con los que cuenta el país (cuatro en Bogotá, uno en Medellín y uno en Barranquilla). Los fallos hasta el momento se refieren a 11 mil hechos que comprometen a 34 mil víctimas. A esto habría que agregar las demás diligencias que se derivan de los casos de otros postulados y estructuras guerrilleras y paramilitares que no han sido definidos como prioritarios, pero que aun así deben continuar.

Sobre esto, el director de la Unidad de Justicia y Paz, citó al Fiscal General de la Nación, Eduardo Montealegre, en una intervención que había hecho meses atrás diciendo: “señores Magistrados, el balón está en su campo, de ustedes depende que podamos sacar esta sentencias condenatorias antes de junio de 2014. De ustedes depende que este esfuerzo macro de la Fiscalía, Unidad de Justicia y Paz, no sea inocuo, que no estemos arando en el mar. Que realmente podamos mostrar que en Colombia no nos quedó grande la Justicia Transicional y que estamos en la Fiscalía General de la Nación, preparados para recibir un eventual proceso de Justicia Transicional que llegare de La Habana. Estamos demostrando que la política de priorización es un hecho, es un éxito. Que hemos cumplido, nos falta mucho por hacer, pero que lo que primero hicimos fue fijar una estrategia para poder evacuar en mayor medida toda esa cantidad de hechos y de víctimas que están reclamando justicia”.

No obstante, el trabajo de investigación de varias decenas de equipos de fiscales debe ser evaluado y sopesado por pocos magistrados con equipos de trabajo pequeños, para poder conducir adecuadamente la etapa de juzgamiento y dictar sentencia. Como dijo un abogado de uno de los postulados, “los magistrados no tienen el don de la ubicuidad”.

Explicó que “el deseo de todos es tener las sentencias, pero si uno ve el proceso desde la infraestructura es complejo, hay mucha distancia de lo que se quiere a lo que ocurre”. Además dijo que se requiere que colaboren también otras entidades como el Inpec, y las otras partes que participan del proceso. No obstante las dificultades, aseguró que “desde la metodología que se implementó con la priorización, en el último año por lo menos se logró algo que no se había obtenido desde el 2005: en un día se imputaron 300 hechos”.

Los aplazamientos han sido una de las causas en los retrasos de las audiencias. En los meses anteriores, entre julio y diciembre del año pasado, en los que la Fiscalía había programado la etapa de las audiencias preliminares, se han presentado retrasos por diferentes motivos que van desde problemas en el transporte de los postulados desde las cárceles, excusas médicas por parte de los postulados hasta simples trámites jurídicos o administrativos.

Otro jurista que defiende a un ex jefe paramilitar extraditado a Estados Unidos expresa que para este año también hay que corregir los problemas logísticos que se presentaron en etapas anteriores. Relata que hubo retrasos de días o semanas porque los dispositivos para hacer las videoconferencias se dañaban o el Inpec fallaba en el traslado de algunos postulados.

Una defensora de víctimas de varios procesos de Justicia y Paz, entre ellos el del Bloque Central Bolívar, coincidió con las contrapartes en que los magistrados son muy pocos para tantas sentencias.

La meta
Esta misma abogada advierte, sin embargo, que “no se trata de afanarse para mostrar resultados. La eficiencia y la eficacia no pueden ir por vías distintas. La celeridad no puede recortar la esencia de Justicia y Paz, es decir, debe quedar claro que para reparación debe haber verdad, y no hay verdad si no hay justicia”.

La defensora también señala que “las víctimas están esperando que desde hace 10 o 20 años se les cuente la verdad. Lo que puede salir en junio son sentencias parciales, es decir una verdad parcializada. Porque los delitos priorizados excluyeron en algunos casos torturas, secuestros o robos. Y antes de que una víctima fuera asesinada, años antes había pasado por todo eso. Hay que tener en cuenta la reparación”.

El abogado del ex jefe paramilitar manifiesta que “estoy de acuerdo con la Corte cuando dice que es imposible llegar a una verdad absoluta del conflicto. Pero estas macro-sentencias deben contar la verdad para garantizar la no repetición. Hay víctimas que a pesar de contar ya con las sentencias, no han sido indemnizadas después de un año, y también hay temor entre los postulados que después de tanto tiempo queden libres y no quede muy clara su situación. Hay que pensar desde ahora en las seguridades jurídicas”.

Hasta este punto del proceso es claro que lo que falta para terminar es bastante: de cuatro partes del proceso de juzgamiento se ha avanzado parcialmente en la primera y faltarían otras tres, que en la práctica serán más extensas. El reto de alcanzar las 16 macro-sentencias anunciadas por la Fiscalía en el tiempo en que se lo propuso y, al mismo tiempo cumplir con los requisitos de la Ley de Justicia y Paz, recae casi completamente sobre los hombros de magistrados y fiscales.

No obstante, la responsabilidad de que esta se logre se extiende a diversas entidades que intervienen en el proceso. Por ejemplo, tan solo que un postulado no vaya a una audiencia programada porque el Inpec no hizo el traslado, o que no se haga una transmisión de una audiencia ente víctimas en un lugar remoto por razones técnicas, puede retrasar un caso varias semanas.”

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Drummond, un desastre ambiental, económico y social

Originalmente publicado el lunes 18 de febrero, 2013 en Razon Publica. Por Rafael Pardo de Colombia Medio Punto.

Alvaro Pardo desastre Drummond Razon Publica
Alvaro-Pardo
Un análisis revelador y detallado del contrato leonino y de la larga cadena de abusos  y de excesos de esta compañía carbonera durante 25 años.

Álvaro Pardo*

​Se nos creció el gringo

Gary Drummond, un mediano productor de carbón en Alabama, Estados Unidos, suscribió en 1988 con Carbocol el contrato de Aporte Minero 078 para operar La Loma, cuyos términos y condiciones le permiten actuar en los departamentos de Cesar y Magdalena como una república independiente, sin más leyes y normas que las que la compañía misma establece y que el Estado debe respetar.

Con diez años de anticipación, la compañía Drummond solicitó a la autoridad minera renovar el oneroso contrato de Aporte Minero de La Loma, que vence en el 2019, y que arrastra un enorme historial de irregularidades e infracciones a las normas ambientales, y un ostensible desprecio por el entorno social, los derechos humanos y la legislación laboral.

Con una producción superior a los 23 millones de toneladas en el 2011,  esta compañía se ha convertido en la segunda carbonera más importante del país — después de Cerrejón — a costa de transformar, en complicidad con el Estado, un rico departamento agropecuario en un desierto en construcción.

Alvaro Pardo desastre Drummond Gary​Gary Drummond, un mediano productor de
carbón en Alabama, Estados Unidos, con
alto vuelo en Colombia.
Foto: Justice For Colombia.

Contrato leonino

Quienes pensaban que Cerro Matoso era un modelo de lo que el país no debía hacer en materia de contratación minera, están equivocados. Veamos algunas joyas del contrato original y de los otrosíes que conforman el contrato 078 de 1988.

