GIobalization & Instability
The case of Colombia
by Edward S. Herman & Cecilia Zarate-Laun
Z magazine, September 1999
It has been an important ideological premise of the U.S.-organized
New World Order that globalization is a very positive thing that
"brings us all together," whereas ethnic strife and
"balkanization" are regressive tendencies that conflict
with globalization. A recent expression of this view was President
Clinton's April 7 pronouncement that the bombing of Yugoslavia
was to advance this benevolent globalization process by fighting
off the ugly forces of separatism and ethnic violence.
Globalization Generates Conflict
But this counter-poising of globalization and ethnic strife
is extremely misleading, as globalization has been a primary cause
of fragmentation, ethnic strife, and other forms of violence.
(In his April 7 address, Clinton acknowledged that globalization
has created problems, which call for U.S. " leadership "
in straightening things out, as in Kosovo.) Globalization has
been "bringing us together," but under the rule of transnational
capital and the governments and international institutions that
serve it, and in a highly undemocratic manner. Where that rule
is resisted violence occurs, frequently with the active support
of the leaders of the globalization process. Globalization has
been notorious for its income polarization effects, with vast
numbers mired in poverty even as the world's rich become much
richer; and as Oxfam noted in a 1995 report on poverty, "deepening
poverty is one of the main driving forces behind the civil conflicts
which are creating unprecedented numbers of refugees."
The ethnic strife in the most recent focus of attention, the
Balkans, is in large measure a derivative of the forces of globalization,
to whose account we may include: the integration of Yugoslavia
into the global market in the 1970s and 1980s; its weakened economic
condition from the recession of the early 1980s and then the brutal
IMF structural adjustment plan imposed on it; and its active dismantlement
encouraged by Germany, Austria, and the U.S. in the 1 990s in
pursuit of their regional and global geopolitical interests. The
breakup of the Soviet Union and the West's encouragement of rapid
privatization and shock therapy in Russia, and the integration
of China into the global market, have resulted in catastrophic
conditions in the former and increasing chaos in the latter.
The devastating effects on Africa of its global economic links
and IMF and World Bank policies has also been an important illustration
of the close connection between globalization and instability.
Peruvian analyst Oswaldo De Rivero even argues that globalization
and IMF-World Bank policies have virtually created an important
national category that he labels "chaotic ungovernable entities,"
with some 23 of them extending from Angola to Bolivia to Tajikistan
now identifiable and their rapid proliferation and regressive
tendencies making a mockery of the phrase "emerging economies"
("States in Ruin, Conflicts Without End," Le Monde Diplomatique,
Violence to Facilitate Globalization
As regards the active support of violence by the globalizing
leaders and institutions, we may recall the U. S. sponsorship
of the National Security States in Latin America, Suharto in Indonesia,
Mobutu in Zaire, and Marcos in the Philippines. These regimes
not only killed and terrorized on a large scale, they also generated
an enormous flow of mainly internal refugees, pushed off the land
for the benefit of foreign as well as domestic agro-export, oil,
mining, and timber interests. In Brazil alone, church sources
estimated some seven million peasants evicted from the land in
the years of military rule, and large numbers were similarly treated
(with many killed) in other parts of the empire (including pre-Sandinista
Nicaragua) to make way for the important, increasingly global,
interests. These victimized people sometimes resisted and caused
"instability" and "ethnic conflict" that had
to be dealt with by the globalizing forces of law and order. "Stability"
for the globalizers means no obstacle or resistance to their own
radical destabilizing operations; the victims should accept their
displacement, removal, and other injuries without complaint.
This same process goes on today, even in the nominally "democratic"
provinces. In many cases, years of class cleansing by U.S.-supported
rulers such as Pinochet have left the countries with democracies
in complete thrall to the powerful-labor weakened and fearful;
concentrated control of business and the media; dependence on
foreign capital, global financial markets, and the IMF-and thus
servants of neoliberal policies and interests. And very often
the victims respond, calling for state and global action in the
interest of "stability."
For example, Bolivia, often portrayed as a model of reform
under Jeffrey Sachs's tutelage and IMF structural adjustment programs
(SAPs) beginning in 1985, illustrates a commonly encountered sequence
of policy actions, resultant devastating human conditions, conflict,
and responsive repression (assisted by the United States). Privatization
of the tin mines and other public assets, cutbacks in subsidies
to the poor and small farmers, restrictive macro policies, a shift
to agro-exports under IMF-U.S. pressure and need to service a
growing external debt, generated serious unemployment, a fall
in the real incomes of a large majority, and the familiar spurt
of malnutrition and growth of the informal market. Many small
farmers unable to compete in traditional crops without subsidies
or protection in a global market moved into coca leaf cultivation.
