What Heaven Will Not Forgive — The Case for Colombia
For the Eyes of the World and the Ears of Those Souls Who Believe that Human Life Should Be Respected
Lies can be powerful, but they are not powerful enough to forever hide the truth; good can never succumb to evil, no matter how powerful evil may be. Thus, peace for Colombia is possible.
Colombia’s powers-that-be, their subordinates, the politicians and its military high command represent no more than 10% of the country’s population of nearly 50 million. However, they enjoy absolute control over the population. How can this be justified?
For the last century, Colombia has been governed by a ruling class protected by criminal and mercenary armed forces (who fought in the Korean War). They are also cowards since they allowed the United States to steal Panama to create a new country and take over the future canal. Instead of defending the territorial sovereignty of their homeland, the ruling class and its military allies sold a piece of it and kept the money.
They murdered a patriotic general who questioned the state of violence and the ruling class’ abuses, the looting and plundering of Colombia. His two miserable assassins never confessed where the orders came from, and so the October 15, 1914 assassination of General Rafael Uribe Uribe remains unpunished.
On December 6, 1928, the government ordered its military forces to fire upon the striking workers of the banana industry to insure that a foreign enterprise, the United Fruit Company, continued its exploitation of the plantations while treating its workers as slaves. More than 3,000 workers were murdered (maybe more, maybe less; the true number may never be known). This horrendous crime remains equally unpunished. Most of the survivors were expelled from the zone; others were tortured and sentenced to serve an unprecedented amount of time in jail. Fortunately, they were set free thanks to defense lawyer Jorge Eliécer Gaitán.
After a relatively peaceful and prosperous decade during the government of President Alfonso Lopez Pumarejo (1934–38, 1942–45), a powerfully rich and conservative sector of Colombia declared a war of complete annihilation against The liberals. Full of hatred and with the full support of the Armed Forces (army, police –uniformed and secret–, and paramilitary) a conflict began that has yet to end.
The Catholic Church’s supreme hierarchy joined the extermination of liberals, humble workers and peasants, declaring that “to be liberal is to live in sin.”Instead of condemning the brutality, they encouraged this fratricidal hatred; from their pulpits, many priests incited conservatives to kill liberals. They ostracized Father Fidel Blandon Berrio who bravely denounced in his book What Heaven Will Not Forgive the horrendous crimes committed by the security forces.
The Church’s hierarchy has long supported the rich and powerful and not the poor as Christ preached. They would condemn Father Camilo Torres Restrepo’s courage, the guerrilla priest who died in combat on February 15, 1966. They have likewise denounced and condemned many other priests who have made it their mission to defend the poor.
Jorge Eliécer Gaitán was able to create a popular movement that became a real menace to the ruling class. He was assassinated on April 9, 1948 and just like with General Uribe Uribe’s murder, no one knows where the order to kill him came from and a poor schmuck, unable to defend himself, was accused and summarily lynched for the murder.
The popular leader’s death and the destruction of Bogota was followed by an increase in violent acts aimed at the sons and daughters of liberals who were thrown up in the air by the soldiers to be impaled in their bayonets. They raped women and ripped the fetus from pregnant women to insure the liberals’ complete extermination.
And that’s how the guerrilla, in the end, came to be: men and women, humble farmers who armed themselves to protect their lands and their lives.
It is estimated that this 60+ year-old war has claimed the lives of 260,000 people, all of them, and almost without exception, ordinary people (liberals in their majority with some conservatives and other ideologies thrown in for good measure), as well as guerrilla, police, soldiers, and low-ranking military officers who were trained to kill innocent people, convinced that they are doing it to “defend the motherland.”
How many of Colombia’s power elite have died in this conflict? Not many: Conservative Party leader Alvaro Gómez Hurtado (November 2, 1995) and some landlords and business leaders. His assassination was blamed on the guerrillas, although that’s not the only thing they are blamed for; the guerrillas did kidnap him in 1988 but later released him. To this day, his killer’s identity is unknown.
What’s happening in Colombia cannot be called a war. It is genocide, perpetrated by the ruling class with its repressive security forces against the indigenous communities, the farmworkers and the average citizen. The rest of the world remains oblivious thanks to their sly manipulation and control over the facts. Only recently did the United Nations begin to pay attention to the horrendous crimes perpetrated by the security forces. Colombia’s politicians have fooled the world in thinking that theirs is a democratic system since Congressional and presidential elections are held constantly.
