Pueblos en Camino
30 August, 2008
I would have preferred to do some kind of letter to the editor, but it won't work. The need to react precisely precludes writing in Spanish, the need to write quickly precludes finding a translator, and the need to explain a great deal precludes the writing of a short letter. This article concerns the recent articles in el Tiempo, Colombia's national newspaper, on the FARC in Canada.
So now the computer of an assassinated guerrilla leader, a computer that survived a missile attack and 48 hours of tampering by Colombian authorities according to INTERPOL, yields email evidence "linking" the decimated guerrillas to a peace activist and economist. We are supposed to believe that this laptop provides credible information that Hector Mondragon, a highly respected and principled economist, was corresponding with FARC, and helping link FARC with Canada.
El Tiempo's a previous round of vague accusations by a military man named Colonel Villamarin "linking" FARC to Canadian groups had logical leaps and evidentiary gaps that would be laughable, if such accusations in Colombia weren't deadly serious.
In this case, I know that they are lying about Hector Mondragon. I know Hector, and he's already said that the claims against him are false. More on that below.
These articles, and the accusations to come from "evidence" from Raul Reyes's laptop, are not the exposures of evidence by investigators of crimes.
They are the desperate appeals of a criminal regime to divert attention from its own crimes by inventing crimes of others.
The media, and el Tiempo, as they often do, are doing their bit to help the regime.
Colombia's regime is currently being studied by the International Criminal Court (ICC) because the key witnesses in cases of crimes against humanity (mostly massacres of peasants and activists) are being extradited to the United States to face drug charges. The ICC got involved because Colombia's president, Alvaro Uribe Velez, rather than help the country's Supreme Court investigate paramilitarism and its links with politicians in his party (and from his family), attacked the court publicly and institutionally. The testimony of paramilitary killers who surrendered to the authorities, the computer files they handed over, and a document from the United States DIA courtesy of the National Security Archive all point to Uribe himself as a suspect in paramilitarism and narcotrafficking. A few days ago I collected the public evidence and presented it (with Dawn Paley and Manuel Rozental), partly hoping that those pursuing prosecution of the regime might find the collected public evidence of use. And hoping that the case against the regime might restrain it from further attacks on peoples, lands, and social forces opposed to displacement and exploitation.
As I pointed out in that article, the legality of Uribe's second term in office is itself in question, since there are accusations that bribery was involved in the vote in Congress when it passed the constitutional change to allow Uribe's re-election. The evidence that his party was heavily involved with the death squads is available in spades. He is isolated from his neighbours, in the region, and in the world - except for the US. And recent events in Pakistan show, as the fate of US clients from Manuel Noriega in Panama to Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada in Bolivia that while authoritarian regimes are useful to the United States, any individual head of a regime is expendable if the costs of supporting him are too high.
But against all this, Uribe has a weapon that has served him well: tremendous popularity in Colombia as expressed in the polls. This has to do with various economic tricks that have been used to keep Colombia afloat (even as the underlying economic basis is being eroded) and Uribe's ability to polarize the country between his regime and the guerrillas of FARC and to capitalize on the unpopularity of the latter, in recent months by pulling off spectacular operations against them, from the assassination of their most visible commander Raul Reyes to the rescue of their most visible hostage Ingrid Betancourt.
I am an internationalist, but I am Canadian-born, a citizen here, a part of this community, and concerned about the things this government and its corporations do in the world. Canada's involvement in Colombia through free-trade agreements, corporate investments, and three-way interactions involving the United States, mostly act to bolster, and profit from, a regime of armed plunder. Indeed, in my view the principal beneficiaries of the plunder and the consequent massacres (of thousands a year) and displacement (of millions, now) are in North America (and to a lesser extent Europe). That puts a massive responsibility on people in Canada and the US to try to stop their own regimes from organizing and motivating these acts. I make these arguments regularly, in any forum that I can.
Trying to understand any political situation or country is always easier to do with help, especially the help of people with more experience (or insight or knowledge or all of the above). Sometimes, though it isn't necessary, these people also have tremendous courage and integrity. My own understanding of Colombia has come from several people, but among them is someone who is truly a hero to me, the Colombian economist Hector Mondragon. I have been his translator on a lot of his extremely insightful articles (see the translations section of my writings archive for examples. I have interviewed him several times. Whenever I have been to Colombia and had questions he was able to help me make sense of the situation.
