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The Truth about Colombia: a Reply to Mr. Steve Shapiro

By       Message Guglielmo Tell     Permalink
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In my opinion, the recent OpEdNews article by Mr. Steve Shapiro, entitled "In Colombia Fundamentals Work Better Than Bombs," reveals a total lack of understanding of Colombian and Latin American history as it relates to the social, economic and financial roots of violence, poverty and drugs in the region. (See the article at http://www.opednews.com/articles/In-Colombia-Fundamentals-W-by-Steve-Shapiro-Better-World-Campaign_Bomber_Bullying_Cocaine-140128-52.html?show=votes#13913004867911&action=collapse_widget&id=5303482 .)

My first objection to Mr. Shapiro's analysis is that it accepts uncritically the point of view of the Establishment Party, which is to overlook real history and replace it with a model that pretends to be timeless and perfect. That point of view suits those who keep themselves and their progeny at the top of society at the expense of all the rest--it's perfect for them. Those who support social justice, however, cannot overlook real history, since masses of people suffer from the model followed by the criminals in power, who metastasize into one another through the ages. Yet, in his article, Mr. Shapiro does in fact suppress and rewrite history in order to justify the actions of states and governments that have bought into private property and sold it over and over for their own aggrandizement since the dawn of capitalism. His aim seems to be to brainwash his audience into support of the elites, no matter how criminal they are.

In developing his anti-historical point of view, Mr. Shapiro demonstrates, first of all, a total ignorance of the origins of underdevelopment as a phenomenon. "Underdevelopment" (Harry Truman is the author of term) is not the first step toward "development" of any kind. Contrary to the thesis of W.W. Rostow, who in my opinion never himself believed a word of what he wrote, "underdevelopment" does not characterize an indigenous slow pace of development, but is a PRODUCT of the First World's development. (The Third World is not "developing"; it is being maintained purposely in a state of underdevelopment.) There is a long history behind this state of affairs.

The economies of today's industrialized world first diversified inwards, and then started projecting themselves outwards to the point that Europe almost exhausted its own natural resources. (Japan has barely had any ever.) Colonies were started as extensions of European economies, using slave labor to supply them with the products of mines and plantations. Slaves were, and still are, expropriated of 100% of the surplus value they produce, being thought of as no more than cattle and therefore not entitled to any wage whatsoever.

The entire enterprise has been capitalist from the very beginning. Today's ultra-poor Northeast of Brazil was already ultra-rich in Western terms by the 1550s--only 50 years after the Portuguese had discovered Brazil--after it had become the main supplier of sugar to Europe. Andre Gunder Frank (1930-2006), a German-born dissident from the Chicago School of Economics who spent most of his career in Latin America digging into the historical roots of underdevelopment, discovered that the sugar plantations together with the slave trade were financed by the Dutch banks under classical credit conditions (loan ~ profit in money, or in gold, to be paid with interest). Of course, the slaves were the slaves, and the rich were the plantation owners. They were "rich" because they imported everything they wanted from European internal markets, which were diversifying with imports from the tropics while engaging more elites as clients for luxury products. Internal diversification of the economies of the colonies was not an issue.

However, as ages passed, slaves and aboriginals proved themselves human in their struggle against the conquerors; imports grew to the point of exhausting colonial economies, which did make internal diversification an issue. Colonial rule thus began to hurt the interests of the elites, who wanted the "free trade" for themselves. This was in fact the root cause behind the push to American independence as well. The young United States of America, however, were interested in expansion over the entire North American continent. It was not like that in South America. There the elites needed free trade with Great Britain, which in fact became the new colonial power over the continent. Thus, the ideals of Bolivar and other founding fathers of Latin American independence were betrayed right from the start.

A few adventurers leaving the European continent in the 16th-17th   centuries gave way to a massive expulsion of the "not needed" population by European elites prior to WWI. Fifty-million Germans not needed by Bismarck went to nourish American industrialization on conquered lands formerly inhabited by Native American Indians. But, (in addition to Canada, Australia and New Zealand), some formally "independent" Latin American countries, notably Brazil and Argentina, also received a huge influx of European immigrants in the period from the late 19th to the beginning of the 20th   century. It is worth noting, however, that the American South developed the same economic and property structures that took root in Latin America and the Caribbean: these involved the export of raw materials based on a massive expropriation of the product of slave labor in exchange for a wide range of products imported for the elites only.