The international community is not aware that the elections are a grotesque circus where these officials auto-elect themselves as the people’s representatives.
After pulling all kinds of tricks, threats, false promises, vote buying, persecution, and the assassination of candidates from the opposition, only 40–45% of the voters turn out to cast their vote. And yet, these statistics are even questionable since the government provides them. They are ruling without popular support.
There is no place in this democracy for those who oppose the ruling class. Many have tried and faced Jorge Eliécer Gaitán’s fate: they were assassinated. In less than eight months, three presidential candidates, from different parties, were murdered by, apparently, drug lords: Luis Carlos Galan (August 18, 1989), Bernardo Jaramillo Ossa (March 22, 1990) and Carlos Pizarro Leon Gomez (April 26, 1990). There is no question that the powers-that-be are guilty of these crimes, which could have been avoided if we truly believe that they were committed by drug lords, since they had the means to combat crime.
At least in the beginning, drug trafficking was the result of a socio-economic system that deprived the Colombian people of resources, education and job opportunities, driving them into a life of crime as a means of survival.
Colombia’s ruling class is extremely evil and smart when it comes to defending their interests. While there have been dozens of dictatorships in Latin America in the last century, Colombia only had two: the permanent dictatorship of its “owners” and armed forces, and the dictatorship of General Gustavo Rojas Pinilla (1953–57) which they nevertheless fostered when they saw their existence threatened by the chaos caused by Gaitán’s assassination and the emergence of the guerrillas.
The General saved them but when he wanted to break his ties in order to continue his plans of pulling Colombia out of its underdeveloped state, the ruling class created the National Front –a true civilian-led dictatorship product of an alliance between liberals and conservatives that lasted 16 years– and removed Rojas Pinilla from power.
For a moment, peace was achieved and the guerrillas turned over their weapons. But this amnesty was soon followed by the mass killing of guerrilla leaders, a crime later repeated when a second amnesty was put in place: this time more than 2,000 members of Unión Patriótica militants who believed in this amnesty were systematically killed by the state security forces.
You can’t ignore the past: surely hundreds who advocate for peace will be once again slaughtered under another amnesty unless these brave men and women put a stop to it.
We can’t be naïve and trust this ruling class. They are capable of everything. General Rojas Pinilla believed in the election process and they were stolen overnight right from under his nose: as results early in the evening started to show that he was overwhelmingly winning the election and it looked like he would be the new president (1970–74), vote counting was arbitrarily stopped and, the following morning, as if by the stroke of a wand, Misael Pastrana Borreo was declared the winner, thus consolidating the electoral chicanery.
The old guerrilla leaders who led the movement in the 50s (and those who led it at the end of the century) also trusted the ruling class’ humanity and embraced the amnesty; that’s how the M-19’s entire leadership was assassinated.
Nothing can stop Colombia’s ruling class: they carry a criminal’s DNA. Forgetting how ruthless this ruling class can be, guerrillas took over the Palace of Justice on November 6, 1985: the armed forces violently put an end to the siege, killing almost one hundred, including twelve judges, among them the president of the Supreme Court, Alfonso Reyes Echandia.
With rare exceptions, the powers-that-be in Colombia –from the mayors, treasurers and councilmen in the remotest town, to the nation’s president and his ministers, congressmen and senators; from the soldiers and police officers to the generals and commanding officers– are nothing but thieves and power brokers. Besides their scandalously large salaries, they live off the shameless plundering of national assets as well as from smuggling, drug trafficking and the illicit expropriation of indigenous and farm lands. They enjoy countless privileges, impunity among them.
There have always been two economies in Colombia: the official one that enriches the ruling class and its allies, landlords and business executives included; and a parallel one, outside of all regulations (the internal smuggling of narco dollars and manufactured goods; the external one of emeralds, silver, agricultural products and minerals as well as pot and cocaine). Because of the high levels of unemployment and under-employment, anyone who can partake in this parallel economy does so; it’s an uncontainable river. Millions of Colombians unable to earn a decent wage have no choice but to survive the best they can.
There is another form of smuggling that is so criminal and so painful for many families that it deserves special attention: the kidnapping and exporting of Colombian children to developed countries under the guise of humanitarian adoptions, facilitated by the Institute of Family Well-being.
Colombian teen girls are another high-end product in the developed countries: such “merchandise” wouldn’t be smuggled out of the country, as well as those “adopted” children, unless the government looked the other way. The police and other authorities are rewarded with thousands of dollars in bribes for allowing and facilitating this human trafficking.