A diferencia de todos los demás contratos mineros del país — que pagan regalías por la producción en boca de mina — Drummond logró pactar que las regalías se paguen por los volúmenes que embarcan. De manera que todo el carbón que se pierda en el proceso técnico, de transporte y de embarque corre por cuenta del Estado. Por ejemplo, el carbón que fue arrojado al mar el pasado 13 de enero es una pérdida para el Estado.
Todas las cifras del contrato son presuntivas. Inversión presuntiva, ganancias presuntivas, costos presuntivos y fletes presuntivos. Sobre estas cifras presuntivas, se calcularon las regalías y se pagaron los impuestos; se permitió el uso de estos estimativos, porque “la empresa requiere tener suficiente flexibilidad técnica para su adecuado desarrollo”.
Las regalías son del 15 por ciento sobre el precio FOB presuntivo. Además de ser presuntivas, las regalías no se pagan como en los demás contratos mineros —  sino el primer 5 por ciento a los 30 días del embarque y el 10 por ciento restantes otros 30 días después. Una forma elegante de financiarse con recursos del Estado.
Uno de los logros económicos más importantes para el país fue haber pactado una ganancia presuntiva equivalente a las ventas brutas de carbón menos los costos presuntivos y la renta de los activos. Como los costos presuntivos los estima Drummond, el Estado no ha recibido jamás un solo peso por este concepto.
El precio FOB del carbón de Drummond se fijó inicialmente en relación directa con el precio FOB del carbón del Cerrejón. Sin embargo, desde cuando se enajenaron los intereses de la Nación en Cerrejón, el precio fue fijado durante varios años por la misma compañía. La autoridad minera ni se inmutó por el riesgo moral de la información, pese a que es una variable fundamental para calcular las regalías y pagar impuestos.

Actualmente, las regalías se liquidan mediante una fórmula compleja, cuyas variables surgen sin que la autoridad minera las pueda fiscalizar. Las restricciones al acceso a la información son tan grandes, que la realidad contable de la operación está cubierto con un manto de confidencialidad.

Las regalías se liquidan mediante una fórmula compleja, cuyas variables surgen sin que la autoridad minera las pueda fiscalizar.

El contrato de La Loma se extiende hasta el 23 de febrero del 2019, y el mismo contrato establece la forma como se llevará a cabo la reversión gratuita de los bienes al Estado. Sin embargo, y pese a que no hay posibilidad de renovación, desde 2009 la compañía inició gestiones orientadas a lograr una nueva prórroga de 30 años, con la misma estrategia litigiosa, irregular y mañosa de Cerro Matoso.

Entre los costos deducibles para obtener el precio FOB Boca de Mina se incluyen los costos operativos, hecho que es razonable y que se aplica a los demás contratos mineros. Pero Drummond logró también que se permitiera la deducción de costos no operativos, como amortizaciones y rendimientos sobre la inversión.
En ocasiones, los costos operativos y no operativos fueron tan altos que superaron los precios de venta del carbón y el precio FOB Boca de Mina fue negativo. La autoridad minera no tiene forma de verificar esta información.

Cuando Carbocol necesite revisar una información, designará una firma independiente, aceptable para Drummond, para verificar los pagos de las regalías, y podrá revisar todo, excepto la información de las actividades realizadas entre Drummond y las demás empresas de su grupo. Esa es la forma clásica de reducir los impuestos y regalías que pagan las multinacionales a los países pobres con recursos naturales no renovables.

La información sobre embarques es provista por un certificador independiente, nombrado y pagado por Drummond. Toda la información relevante depende de la compañía y todo el contrato está diseñado para defender sus intereses económicos.

Compras de carbón a terceros, mezclas de carbón en puertos, depreciación de bienes ya depreciados, venta de un porcentaje de  los RNNR del Estado a la japonesa Itachu y tarifas férreas son temas también grises y confusos en este contrato. En tres auditorias, la Contraloría General de la República se llamó la atención sobre estos temas, pero ni empresa, ni autoridad minera, se dieron por enterados.

En un ejercicio preliminar, la Contraloría General encontró que los costos de transporte por tonelada en tren eran inexplicablemente superiores al transporte terrestre. Por ese concepto, integrado a los costos operativos, el país habría dejado de recibir unos 60.000 millones de pesos en 2005.

Por ejemplo, el carbón que fue arrojado al mar el pasado 13 de enero es una pérdida para el Estado.

En fin, el análisis del contrato revela la gran debilidad negociadora del Estado; su desmedido afán de atraer a cualquier costo a inversionistas extranjeros para que, mediante la explotación acelerada de los recursos naturales no renovables, se cree un flujo de caja representado por impuestos y regalías; el poder de las multinacionales para imponer sus propias condiciones, desde luego muy provechosas para los privados, y el profundo desprecio por todos los demás aspectos del entorno minero: el medio ambiente, la comunidad, los trabajadores, los derechos humanos y los poblados confinados.

En los Contratos de Aporte firmados con Drummond, Cerro Matoso, Prodeco y Cerrejón, los mayores productores de carbón y níquel, se manifiestan tanto el poder de las multinacionales para diseñar un esquema contractual que les permite maximizar sus ganancias como la ausencia de un Estado y una política minera que defienda los intereses de los colombianos.

Un estorbo para la gran minería

Decenas de estudios académicos, independientes y de los organismos de control coinciden en el inmenso daño ambiental de las diversas operaciones de gran minería a cielo abierto que se adelantan sin mayor control oficial en la zona central del departamento de Cesar.

Al proceso de desertización lo acompañan las corridas del río Calenturitas, la desaparición de arroyos y de grandes superficies de vocación agrícola y pecuaria, y las oleadas de polvillo de carbón que azotan la salud de niños y ancianos,

A esto se agrega la negativa de la compañía para tomar medidas que reduzcan la emisión de polvillo del carbón durante la explotación y el transporte, así como la burla a las normas que lo obligan al cargue directo del mineral en el puerto en Santa Marta. El plazo para iniciar el cargue directo ha sido, inexplicablemente, ampliado por el gobierno de 2010 [1] a 2014. Muchos apuestan a que la compañía logrará una nueva extensión de este plazo.

El reciente vertimiento de carbón al mar en inmediaciones de Ciénaga, cerca a Santa Marta (un hecho que Sandra P. Vilardy  analiza en esta misma entrega de Razón Pública)  es una muestra más de su ineficiente sistema de carga, de la desidia frente al ecosistema natural, del desconocimiento deliberado del procedimiento de manejo de contingencias y de la falta de transparencia y ética empresarial.

No obstante, el expresidente de Drummond, Augusto Jiménez, repite con frecuencia que la minería en Colombia se está marchitando debido a las trabas de la Agencia Nacional de Licencias Ambientales (ANLA) a la ineficiencia de las Corporaciones Autónomas Regionales (CAR), a los indígenas que no dejan trabajar y a las ONGs ambientalistas que le generan un mal ambiente al sector.

 Sin sonrojarse siquiera, repitió esta diatriba durante una cumbre de la gran minería con presencia del presidente Santos el pasado 29 de enero, dos semanas después del ecocidio frente a las playas de Santa Marta.

