MYTHS ABOUT THE CONFLICT
People have tried to explain the present conflict from their own perspectives; by doing so, many have elaborated theories and hypothesis regarding the above, but there are some which I consider to be myths:
1) “The conflict in Colombia derives from the multiplicity of races and costumes”
The argument above suggests that we have not been able to construct a country because we have not been able to construct a nation; this latter understood as a group of people who share the same language, religion, costumes and in most of cases territory.
The latest research in the field of human genetics, demonstrated that the difference among human beings (hair colour, height, etc) represents less than 2 percent of the total genetic composition; in other words, religious leaders, politicians, and Philosophers have always been right in the sense that all men are created equal and, that a person can not be judged by the colour of his skin but by the content of his character: Of course xenophobes may not like the news, the ethnic determinism ( superiority of a race upon another) of Fichter was certainly left without a factual basis; it has always been like that, men are created equal.
It is true that there are many ethnic groups in the country, that idiosyncrasy of people in the Atlantic coast of Colombia differs in many ways from the one you find in the south or centre of the country, that festivities are held at different times, and that there are marked differences in the use of Spanish and physical appearance; and that all these differences may cause a cultural division, but it does not justify the armed conflict, we are not dealing with a Jewish-Muslim type of conflict, Colombia is facing a structural socio-economic and political problem; nevertheless, the aspects above should be observed in the event a territorial reorganization takes place.
Countries like Canada or the United States have a very multicultural and racial component and still their society is regarded as one of the best organized in the world; where people are given a real chance to participate and the levels of inequity are scarce regardless of the colour of skin, religious believe, native language or place of birth.
2) “ Colombia is facing a civil war”
Let us start by defining civil and war:
Civil: Refers to people, to society in a whole, to a community, etc; Related words: Civilians; average citizens.
War: Confrontation, conflict, warfare, fight, etc.
Plato once said that in order for there to be a revolution, the participation of society at all levels was necessary; that is what happened in the French and American revolutions, in the north-south civil war in the United States in the 1860s, and in the independence wars in Latin America.
The present conflict does not involve all levels of society; there are high levels of poverty and state abandonment in the isolated regions of the country and illegal armed groups have taken advantage of the situation to establish a parallel state in those areas.
Perhaps the biggest mistake of guerrilla groups, is believing that everybody in the country is a revolutionary agent; people are tired of violence, Colombians of today inherited the violence from the past and are very aware of the fact that the only way out of a conflict is negotiation not confrontation.
As former president Pastrana said: “ This is not a civil war but a war against civilians”; civilians are forced to take part in the conflict, in most of the cases as victims of the conflict not as followers of a political ideology. In this context, Colombians are not facing a civil war but a domestic conflict that needs to be solved by the parties involved, that is to say the government, guerrilla, and paramilitary groups, with the approval from the grand majority of Colombians who are the ones suffering the consequences of the confrontation and who pledge for a political way out of the conflict.
Something that is really contradictory is the fact that legal and illegal armed groups claim to defend the rights of the people, they say that their struggle is “to create a new just social order or maintain the acceptable social order there is”; how can a group claim to be the defender of a society when its activities are affecting negatively the average citizen that conforms it?.
By not allowing people to access education, the right to work, health services and personal development, the status quo is not really defending the rights of the people on the other hand, by killing peasants in the countryside, kidnapping and blackmailing or destroying small towns and forcing people to leave their land behind revolutionary or paramilitary groups are certainly not defending the rights of the people.
The problem is not liberty to access education or health services, a person can be granted the freedom to choose but if the necessary infrastructure and institutions are absent, then liberty would only be a matter of personal consciousness; liberty is essential in a democratic regime but such democratic regime must look after the well-being of citizens.
3) “Once guerrilla and paramilitary groups are diminished, the situation of the country will improve”
A state must have the monopoly of force and reducing its counterpart will help it assume a dominant position but it will not necessarily lead to an end of the conflict.