In Colombia, both the official and the parallel economies have been diabolically affected by a tidal wave of narco-dollars.
Narco-dollars have not only penetrated the political class but also other sectors and institutions including the banking and finance industries, construction, commerce, beauty pageants, soccer teams, etc. The national flagship “El Gloria” as well as many military planes were caught transporting large shipments of cocaine. Likewise, thousands of poor and humble Colombians, denied of the right to live with dignity, contracted this fever and many became enriched through drug trafficking. Some even became great crime “entrepreneurs” paving the way for the creation of drug cartels.
The guerrillas, unavoidably, were no exception and soon joined the “business” by becoming narco-guerrillas. There are no other forces to blame for this commotion but the ruling class, who created the conditions –poverty, misery and neglect– that allowed for crime to flourish.
It’s of public knowledge that, during the 80s and 90s, more than 80% of the ruling class had direct links to the drug cartels, reporting directly to them. Nowadays, only 30% of them participate in the industry.
There have always been honest and brave men and women who believed and still believe in doing good and in pulling Colombia out of its economic quagmire by freeing the people from the poverty that afflicts most of them through political engagement. Most of them have been accused of being terrorists for opposing the government, their political careers annihilated. Most have been savagely murdered while others have been forced into exile.
Just like Jorge Eliécer Gaitán before him, Luis Carlos Galan headed a popular movement that was deemed a menace by the powers-that-be. And like Gaitán, Galan was cowardly murdered. Pablo Escobar was immediately accused of Galan’s murder and given the extreme violence rending Colombia apart at the time, it’s more than likely that he was responsible. However, the government, with all its intelligence and security resources, could have hindered it.
Since General Rafael Uribe Uribe’s assassination in 1914, thousands of human rights activists, the indigenous, peasants, students, labor organizers, journalists, teachers, writers, artists, lawyers, doctors, scientists and politicians from the opposition have been viciously murdered.
The media (newspapers, magazines, radio, television, etc.), with some exceptions, have played a role as unconditional spokespeople and allies of the government. They have loudly proclaimed the “truth”…the government’s that is. In Colombia, the other truth, the real truth, the one corresponding to the facts, is maliciously hidden.
One of these rare exceptions, the daily “El Espectador,” has been the victim of countless government attacks: its Editor-in-Chief Guillermo Cano Isaza was murdered on December 17, 1986; its offices were destroyed by a bomb on September 3, 1989. Drug lords were apparently responsible for both acts since the newspaper had the courage to pressure the government into extraditing
its most powerful leaders to the United States. The security forces could have prevented these bloody attacks had they so wished. One of its most prestigious journalists, Gabriel Garcia Marquez, had to leave the country to avoid his editor’s fate while many other journalists were brutally murdered for telling the truth. It’s easy to blame the drug lords for these crimes. And while some claim bragging rights, others have denied their involvement in these murders.
Colombia has always benefitted from the military aid the United States gives to their partner countries and governments. The role this aid has played in our continent is well known. Unfortunately, Colombia’s participation remains unknown by the international community given how smartly the whole notion of Colombia being a “true democracy” has been promoted.
The Colombia Plan as conceived and consolidated by the administration of President Bill Clinton and Colombian President Andrés Pastrana gave Colombia 7.5 billion dollars that included: cash, intelligence assets, military training and advice as well as helicopters and weapons to end both the guerrilla and drugs trafficking.
Vast areas of the country were indiscriminately bombarded, killing domestic animals, poisoning the rivers and destroying the crops that provided sustenance to the farmers. Paradoxically, the cocaine and marihuana crops were not harmed and still stand. The other objective, to destroy the guerrillas, didn’t work out according to plan. The Armed Forces’ incursions were used as an excuse to massively slaughter farmers and natives who were maliciously accused by the government of having ties with the guerrillas or of being outright terrorists.
The government, with the media’s help, declared that the dead were victims of the guerrillas. They also blamed the guerrillas for the destruction, death, torture, disappearance and desolation caused by the military and the paramilitary.
All this took place in Colombia’s countryside while, as if by magic, Plan Colombia’s funding vanished, stolen by the ruling class.
They somehow managed to weaken the guerrillas but were unable to fully annihilate them as required by the Colombian Plan. The murders, torture, rapes and disappearances of farmers and indigenous people falsely accused of being guerrilla or sympathizers was so overwhelming that they couldn’t contain the complaints and reports from human rights organizations. These reports reached the ears of the international community and the United Nations began to pay attention and acknowledged that Colombia was in a state of war.