La Drummond ha recibido varias multas por infracciones a las normas ambientales:

  • el 17 de julio del 2007, mediante resolución 1286 de 2007, el ministerio de Ambiente, Vivienda y Desarrollo Territorial impuso una multa por 140 millones de pesos,  por contaminar el mar y por no haber tomado los correctivos correspondientes para el transporte adecuado del mineral.
  • También en 2007, el mismo ministerio multó con 130 millones de pesos a American Port Company Inc. por exportar más carbón del autorizado;
  • En 2008, la compañía debió pagar otra multa de 1.700 millones de pesos, por la construcción de corredores y vías sin licencia ambiental.
Alvaro Pardo desastre Drummond ambiental
El oneroso contrato de Aporte Minero de
La Loma, que vence en el 2019, arrastra
un enorme historial de irregularidades e
​infracciones a las normas ambientales.
Foto: sintramienergeticanacional.blogspot.com

Con cara gana Drummond, con sello pierde el país

El contrato original establece que cuando Drummond incumpla el contrato, si paga la multa en los siguientes primeros diez días, el hecho no se considerará un incumplimiento y no quedará registrado en el expediente.

Sin embargo, cuando el incumplimiento es imputable al Estado, como fue el caso de Ferrovías, Drummond no dudó en demandar ante la Cámara de Comercio Internacional de París, pleito que ganó y que significó un costo de unos 60.000 millones de pesos para la Nación. De acuerdo con los documentos disponibles sobre la materia y al informe de Noticias Uno el pasado 9 de febrero, el gobierno pagó la multa a Drummond el 28 de diciembre de 2012.

Otro tema que llama la atención: Peter Burrowes, presidente de FENOCO entre junio de 2008 y agosto de 2012 — empresa que heredó la demanda de Drummond contra Ferrovías y quien en ese periodo ha debido defender los intereses del Estado –, fue nombrado en noviembre de ese mismo año Vicepresidente Ejecutivo de Drummond Internacional. Aunque se alega que la puerta giratoria no tiene nada de ilegal, por lo menos sí se nota un cierto grado de indelicadeza que deja mucho que pensar.

“Estamos muy orgullosos de nuestro historial en Colombia”, dijo Drummond en un comunicado recientemente expedido, en el que además se declaran víctimas del asalto intelectual de sus críticos. Este es el cinismo con que actúan en Colombia estas compañías, especialmente las que conforman el gremio de la Minería a Gran Escala.

Proven Excellence in Colombia

Pobladores de El Hatillo, Plan Bonito y Boquerón esperan desde 2010 que Drummond, entre otras, comiencen la ejecución del plan de reubicación para escapar de la grave polución causada por la explotación de carbón a cielo abierto.

Confinados en sus casas, presionados por montañas de material estéril, con problemas de salud y sin alternativas de vida, los habitantes de las áreas de influencia esperan que gobierno y compañías mineras se pongan de acuerdo para solucionar este grave problema de confinamiento, una de las formas más atroces de atropello a la comunidad.

Recientemente, un juez penal condenó a 37 años de cárcel a un contratista de Drummond por el asesinato de dos sindicalistas de la empresa en 2001. El condenado, Jaime Blanco Maya, insiste en que la orden del asesinato provino de la cúpula de Drummond. Según el artículo de El Nuevo Herald del 10 de febrero de 2013, el juez ordenó a la Fiscalía investigar a Gary Drummond y a Augusto Jiménez.

Más de 400 trabajadores y extrabajadores con incapacidad por enfermedades profesionales y asma ocupacional (sílice + carbonilla en los pulmones), hablan mal del programa de salud ocupacional. Aquí el Ministerio de Salud ha sido el gran ausente de esta problemática.

Más allá de lo que pagan por regalías e impuestos, esta compañía — cuyo lema es Proven Excellence in Colombia — ha resultado un auténtico desastre para los colombianos. Ojalá la autoridad minera tuviera el valor civil de NO renovar el contrato minero.

*  Director de Colombia Punto Medio

** Los documentos utilizados en este artículo en
www.colombiapuntomedio.com

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Hey, It’s Just Business: Canucks kiss up to Colombia’s paralilitaries

By Enzo Di Matteo, originally published in print NOW Toronto | May 3-10, 2001 | VOL 20 NO 3. Found here on web.

“[L]eaders at the [Q]uebec summit of the Americas talked often and loud last week about environmental and social protections being written into any future hemispheric free trade pact. But whatever safeguards politicos are imagining, anti-globalization activists and human rights groups maintain that such measures would do nothing meaningful to improve the lot of people in developing countries.

The track record of transnationals doing business in places like Colombia, where leftist rebels have been fighting a 40-year insurgency against the government, has been particularly brutal.

There, Canadian oil companies, responsible for their share of toxic spills, mass deforestation and the displacement of peasant farmers, are raking in record profits with passing regard for eco standards or human rights.

Take Calgary-based oil and gas giant Enbridge.

The company’s OCENSA pipeline runs for 675 kilometres, from the Cusiana and Cupiagua oil fields in the Andes to the port of Coveñas on the Caribbean coast. It’s the largest in Colombia, transporting some 500,000 barrels of crude a day. Enbridge, whose earnings from the pipeline topped $30 million last year, recently bought up TransCanada Pipelines’ share in OCENSA.

The company’s record profits were front and centre when investors gathered for Enbridge’s annual shareholders meeting in Calgary on Wednesday (May 2).

In 1997, however, the company was linked by Amnesty International to a Colombian military unit being investigated “for complicity in the massacre of 15 unarmed civilians… and with paramilitary organizations responsible for widespread human rights violations.”

OCENSA’s security head had arranged for the company to buy attack helicopters, anti-guerrilla weaponry and ammunition for the military unit, which was hired privately to protect its pipeline in the north.

A director of British Petroleum (BP), part of the OCENSA consortium told a committee of British MPs probing the incident that avoiding contact with the Colombian army is not an option when doing business in Colombia.

He testified that the only military equipment purchased by the company for the Colombian 14th brigade was night-vision goggles.

The OCENSA story, though, goes deeper. The British security firm in the company’s employ until 97 was covertly gathering intelligence on the activities of locals opposed to the pipeline. More alarming for Amnesty is the fact that the company turned this intelligence over to the Colombian military, “who, together with their paramilitary allies, have frequently targeted those considered subversives for extrajudicial execution and disappearance.”

Jim Rennie, Enbridge’s manager of public affairs, offers via e-mail in response to questions from NOW that OCENSA terminated its contract with the employee behind the scheme to sell arms to the Colombian military as soon as it found out about it. (According to testimony before British MPs, the individual in question was transferred to another operation in Venezuela.)

Rennie goes on to say that Enbridge’s relations with communities along the pipeline “have always been positive,” and that “OCENSA is confident in the professionalism of those soldiers assigned to the lawful protection of the pipeline.”