Guerrilla and paramilitary groups are not the cause of the conflict, they are a logical effect; when people in a country have direct access to the political-decision making process, work, social security, education, and individual rights are guaranteed by the state, people will not demand these elements from the establishment and furthermore, they will not have the need of using violent means to make themselves listened to.
I am not justifying the use of violence, I am calling for a pluralist democratic system wide enough to allow all citizens to be active part of the democratic institutions not only in elections time but in the development of power exercise and the basic guarantees a citizen should be provided with ( freedom of choice, speech, religion, political, and the granting of means to live with dignity and be able to control the actions of leaders that may affect the essential rights of people)
In developed countries, many people commit suicide because everything has been granted and they do not have a dream to fight for, levels of suicide in Japan, USA, and many countries in Europe are very high; one could hear about a case of suicide of a young man who failed promotion at a company; in Colombia, the number of cases of suicide is around 299 per year; what is the difference?:
In Colombia, entire families have committed suicide because they do not have a job, enough food to eat, enough money to pay their debts ( interest rates in Colombia are perhaps the highest in the world – they yield between 35% and 54%) or simply because they can not stand the crisis anymore.
Many Colombians have had to return their houses and apartments to the financial sector because they could not afford the soaring fees they had to pay periodically.
In summary, Colombian state will not bring the conflict to an end by diminishing the power of illegal armed groups if the profound social problems persist.
4) “Guerrilla groups are about to reach government by means of their military success”
To start with, guerrilla has not really demonstrated a military success in the conflict, they have shown to be very practical to demonstrate their ability to cause chaos and pressure for the government ; their actions fit better into the terrorism category; the blow power towers, kidnap police officers or soldiers in distant towns with uneven confrontations, destroy small towns causing panic and many civilian casualties.
Attacks from guerrilla have been characterized by ambushing and surprise attacks after which they flee or remain in the area until the army arrives.
Lets suppose, that guerrilla might achieve a military success in the country and reach power; it will have two main obstacles:
1 The paramilitary groups are already wide spread all over the country and an eventual communist government would have to deal with a rightist guerrilla, the story will repeat and the situation would remain.
2 After Perestroika in Russia took place and the Berlin wall was torn to pieces, socialism has been questioned all over the world; and international community will not allow the change of the “demon of capitalism by the seven demons of communism”.
Colombian army has demonstrated successful anti-guerrilla operations all over the country in the last two years thanks to the modernization process led by the government and the international community which demanded a strict implementation of international humanitarian law in the conflict.
The strong military component of Plan Colombia, forecasts a better trained and armed military force along with an increment of troops.
5) “If drug-dealing is strongly diminished, the conflict will cease “
Drug dealing has caused many victims in the country, in the USA, in Europe, and many places around the world, including thousands of anti-narcotics police officers and civilians killed by terrorist attacks from the drug cartels; undoubtedly, both paramilitary groups and guerrilla finance themselves with the profits that drug-dealing business reports them; it has been proved that many plantations of cocaine and other illicit plants are guarded by guerrilla members or paramilitary forces which later receive part of the profit.
The money received for enhancing this illicit activity is generally used to buy weapons in the black market and acquisition of mage for troops. Many areas in the country with illicit plantations, used to be areas in which peasants grew vegetables and fruits but due to many factors such as absence of transportation means, low prices of the market, and the agro-industrial crisis of the country (especially since the free market economic model was strongly implemented in the early nineties), led them to start planting illicit herbs.
The government has done many efforts to solve the problem but unfortunately they have not been enough to face the problem in an integral way.
If along with the eradication programmes, people in the countryside are given real opportunities to grow and commercialise their products (A temporary protection system for national agricultural products – like in Europe and The United States- should be considered), then the absence of drug-dealing will certainly contribute to the pacification of the country.
The international community must also reduce the levels of domestic consumption, if the demand for cocaine and marihuana remains or increases, the reduction of illicit plantations in Colombia would only lead the dealers to move their business to another country of the region or implement new technologies in order to increase the production and respond to their demand.