However, the government insists in manipulating and misleading national and world opinion. The United Auto defenses of Colombia — a paramilitary group consisting of paid and fully armed assassins, protected, advised and even exempted from any responsibility- were created to take over as an alternative to the loss of prestige suffered by the armed forces and as a result of the pressure coming from the United States who wanted to see a return on their investment.
As stated before, the ruling class is capable of everything: they supplied arms to the innocent soldiers, filling their heads with lies and their souls with hatred, sending them off to kill fellow Colombians who are as poor and humble as they are.
From its initial emergence in 1996 and until their partial demobilization in 2003, it is estimated that there were close to 40,000 paramilitary fighters. Currently, under the guise of neo-paramilitaries, there are still 4,000 active members in several parts of the country, at the margin of the law, and if they are not openly protected then at least they are not being pursued by current president Juan Manuel Santos’ government.
Besides the genocide committed against the innocent maliciously accused of being terrorists or guerrilla sympathizers, they forced more than seven million people, including children and the elderly, from their homes to seek refuge in the cities. Their property was stolen, their homes burned. Today, these humble Colombians, derogatively referred to as “the displaced,” live in subhuman conditions, suffering the disdain and indifference of the city’s inhabitants, and police repression.
The number of dead by the paramilitary (about 150,000) is unprecedented not only by its sheer size but by its ghoulishness… we may never truly know how many people were victimized by these bloody forces.
It befalls the International Court of Justice with all its attorneys, judges, and its ability to carry on with a sentence, to try as war criminals those responsible for these crimes including former presidents Andrés Pastrana Arango and Álvaro Uribe Vélez as well as many others responsible for the rise of the paramilitary since they orchestrated their creation, insured their existence, armed them and now guarantee their impunity.
To insure his immunity Uribe Velez tried to reform the Constitution to get himself elected a third time; he was unsuccessful but, like the now deceased General Augusto Pinochet, who declared himself immune by becoming Senator for life, Uribe Vélez has so far secure a safe spot in office as elected Senator. He promoted the “No to Peace” vote and won thanks to a campaign of lies, fear and panic staged to convince voters that if the YES supporters won, guerrillas would take over Colombia and turn it into another Venezuela. Uribe Vélez wants to become president again which is possible given that he and his allies have enough funds stolen from the national resources to buy the necessary votes and finance a campaign similar to their “No for Peace.” If this were to happen, he would evade justice to the misfortune of “Colombia’s democracy.”
“Colombia’s democracy” is a civil dictatorship, a plutocracy comprised of a handful of families (Santos, Pastrana, Lleras, Lopez, Gaviria); like past military dictatorships in so many Latin American countries, they are extremely corrupt, having sold the nation’s resources for self-enrichment and having ordered the army to fire against unarmed workers to defend foreign interests while, deprived of their rights, most of Colombia lives under marginal conditions.
Like all military dictatorships, this one has held onto power with the unconditional support of the security forces that have committed horrible crimes against peasants, indigenous people and anyone who dares stand against them and fight against oppression. Unlike other dictatorships, they enjoy the unconditional support and blessing of the Catholic Church’s hierarchy.
And unlike many military dictatorships that have plagued Latin America, “Colombia’s democracy” elects one of their own as President every four years in an electoral farce. A real opposition is not allowed and yet they brag about freedom of speech and political participation as long as their interests are not endangered.
The recent case of Bogota’s mayor Gustavo Petro Obregon is a good example: he was elected in 2011 by a coalition of opposition parties, with a platform that promised to solve the many problems the city faced, including the construction of a subway that would have eased the daily traffic jams. He was accused by the ruling class of committing every single crime they are guilty of: embezzlement, influence peddling, abuse of power and robbing government assets. He was temporarily relieved but, thanks to public and international pressure, he was reinstated into office and finished his term, even though he was unable to do much, his reputation tarnished.
They triumphed in the end, securing the re-election of former mayor Enrique Peñalosa whose only accomplishment was to build the Trans-Millenio, a urban transportation system that was at least 30 years behind the times when measured against cities the size of Bogota. There is no doubt that huge amounts of money were stolen, as has been the case with so many infrastructure-related projects, some unfinished, like the infamous highway tunnel between the Departments of Tolima and Quíndio, the most dangerous road in Colombia. They remain blameless, of course, since any investigation is impossible. What can one expect of Mayor Peñalosa’s new administration (re-elected for the 2016–19 term) if not more of the same?