“We disagree with those who argue that non-involvement in countries with problems somehow helps resolve those problems. We believe,” Rennie says, “that safely operated, efficient and environmentally responsible pipeline operations benefit everyone, and that is something Enbridge brings to OCENSA.”

Others would take exception to Rennie’s characterization of OCENSA as “environmentally responsible.”

A joint report penned by, among others, U.S. Environmental Defense, has called OCENSA “an environmental and social disaster,” a project that demonstrates how “the lack of attention to social and environmental concerns results in severe political and economic risk.”

Indeed, it didn’t take long for tensions to blow up, literally, at OCENSA in May 1998. Back then, oil workers went on strike to protest the murders of 11 people by paramilitaries. The strike was soon followed by a leftist guerrilla attack on the pipeline that also wiped out a nearby hamlet, killing 56 people and injuring 100 more.

Since the OCENSA controversy, both Amnesty and Human Rights Watch have called on oil companies operating in Colombia to adopt policies requiring military units defending their interests to abide by international human rights laws. Human Rights Watch estimates that half of Colombia’s estimated 120,000 troops are engaged full-time in protecting oil and mining installations.

Says Pablo Leal, a spokesperson for the Canadian Colombian Association, “If you geographically locate where conflicts are taking place on a map, you’ll see an enormous correlation, particularly with oil and mining activity and the movement of paramilitary groups.”

According to Amnesty’s, Keith Rimstead, “We’re not opposed to companies doing business in Colombia, but they have a responsibility to abide by principles set out in international human rights laws. If a company protecting its property hires people who then commit human rights violations, there’s a certain level of responsibility they should accept for that.”

The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (composed of the world’s most industrialized countries) has drafted its own corporate code of conduct for companies operating abroad. Ditto for the Department of Foreign Affairs and International trade. But they’re only voluntary. In Ottawa, department spokesperson François Lasalle doesn’t foresee that they’ll become mandatory any time soon.

“There is a debate about balancing the moral aspects of trade with the rights of companies to handle business the way they see fit,” says Lasalle. But “this is still an open society where we’re supposed to be able to do the right thing without being forced to by government. It’s a difficult call to make.”

Colombia-watchers, meanwhile, fear that increasing North American reliance on Colombian crude, particularly in the U.S., will continue to h[e]ighten the conflict.

As well, some analysts see the $1.3-billion Plan Colombia military aid package, ostensibly aimed at stopping narco-trafficking, as part of the political calculus to protect American oil interests in Colombia.

Says Asad Ismi, author of Profiting From Repression: Canadian Investment And Trade With Colombia, “What we have to ask is, “Who’s making the money?’ These policies are being pushed by industrialized countries of the North and their extreme greed for resources. They’re literally sucking the life out of these countries.”

enzom@nowtoronto.com

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Filed under Canadian Mining, Colombia, Contradictions, English, Uncategorized

Colombian Activist Who Opposed Gold Mining Project Shot Dead

This is a story originally published by NTN24 on Nov 5 2013

cesar_garcia_pic_el_salmon_urbano_art

“Environmental activist Cesar Garcia was shot dead on his farm in Tolima Department on Saturday. Photo: El Salmon Urbano

BOGOTÁ, COLOMBIA – A Colombian environmental activist who led the opposition against a proposed gold mine in Tolima Department was assassinated over the weekend, local media reported.

Cesar Garcia, who was a leading voice against the ‘La Colosa’ gold mine project, was found shot in the head on his farm in the municipality of Cajamarca, Tolima Department on Saturday afternoon.

The South African multinational mining firm Anglogold Ashanti wants to create a so-called ‘mega-mine’ in the La Colosa municipality of Tolima.

The gold mine, still in the feasibility study phase, would be one of the largest open pit mines in Latin America, according to reports.

The Colombian government granted Anglogold Ashanti permission to begin the feasibility study despite widespread local opposition to the proposed mining project, according to reports.

A group called the Environmental Committee of Cajamarca has denounced the murder, and has requested that the Ministry of the Interior do more to protect people who speak out in the area.

The group also demanded the Prosecutor’s Office begin an investigation into Garcia’s murder and bring to justice those responsible.

Anglogold Ashanti has been slammed by human rights groups for its conduct in Latin America and Africa.

In May of this year, a court in the African country of Ghana served the firm with a writ for alleged health issues caused by chemicals the firm uses in the extraction of gold from a mine there, according to Ghana media reports.

The area in Tolima where the company wants to create a large-scale gold mine is a rice producing region, and inhabitants there worry the chemicals used in such a mine will pollute their ground water and other resources, reports said.”

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Protecting the State from Refugees: Asylum Policy Towards Colombian claimants

Yesterday marked World Refugee Day.

In light of the observation, I would encourage people to check out the Canadian Council for Refugees and the work that they are doing to promote refugee rights, particularly in response to the ‘Refugee Exclusion Act’ or Bill C-30 and the cuts to the Interim Federal Health Program by the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Canada, Jason Kenney last year.

I also think it’s a good time to reflect on, both in the global and Canadian context, the ever increasing challenges and marginalizations which forced migrants are facing. Therefore, I wanted to share this little piece I wrote a while back about Canadian and Ecuadorean asylum policy and its increasingly restrictive nature. This is by no means an extensive review of the literature, ideas, challenges, or experiences which Colombian asylum seekers face, but just a brief reflection on what are (to me) some key issues. I encourage constructive feedback in the comments section.

A quick note on the numbers: When I wrote this, the International Displacement Monitoring Centre (IDMC) and the Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) took the CODHES number on IDPs in Colombia at the time, which was 5.4 million, and now the latest number is actually 5.5 million. The government estimates of IDPs also have since increased.

Protecting the State from Refugees: Canadian and Ecuadorean Asylum Policy Towards Colombian Migrants

Since 1964, my native Colombia has been at war with itself. This near 50-year conflict, and state-sponsored violence both under the auspices of the War on Terror and the War on Drugs created one of the worlds’ largest forced migration crisis. Official figures put the number of displaced Colombians at 3.9 million, making Colombia only second to Sudan in terms of internal displacement; non-government figures however, put the number at 5.4 million or over 10% of the entire population, and making Colombia the world’s leading country in internal displacement (IDMC).

Nevertheless, the violence of forced displacement is not contained to Colombia’s borders. During the height of the war, an estimated 300,000 to no less than one million Colombians are said to have fled due to the armed violence (Gottwald 517). Many of these refugees fled to Ecuador, who has been internationally lauded for its supposedly liberal and humanitarian policies for allowing Colombian refugees in. At the same time, Colombia has for over a decade been one of the top 10 source countries for Canada’s refugee system (Citizenship and Immigration Canada a). However, since 2012 in Ecuador, and since 2011 in Canada, both of these systems have come under  scrutiny for having become more restrictive and trying to defend themselves against refugees instead of trying to protect refugees from the forces which persecute them. Both of these developments are linked to perceived security concerns, and political discourses and narratives which securitize refugee policy and depend on characterizations of refugees as suspicious individuals abusing a generous system, and placing an unfair burden on the resources of the host country. In Ecuador, this is exacerbated by an association of Colombians with violence and drug trafficking, and regional interests in relation to how the Colombian armed conflict needs to be framed. In Canada, these concerns are part of a larger change in legitimating certain kinds of migrants (economic ones) and delegitmating the most vulnerable (asylum claimants, framed by the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration Jason Kenney as potentially being ‘bogus’ refugees) (Bradimore and Bauder 2011). Therefore, in both Ecuador and Canada, I argue that immigration policy is largely about image management and driven by popular perceptions of immigration, to the detriment of Colombian asylum seekers. Firstly, let me discuss both countries recent changes to their historically open asylum policies that have particularly benefited Colombians (first with Ecuador, then Canada), then a comparison of both, and finally a critique of how both are exacerbating the vulnerability of this already extremely marginalized and threatened population.