This is the trade pattern that defines underdevelopment. (Again, according to Andre Gunder Frank, the interest in products not available in Europe was the primary reason for the creation of colonial extensions.) The economies are anything but self-sustainable, but the elites don't care. (Abolitionists were seen as sort of the "Communists" of the 19th   century, while, in Latin America, "Jacobinite" became the ideological term of derision and the basis for persecution.) Jose Manuel Balmaceda, the Chilean President who wanted to achieve self-sustainability, or self-sufficiency, for his country's economy, was forced into suicide in 1891 by groups linked to the interests of foreign capital. These groups posed as the defenders of "free trade" and other "democratic principles," while acting like dictators who eliminate any threat to their very private economic and financial interests by assaulting political power. We still see the same scenario acted out in full today.

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It may be of interest to note here that it was Balmaceda--not Marx or Che Guevara--who was the main inspiration for Salvador Allende (although Allende, being Chairman of the Chilean Congress, got the remnants of Che Guevara's defeated guerrillas out of Bolivia in 1967). Perhaps the only country in the whole of today's Third World that actually came to achieve full independence--both political and economic--was Paraguay. My article (http://www.opednews.com/articles/Paraguay-A-History-Lesson-by-Guglielmo-Tell-130609-677.html#comment440165   ) tells about the genocide there that was perpetrated in the name of "progress" ("freedom and democracy").

An additional feature needed to complete the picture of imposed underdevelopment is protectionism. Although "free trade" had in previous centuries been championed mostly by Great Britain, America, prior to World War I, was raised both on immigration and BRUTAL PROTECTIONISM (against other industrial powers). The same occurred in Germany, where Bismarck applied guidelines from a manual not popular in today's Northern academia--Friedrich List's "National System of Economy." As seen by the politicians and those in charge of the dominant economic and financial interests of the day, workers, like slaves, were simply a needed nuisance and a coin of exchange in the dealings of the elite. Paraguay was raised on the same protectionism, which resulted in clashes with the elites of surrounding countries. The latter, being formally "independent," kept exporting raw materials and importing everything else, thus depriving their own people of a decent living--and, most importantly, of the chance to achieve it by themselves. Projects targeted at such independence--undertaken by Paraguay, Balmaceda, and the Colombian Republic of Artisans in the mid-19th   century--were sunk in blood.

Formal Independence, but Continued Economic Exploitation

This is the key issue: Unlike Europe and the North of the U.S.A., political independence in the Third World became nothing more than a meaningless formality--a smokescreen. Behind the formal independence, colonial economic structures were continued. These structures were not something the people wanted, but the elites did--as I describe in detail in my earlier article about Paraguay.

Until today, the elites of the Third World cut deals with both the elites of the First World and with one another, while forcing their own people to work in slave conditions. The modus operandi is simple: Land is grabbed, resources are grabbed, and goods produced by the people's labor are grabbed--while, at the same time, the people are cut off from all the benefits (and, in many cases, imprisoned in the name of "freedom" in their own countries, which are for them tantamount to concentration camps.)

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Economic diversification is for the elites only--though it can only be complete when the people themselves are allowed free global movement, in addition to capital and merchandise. Moreover, the sustained survival of humanity as a whole depends on supports such as a universal minimum wage and social benefits that can only come at the expense of the military, luxury for the rich, and a use of resources that must be carefully measured to meet the needs of the human species over time.

The Particular Case of Colombia

To focus now on Colombia and its particular history of forced underdevelopment: The basic structures for this exploitation were imposed by the traitors to Bolivar. In the course of the 19th century, those structures gave way to several uprisings aimed at achieving FULL independence (notably the Artisan-Military Republic and the Civil War of 1849-1854). Smashing these uprisings led the elites to establish violence as the routine means for solving internal issues in Colombia. (The Vortex, a novel by Jose Eustasio Rivera, offers a fine literary testimony of those times.)

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A Russian sociologist residing in CUBA

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