The ruling class has established a culture of thievery and impunity. They treat public treasury as their own personal fiefdom. Politicians steal, steal and steal again while proclaiming their innocence. Politicians, judges, attorneys, journalists, etc. have denounced and/or refused to take part of their modus vivendi and have, as a result, been fired, politically ostracized or fallen victims to “accidents” plotted by the security forces.
Boy and girl soldiers: the developing countries were in shock when this horrendous phenomenon became public in several African nations. It is equally fair that they react and condemn with the same outrage Colombia’s ruling class for their role in this brutal practice where the army, the paramilitaries, drug traffickers and even the guerrillas have also taken part.
False positives (or the inflation of the combat body count); the pressure to produce results to meet Plan Colombia’s goals forced the Colombian government to go beyond their diabolical zeal to save its prestige and keep enjoying the perks provided by the United States. And thus, the “false positives.”
In a country with a large number of unemployed and underemployed workers, it’s easy to recruit thousands of naïve citizens to “work for a lot of money”; deceived, they were taken from the urban areas to the conflict zones where they were disguised as guerrillas to later be killed. Hungry for an exclusive, the mass media presented them as terrorists who died in combat. The media became spokespeople for the military, creating an irrefutable truth. Fortunately, pressure from human rights groups forced them to abandon this practice.
Guerrillas versus State Security Forces
In the mid-90s, it was estimated that between the FARC (Armed Revolutionary Forces of Colombia) and the ELN (National Liberation Army) there were 40,000 guerrillas (30,000 in the former, 10,000 in the latter) fighting. Numbers that are downright suspicious, used to justify the creation of the Colombia Plan through which, thanks to aid from the United States, the guerrillas and drug trafficking would be eliminated. Today, thanks to the Colombia Plan and to the massive killing of farmers and Indians accused of being guerrillas or of supporting them by the armed forces and the paramilitaries, it is estimated that only 8,000 are members of the FARC and 1,500 of the ELN, equally questionable statistics since they are used as proof of their success.
What Colombians in general know about the guerrillas is what the government had told them through their official communiqués (war propaganda) broadcast rather irresponsibly and sensationally by the media. Together, the government and the media, with some valuable exceptions, have created an “undeniable truth” before the national court system, which relies entirely on the ruling class. This “truth” can only be refuted by a truly independent and impartial court –the International Court of Justice — as the world would, alongside Colombians, learn who was truly behind this genocide: the guerrillas or the armed forces.
This is worth investigating. The ruling class uses the guerrillas as the reason to secure military aid from the United States. It’s inconceivable how the armed forces, who annually receive more than 20% of the national budget and have the green light to commit all sorts of atrocities, have been unable to, in more than 50 years, defeat a guerrilla that lives and operates in remote areas of the country.
Colombia’s Armed Forces’ are made up of a minority of top officers and sub- officers who enjoy all sorts of privileges and a larger mass of soldiers and low- ranking officials, most of them poor and illiterate peasants and young men fleeing the urban centers with little possibility of securing an education or employment. Then there are those who can’t pay for their military ID, also sold by corrupt officials. The minds and souls of these poor Colombians, many of them still children, are poisoned through physical and psychological training where they are taught how to wield the weapons that will defend the motherland…in other words, to indiscriminately fire upon anyone who fights for their rights and against injustice.
The guerrillas exist and could have been destroyed years ago. The guerrillas are not exactly what the government claims them to be, even though they don’t lack the vocabulary to denigrate them and even accuse them of all the atrocities perpetrated by the armed forces these past 50 years. They are considered terrorists, a term used to place them alongside the Muslim extremists of Isis and Al-Qaeda. They are not exactly saints: during this senseless war they have also committed countless crimes and should be tried for them.
The guerrillas in Colombia are like a ghost, their existence depends on the government’s need to increase its military budget, declare a state of siege when needed or seek military aid from the United States. This ghost takes physical form with the existence of armed groups of farmers, most of them teens, organized to defend themselves from the landlords’ and the paramilitaries’ violence. The guerrillas operate in remote mountainous regions, which they know like the palm of their hands. They know where the Army is, whereas the Army never knows where they are. They possess weapons as sophisticated as their enemies’, some obtained through combat, a large number of them purchased through the black market.
