late August 2012, President Santos announced that the Colombian regime
was opening peace negotiations with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of
Colombia, (FARC), with the aim of ending nearly 50 years of civil war.
economic, social, political and military changes account for the Santos
regimes abrupt shift from a policy of “peace” through extermination
of the guerrillas to a policy of a negotiated peace.
most basic change is the regimes adoption of an economic model based
on developmentalism via large scale long term flows of foreign extractionist
capital in mining, petroleum and gas.
The second factor is the regimes’ perception that, after a decade of
intense repression, including the assassination of thousands of peasants,
trade unionists and human rights activists and the forcible displacement
of three to four million peasants from zones of guerrilla activity,
the popular insurgency no longer is an immediate threat to regime power
and that it is an appropriate moment to shift from militarization of
the country to exploiting its abundant natural resources, especially
at a time of high commodity prices.
third factor leading to the peace negotiations is the perception by
the guerrilla leaders that new mass popular movements such as the Patriotic
March (Marcha Patriotica) are emerging with a mass base and that the
peace negotiations offered them a platform to present their proposals
for progressive social and economic reforms. By accepting to negotiate,
Santos recognized that the FARC is a “legitimate belligerent “(and not
a “band of criminals”); he could not impose a “military solution” nor
“exterminate” the FARC (as his predecessor Alvaro Uribe boasted); a
political dialogue was possible and necessary to end the armed conflict.
the Colombian regime with over 350,000 soldiers and seven US military
bases felt secure in “negotiating” especially in light of a framework
or road map (hojà de ruta) in which the military would continue
to pursue the war and that there would be no demilitarized zone as was
the case in the previous peace process. Negotiations would take
place in Cuba and Norway with Venezuela and Chile as intermediaries.
the basic framework or agenda agreed to by the FARC and the Santos regime
precluded any explicit reference to the extractive capitalist model,
at the center of Santos’ economic development strategy. The agenda
made no mention of renegotiating the existing contracts let alone the
nationalization of basic resources like the petroleum industry.
Agrarian reform was replaced by the vague term “integral agrarian development”
involving “access and use of land”. Popular power was replaced
by “guarantees” and “democratic mechanisms” to permit citizen participation.
the ending of the conflict, only the FARC would be disarmed as well
as the paramilitary forces, but there is no mention of the demobilization
of the military, the US Special Forces or any effort to change the character
and operations of the military.
other words the agreed upon agenda embraces in large part a peace agreement
which will not adversely affect the extractive capitalist model which
Santos is pursuing. Nor will it challenge the growing social inequalities
and concentration of wealth which accompany it. Moreover, Santos
has cultivated close political and economic relations not only with
the rightist sponsors of the peace negotiations (Norway and Chile) but
has close ties with the leftist countries Cuba and Venezuela- who
in recent years have opposed armed insurgencies in Latin America.
Extractive Foreign Capital Key to the Peace Process
to President Santos and his predecessor Alvaro Uribe “mining and petroleum
are the locomotives of Colombia’s development” for the foreseeable future.
And the economic data over the last several years confirms their commitments.
‘big push’ by the regime in the extractive sector is evident in the
large scale flows of foreign investment, the rapid growth of the energy
sector, the growing share of minerals and energy as a percentage of
1990 to 2001 only 157 mining licenses a year were granted; under the
Uribe and Santos regime (2002 2010) 778 mining licenses a year were
granted a 5 fold increase. Over the last 10 years, 40% of the
land grants were solicited or awarded to mining and oil companies.
Of 114 million hectares more than 8.4 million have been licensed for
mineral exploitation and 37 million for crude oil exploitation. And
the regime’s promotion of extractive capital is accelerating: in 2010,
5.8 million hectares of land were licensed for mining exploitation.
During the first half of 2012, foreign direct investment rose 26%, $9.3
billion dollars, 82% of which went into energy and mining. Colombia
is now the world’s fourth largest exporter of coal and Latin America’s
fourth largest oil producer. In 2011 Colombia grew 6% largely
due to the commodity boom. Coal production largely in the hands
of foreign capital doubled between 2000 and 2010, from 42 million tons
to 82; and in 2011 rose another 15% to 94.6 million tons. Government
projections call for 200 million by 2019.
production rose from 200 billion cubic feet in 1999 to 400 in 2010.
production has risen from 595,00 barrels a day in 2008 to 923,000 in
2011 to estimates of over a million 2012. As of 2011 mineral,
oil and coal accounted for 64% of Colombia’s exports. A modern gold
rush has taken place with production rising from 40 tons annually to
80 tons in 2012. In 2011 over 82% of foreign direct investment
went to the energy sector; for 2012, the regime expects $10 billion
investment in crude oil, energy and mining projects.