Ecuador, although not a ‘traditional’ humanitarian developed liberal democratic state receiving large amounts of immigration like say the United States, Australia, or Canada, is definitely a country that has been recognized as having received an enormous amounts of (forced) migrants. This  country has the largest amount of refugees in the Western hemisphere (Applebaum 2012). Over 98.5% of these are Colombians, most likely displaced by violence from Colombia’s armed conflict (Applebaum 2012). Ecuador is a signatory to both the 1951 Geneva Convention, outlining the traditional Cold War era-focused definition of a refugee, as well as the 1976 Protocol. More importantly, Ecuador is also signatory to the 1984 Cartagena Declaration on Refugees; this declaration, although not legally binding, set out a framework for Latin American asylum policy which was more sensitive to the needs at the time where civil wars in both Central and South America were at their height, and with a definition of refugee that was more relevant than the 1951 one. This definition included people who were fleeing ‘massive human rights violations’, ‘generalized violence’ and ‘disturbances to the public order’ (White 1).  From 2000 to 2004, Ecuador accepted 27,000 Colombian refugees, an unprecedented number in that amount of time, far surpassing the rest of Colombia’s neighbours (Panama, Peru, Venezuela, Brazil) who together with Ecuador have over the last decade received the bulk of Colombia’s externally displaced population (Gottwald 532). Many of these refugees were at first accepted prima facie in Ecuador under the definition outlined by the Cartagena Declaration which, true to its purpose, fits quite nicely with the context of people fleeing the Colombian armed conflict (Gottwald 531). For many Colombians fleeing violence from armed groups such as the paramilitaries, the Marxist guerrillas, and the Colombian army in the Pacific, one of the poorest and most conflict-affected areas of Colombia, going to Ecuador is an attractive option. This has raised dramatically the amount of Colombian refugees arriving in Ecuador; in 2000 Ecuador received less than 500 asylum applicants, to 45,000 in 2007 (Riaño and Villa 59). Ecuador is a key actor therefore in the issue of Colombian forced migration.

Given this escalating crisis, the overburdened and under-resourced Ecuadorean refugee system, although relatively liberal and generous compared to the rest of Colombia’s neighbours, the system began to become more restrictive in 2002 when the Cartagena Declaration definition was no longer applied (Gottwald 533). Moreover, Colombians would be arbitrarily denied refugee status because of stigma against them and, although recognized as one of the better options for Colombian refugees, only a third of asylum claimants would be accepted. Ecuadoreans would generally reject Colombians, except for mass displacements resulting from well-known, highly-publicized, and documented massacres (Korovkin 325). Therefore, Ecuadorean asylum policy may not be as ‘humanitarian’ as it may appear.

The most pressing concerns however, are related to recent changes and Ecuador’s political interests in the framing of the Colombian armed conflict. In 2012, Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa issued Decree 1182, vastly restricting options for refugees in Ecuador in an effort to consolidate refugee laws and hopefully regulate the estimated thousands of Colombians who migrated, forcibly and voluntarily, and illegally. Decree 1182 cut down the amount of time for asylum claimants to submit their claims by half, and greatly reduced the time for refugees to organize and submit appeals to decisions (Littell 2012). Decree 1182 also begins to speak for the first time of repatriation, which would reduce the burden of hosting Colombian refugees, but would send them potentially back into danger (Litell 2012). The Decree also ignores the relevant Cartagena definition, opting for the Cold War relic of the 1951 Convention Refugee determination, focusing on individual persecution and not generalized violence.

This decree, and its associated problems and effects, are rooted in a very specific discourse around Colombian refugees in Ecuador. Firstly, with tens of thousands of refugees flooding into a relatively small and underdeveloped country, with an under-resourced refugee department and a weak UNHCR presence, the system is overloaded; moreover, it is in the interests of the Ecuadorean government and the Marxist FARC guerrillas, as well as the Colombian government itself, to downplay the transnational nature of an issue like forced migration (Gottwald 527). The Colombian government wants to keep the war a domestic issue that it can deal with within the auspices of its own sovereignty. Also, both Ecuador and the FARC want to downplay the fact that the FARC has been present in Ecuador for over a decade, being that the Ecuadorean government has been either unwilling or unable to remove the FARC from their territory (Gottwald 527). In a similar vein, this is part of a larger securitization of the refugee discourse and a militarization of the Ecuadorean-Colombian border as a result of the armed conflict that is part of a much larger pattern of trying to control the movement of drugs, arms, and people. The previous Ecuadorean  president Lucio Gutierrez and the former President of Colombia Alvaro Uribe Vélez, in an effort to curb illicit movements of people, arms, drugs, and insurgents, required a Paso Juridico, or a criminal record check at the border so that known ‘criminals’ would not be able to cross the border Riaño and Villa 62).

This discourse is motivated by a dual-interest in demonizing Colombian refugees. Firstly, already impoverished Colombian refugees are willing to work at lower wages than low-income Ecuadoreans when they arrive, causing resentment amongst locals (Korovkin 326). Furthermore, given the presence of the FARC and the somewhat lawlessness, despite militarization, of the Colombian-Ecuadorean border and of Ecuadorean communities along the border, violent crime such as murder has apparently skyrocketed in these communities (Gottwald 536, Korovkin 328). Many Colombian refugees have a well-founded fear that they will continue to be persecuted once in Ecuador, and that if they apply for asylum in Ecuador and are rejected, they will be deported back to Colombia (Korovkin 328). This coupled with a fear that many refugees do not want to be ‘traced’, and therefore do not want to document their movements into Ecuador, creates a high degree of under-registration, or what Gottwald calls “invisibility” of Colombian refugees (Gottwald 535); for example the Ecuadorean Minister for Foreign Affairs suggested that whereas official numbers of Colombians in Ecuador are around 50,000 (not all refugees, it must be mentioned), he estimates that the actual number maybe 10 times that, and perhaps even 1 million (Korovkin 325). Many Colombians also once upon arriving at Ecuador, do not have proper documentation or do not come into contact with authorities (given that they are coming from remote areas and through what is a jungle border), and therefore never have the opportunity to formally apply for asylum. So, increasing violence, a perception that Colombians are bringing with them their social problems (drug trafficking, the FARC), and abusing of Ecuador’s “generous” refugee system as well as living outside of it, has bred resentment among the local population in Ecuador who does not have direct family ties to Colombia. Indeed, in one survey, 52% of Colombian refugees in Ecuador felt that they had experienced discrimination based on their immigration status (or lack thereof) or there Colombian nationality (White 6).

