EL ESPECTADOR
The oldest newspaper in Colombia, El Espectador was founded in 1887. The national daily newspaper has historically taken a firm stance against drug trafficking and in defense of freedom of the press. In 1986, the director of El Espectador was assassinated by gunmen hired by Pablo Escobar. The majority share-holder of the paper is Julio Mario Santo Domingo, a Colombian businessman named by Forbes magazine as one of the wealthiest men in the world in 2011.
Geopolitics
Daniel García-Peña

Like Afghan War, The U.S. War On Drugs Must End

The United States has long dictated policy regarding narcotics, and Colombia, in particular, has paid a heavy price. The current presidential race is an opportunity to shift course and prioritize the welfare of everyday people.

-OpEd-

More than 20 years ago, I read a headline in the satirical U.S. newspaper The Onion declaring "Drugs Win Drug War." It would be an appropriate headline for this item too, but not as a joke. As the years have shown, it's an accurate description of reality.

U.S. anti-narcotic laws date from the prohibition period that produced the 1919 constitutional amendment banning the production and consumption of alcohol, which later included marijuana, cocaine and opium. The amendment was repealed in 1933 as alcohol consumption increased and criminal gangs flourished, but the ban on other substances remained in force.

After World War II, the United States pushed for a ban on such drugs internationally, which led the UN to adopt the 1961 Single Convention on Narcotic Drugs. Ten years later, the then president of the United States Richard Nixon coined the term "war on drugs," as part of his policy at home against youth movements protesting racism and the Vietnam war.

In the early 1980s, Ronald Reagan raised the issue to foreign-policy level, publicly declaring illicit drugs to be a matter of national security. And in 1986, he signed the Directive 221 wherein he instructed the armed forces to treat drug trafficking as a threat to the nation.

With the end of the Cold War, the anti-narcotics logic replaced anti-communism as a crucial foreign policy axis with several countries.

In Colombia's case, all governments have since then stated their intention to "denarcotize" relations with the United States, some even promoting the idea of shared responsibility over drugs. Nevertheless, narcotics continue to dominate the bilateral agenda. This has cost us thousands of lives, corrupted the state, and gravely harmed social values.

Workers take care of cannabis plants in the nursery of the Clever Leaves company in Colombia — Photo: Mauricio Duenas Castaneda/EFE/ZUMA

Fifty years since Nixon declared the war on drugs, the only thing we can see is failure. In 2020, an independent, bipartisan committee of the U.S. Congress admitted there had been a collective failure to rein in consumption and trafficking. The drug industry, they acknowledged, was always a step ahead of authorities.

Others would concur, including the former Colombian foreign minister María Emma Mejía, an extract of whose memoirs was published in this paper. Likewise, researcher Juan Gabriel Tokatlian noted that the U.S. military debacle in Afghanistan was also a failure in the war on drugs.

Ironically, the country that once championed prohibition is now going in a different direction. Recreational cannabis is legal in 18 states and the District of Columbia, while its medicinal use is legalized in another 16 states. The state of Oregon recently legislated to partly allow hard drugs like cocaine and heroin. Today, worldwide, the hard line on drugs is led by Arab and African states, Russia and China, which executes drug traffickers.

The sad reality is that Colombia has never had a national drugs policy. In practice it restricts itself to the slavish implementation of U.S. directives on militarization, extradition and fumigation. Isolated signs of independence, like the Constitutional Court decriminalizing possession of a "personal dose" of marijuana or parliament legalizing its medicinal use, are significant, but unrelated. Point Four of the 2016 Peace Accord, urging a rethink of anti-narcotics policies, has yet to be enacted.

Now, some presidential candidates are bringing up the narcotics issue as well. While any change to the international regime in this respect is complex and would take time, Colombia has the moral authority to lead debates on the effects of interdiction, precisely because of the costs it has borne.

Above all, the presidential race currently underway here is a great opportunity to define a national policy that would envisage alternatives such as legalization and decriminalization, and differentiate between levels of involvement. It would offer developmental solutions for coca farmers, and treat drug consumption as a public health issue. It must be a policy that defends, first and foremost, the needs and interests of all Colombians.

*García-Peña is a professor in Colombia's National University.