The farmers and indigenous communities who live in these regions are the immediate victims of these aggressions; they are accused of being guerrillas
or of being collaborators for which they are executed without due process and
as a lesson to others in front of their families. Later, in their communiqués, they blame the guerrillas for these acts knowing that the guerrillas lack the means to deny the atrocities they are blamed for. And so the army’s version makes its way to the media as the truth. The urban population has been a first hand witnesses of the effects of this war through those who, displaced by it, have moved to the cities, and the pain and sorrow caused by the deaths of those soldiers and low- ranking officials who were sent to the jungles to fight, plus the drama and pain suffered by the families of those kidnapped. That’s how the war has become urban and national.
It is well known that the guerrillas live off the taxes they impose on the landlords and the theft of their crops and farm animals as well as the expropriation of their lands, bank and highway robberies, ransom collected from kidnappings, etc.
It is also of public domain that the ruling class, its security forces and their institutions live off the fruits of the narco traffic. The guerrillas are no exception and they will have to respond for their crimes as well when they are brought before an impartial court.
In some way, the guerrillas are the government’s best enemy, the goose who lays the golden egg and for that reason alone they must look after it and keep it alive. War has been Colombia’s greatest industry and as its dealers, the ruling class and the armed forces would not be able to enjoy its profits if they totally eliminated their “enemy.” They don’t care about the pain and suffering they have caused the Colombian people, this would go against their business and earnings. After all, not many of their peers have died.
For the international community, it is inconceivable that this civil war has lasted 60 years: it should also be inconceivable for Colombia. The attempts to find peace through treaties and negotiations from the responsible parties of this situation are questionable. Colombian Plan mastermind President Pastrana’s attempts to secure peace failed; probably deliberately to pave the way for the paramilitary’s emergence.
In spite of opposition from the working class and some national industries, former President Pastrana was able to get Colombia to sign a free trade agreement with the United States which guaranteed the continuing plundering of national resources in exchange for the import of manufactured and agricultural goods that can well be produced in Colombia. Hopefully one day, we’ll find out how many millions of dollars Pastrana received as a consultant.
Apart from the optimism generated by President and Nobel Peace Prize winner Juan Manuel Santos’ peace treaty, we must also be honest with ourselves. The Swedish Academies that hand out the Nobel have the right to do so. But to grant it to the man who once was President Uribe Velez’s Minister of Defense, accused of being responsible for the creation of the paramilitaries, and who now, under his administration, protects the 35,000 criminals reintegrated into society to guarantee their silence and impunity is questionable and a gross error from the Academy.
Colombia’s so much sought-for peace cannot depend on the ruling class since they are responsible for this war; this is why their peace initiatives have failed. Revenge is a direct product of their peace treaties. There won’t be peace without forgiveness and there won’t be forgiveness without accepting responsibility for the crimes committed by all parties in the conflict: the government and its security forces, the paramilitaries and the guerrillas.
After all, we cannot forget what happened with past amnesties: the former guerrilla fighters who trusted government and gave up their weapons were ruthlessly massacred. 35,000 members of the paramilitary forces that demobilized beginning in 2003 under President Uribe Vélez’s government have yet, paradoxically, to meet the same fate; rather this explain their immunity.
People know who these former paramilitaries are and what they are capable
of, and for that reason live in “peace” thanks to the fear of having them so near. Most of them enjoy the riches they secured as active soldiers. Some are supposedly in jail or were supposedly extradited, and the few who know a lot (those in high command who could tell the truth about where they received their orders from) are dead, thus guaranteeing the impunity of those responsible for their creation.
And those members of these paramilitaries who did not demobilize have now created an Emerging Criminal Syndicate of neo-paramilitaries. According to the Office of the High Commissioner for Peace and the Group for Humanitarian Attention to the Demobilized, these groups have close to 4,000 members.
Colombia is the “Nation of the Sacred Heart of Jesus”: an invention of the Catholic Church of very little value to the country. The Catholic Church’s hierarchy has been a loyal and unconditional ally to the powerful, giving its blessings to its many actions. Besides, its policy has been to force priests to preach the doctrine of total annihilation of those opposed to the government, declaring a sin being a liberal in the 50s, followed by being a Communist, a guerrilla, a leftist and now a terrorist, thus justifying their elimination.
It is unknown if the Catholic Church’s hierarchy has ever condemned or at least repudiated the atrocities committed by the country’s security forces and its deadly offspring as the so-called “pájaros” of the 1950s and the paramilitaries
of today. This silence points to their complicity in these affairs.