Drug cartels have demonstrated that they can achieve a high level of power in the economic and military spheres, both at the domestic and international level, a campaign against drug dealing and drug dealers would be ineffective if it is carried out only in the territory of Colombia, if this happens, the problem will increase in the neighbouring countries, more regions in other countries will produce illicit substances, and therefore, control of this illegal activities will become almost an impossible task for the government to achieve successfully.
Drug abuse has caused thousands of deaths in Colombia and around the world, if the effect is world wide, it is on a world wide basis that a strategy to fight the proliferation of illicit substances should take place; Export of chemicals and warfare elements must be strongly controlled by the countries they are produced in. Smuggling of these products has got to come to an end if the international community wants to cooperate with the diminishing of this illegal business.
6)“ Colombia needs a leftist government”
To start with, I would like to say that there has never been a well developed leftist party in the country, Communism has not been successful where it has been imposed, and definitely, Colombians
will not change their liberties; as reduced as they may seem now, for a regime which may pose hurdles to their free individualities.
There is not a real leftist movement in Colombia, the possibility for a leftist party to take power is far distant and in addition to that, the political orientation of the grand majority of Colombians is associated to the democratic and liberal principles.
Nevertheless, a well developed communist party, or any other opposition party, would enhance political confrontation (democratic), especially if one considers the fact that, today at the present, there are no real differences between the two traditional parties and that candidates propose a government plan which reflects basically the international economic requirements and not a party oriented strategy.
7)“ Colombia needs a dictator in power”
It may sound contradictory in a democratic country but some people in Colombia would like to have a Fujimori-like president, someone who, by the use of force will be able to pacify the country and start a persecution against those who do not agree with the regime; The Chilean experience has demonstrated that a dictator is very effective in solving social and political confrontation problems by the use of violent means such as massive killings, tortures, and the like but ineffective in solving the need of people to take part in the decision –making process, life in community, and freedom to develop themselves as human beings; ( freedom of religion, speech, motion, choice, etc).
A dictator will certainly attack illegal groups face to face but the price the country has to pay is immeasurable; an escalation of the conflict will have a negative effect in the international community, thousands of families will have to leave their land behind, more taxes to finance the war will have to be approved, and the endless and horrible tale will start again.
8)“ Colombians are facing this conflict because it is a country of drug dealers, subversive groups, and violence is part of their culture”
Even a few Colombians support the statement above, but could it be possible for us, more than forty million Colombians to be,.. involved in illicit businesses, assassins, drug dealers, and delinquents?!.
Definitely not; it is estimated that illegal armed groups make about 35.000 men, including paramilitary members; there are millions of Colombians who get up early and try to make a living in an honest way; millions of Colombians who believe in a prosperous future for the country and a peaceful solution of the conflict. These people, are not part of the so called actors of the conflict but victims of the conflict in most of the cases.
There are many Colombians who have helped human kind to become better; Gabriel Garcia Marquez with his Nobel Prize in literature, Manuel Elkin Patarroyo with the developments of the vaccine against malaria which has saved thousands of lives in the world, scientists like Llinas who have worked on the brain functioning system at the NASA, artists like Fernando Botero and his fat sculptures that have been shown in many cities of Europe and North America, and many other Colombians who with their work and devotion, have shown the average citizen from abroad who the real average citizen of Colombia is.
It is true that there are many delinquents from Colombia imprisoned abroad, but even in Colombia, there are many foreigners in jail; cities like Sao Paulo, Caracas, and New York have high rates of criminality; In 1999, about 42 thousand people were violently killed in the state of Sao Paulo –Brazil, in the third quarter of the year 2000, about 100 cases of crime were reported in Caracas-Venezuela every week-end only.
What I want to get across is that there are violent people everywhere and that all the citizens from a country ca not be judged solely because it is what is heard on the news or because that is what everybody says.
© Copyright 2016 Alvaro Bautista. All rights reserved.
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