This rational economic choice has been increasingly attacked under
U.S.-sponsored anti-drug programs that have used chemical warfare
and military campaigns.
Thus, having destroyed the livelihoods of large numbers of
Bolivians, and afforded them no survival alternative to coca leaf
cultivation, the United States is now spending large sums directly
and through a militarized Bolivian state to crush the coca leaf
producers by violence. A Banzer government plan for the Chapare
area of coca leaf cultivation calls for the relocation of 20,000
families, many of whom moved there after the 1985 SAP closed the
tin mines. The hope is that agro-businesses like Chiquita can
be induced into the area to replace the peasants. But the peasant
families are refusing to move in a conflict clearly related to
the interests of a tiny local elite and the United States and
its globalizing program, surely not those of the Bolivian people
(see the interview on Bolivia with George Ann Potter, Council
on Hemispheric Affairs, Washington Report on the Hemisphere, July
As another example, in the case of Mexico's corrupt democracy,
a Salinas and Zedillo can privatize everything in sight, alter
Article 27 of the Mexican constitution to end protection of community
land rights, terminate subsidies to small farmers and increase
them to agro-farmers, and open up timber areas that were a commons
of indigenous communities (and protection against flooding) to
timber giants like Boise Cascade. These anti-people actions, along
with the effects of NAFTA, have produced another burst of refugees
from the land, into Mexico City and across the U.S. border. It
has also led to a series of outbreaks of indigenous violence,
including but by no means limited to the Zapatista revolt. These
conflicts have been closely and directly related to the annexation
and globalization of Mexico.
Of course both Mexican globalization and the Mexican government's
steady deployment of state violence have been actively aided by
the United States. Clinton has more closely embraced Zedillo in
the face of new evidence of corruption and fraud and a more aggressive
Mexican counterinsurgency policy in dealing with rural grievances.
This U.S. support of both a globalization process that generates
revolt and the instruments of state terror that are designed to
keep that response in check recalls an important Brazilian church
document of the 1 960s, which noted that the National Security
State was needed because the merciless economic policies being
carried out by the Brazilian military government (with enthusiastic
transnational corporate participation and U.S. political support)
were "generating a revolution that did not previously exist."
State terror was needed to cope with the "instability"
produced by the already operative "growth with injustice"
model. Then, and as regards Mexican state terror and its role
today, the U.S. mainstream media avert their eyes.
Terror and Globalization in Colombia
Even more dramatic than Bolivia or Mexico today is the case
of Colombia, where political killings of peasant and labor leaders,
teachers, journalists, priests, nuns, lawyers, women rights leaders,
human rights workers, and citizens, carried out mainly by the
government and its affiliated paramilitary arms, were estimated
by human rights watchers at over 3,800 in 1998. (Over half the
trade union leaders murdered in the entire world in 1997 were
located in Colombia.) This is a far larger figure than the number
of Albanians killed in Kosovo prior to the beginning of NATO bombings
in March. The number of internal refugees in Colombia is reckoned
at some 1.5 million, also vastly greater than the pre-NATO bombing
refugee numbers in Kosovo.
Unworthy victims. But, like Turkey and Suharto's Indonesia,
as well as Bolivia and Mexico, Colombia is an increasingly important
part of the global economic order, its oil and mineral wealth
have attracted the interest of important global economic players,
and its government, army and paramilitary forces are allied with
and kill in the interest of those important players. These victims
therefore fall into the "unworthy" category, attract
little international attention, and can be killed and dispossessed
on a large scale without indignant outcries from Susan Sontag
or platitudes on the importance of each individual by Vaclav Havel.
These moralists reserve their preachings for worthy victims.
The unworthiness of Colombia's ordinary citizens can also
be read from the fact that, as with Mexico, Turkey, and Suharto's
Indonesia, the Colombian government is actively aided by the United
States; in this case, with several hundred military advisers,
joint training exercises, a strong CIA and DEA presence, and $290
million in military aid, making Colombia the third largest recipient
of such aid (after Israel and Egypt). This funding is about to
be sharply increased as the Clinton administration further militarizes
the "drug war," the press reporting a proposed $1 billion
allocation to the Colombia struggle against "narco-terrorism."