The Canadian context is not much different in that a negative perception of refugees, that refugees are an issue to be ‘dealt with’ and not human beings entitled to certain rights and protection from the state as asylum claimants, drives immigration policy. In particular to Colombia, although not occupying a large space in the Canadian popular imagination, this nation has been one of the top 10 source countries for refugees for over a decade and has been in the top 5 lamentably since 2005 (Citizenship and Immigration Canada A). In 2006 for example, as a source country for refugees to Canada, Colombia was only second to Afghanistan (Citizenship and Immigration Canada c). Between 1995 and 2005, over half of all Colombians coming to Canada were refugees (Riaño and Villa 279). Interestingly as well, 90% of the Colombian refugees that are part of the Canadian government-assisted resettlement program are people who needed a Third Country after not being able to find adequate safety in Ecuador (White 8). Canada’s refugee program in Colombia, in which one can apply for government-assisted resettlement and asylum from within Colombia is the only program of its kind left in the country (Rico-Martinez 2011). Therefore, Canada and Colombia in regards to asylum policy are symbiotically significant to each other in that one represents a large part of its international humanitarian commitment to asylum seekers, and the other is one of the few viable options for escaping extremely high levels of brutal political and criminal violence.

Nevertheless, Colombia, although in real terms still a large ‘producer’ of refugees is slowly losing priority in terms of representation of ‘legitimate’ needs in Ottawa. In an interview with the Political Counsellor at the Canadian Embassy in Bogotá, delegates from the Canadian Council for Refugees (CCR) recount how the Canadian government is taking at face value many claims about security which are part of the official government discourse in Colombia (Rico-Martinez 2011). These points are that in urban areas, particularly the capital, security has greatly improved and the armed conflict is almost non-existent. Other points are that that the Marxist insurgency no longer has a national reach and has been pushed back by an American-supported counterinsurgency of former President Uribe to marginal areas (such as those bordering Ecuador, which still produce regional displacement). And the final narrative which has been accepted is that the demobilization of the paramilitary groups which executed the counterinsurgency in a not-so-covert alliance with the Colombian military was successful, eliminating the threat from the ‘paras’ as well (Rico-Martinez 2011). In other words, options for Colombians fearing armed political violence are to move to the illusion safety of urbanity such as Bogotá, and that the paramilitaries and guerrillas, the main actors in the conflict, are no longer a ‘problem’. However, there is a perception among displaced Colombians, not ridiculous, that the Canadian embassy will share intelligence with the DAS (the Colombian intelligence agency) who has files on 28 million Colombians-the Army in Colombia is also one of the largest perpetrators of abuses, historically working with paramilitary groups to persecute  ‘subversives’ who could possibly be guerrilla sympathizers (Rico-Martinez 2011). Despite this context of extreme vulnerability for many Colombians, Canada has opted to get rid of the ‘Source Country’ class for asylum claimants, even citing Colombia as having low acceptance rates (less than 10%) and a reason for the class’s irrelevance (Citizenship and Immigration Canada b). Therefore, the fact that the Canadian and American governments are on extremely good terms with the current Colombian leadership who is forwarding a narrative that Colombia’s counterinsurgency has brought relative security to the country is perhaps effecting  the framing, if not the implementation of asylum policy towards Colombia.

In the more general context, almost identical to Ecuador, Canadian asylum policy is being forwarded by crises/migrations which happen to the host country, and an official discourse which frames refugees as a ‘problem’. Canadian policy has been arguably influenced, if not driven, by the arrival of Tamil asylum claimants on boats in 2009 (Bradimore and Bauder). Given an exoticization of these ‘boat-people’ in the media, and the discourse around them which used a language of security, and not humanitarian necessity or rights, the asylum claimants were framed in the popular imagination of Canadians as being potentially a security threat at worst, or at best economic migrants who were ‘abusing’ Canada’s ‘generous’ refugee system. This later evoked an essentialized image of the “bogus” refugee who threatened either Canada’s physical security which has much political currency in a post-9/11 world, or who’s place in Canada was illegitimate as the ‘bogus’ refugee is trying to ‘jump the queue’ past ‘legitmate’ immigrants and giving a bad name to ‘legitimate’ refugees. This was the narrative employed by  the Minister of Citizenship and Immigration, Jason Kenney, to justify the restrictionist changes to Canadian asylum policy under the auspices of Bill C-31, the ‘Protecting the Canadian Immigration System Act’ (MacIntosh 2012, Labman 57). Logically, this is somewhat contradictory as the immigration system and the asylum system, although both under Kenney’s mandate, are different. One is about Canadian interests, and the other, although clearly political and subject to the political interests of the governing party, should be about Canada’s humanitarian commitment to the Geneva Convention.

Ironically, Bill C-31 is actually much like Ecuador’s Presidential Decree 1182; the time for filing an asylum claim is reduced to 15 days; Canadian asylum applicants, many fleeing traumatic and chaotic situations in which documenting abuse is difficult, or dealing with literacy and language issues, must find proper documentation for their claim within 30 days. Other similarities with the Ecuadorean changes include a more stringent criteria of appeals (the Pre-Removal Risk Assessment period is shortened) (Canadian Council for Refugees). Also, in direct contravention to the Refugee Convention and further reinforcing the ‘refugees are security threats/criminals’ narrative is the fact that if the Minister of Public Safety deems that a refugees arrival is “irregular” (such as the boat incidents with the Sri Lankan migrants), the migrants can be detained.

Kenney’s extremely problematic discourse is politically useful. By framing refugees as a burden on a generous system, as having dubious legitimacy on whether or not to be in Canada and enjoy services while they await a decision on their claim, it becomes less politically costly to ‘deal’ with refugees in ways that are convenient for Canada (detaining them, deporting them, not paying for their healthcare temporarily) but violate the rights of an extremely vulnerable population who has few to no options to keep the government they are dependent on accountable. This discourse essentially absolves the Canadian government of its humanitarian duties and presents it instead as responsible, prudent, and looking out for the best interest of Canada when it violates the rights of refugees.

Colombians, although not having a particularly significant purchase on the Canadian perception of refugees in general, unfortunately fit well into this narrative as Colombia is generally constructed within popular imaginaries as a suspicious place of chaos which exports drugs, refugees, violence, and other social problems. Therefore, the Canadian government, through Jason Kenney and evidenced by the words of representatives of the Embassy sets up two contradictory narratives which are both at the service of a restrictionist immigration policy. One is that, potentially, many asylum claimants to Canada are so-called ‘bogus refugees’ who are really ‘just’ economic migrants or (in the case of Colombia) drug traffickers or FARC terrorists; the other is that the situation in Colombia has improved to a point where, although things may be bad, Colombia no longer needs to be a ‘Source Country of Origin’ and is perhaps even an example of why that entire special class of countries with respect to asylum policy is no longer relevant.