Ideas
Héctor Abad Faciolince

When Will COVID End? The Question That Won't Go Away

Vaccination was supposed to free us from the pandemic's frightening grip. Things would go back to normal, with parties and hugs and everything else. But now with the Delta variant, and the vaccines less than full-proof, COVID is again dominating our collective psyche.

-Essay-

BOGOTA — I often say, even if it's not really true, that I never get my hopes up too high. That way I can avoid disappointment. Only, life loses a good deal of its charm if you're rarely excited about anything. As Armando Manzanero's song (on nocturnal fantasies!) says, "Who cares if I live on dreams/If it makes me happy?"

It's true that we're often much more joyful and celebratory on the eve of a feast than on the day itself. We know that an appetizer can be as delectable as the main dish, and that dreaming of travel can be more beautiful than an actual trip.

Likewise, I think many of us, after finally receiving our second dose of the COVID vaccine, were expecting to be protected from the virus that has distorted our lives. We entertained the idea of "immunization" in the full sense of the term: We would be immune to the illness, shielded from this awful virus. As such, we spent weeks or months dreaming of happiness, parties, trips, hugs and friendly faces for a while.

But when the full truth began to emerge, the disappointment was grievous, even if nobody can deprive us of the fanciful joys of past months. Just for a moment we hated the realists who had opened our eyes, but knew that, like it or not, we must return to bitter reality.

The confidence that came with vaccination is fading.

Suddenly "immunized" no longer meant we weren't going to be infected but that our infection would not become symptomatic. Still, we were assured that if we did get infected, the illness would be light, and that with the vaccine, it was much less likely — but not impossible, mind you — that we would end up in the ICU or a coffin.

The great dream has become a paltry consolation. Then came disturbing reports of new coronavirus variants (working their way through the Greek alphabet), for which we have yet to know for sure whether or not all the vaccines are effective, or to what degree. Fortunately they have worked against the variants so far, and infection specialists believe new variants will be much more contagious but less lethal. At the end of the day, viruses prefer to spread and replicate rather than kill their host.

We spent weeks or months dreaming of parties, trips, hugs and friendly faces — Photo: Philipp Von Ditfurth/dpa via ZUMA Press

The Delta variant, however, seems to have remodeled this residual optimism into apprehension. Without a doubt the best protection was, and is, to be vaccinated, wear your mask, wash your hands and avoid closed spaces full of people. But the vaccine is like a bullet-proof jacket that protects our vital organs, not our legs. The same way that a mask protects your facial orifices, not your hands, etc..

Optimism in wealthy countries now rests with the third jab — a vaccine boost — which is meant to compensate for a gradual decline in antibodies. And while there are no conclusive studies on a third jab being essential for all those without impaired immunity, rich countries have already started hoarding vaccines, hampering their transfer to poor countries that have not even had the first doses.

Obviously pharmaceutical firms prefer to sell to those who can pay any price, and upfront, instead of haggling with poorer countries that want discounts and time to pay. We live with the pretty idea of altruism and expect it of our betters — and that's one illusion that never fails to disappoint.

Like the jabs themselves, the confidence that came with vaccination is fading. The most solid prospect left for us for now is that two jabs will thwart severe COVID. I, for one, live on that hope and want to keep it alive every day.

Hopes help us live much longer if we can nurture them without fearing disappointments. But the illusion must have the force of truth to work. And for now, at least, it's still true that vaccination will almost certainly save us from death.

Ideas
Héctor Abad Faciolince

Deadish: What General Anesthesia Taught Me About Death

Anesthesia, or a temporary state of "nothingness," may be our closest experience of death without dying, and a reminder of the fragility of our lives.

-Essay-

BOGOTÁ — Many years ago, nearly 40 actually, I translated a short story by Italo Calvino, titled Learning to be Dead. Its main character, Mr. Palomar, "decides from now on to behave as if he were dead, to see how the world fares without him." He soon realizes it makes no difference: "With or without him, everything carries on as it did before."

This may seem sad or banal, but is in fact a great relief. All problems, for example, are "the problems of others, and their business," and the deceased feels no moral obligation to intervene in anything. Being dead, they have a right to be silent and do nothing. The rest of you can carry on killing each other for politics, as you please. I'm dead, thank you.

Until a few years ago, to determine whether a person was still alive, physicians observed the body, looking for a sign of breathing and checking for a heartbeat. Today, to encourage organ transplants, a person is pronounced dead with the cessation of a certain type of brain activity. So you may be declared alive without a heartbeat or respiration — or dead while still breathing and with a beating heart.