Military Political and Economic Conditions for the Growth of Extractive
factors allowed extractive capital to become the locomotive of Colombian
and foremost is large scale, long-term state terror up-rooted and dispossessed
over 4 million peasants, Indians and Afro-Colombians. Mass terror,
supposedly a “counter-insurgency program” allowed the Uribe and Santos
regime to grant millions of hectares to be mining and energy corporations.
Over the past decade the US has given Colombia over $8 billion dollars
in military aid, established seven military bases and rotates a thousand
special forces advisers in support of Colombia’s genocidal policies
involving the mass ouster of poor peoples’ movements ,thus cleansing
extractive regions of any opposition, armed or not. In 2011 of
the 76 trade unionists murdered in the world by the state and paramilitary
death squads 29 took place in Colombia.
Over the past
decade over 3,000 trade unionists, peasants, human rights activists
and journalists have been assassinated by the regime and its death squad
affiliates. Over 78% of the crimes against trade unionists are
committed in mining and energy regions, creating what the Financial
Times calls “a favorable climate for investors” and attracting large
scale flows of extractive capital. Approximately 87% of displaced
persons and 80% of human rights violations over the last decade originated
in mining and energy producing municipalities. Many of the extractive
multi-national corporations finance paramilitary thugs to complement
the role of the military in suppressing social and political protest.
As the regime promoted mining boom accelerates, violence against Indian,
Afro-Colombian and peasant communities escalates, pitting millions of
peasants against mining companies.
Tax and Royalty Concessions
Colombian regimes of Uribe-Santos offer some of the most lucrative tax
benefits in the world to extractive corporations. According to
one calculation the nominal tax rate of 22% is reduced by 10% via exemptions
and abatements, which in turn is reduced further by environmental damage
which costs the Colombian economy 15%. In other words the Colombian
state pays the MNC’s to exploit its mining and energy resources.
In turning Colombia into an extractive capital paradise, Santos has
reduced royalty levels to their lowest levels since the early 1990’s.
environmental regulations are on the books, they are rarely enforced
and popular movements demanding protection are at best ignored and at
worst forcibly removed, including 5,000 peasants in the first 2 months
of 2012. While “resource nationalism” increases across the world
including Latin America, where governments pursue greater shares of
their national wealth through increased taxes, regulation and nationalization
that is not the case in Colombia, dubbed by Wall Street investors as
a “regional oasis”. According to one mining consultant “mining
royalties linked to market prices and longer-lasting exploration permits
have been primed for outsiders”. “We don’t want to scare off investors”
Deputy Mining Minister Henry Medina Gonzalez said in April  …
‘We want to be as predictable as possible’.
low tax, royalty and environmental regulations and regime pro-extractive
capital strategy has a profound impact on the Colombian economy, society
Impact of Extractive Capital Strategy
(with Guatemala) has the worst socio-economic inequalities in Latin
America, measured by a Gini Coefficient of .58. While extractive
corporations have amassed huge profits and the ‘economy’ has done well,
the vast majority has done badly: over 12% are unemployed; the
informal sector approximates 40%; and 4 million refugees displaced and
dispossessed by the state live in shanty towns. Police and private
paramilitary death squads ensure that labor demands in the mining sector
are muted and peasant communities receive no compensation for environmental
damage and forced relocation.
biggest impact of Colombia’s extractive policy is in the vast concentration
of wealth and power in the hands of foreign investors and local collaborators.
The enrichment and power of the generals and political elite which promotes
and protects extractive MNC’s has accompanied the commodity boom.
The extractive boom has, however, prejudiced the non-extractive, coffee,
manufacturing and service sector by revaluing the peso, over 10% in
2011-12 thus reducing the competitiveness of Colombian exports.
The result is the relative decline of Colombia’s non-extractive sectors
which employ the bulk of the labor force, thus reducing living standards
for all workers outside of the extractive sector which employs less
than 5% of the workforce.
Political Challenges Facing the Extractive Model
extractive model faces several important challenges. Some are
structural, especially its over dependence on commodity exports, its
lack of diversified markets (it is overly dependent on the crises ridden
US market) and others are political- the growing discontent among local
manufacturers and agro exporters.
the principle challenge lies in the threat posed by the guerrilla movements,
the FARC and ELN, to the growth and expansion of extractive capital.
claims by the Santos regime, echoed by the mass media, that the FARC
has been severely weakened, divided and on the verge of defeat, the
reports from the regions where extractive capital operates is that the
FARC is still a formidable force. In early July 2012 an explosion
hit a railway line that feeds into Colombia’s biggest coal miner and
a few days later a UK based subsidiary of Sinochem also suffered an
attack on an oil tanker.
FARC remains active in over two-thirds of Colombia’s municipalities;
a Colombian think tank reported that there were 2,148 attacks nationwide,
the most in 15 years; and the geography of FARC activity points to growing
influence in the zones of extractive capital. The FARC is especially
dominant in the areas of gold mining where they are reported to having
an effective “tax collecting” organization. The FARC is a major
force in the mining areas of Antioquia, Meta, Cordoba and similar extractive
energy areas in the Amazon jungle areas. Given the centrality
of extractive capital and the FARCs growing influence, Santos has pronounced
his agreement to an extremely restricted process of “peace negotiation”
with the FARC.