Minister Jason Kenney

It is difficult to prioritize one policy over the other, as both are extremely similar in their origins, interests, supporting narratives (refugees/Colombians are dangerous or freeloaders), and outcomes (restrictionism). However, purely in technical terms, Canada’s refugee system is somewhat, perhaps even negligibly, better than Ecuador’s.  Canada’s system still has a more equitable appeal system than Ecuador’s, which only allows for a few days for gathering appeals. Additionally, although the contexts are very different (Canada largely receives Colombians at ports of entry, most Colombians are ‘invisible’ to the Ecuadorean state), Canada does have a less chaotic, and more rights-guaranteeing asylum system then Ecuador, although this system is slowly being eroded. Ironically though, Ecuador has much more to win from restrictionism than Canada, and Colombians have much more to lose. As a frontier zone bordering guerrilla strongholds, Ecuador is a first-stop for Colombians fleeing coca fumigation, forced displacement, massacres, sexual violence, and many other kinds of depredations by armed actors. Canada, although economically and socially a much more attractive option than Ecuador , is not a viable choice for many refugees given the waning concern on the part of Ottawa for the humanitarian situation in Colombia  and the geographic distance. Nevertheless given the uncontrolled influx of an unknown number of refugees into what are already poor communities in Ecuador, Ecuadoreans bear the brunt of the refugee crisis in the Americas. A restrictionist policy, and popular support for it, are more politically viable in Ecuador. The millions of dollars that Canada in the long-run will ‘save’ on its humanitarian commitment (something that perhaps should not be the first place to look for budget cuts), are relatively insignificant, given what Canada spends on asylum. However, given the construction of refugees as an issue, and the hypervisibilization of ‘suspicious’ appearing refugees given the two boat incidents off the coast of British Columbia, politically, there is much to gain for the Canadian government from adopting restrictionist measures, although not necessarily the host society like Ecuador would.

This disturbing pattern of restrictionist asylum policies, against the spirit and even sometimes the letter of the 1951 Convention, closes a literal humanitarian space of potential safety for the millions of Colombians who have been, and continue to be, victimized by violence. Colombians will no longer just have a hard time finding refuge in Canada and Ecuador (two of the few countries who ever received many Colombians in the first place), but if they arrive there their situations will be more precarious, with less support from the state and a greater likelihood to be deported back to the civil war they fled.

The architects and executors of both Ecuadorean and Canadian immigration policy need to critically reflect on whose interests they are actually advancing by restricting the possibilities for Colombian asylum seekers. Ecuador needs to get rid of Decree 1182, and most urgently, needs to recognize refugees using the Cartagena Declaration definition, and not just the 1951 definition; ‘formalizing’ the tens (perhaps hundreds) of thousands of Colombian forced migrants living in the shadows in Ecuador needs to a process of humanitarian inclusion, and not convenient exclusion. In both Canada and Ecuador, asylum claimants should be given more time and resources to make their asylum claims, and there needs to be less of an emphasis on receiving forced migrants and their claims on the terms of government bureaucracies (an emphasis on documentation) and more on the migrants needs (for example, in Colombia some of the most affected by displacement fleeing to Ecuador are indigenous people who often may not have a working knowledge of Spanish, let alone French or English, to say nothing of being able to document the anarchic and traumatic nature of events like displacement). Canada needs to stop detaining refugees and understand that to arbitrarily deem some arrivals as “irregular” is problematic. Forced migration is an experience of literal and figurative displacement in which one’s place in the world is traumatically ruptured and survival is the key focus; there is little that is typically ‘regular’ about this for thousands of Colombians.

Most importantly however, given that both Ecuador and Canada are democracies in which public opinion (or what leaders perceive it to be, or help to make) heavily influences policy. In both countries, restrictionist immigration policy that would be otherwise controversial is supported if not driven by narratives and perceptions of (Colombian) refugees as being suspect, dangerous, and freeloading. The best thing that Canada and Ecuador can do for Colombian refugees is to hand them the microphone and let their respective publics understand them and the complexities of forced migrations on the Colombians’ own terms, and not on those of the governments who would rather protect themselves from them.

References

Appelbaum, Adina. “Challenges to Refugee Protection in Ecuador: Reflections from World Refugee Day.”

Challenges to Refugee Protection in Ecuador: Reflections from World Refugee Day. Georgetown

Public Policy Review, 26 June 2012. Web. 20 Mar. 2013.

<http://gppreview.com/2012/06/26/challenges-to-refugee-

protection-in-ecuador-reflections-from-world-refugee-day/>.

Canadian Council for Refugees. “Concerns about Changes to the Refugee Determination System.”

 

Concerns about Changes to the Refugee Determination System. Canadian Council for Refugees,

Dec. 2012. Web. 25 Mar. 2013. <http://ccrweb.ca/en/concerns-changes-refugee-determination-

system>.

a.Citizenship and Immigration Canada. “Canada – Total Entries of Refugee Claimants by Top Source

Countries.” Facts and Figures 2010 – Immigration Overview: Permanent and Temporary

 

Residents. Government of Canada, n.d. Web. 28 Mar. 2013.

<http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/resources/statistics/facts2010/temporary/25.asp&gt;.

b.Citizenship and Immigration Canada. Media Relations. News Release — Government to Refocus

 

Resettlement Efforts. News Release — Government to Refocus Resettlement Efforts. Citizenship

and Immigration Canada, 18 Mar. 2011. Web. 30 Mar. 2013.

<http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/department/media/releases/2011/2011-03-18c.asp&gt;.

c. Citizenship and Immigraiton Canada. “Backgrounder – Refugees and Canada’s Refugee System.”

Citizenship and Immigration Canada, Communications Branch. Government of Canada 20 June

2007. Web. 01 Apr. 2013.

<http://www.cic.gc.ca/english/department/media/backgrounders/2007/2007-06-20.asp&gt;.

Gottwald, Martin. “Protecting Colombian Refugees in the Andean Region: The Fight Against Invisibility.”

International Journal of Refugee Law 16.4 (2004): 517-46. Print.

IDMC. “Country Page: Colombia.” Country Page: Colombia. International Displacement Monitoring

Centre (IDMC), Dec. 2011. Web. 2 Apr. 2013. <http://www.internal-

displacement.org/countries/colombia>.

Korovkin, Tanya. “The Colombian War and “Invisible” Refugees in Ecuador.” Peace Review: A Journal of

 

Social Justice 20.3 (2008): 321-29. Taylor & Francis. Web. 27 Mar. 2013.

<http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/10402650802330154&gt;.

Labman, Shauna. “Queue the Rhetoric: Refugees, Resettlement and Reform.” University of New

 

Brunswick Law Journal 62 (2011): 55. LexisNexis. Web. 1 April 2013.

http://www.lexisnexis.com/hottopics/lnacademic/?verb=sr&csi=366868&sr=HLEAD%28Queue+the+rhetoric%29+and+date+is+2011

Littell, Nicole. “Situation of Asylum Seekers and Refugees in Ecuador.” The Human Rights Brief. Center

for Human Rights and Humanitarian Law, 5 Nov. 2012. Web. 25 Mar. 2013.

