Interview with Héctor Mondragón, Peasant, Black and Indigenous Convergence of Colombia

Interview with Héctor Mondragón, Peasant, Black and Indigenous Convergence of Colombia

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By Aloia Álvarez Feáns

"In the calculation of the transnationals is to use Colombia as a spearhead against the popular movement of Latin America." His defense of the rights of Colombian peasants, indigenous and trade unionists has led him to jail on seven occasions and into exile on one, but this economist, today an advisor to the Peasant, Black and Indigenous Convergence of Colombia, is not so easy intimidate you.

His defense of the rights of Colombian peasants, indigenous and trade unionists has led him to jail on seven occasions and into exile on one, but this economist, today an advisor to the Peasant, Black and Indigenous Convergence of Colombia, is not so easy intimidate you. His visit to the Spanish state is a sign that the threats and political persecution suffered by him and the social sectors he supports are actually one more motivation to raise his voice. And the thing is that in Colombia, as this interview makes clear, there are many reasons not to be silent.

As an advisor to the Peasant, Black and Indigenous Convergence, he is dedicated to defending the agrarian struggles in Colombia. What is the situation of those struggles today?

The agrarian struggles in Colombia are characterized by the gigantic violence suffered by the peasantry, Afro-Colombians and indigenous communities. In the last 26 years we have suffered terrible violence, the result of which has been the gradual loss of all the rights that had been won in 80 years. This setback has been consolidated with Law 11.52 of this year, promoted by the current government, a law that definitively liquidates the conquests that were made in 1936. In addition, it deals a great blow to the indigenous peoples, who had achieved the recognition of their rights in the 1991 Constitution and ILO Convention 169. This law, although it does not mean the total deprivation of their rights as in the case of the peasants, it deals the first serious blow to that set of rights. The current government is rabidly anti-indigenous, because it has found that indigenous people still have rights and are an obstacle to carrying out their policies. The CECOIN conducted a study on the violation of indigenous Human Rights between 1970 and 2006 and what is seen is a very large increase in violence against them from the Pastrana government and much more under the Uribe government. While in the previous stage the violence was concentrated on the trade unionists, it is now concentrating on the indigenous people, which is the sector that has carried out the largest mobilizations in recent years.

These mobilizations, do they go beyond the traditional claim of the right to land?

The current indigenous and peasant demand is fundamentally oriented to the fight against the Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with the United States, neoliberal policies and large mega-projects, which affect the lives of rural people. Large megaprojects such as the Plan Puebla Panama or the IIRSA (Initiative for the Integration of Regional Infrastructure in South America) overwhelmingly fall on the people without their having the possibility of giving an opinion. The same is true of government economic priorities. At this time, Colombia has determined that the priority of agricultural development is agrofuels, in particular the two crops of the large landowners, African palm and sugar cane. In this way, everything that is credit resources, tax exemptions, State support ... is turned in favor of these large landowners and large businessmen who process sugar or oil, to the detriment, first, of the peasants and indigenous peoples and, second, of the population of the cities, who need to eat. Colombia is a country with a large food deficit, but for the government food production is not a priority. They have a plan they call Vision 2019, in which they say that what it is about is having money to import food, which is what the FTA is designed for. The reality is that at this time, despite the tremendous violence that has been exercised against the peasantry, they continue to produce most of the country's food. All the terrible reality that we live has to do with the fact that this sector that produces most of the country's food is persecuted and discriminated against, they want to get rid of it, but at the same time they need it. Large landowners, who own 61 percent of the land, have only 9 percent of the sown area of ​​the country; while smallholders, with 14 percent of the land, have 43 percent of the planted area, that is, they are the ones that maintain agricultural production.

And what is the interest of the large owners?

The object of land ownership concentration is price speculation. The large landowners are not interested in agricultural production, but they have a great interest in megaprojects, which value the lands they have taken from the peasants. And this question of megaprojects also has to do with land ownership models. All this struggle is not only for land ownership, it is a struggle between two economic models and the availability of land is part of both models.

On some occasion you have said that the map of the Colombian conflict coincides with the map of large investment projects. What is the objective of the war then? Are drug trafficking and the fight against the insurgency simple smoke screens?

The first thing to say is that drug trafficking is not the cause of the conflict but one of its consequences. On the one hand, the mafia was born precisely because Colombia is a country in which violence has emerged as a way to eliminate social movements, there has been a tolerance towards death machines that has been exploited by the mafia. On the other hand, the dispossession of peasants' land, the frequent displacement due to violence and the free import policy followed by neoliberal governments caused crisis situations in the agricultural productive sector and led to the loss of profitability in many crops. So the peasant population displaced by violence or ruin went to the jungle to plant coca. Why? Because any product was a solution for those poor peasants. Once drug trafficking appears, it becomes one more power, linked to the traditional one. Today this is seen in the phenomenon of parapolitics, because all these political figures accused of paramilitarism are financed by drug trafficking. The sectors at war, particularly the paramilitaries, have made this a source of financing. Thus, drug trafficking becomes part of the conflict, but it cannot be said to be its cause, there is a war for coca as there is a war for other resources.