A Peace Process Doomed to Failure
began as a promising opening to a process of peace negotiations has
rapidly taken an ominous and inauspicious turn. President Santos
announcement took place at a meeting of high military and police officials
that resembled an extended war cabinet more than a re-launch of civil
society in the presence of popular organizations, citizen and civic
groups. This was followed by his rejection of a cease fire and
an announcement of an intensification of the military campaign. In other
words the “peace process” appears to serve as a tactic for escalating
the war. Thirdly, Santos appointed a negotiating team dominated
by military, political and business officials deeply involved in carrying
out the war and the process of evicting communities to clear the way
for large scale entry of extractive capital.
more ominous is Santos’ declaration that the dominant extractive capitalist
model is non-negotiable. “As Castlereagh (the 19th century British statesman)
once said, the maritime interests of Great Britain are not negotiable
(similarly) we will not be negotiating any of our economic policies
such as nationalization, the role of foreign investment, nothing like
that” (my emphasis) Financial Times 9/5/12, p. 5.
excluding all existing economic policies from the “peace” negotiations,
Santos has ruled out all redistributive policies to lessen Colombia’s
gross inequalities, any effort to achieve peace by addressing the deep
seated social-economic issues that are the underlying reason for the
armed insurgency. Santos interpretation of the key topic “rural
development” has nothing to do with any meaningful agrarian reform.
His version of a land reform process is based on resettlement of the
millions of dispossessed farmers, peasants and landless rural workers
in “frontier land” far away from the fertile farms seized by crony-capitalists,
agro-businesspeople, generals and death squads.
has zero tolerance for any land reform which relocates forcibly displaced
peasants to land in regions and municipalities where Uribe and Santos
have granted huge concessions to mining, gas and petrol multi-nationals.
After all Uribe and Santos are responsible for their dispossession in
the first place; and as extractive capitalism is the centerpiece of
his economic model, there is no chance for any kind of agrarian reform
or any meaningful ‘social justice’ for the most exploited, excluded
sectors of the rural population; no chance of negotiating the end of
environmental destruction of the habitat of the vast majority of Afro-Colombian
and Indo-Colombian communities.
Santos, the military chiefs and their neo-liberal advisers the “peace
process” has only one significant goal: the elimination of the
FARC and ELN, as active armed opponents in the extractive capital municipalities.
Heretofore, despite the massive mobilization of the armed forces, the
Santos regime has failed to secure the great bulk of the oil, gas and
mining municipalities. As a result of “investment risks”, posed
by insurgent attacks, the regime’s projected flows of extractive capital
are not feasible. All-out war would threaten considerable existing
investments and deter pending large scale investors.
has bet his entire economic strategy on the large scale, long term growth
of foreign extractive capital; and this has led him to accept
the FARC’s offer to enter into peace negotiations, even if it means
recognizing the insurgency as a legitimate belligerent. What Santos
has failed to secure in the battlefield, the guaranteed security of
the terrain of extractive capital, he hopes to attain via the ‘peace
process”. Santos is counting on the international interlocutors,
and sectors of the liberal academic community and human rights groups
to pressure the FARC to accept a “peace settlement” in which most of
the essential socio-economic reforms are excluded.
has offered few concessions and demanded a great deal: in exchange
for a political amnesty for the guerilla militants and their reinsertion
into the existing electoral system. Santos is demanding the unilateral
disarming and demobilization of the armed fighters. In exchange
for a promise of security of their person, Santos has categorically
refused to reform the state, especially military-paramilitary forces
which in the past (1984-89) assassinated 5,000 ex-combatants and currently
continues to murder dozens of trade unionists, peasant leaders and other
activists in the Patriotic March social movement.
demands immunity for all senior military and police officials implicated
in the killing and dispossession of activists. The 7 point agenda
does not even mention a truth commission to investigate government crimes
against humanity. Nor does the agenda mention the issue of national
sovereignty or the seven US military bases. Most of all, the agenda
excludes negotiations over the entire multi-million acre give away to
the extractive multi-national corporations. Not even mentioned
is the idea of a dialogue over renegotiating existing mining contracts
with the lowest royalty and tax rates in Latin America.
has asserted that he “prefers guerrillas throwing taunts in Congress
than throwing bombs” (Financial Times, 9/6/12, p. 5). By which
he means he prefers a peace settlement in which a handful of ex-guerrilla
Congress- people make inconsequential criticisms in Congress than continuing
a war in which ten thousand guerrilla fighters undermine the pillage
of Colombia’s natural resources.
the FARCs affirmation that it seeks “peace with social justice” and
given Santos intransigent support of war and negotiations, and unconditional
defense of the current extractive capitalist model, the peace process
is doomed to failure.