<http://hrbrief.org/2012/11/situation-of-asylum-seekers-and-refugees-in-ecuador/&gt;.

MacIntosh, Constance. “Insecure Refugees: The Narrowing of Asylum-Seeker Rights to Freedom of

Movement and Claims Determination Post 9/11 in Canada.” Review of Constitutional Studies

16.2 (2012): 181. Web. Hein Online

http://heinonline.org/HOL/Page?handle=hein.journals/revicos16&div=14&g_sent=1&collection=journals

Riaño, Pilar, and Marta Ines Villa, eds. Poniendo Tierra De Por Medio: Migración Forzada De

Colombianos En Colombia, Ecuador Y Canadá (Putting Land in Between: Forced Migration of

Colombians in Colombia, Ecuador, and Canada). Medellín: Corporación Region, 2008. Print.

Rico Martinez, Francisco. The Future of Colombian Refugees in Canada – Are We Being Equitable? Rep.

N.p.: Canadian Council for Refugees, 2011. Print.

White, Anna G. “In the shows of refugees: Providing Protection and Solutions for Displaced

Colombians in Ecuador”. News Issues In Refugee Research. Research Paper No. 217. UNHCR.

Policy Development and Evaluation Service. Web. Accessed March 29 2013. http://www.unhcr.org/4e4bd6c19.html

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Towards Peace and A New Colombian Countryside – But by whom and for whom?

The first in a three part series I wrote about the latest agreement on Agrarian Reform in Havana between the FARC and the Colombian government as part of the Peace talks. This was originally published as a contribution to Colombia Politics.

delacalle Chief government negotiator Humberto De La Calle.

Sunday was another historic day in Colombia’s 49-year war, as it marked the first substantive policy agreement reached by the oldest and strongest guerrilla force in the Western hemisphere, the agrarian and Marxist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-The People’s Army (The FARC-EP or FARC) and the national Government.

The agreement, on land reform, was the first point out of five on the agenda of peace talks currently taking place in Havana. The government and the FARC press release said that this reform is leading towards a “new Colombian countryside”. Over the course of three articles I will look in detail at what this means, what we can learn from history and whose interests are at work.

“What we have achieved with this agreement will begin radical, equitable, and democratic changes in the rural and agrarian reality of Colombia.  It´s centred around the people, the small producer, access and distribution of land, the fight against poverty, the stimulation of agricultural production and the rejuvenation of the countryside’s economy” – FARC and Government negotiators.

So what actually was agreed?  The text isn’t public, and nothing is final until all of the points/the entire process has been agreed upon. However, according to the President’s press office, the agreement is centred around four main pillars:

1. Increase use of, and access to land by the creation of a Land Fund which will give land to peasants who either have none or “too little”. Land for the fund will come from land that has been “acquired illegally”, and that the vast majority of people in the countryside “should not fear” their land being touched if it was acquired legitimately.

Santos said that he hopes to create judicial guarantees to defend the land rights of the smallest and most “defenseless” peasants.

In a press conference, the FARC added two additional points here that they would like to see:

1) That land for the fund should not only come from properties which were the site of displacement and violence, but also land that is related to drug money, state properties, and large unproductive estates, with “priority” being given to peasants and women.

2) That social and environmental limits be placed on the production of hydrocarbons, agribusiness products, open-pit mining, biofuels and the creation of hydro energy projects.

2. Create specialized development programs in the regions where they are most needed.

3. Promote social programs and infrastructure in all of “rural” Colombia. By this, the Colombian head of state meant for national plans that would “radically reduce poverty and extreme poverty” such as irrigation, health, education, roads, potable water, housing, and social protections.

4. Increase food security. The government said that this will focus “on the most poor” and making the countryside “more productive”.

The President noted that a comprehensive land reform is necessary in order to prevent further conflicts. In a point that may generate much controversy among the landed elites is that the agreement will seek to “limit the agricultural frontier” (delimitar la frontera agricola).

The agreement also nodded at other points on the agenda, particularly the rights of victims to effective reparation, as it “seeks to reverse the effects of the conflict and to restitute the victims of forced removal and displacement.” For a more substantive breakdown of the sub-points, policies, and mechanisms of the agreement, please check out Dr. Virigina Bouvier’s recent thoughts.

It also bears mentioning that the agreement seeks a mass formalization/legalization of rural property in Colombia, given the immense amount of informal ownership among the peasantry, reaching 49% generally.

Reasons for optimism?

From a purely humanitarian perspective, the  fact that the FARC and the government seem to have agreed on what has historically been one of the most contentious issues between Leftist/armed popular movements in Colombia and the Establishment makes me confident to say that this time around, if everything stays the course, the FARC will probably demobilize.

Concessions from the FARC?

Even though the FARC´s rhetoric is to ask for more than they will get, the insurgents have clearly moderated their demands, a first in decades.

In their 1982 Congress, the increasingly strong FARC-EP passed their “Law 01″ in which they explicitly ask for the abolishment and expropriation (by them) of all large land estates, land used for mining, bananas, wood, by multinationals etc. Until Sunday, a socialist/anti-capitalist agrarian reform has been their main policy position in previous negotiations.

Is peace near?

We should not confuse the government discourse about “peace” with the demobilization of the FARC.  Even without these marxist rebels there are still the neo-paramilitaries, drug cartels, the ELN, to say nothing of the absurdly high levels of violence related to “common” crime.

However, disarming Latin America’s oldest and strongest insurgency would put a significant break on the violence. No matter what one thinks of the talks, the prospect of a Colombia without the FARC is something that would be worth many concessions (and the government seems to agree).

There has been much celebration in the Colombia and abroad, both in the media and among politicians and civil society. Semana, one of the country’s most influential news magazines, called the reform “an agreement which could settle the State’s debt to the countryside” and American Vice-President Joe Biden also lauded Colombia for the seemingly historic agreement.

It must be noted where this protracted negotiation leaves the peace process, as the clock is ticking. The first point on the agenda was was the most substantive, probably the most divisive only after the question of amnesty, and really the heart of not just Colombia’s armed conflict, but of inequality more generally.

This was no accident as the rationale was to get the most difficult point out of the way, and then sail through the other four (political participation, disarmament/’the end of the conflict’, drug trafficking, and reparations for victims),   which were set out in the pre-agreement/terms of negotiations last summer.

Although peace is not built in a day, the talks are already six months old, and the government has repeatedly said that it will get up from the table in November of this year. Many see this as putting the pressure on the insurgents to show some true commitment and adding dynamism to the process, in contrast to the four-year long fiasco of the Caguan negotiations.

Others argue that the deadline is related to the electoral calendar as Presidential elections will occur in 2014, and if they succeed in a timely manner, would allow Santos to use peace with the FARC for his re-election. It bears mentioning that for their part, the FARC have recognized the slow pace of the talks and have requested for more time.

Tomorrow I’ll look at the agreement from a historical perspective.

Simon is the owner of the website The Banana Plutocracy

Photo, El Tiempo

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