To be dead for a few hours is a strange experience.

Three weeks ago, fully intending to continue being alive, but also with the aim of learning to be dead, I underwent surgery wherein my heart was still, and my lungs were collapsed and airless for several hours. My artificially refrigerated body had the temperature of cold cuts. Some form of brain activity might have been noted in that time though clearly, not of the kind that produces conscience, thought and memory. What I take from that experience, in retrospect, is a feeling of absolute void, without the slightest perception of passing time, of joy, sadness, pleasure or pain.

To be dead for a few hours, without breathing or a beating heart or conscience or memory, is a strange experience (an empty one that is not registered and thus, barely an experience), only made possible by science and technology. This was the most serious, direct learning experience of what death is, as far as I know. It is nothing, total nothing — not even indifference. Just nothing.

During my brief death, I know others continued to live and die. They ate, laughed, cried, argued about politics and religion, worked themselves up over the existence of a soul, sang under the rain, and suffered for lack of money or a pain in their left elbow.

Before sinking into my death experience, I wrote the last chapter of a short novel I have yet to finish, but for which I wanted the ending completed. Its main character is a good priest who stops living while undergoing an open heart surgery. In the story, he does not experience his death, which is simply what his living friends feel when he dies.

When you learn to be dead, you forget how to be alive.

When I came back to life after a few hours, my anesthesiologist friend Juan asked me something, though I have no recollection: "How are you?", to which I reportedly replied: "Alive". Shortly before, the surgeon Camilo had asked me how I felt and my reply, from what he tells me, was the same. Alive.

I think that after learning to be dead, my biggest lesson in coming back to life is about the fragility of the membrane and the tenuous line and thin air that separate life from death.

This has heightened a recurring concern of mine every night at bedtime, "should I awake tomorrow and know that I live," as the poet Jorge Gaitán Durán wrote. I think I can say today that as I feel and think, eat, cry and laugh and write this, that I must be alive. Still, at times, I'm not so sure. When you learn to be dead, you forget how to be alive. Or rather, you learn to live like the poet who wrote, "I have another day; I had time/In my mouth, like wine."

Green
William Ospina

Will Climate Woes Spell The End Of The "Western" Lifestyle?

The global warming we have been warned about is here, and it will, with its calamities, change so many ideas about what we need to live well.

-OpEd-

BOGOTÁ - The climate is the new chief actor of world history. Gone are the days when humans would set the agenda. It will now be imposed on us. Our time here is brief, but planetary phenomena gestate patiently. What we are about to live through has been simmering for centuries: the years of the industrial revolution, and of the transport, communications and technology revolutions. They arose from our desire to make this a more comfortable world for ourselves, though their result is to have made it increasingly uncomfortable, if not unlivable.

Our actions have both results and consequences. You might say the results are immediately evident, but the consequences take time to emerge. The result of inventing the automobile was the ability to move while seated comfortably, as if at home. The world is flattened beneath us, and distances practically disappear. But other results, beside our increasing love of speed, were cars taking over the world and feeding growing piles of industrial trash. We needn't travel the world anymore of course, as satellite systems bring it home to us.

The big consequences come later, and are apparently unrelated to their causes. Glaciers thunderously cracking open, old rivers twisting violently, the smoke of Australian fires reaching Chile, cities besieged by fire, an exponential rise in sales of sunscreen lotions, more destructive hurricanes. Oil is the world's main force, and its bosses lead voters where they please. That is why one president could ask how people could complain of warming, when he said it was so cool at home.

It is not the end of the world, but definitely the end of a world.

Even three centuries ago people still lived in the world without wreaking havoc. We then multiplied, and multiplied our force and speed, our rate of consumption and energy use, and ceased to produce more culture or civilization. We just produced more trash, speed, congestion, anxiety and disasters.

Advertising loves to talk about the consumer society: Imperial states became specialized in ransacking the resources of the so-called Third World to create the prodigious manufactures that apparently enhanced the comfort of homes in hegemonic countries — and filled their suburbs with trash, the seas with plastic, the air with fumes and carbon and the winds with vicious turbulence. Never did so many good things produce so many bad things, and knowledge contributed so much to destruction. We have brought the world to this pass: with proliferating megalopolises and myriad factories to meet an unquenchable demand for things. Nature has become a supply store for industry, and soon, a source of uncontrollable events and phenomena.