We have a few differences. Part of what makes him extraordinary is a story he tells. As a much younger activist in a more intense phase of Colombia's war, Hector was caught and tortured by the regime before being released. He wrote about it when the Abu Ghraib photos came out. He knows who his torturer is. Many who join the guerrillas or worked with them are motivated by a need for revenge for atrocities like these, but to Hector this would be contributing to more violence, and so he has kept silent in the decades since about who it was. This even though Hector would never equate the violence of oppressed and brutalized people, or the violence of self-defence with the violence of a system of power and wealth. And he is too concerned with trying to stop the bigger violence to try to preach nonviolence to the oppressed, which I've never seen him do (though he has always been consistent about the importance of political solutions and the failures of violence in bringing about social change in Colombia). He is the best kind of pacifist, one who practices it himself even though it is incredibly difficult, but seeks always to understand why people do violence and change it through politics and organization. I share his analysis, but personally, while I don't know for sure because I have luckily never been put to such tests, I don't think I have that kind of courage.
According to the El Tiempo article, Raul Reyes wrote to Hector to introduce him to codename 'Sara', who is in the custody of Colombian authorities, and who was in charge of raising funds for FARC abroad, especially in Canada. Here is the relevant paragraph:
Y en un correo del 2 de abril del 2006, 'Reyes' le escribe a un hombre identificado como Héctor Mondragón: "Quiero presentarle a la camarada Liliany (...) ella trabaja conmigo y al mismo tiempo presta asesoría a Fensuagro (Federación Nacional Sindical Unitaria Agropecuaria) en su trabajo de relaciones internacionales. Naturalmente se trata de una camarada de absoluta confianza".
Let's translate it before proceeding:
'In an email of April 2 2006, Reyes wrote to a man identified as Hector Mondragon: "I want to introduce you to Comrade Liliany, she works with me and at the same time advises Fensuagro (National Agrarian Workers' Union) in international relations. Naturally she is a Comrade that can be completely trusted." '
The key sentence there is "a man identified as Hector Mondragon". Note the passive voice. Who identified him? Not el Tiempo, obviously. Had Raul Reyes been writing to Hector's publicly known email account, we can safely assume that El Tiempo would have said so. So, presumably, the Colombian authorities used some subjective method to 'identify' that the email was going to Hector. How? Perhaps Hector has a secret identity that even Hector doesn't know about? The opportunities for fabrication and false accusation abound, and the Colombian authorities and el Tiempo have clearly taken advantage of some of them.
I have been involved in Colombia solidarity in Canada since 2001. I helped raise money for social movement groups in Colombia, and made donations to them, through the Canada-Colombia Solidarity Campaign (2001-2003) and then through Pueblos en Camino. Mainly we raised money for the NASA indigenous and their organization, the Association of Indigenous Councils of Northern Cauca. But we also have supported (mostly just through information and media efforts but on rare occasions financially) various unions, afro-Colombian groups, women's groups, peasant groups, and the Polo Democratico Alternativo. Part of what appealed to me about these groups was that they had all the courage that the guerrillas had in facing a deadly system, but their political analysis was different and they argued that the war was serving the system and the only way out was political. They suffered, sometimes at the hands of the guerrillas, for saying so, but they never succumbed to the temptation to support the state in repressing the guerrillas (knowing that they were as much a target as the guerrillas of such repression) or to support the guerrillas, despite all the attacks by the regime. I don't know everyone involved in Colombia solidarity but in all these years I never met 'Comrade Liliany'.
If the regime is going after Hector Mondragon, then it is not about FARC's fundraising networks but about the same thing it's always been about: destroying any social forces and organizations, including - or perhaps especially - the political and unarmed ones that oppose the plunder of the country. If the fabrications keep coming I can only hope that Hector is not alone and that at least something is made up about me. It would of course be better if el Tiempo would apologize for this character assassination (which also puts Hector in greater physical danger) and admit that it should not be publishing the fabricated claims of a desperate regime.
Justin Podur is a Toronto-based writer and activist with Pueblos en Camino (www.en-camino.org). He is Hector Mondragon's translator and has been involved in Canada-Colombia solidarity efforts since 2001.