On the other hand, the hierarchy goes after those members of the prelate who courageously denounce these state crimes. As a reward for their persecution, the Church is declared innocent of its crimes; one just has to suppose that Boston Cardinal Francis Bernard Law (who lived in Colombia in his youth) was not the only one protecting the pedophilic priests in his district nor was he the last one to be rewarded for his silence (after being forced to resign he was transferred to Rome by Pope John Paul II as Archpriest of the Basilica de Santa Maria Maggione; he retired but is still politically active in the Vatican).
Colombia’s Catholic Church is all powerful and rules the spiritual life of its people as it pleases, to the point that until recently, only those who were baptized through the Church could apply for state I.D. and also until recently the only valid marriage was through the Church, and burials must be carried out in their cemeteries, except for the Jews. Hopefully, someday their involvement in these crimes will be investigated; until then, we will still live under the oppressive rule of the civil authorities and the spiritual oppression of the ecclesiastical authorities.
It is up to the Vatican and the Pope to ask forgiveness for the way they imposed Catholicism in Latin America through the Inquisition. They should likewise bring to trial the members of their hierarchy in Colombia so they can respond for their own crimes and their collusion in the crimes against Colombia’s poor.
It also behooves the Colombian government to seek forgiveness for the wrongful imprisonment of Colombian citizens of German descent and make restitution to their heirs for the property they stole. They were viciously accused by the government of President Eduardo Santos (1938–1942) of being enemies of Colombia after declaring war to Nazi Germany, a totally hare-brained act. For no reason, these citizens, among them many Jews, were accused either of being Nazis or of supporting the Nazi Party. The government’s actions were no different than those taken by the United States during the same period against its citizens of Japanese descent.
The “Nation of the Sacred Heart of Jesus” is an extremely rich and beautiful country, with its mountains, rivers, valleys, two oceans and its gold, silver and emerald mines. It’s a prodigious and exuberant country with a multiracial population of close to 50 million inhabitants of which 10% own more than 90% of the country’s riches and govern the country as if it were their personal property.
To enjoy their seizure of the country’s riches they have created a system of social and racial discrimination akin to South Africa’s apartheid system, except this one isn’t in the books but is as violent and inhumane. The great majority who suffer this segregation, this abuse, discrimination and social oppression is not exclusively black but multiethnic.
To the more than 5.5 million blacks and mixed-race Colombians, most of whom live in extreme poverty, we must add the 2.5 million indigenous people whose lands have been stolen and who have been forced to live in absolute misery, their customs and languages in danger of extinction.
Then there are the 7 million who have been displaced by the war, who are victims of the government’s extermination policies, forced to abandon the countryside, leaving behind their belongings, by military and paramilitary forces in order to save their lives. They now live piled up in urban shacks while their bloodthirsty assailants (the demobilized paramilitaries) live protected by the government, enjoying what they stole from the now displaced.
To these 15 million Colombians now add the more than 20 million workers and unemployed and farmers whose salaries are not enough to meet their basic needs. They are the victims of all types of abuse from their bosses and the government.
To their miserable salaries add the lack of affordable housing, health care and education, public transportation and social welfare. The budget for these services is, at best, precarious; then there are the bureaucratic inefficiencies and the empty promises to improve these services to secure votes in the polling booth. The votes are delivered but the services worsen with the passage of time.
The great base of this social pyramid is comprised of 35 million people living under several degrees of poverty: from poor to totally dispossessed and indigent, like the thousands of abandoned boys and girls (los gamines/the urchins) who swarm the streets, victims of hunger, drugs, sexual abuse, prostitution, police brutality and the contempt of passers-by. Then there are the thousands of panhandlers and people with mental illnesses who also walk the street of this “Nation of the Sacred Heart of Jesus”.
The rest of the social pyramid, about 15 million, is comprised of small business owners, entrepreneurs and professionals that go from the merely rich –including the nouveau riche (drug lords and former paramilitaries)– to the super rich, the latter being at the very top of the pyramid.
The large agricultural and livestock landlords, businessmen, entrepreneurs and industrialists enjoy many privileges, including access to abundant cheap labor and a country of bountiful resources. They have bureaucrats, corrupt politicians and influence peddlers at their side, solving their every problem for a “reasonable” fee (which is another way politicians enrich themselves).
They believe they own the country and take on the responsibility of developing and maintaining the nation’s economy, and with each passing day they grow richer at the expense of the poor and the country’s socio-economic development. A country’s progress and development depends on the collective effort to better use its resources. A developed country with a democratic government shares the benefits derived from its riches with its inhabitants. That is not the case in Colombia.
