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Canada + Colombia = BFF

Blog posts reflect the views of their authors.
Image: "Masacre de Mejor Esquina" (1997), Fernando Botero.
Image: "Masacre de Mejor Esquina" (1997), Fernando Botero.

It's been a few weeks since the Globe and Mail graced us with this story about Scotiabank & other Canadians in Colombia. I call it the Canada + Colombia = BFF story. I'm working on some kinda fascinating research right now about this match made in heaven which I'll share once I find the right venue for it. Hopefully won't be long.

In the meantime I'm just going to take apart a little section of this Globe piece so readers can get a feel for the manipulative leap of logic it contains. I don't read the Globe very often, mostly because without fail, every time I read one of their pieces about anywhere from Mexico on south, I have the urge to write up a critique. Ever since Gary Mason won a Webber for his "reporting" from Guatemala, I gave up on the whole thing. 

Anyhow, on to the story. I quote:

But isn’t Colombia run by drug cartels?

That is an idea that both Scotia and Colpatria are keen to dispel. After 50 years of civil war driven by ideological clashes and cocaine profits, peace is spreading in Colombia, which is South America’s oldest democracy. According to the World Bank, Colombia is the most secure country in Latin America in which to do business. In recent years, Colombia’s economy, which is Latin America’s fifth-largest, has grown four times as rapidly as Canada’s; foreign investment quadrupled between 2002 and 2008. In Waugh’s view, these trends are likely to continue as Colombia’s huge and until-now largely untouched natural resources are developed with capital from the likes of, well, Scotiabank.

I'm going to take this apart real quick. First off, the U.S. pumped billions of dollars into war in Colombia. It wasn't a civil war. It also wasn't driven by ideological clashes, it was/is driven by disputes over who should own the land: a tiny oligarchy, transnational corporations, or the peasants and Indigenous farmers that live from it.

The thing about Colombia being South America's oldest democracy ignores ongoing structural violence in Colombia. I love this quote from historian Germán Alfonso Palacio Castañeda, writing in 1991 (full citation below):

What is peculiar to Colombia's political system, and also represents its strength, is the combination into one frame of "formal democratic" and "repressive authoritarian" mechanisms... In an earlier period, repressive social control was administered directly by the Colombian armed forces, with institutional support from a constitutionally legitimated state of siege. Now, extraofficial armed groups do the army's job though they seemingly have no links to the army.

If anything things are worse now than when Palacio wrote this. The Colombian government, the Canadian government, the U.S. government all push this line now that the paramilitaries have disbanded and so on, which is patently false. They also focus on Mexico as the bad guy boogey man in the whole drug war narrative, even though Colombia continues to be the major cocaine producer. The war in Colombia has undergone a rebranding since things picked up in Mexico in 2006, today the war there is portrayed as a law and order struggle against "criminal bands," referred to as bacrim

Anyhow, so the journalist proceeds to skip from the classic State Department talking point of the supposed age of Colombia's democracy (which, for the record, ignores a coup, the mass murder of civilians, more than 50,000 people still disappeared, ongoing killings of activists, unionists, Indigenous folks, or anyone else who might think differently or speak up on behalf of their community, four million internally displaced people, numerous high level political assassinations, paramilitary politics, and that's just the beginning) to the fact (and sure, this one actually is a fact) that Colombia is the most secure place in Latin America to do business. 

Dude. A place that is safe to do business and a place that is peaceful are two very, very different things. Actually I'd say they are opposite things. Investor security comes through repression, through neoliberal politics, through militarization. Many companies have taken advantage of the paramilitarization of Colombia, famously, Chiquita Brands, Drummond, Coca Cola and BP. This new wave of Canadian investment in the extractive industries stems from the same kind of system, except in this case the targets for extermination/repression are land based communities who live in resource rich areas. These communities have already paid dearly for their survival: between 1985 and 2007 there were an estimated 2,505 massacres in Colombia, most of which took place between 1997 and 2003. This isn't ancient history. This isn't peace. But it's good for business.

With media coverage like this, it is harder to blame Canadians for thinking everything is hunky dory and Canada's wonderful mining and oil companies are going to lift Colombians out of poverty, so that all the people who were displaced off their lands can drive big cars around and go to the mall and drink coffees from disposable cups and god knows what else counts as freedom in North America. 

Anyhow, if you're a thinking person and you want a look at what's really gone on in Colombia, and what things are like today, I recommend the film Impunity by Hollman Morris.


Palacio Castañeda, German Alfonso. “Institutional Crisis, Parainstitutionality, and Regime Flexibility in Colombia: The Place of Narcotraffic and Counterinsurgency.” in Huggins, Martha. ed. Vigilantism and the State in Modern Latin America Essays on Extralegal Violence. Greenwood Publishing Group, 1991. (p. 111-113)


This piece was originally posted on dawn's blog. For more like this, follow dawn on twitter.

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dawn (dawn paley)
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Journalist, co-founder VMC, ex-editor & board member with Media Co-op. Author, Drug War Capitalism.

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