Friday, March 07, 2008
Anyone subject to the US elite obsession with Venezuela in recent years would probably tend to believe that Venezuela is the violent, dangerous, politically and economically unstable country, primarily because of the Chavistas, of course, while Colombia represents a mature, American style democracy. What a shock to discover that the Colombian right wing and US corporations destroyed the electoral left in the mid-1980s by relying upon paramilitary death squads to kill and intimidate anyone who attempted to participate in the political system.
Venezuela is certainly not perfect. It is confronting the economic challenges associated with being a lesser developed nation, challenges that it may or may not overcome. It also has an alarmingly high crime rate, including murder. But it remains an open society, one in which people can participate in the political system without the risk of being targeted by death squads, with the exception of campesinos agitating for land reform.
In the past 20 years, more than 3,000 Colombian unionists have been assassinated. And of the 144 unionists killed worldwide last year, 78 were Colombian—eight more than the previous year. According to the International Confederation of Trade Unions (ICFTU), there were 1,165 documented murders of Colombian trade union members between 1994 and 2006. However, the state has convicted the perpetrators in only 14 of these cases—an impunity rate of over 95 percent.
Who's killing them? Yes, you guessed the prime suspect: Blame has focused on right-wing Colombian paramilitaries hired by Venezuelan latifundistas to intimidate campesinos who move to take control of under-utilised land. I was personally told the same thing by people that I spoke with when I traveled to Venezuela in 2005. Of course, neither the opposition nor their allies in the US media ever express any concern for them, as they would not assist in the project of reinstating neoliberal economic policies there.