It is not the end of the world, but definitely the end of a world. A particular way of living on this earth is coming to an end. The generations that are beginning their adventure will have to change their expectations or invent something else. One can already feel the deep malaise among youth and the sense that they will never enjoy the planet as previous generations did: with clean air, bounteous rain, healthy sunshine, steady winds or hail's "chattering teeth," as celebrated by the Argentine poet Leopoldo Lugones.


Two women standing on remains of a house that was eroded in Bangladesh — Photo: Ziaul Haque Oisharjh/SOPA Images/ZUMA

We now face the age of great fires, gales and hurricanes. We have already seen commuters on the Zhengzhou metro with floodwater up to their necks, drifting glaciers, electric events in the sky, the warming permafrost, bleached coral reefs, giant hailstones and viruses boosting their invasive powers.

They say humanity only stops before the evidence. If proof is what we wanted, it's here. Climate change is no longer a warning of dangers to come. They're in the headlines. Our incipient epoch has no balmy horizons, and yet, we all have a role to ensure things will not be far worse. There is no longer room for the traditional motorcar, or really, any kind of personal or family car. We might design a good public transport system run on clean fuels, but cycling or just walking will in any case become day-to-day imperatives. People are already walking across Latin America, though sadly only on desperate journeys.

The world is becoming vast again, and contemporary states are showing their failure. They're immensely capable of curtailing their citizens' lives, watching individuals and repressing entire populations. But they're inept at curbing attacks by the big, criminal groups they themselves have fostered. They are helpless before the disaster, though nature may finally give them their due. I sincerely believe unfettered capitalism undermines itself and its consequences are the only thing working against our system.

What could conserve the planet's balance? Eight million people living simply, in a minimal state of harmony with nature, eating local foods and renouncing the poisoned promise of opulence and comfort, preferring austerity and civilization to unchecked consumption and the big-city frenzy. But eight million consumers of oil, electricity, mass-produced food and entertainment will need a new planet every 20 years.

Only big dreams and great principles can unite us now.

There is stupid idea that we might find a Planet B nearby, but it does not hide the fact that this is and was the only planet that can nurture life and is reasonably close — in cosmic terms! We shall soon know that the only real treasures were clean air, cooling woodlands, reasonable effort and reliable weather. We'll know we abandoned nature's propitious gods for monstrous gods of our own making. We'll know, belatedly, that the politicians peddling growth were the accomplices of chaos, and people must abandon the powers that feed off humanity while discarding their duties.

In Colombia, Cuba, China and the United States, young people have increasing reasons to stop adoring the state, turning instead to the community's creative force and inherent balance of the natural order.

The only perspective now is of a great desertion. Chains will be one of the first things to be broken by the new climate logic. An incredibly refined and fascinating model will be abandoned, because its designs and packaging and its charm and spectacles hid inhumanity and recklessness. We will no longer be united by an economic model, political doctrine or totalitarian state. We only need to observe China's dams heaving before the pressure of waters. Only big dreams and great principles can unite us now. The world cannot belong to multinationals, nor even to people. The law of nature is the one law that is not for sale.

Ideas
Eduardo Barajas Sandoval

The New Conquistadors? What To Make Of The Billionaire Space Racers

Bezos, Branson, Musk. The billionaires throwing untold resources into private space travel may prove, in the end, to be visionaries. But they're also blind, it would seem, to real-world problems here on planet Earth.

-OpEd-

There is no shortage of people hailing the tycoon-space-adventurers Jeff Bezos, Richard Branson and Elon Musk as modern-day equivalents of Christopher Columbus, Americo Vespucci and Ferdinand Magellan. Only in this case, the quest to cross new frontiers comes against a backdrop of climate change and a global pandemic.

With so many people asking how they can free themselves from all the current restrictions on their happiness, these narcissistic businessmen are going ahead and doing it — treating themselves to an exhilarating and no-expenses spared day out in space. They may be immensely farsighted visionaries, but they're also blind to the basic problems of this world.

The common denominator and symbolic value of their endeavors is in a desire to free themselves from the law of gravity, a reality that, for astronauts aside, is the one law that's applicable to everybody, everywhere on Earth. Or was, at any rate.