But in fact this will go to an army that is itself tied to the
drug trade, and that directly or indirectly has been guilty of
human rights violations that will bear comparison with any in
Obstacles to "progress." Throughout Colombia indigenous
tribes, peasants, and small miners stand in the way of oil drilling,
agro-business, and large scale mining which cause their dispossession
and severe environmental damage. Occidental Petroleum has had
a long-standing dispute with the U'wa Indian tribe that opposes
their drilling on Indian lands. Exxon's giant El Cerrejon coal
mine, and other nearby mines in Venezuela, have had injurious
effects on a half dozen local Indian tribes that have opposed
their operations. The Choco area in the Northwest part of Colombia
below Panama is rich in minerals and oil and contains one of the
world's last pristine rain forests. It is being rapidly opened
to mining, oil, and timber exploitation, and pipelines, ports,
railroads, a canal, and the last 65 miles of the Pan American
Highway are being pushed forward to bring this region into the
global market. Free trade zones are in the planning stage for
the Choco area. The local peasants are resisting, and the paramilitaries,
army, and other drug warriors have been quietly pushing them out,
often by extreme terror (a preferred paramilitary method is cutting
people alive in pieces with chain saws, impelling a flight in
which everything is left behind).
In Southern Bolivar there is a gold mine long coveted by the
transnational mining companies as it produces first quality gold
in an open pit location. Local peasants have been exploiting this
mine for 40 years, along with miners organized in a union and
working for a local company. The peasant and union leaders in
this area have been murdered and in 1998 some 10,000 farmers and
peasants were driven out by paramilitaries, who were funded by
gold mining companies and protected by the Colombian army.
These Colombian conflicts and "instability" are
closely tied to the new global economic order. Colombia, like
Bolivia and other Latin American countries, has been subjected
to a SAP that called for enlarged exports of primary goods to
generate hard currency. This program helped force privatization
and liberalization of trade and investment, encouraging an influx
of foreign capital. The United States enthusiastically backed
these "reforms," which benefited their transnationals.
But these policies have threatened and damaged indigenous communities
and their ecological systems, and helped produce terrorist responses;
the main oil pipeline in Colombia has been bombed over 500 times,
and the regions of oil development are notorious for death squads
and other human rights abuses.
Anti-narcoterrorist death squads. The situation in Colombia
is somewhat reminiscent of that in El Salvador and Guatemala in
the 1980s, where the U.S.-aided armies killed and produced refugees
on a truly massive scale, with the help of paramilitaries (death
squads) closely affiliated with the army. It is recognized by
all human rights groups, and has even been acknowledged in the
State Department's own human rights reports, that most of the
killing in Colombia is done by army-affiliated and protected right-wing
paramilitaries. As in El Salvador and Guatemala, the use of death
squads allows the army to do much of its dirty work by proxy,
making it appear that the army and government are not in the business
of mass murder.
It is also widely recognized that the Colombian paramilitaries
and army are heavily involved in the drug trade; the conservative
London Economist even alleged that the drug traffickers protected
by the paramilitaries "are far deeper into drugs [than the
guerrillas]-and the DEA knows it" (February 20, 1999). But
this has not prevented the United States from aiding the Colombian
army in the name of fighting a drug war.
In effect, the United States supports a "narco-army"
and "narco-paramilitaries" (death squads) to combat
"narco-guerrillas." The guerrillas do receive enormous
amounts of money coming from the drug trade and they kill on a
large scale; some 14 percent of total human rights violations
reported by Colombian NGOs are attributed to the guerrillas. But
that leaves 84 percent to the paramilitaries and 2 percent to
the army. Nevertheless, the United States has aligned itself completely
with the dominant killers and dominant participants in the drug
trade and leaves their drug terrain alone.
U.S. aid to Colombia has been earmarked for specific regions
of the country such as the Amazon and Orinoco basins that happen
to be the areas of influence of the rebel Revolutionary Armed
Forces of Colombia (FARC), while largely avoiding the northern
areas of the country where the drug trade routes are protected
by paramilitaries closely allied with drug-traffickers and members
of the Colombian army. Exempting and supplying arms to an important
segment of the drug trade suggests that, as with anticommunism
in the past, the drug war rationale covers over the pursuit of
larger objectives, that can be read from what the army and paramilitaries
do-remove, kill, and silence the large segments of the rural population
that stand in the way of the exploitation of Colombia's resources.
U. S. - and TNC-sponsored militarization. The Colombian army
and police have long been trained and supplied arms and intelligence
by the United States, and I that close cooperation has been enhanced
recently, including "a series of electronic surveillance
and radar stations built and staffed by American technicians...maintained
around Colombia as part of the enhanced cooperation strategy"
(NYT, July 14, 1999). The Colombian army is proud of its close
connection with the U. S. army, one of its leaders, General Manuel
Jose Bonett, stating recently that "we're fighting this war
on behalf of the United States" (Washington Post, May 25,
1998). It is also the transnational corporations' (TNC's) army.