You mentioned displacement. How does this affect the social structureor economic?

The first effect is the concentration of land ownership and the second is the instability that this represents for this displaced population: those who go to the cities, which are a good part, are exposed to destitution, prostitution or crime. From a more general and long-term point of view, all this mass of displaced people becomes cheap labor. The death machine has been used to carry out violence in the countryside, but at a certain point, when the workers managed to form a unitary union, the CUT, this machine of violence was launched against them and a true genocide was carried out against the unionists . Today those who suffer the most deaths within the trade union movement are the teachers, because, like the indigenous people, they still have rights. In the last 20 years in Colombia there have been 80 percent of the murders of trade unionists worldwide. Just as in the countryside we have a harvest of terror with the loss of rights, in the labor sector we have a total loss of rights due to the total liquidation of the union leadership. This violence against the union movement is related to the loss of the workers' ability to fight, because there are 3 million displaced people who accept any salary. Displacement has increased misery, not only for the displaced but for all workers.

This situation will probably worsen when the FTA is signed. In what state are the negotiations?

The FTA has already been negotiated twice, if you can call that negotiation, because the role of the Colombian government was to tell the United States yes to everything ... The first phase of the negotiation was completed in November of last year, but the The demands of the US trade union and environmental movement led to the emergence of new proposals in the Democratic Party on the set of FTAs ​​that the US was signing. The grassroots pressure from the Democrats has led to at least three changes having to be made by the Colombian government. what he did was simply abide by them and sign the text again this year. But from the point of view of the Colombian peasant and indigenous movement, these conditions are totally insufficient. First, because imports of agricultural products are going to be huge and will exacerbate the problem of illegal crops. Secondly, because they mean the loss of food sovereignty of the country and, thirdly, because all that mass of agricultural products that is going to enter is absolutely destabilizing, it will exacerbate the crisis in the countryside and the causes of the conflict. On the other hand, the Colombian government is negotiating other FTAs ​​with the EU, with Canada, with Guatemala ... From our point of view, it is not wrong to make trade agreements, there have to be, but those that are being signed do not consider the inequity between economic realities of different levels of development.

I imagine that, given the degree of repression, the social mobilizations are not very comparable to those that are taking place in other countries of the region, such as Bolivia or Venezuela…. Is Colombia left alone?

The harvest of terror means having isolated Colombia from all the processes that are taking place in Latin America. In a place where the rights of workers are demolished, where the land has been taken from the peasants, where thousands of indigenous leaders have been assassinated, where are we going to get a left like the Ecuadorian or the Bolivian? We cannot, we live inverse processes so the results are inverse. In Colombia there is an emergency of the extreme right that is expressed in the Uribe government and in its "peace agreement" with the paramilitaries in which the objective is to turn into an institution what was previously a crime. Parapolitics is that, that they are the government.

A few days ago Vice President Santos was here saying that paramilitarism is a thing of the past ...

To say that there is no paramilitarism is a big lie, of course there still is. But the problem is not this, there is something much more important and it is that the economic results of paramilitarism are in force; In other words, the economic benefits that they gave to the companies that financed them, such as Chiquita Brands, are there. What they achieved for their business is a fact, it was a business to finance them in order to control the struggle of the banana workers. All the connections of the companies with paramilitarism are in force, their results are in force.

How is it possible that the European Union, and specifically the Spanish government, which are self-defending the defense of Human Rights, do not see it?

It is the same as wondering why transnational corporations supported paramilitarism… because it was economically convenient for them. We cannot deny that in the current government of the United States and the EU who weighs are these companies. In a situation like that of Latin America, in which social movements and some governments question the power of transnational corporations, it is seen that the Colombian model of impunity is exportable to other places, because it is in the interests of transnational companies to put order, to silence popular movements. In the event that these movements gain more force and spread throughout Latin America, this death machine can be exported. I think that the calculation of the transnationals is using Colombia as a spearhead against the popular movement in Latin America. So what the multinationals influence European governments is going to be what influences them to support this solution, which is to support Uribism, the model of impunity. European social movements must be very clear with their governments, or this model of impunity is supported to advance the interests of transnational companies or a real position in defense of Human Rights is adopted.

The peace process with the FARC and the ELN, is it a dead process?

I know that there are conversations with the ELN, which I hope will be deepened and sustained. With the FARC there is no process, only the mediation being carried out by Piedad Córdoba and the President of France ... I think that in Colombia the situation with the guerrillas has to be resolved by negotiation but I think that it is much more important to recognize that the origin of the violence has to do with the problem of the land. That is the only thing that can create the conditions for peace in Colombia.

* Aloia Alvarez Feáns He is part of the Peoples Editorial Board. This interview has been published in the 29th issue of Pueblos magazine, December 2007 -

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