The ruling class insists, through propaganda and their manipulation of the truth via false statistics, that Colombia is a developing country: they do this to hide the fact that Colombia is an underdeveloped country lacking in modern infrastructure, with obsolete roads and modes of transportation. They made the railroad system disappear in favor of freight vehicles. Colombia lacks a naval fleet and an adequate port system that would allow for the easy flow of maritime commerce.
They have sold and continue selling the country’s natural resources –oil, the coal produced in the Cerrejón mines — as well as public entities to foreign interests, keeping the money. The national airline now belongs to a foreign consortium. The Colombian people never saw a dime from the sale of Panama and its canal just as they haven’t seen a dime from the sale of other resources.
Like any other underdeveloped country, Colombia has scandalously high rates of unemployment, underemployment, illiteracy, alcoholism, prostitution and infant mortality. Based on actual population numbers, these problems are worse here than in other poor countries like Haiti and Paraguay with populations, respectively, of 10 and 7 million people.
In Colombia, education at all levels, health and hospital services are privileges reserved for those who can afford them, since they rely on private enterprises that enjoy sky-high earnings. These enterprises (colleges, universities, clinics and hospitals) are the property of the country’s owners. Education, health, welfare and public transportation for the great majority of Colombians is simply a disaster due to budget shortfalls, money shamelessly stolen by the politicians.
After the United States, Colombia ranks second in the number of people in jail: poor men and women, most of them innocent, crammed in jail cells because they can’t afford a lawyer. The well-to-do have never seen the interior of a jail not because they have yet to commit a crime but because they have the resources to buy their own brand of justice.
Colombia’s rich and super rich, its politicians and armed forces’ high command are just a small percentage, maybe less than 5 million, of the population: the “powerful owners of the country” enjoy the same privileges of the rich in developed countries. And, much to their dismay, they have to live in one of the world’s most violent countries as a result of their own policies that have led to the plunder, robbery and squandering of the national resources.
It’s essential to recall that the intelligence, wisdom and bravery of Nelson Mandela and the leadership of the African National Congress were not enough to overthrow South Africa’s racist minority and dissolve the Apartheid regime. Without the solidarity and support they received from the international community, conscious and respectful of our dignity, the evil politics of a white minority would still oppress this impoverished black majority.
Likewise, it is essential that the world finds out that apartheid is alive and well in Colombia. The segregation, racism, discrimination, social oppression, and the repression from the Armed Forces are not regulated by the rule of law: it is a fact of life for the grand majority.
Without the resolute support and solidarity from those world citizens who value human life as a sacred right, Colombians will not be able to escape from this more than a century old historical hell (South African apartheid only lasted less than 50).
What has been stated here is just the tip of a Dantesque iceberg of social decomposition, product of an anti-democratic government, and only pretends to prove that the idea of a tropical and democratic paradise that Colombia’s rulers have maliciously exported is false. It’s up to the international community to stop believing the lies they are told of the “world’s happiest country”; this is another fallacy which they have forever circulated to disguise the truth.
The guerrillas are nothing more than a scourge in the Colombian conflict; as already stated, they could have been vanquished long ago but that isn’t the case since it would have deprived the government of an “enemy” to justify a fictitious state of war and receive military aid from the United States. What has been happening in Colombia is not war but genocide against farmers, the indigenous communities and the working class, perpetrated by the ruling class with the help of the armed forces and the blessing of the Catholic Church for more than 60 years.
They have kept the working class under conditions of extreme poverty. They have denied the great majority of Colombians such basic rights as employment, health, education, and housing, totally inconceivable in a country as extraordinarily rich as Colombia. That’s something that even Heaven will not forgive!
No contribution is too small and every action helps Colombia escape this horrible nightmare. The challenge for Colombia’s patriots is to conquer and add to their struggle the moral force of the international community. The only thing that is needed is the courage to do what’s right and necessary to achieve the freedom, which has been denied for too long to the grand majority of Colombians.
In the meantime, we have to hope that some day Colombia will be set free from the oppression and tyranny of Latin America’s oldest, most corrupt and repressive dictatorship.
Too many thousands of Colombians have died without having known the joy of living…. And, too many millions are still suffering. This has to stop!
Thank you for your attention.
Colombian by birth and naturalized citizen of the United States, I have travelled extensively through Colombia and Latin America. Lawyer, graduated from the National University of Buenos Aires, Argentina; journalist and television/film producer, graduated from Columbia College, Chicago; founder and executive director of the International Latino Cultural Center of Chicago.
February 17, 2017