On September 11, 1996, the London Guardian disclosed that British
Petroleum (BP), the largest investor in Colombia, had secretly
rented 150 officers and 500 soldiers of the Colombian army to
serve its " security" interests, and had brought in
British counterinsurgency professionals to train the Colombians.
BP also exchanged intelligence information with them, some of
which was used in tracking and killing local "subversives."
The other oil companies in Colombia have also cultivated the army
and police and hired paramilitaries and foreign mercenaries to
protect their oil pipelines.
The United States has a long and terrible history of supporting
military governments and regimes of terror in Latin America. This
used to be rationalized on the grounds of a Soviet-communist threat,
as in Guatemala in 1954, Brazil in 1964, and El Salvador and Nicaragua
in the 1980s. Although this was a fraud and cover for the desire
to assure a completely amenable and investor-friendly environment,
it was effective in making active U. S. backing of the institutionalization
of state terror acceptable to mainstream intellectuals and media.
It was even claimed that we supported and trained military personnel
in the interest of democracy and human rights, an Orwellian claim
that was not challenged in the mainstream even as ten democratic
governments were displaced by our military trainees in the 1960s,
with our tacit or open support, and even after Amnesty International
reported in the 1970s that Latin America-the U.S. backyard-had
become the world's focal point of torture and "disappearances."
Normalizing U.S. aid to Colombian state terror. It is a testimonial
to the power of rationalization, and to the willingness of the
mainstream media to suppress information on-and normalize-U.S.-supported
terror, that the United States can once again escalate aid to
a military regime that is committing Guatemala type and scale
human rights atrocities, do this at the same time as it engages
in "humanitarian intervention" in the Balkans, and while
Clinton humbly apologizes for U.S. connivance in earlier military
violence in Guatemala, and come off with a halo of virtue. Drug
czar Barry McCaffrey can assert without contradiction that it
is the guerrillas that are making "a criminal attack on Colombian
democracy" and pretend that U.S. support of the Colombian
army and paramilitaries is favorable to democracy, without eliciting
any mainstream critical analyses or references to the scandalous
contrary record of history.
Colombian human rights workers documented 1,332 killed in
201 separate massacres in 1998, in addition to another 2,500 more
individual assassinations. Many of these massacres were extremely
dramatic and immensely newsworthy, with heads cut off and hung
on poles, and numerous flights of hundreds of terrorized women
and children. It would have been possible to arouse a great deal
of public indignation if reported here, but these were people
standing in the way of progress, killed by agents supported by
the U. S. government. Accordingly, the media have been busy elsewhere.
The flurry of articles on Colombia in the New York Times in
July focused mainly on fights between rebels and the army and
U.S. "concern" and involvement in the interest of controlling
the drug trade (July 12, 14, 17-19, 27, 29). Larry Rohter's apologetic
frame is "Colombia's war against the twin plagues of drugs
and guerrillas" ("With U.S. training, Colombia Melds
War on Rebels and Drugs," NYT, July 29, 1999), which downgrades
and even legitimizes the mass killing by the paramilitary death
squads, who are allies and agents of the U.S.-supported Colombia
army. The problematic of this attack on drugs, such as army involvement
in the business, the discriminatory locus of attacks on drug cultivation,
and the possibility that the narco-terrorism focus is misdirected
and even a cover for other ends are not raised. Neither this nor
any other article in the recent series mentioned the penetration
of Colombia by the oil companies and their conflicts with the
Although paramilitaries and army have carried out the great
bulk of Colombian killings, the Times had no article (or paragraph)
on the organization, funding, and death dealing activities of
these forces. It did, however, devote a full article to "A
Guerrilla's Half Century in Colombia's Mountains" (July 19),
which quoted an unnamed diplomat on guerrilla leader Tirofijo's
"Pol Pot" qualities and gave numbers supplied by the
Colombian government on people he executed or who were missing
to Tirofijo's account. The paper did not mention, nor did it cover
in 1998, any of the 201 massacres listed by human rights groups.
There is also no account in this Times series of the history
of U.S. military aid and its consequences for democracy and human
rights. By ignoring this history, giving unwarranted credence
to the drug war rationale, demonizing the narco-guerrillas while
treating gently the U.S.-supported mass killers, and reserving
its attention and indignation for worthy victims (e.g., Kosovo
Albanians, people executed by Tirofijo's forces), the Times once
again serves as a propaganda agent of the state. At this historical
juncture it helps engineer consent to U.S. support of another
round of very serious state terror aimed at crushing any resistance
to the ongoing process of globalization without justice.
Edward Herman is an economist and media analyst; Cecilia Zarate-Laun
is co-founder and program director of the Colombia Support Network.