Like the explorers of old, who showed the way to unknown continents and opened our eyes to the Earth's roundness, tycoon travelers are in turn anticipating future conquests beyond the Earth's magnetic field. They have worked in parallel and in competition with sovereign states, most recently with their blessing. For now, it's about introducing one more option in luxury leisure. But in time, these trips may lead to spending more time or living in space, and finally, settling on other planets. Who knows what else may come of this process, as we are merely at its outset.

Richard Branson aboard Unity 22 — Photo: Virgin Galactic/ZUMA

Three top entrepreneurs, who have each achieved phenomenal success in their respective fields, are presently in competition. Branson, the founder of the Virgin brands, is a longstanding fan of acrobatic feats and a pioneer in innovative services. Bezos of Amazon has discovered new forms of selling all manner of items. And Musk of Tesla and PayPal has triumphed in finding new ways of utilizing scientific knowledge. Together, they may be ushering the world into an era that will focus on objectives far removed from this planet. They have resources and scientific and logistical backing hitherto available only to national governments, but unlike governments, they are unconstrained by any potential political fallout from their actions or failures.

As in any time of conquest, each party wants to be the first to gain useful and awe-inspiring results. And they will all want to do it their way, taking full advantage of the lack of rules or set parameters restricting their actions. Just as six centuries ago the planet was "fresh" and exposed to discoveries and conquests, the fresh territory today is the space above and beyond the magnetic field that pins the rest of us to the globe.

They may be immensely farsighted visionaries, but they're also blind to the basic problems of this world.

With Blue Origin, Bezos announced that he would be heading where the first U.S. and Russian astronauts — back when it really was a remarkable feat — had gone before. He planned his trip for July 20, to commemorate the moon landing, but ignored the ancient Greek counsel not to divulge your plans ahead of time, lest anyone listening should beat you to it. And that's exactly what Branson decided to do, by rushing to get his own space jaunt off the ground just ahead of that, on July 11. Musk, for his part, has yet to leave the Earth, but his Space X will soon get its turn.

Without joining the quibbling over who flew higher or first, this is the start of a much longer trip. The billionaires have commercial priorities now and perhaps bigger ambitions in the future, with talk of regular tourism on the edge of the atmosphere (Branson), settlements on the moon (Bezos), or colonizing and even peacefully dying on Mars (Musk).

Amazon's Jeff Bezos in front of his Blue Origin rocket — Photo: Chuck Bigger/Space Symposium via ZUMA Press Wire

This incipient space race is, like any grand enterprise, filled with propaganda, expectations ad achievements, but also frustrations and failures. As Paul G. Allen, a co-founder of Microsoft who financed the SpaceShipOne project in 2004, said, this is a challenge that will keep attracting adventurers who will push it toward unknown frontiers.

Like their 16th-century forebears, the new explorers will act at times on their own account and at others, under state patronage. Bezos, Branson and Musk have already received assignments and signed multi-million dollar deals with public agencies to develop technologies and build equipment of use not just in space, but to armies. As always..

Presently there is a marvelous, creative anarchy around these endeavors, have yet to be regulated or subject to public debate and scrutiny. At some point though, intervention may be needed to prevent this bubbling progress being diverted to "defensive," or better said martial, ends. It is the eternal play between the exercise of freedom and the need for order.

It is all fascinating, encouraging and intriguing, but also indicative of humanity's essential contradictions: Some reach for the sky as others are mired in the most basic problems of survival, on a planet that is more vulnerable than ever. Resources are needed to meet the health and nutrition needs of millions of people. All the while, these billionaires throw countless money toward flying through the clouds.

That may be why the website change.org garnered hundreds of thousands of signatures for the idea of not allowing Jeff Bezos to return to Earth. And if these mega-moguls do insist on going to space, perhaps they should just stay there. Because who knows, a few centuries from now, people might to topple their statues too, just as they do now with monuments to the old-guard conquistadors.

Geopolitics
Juan Manuel Ospina

Colombia: The Cost Of 50 Years Of Failed Drug Policies

Colombia, not the United States, has been the chief victim of drug trafficking and failed anti-narcotics policies. It has a right, if not a duty, to seek other ways of curbing a chain of actions that have corrupted its society.

-OpEd-

BOGOTÁ — Historically, Colombia has not been indifferent to the reality of that disastrous enterprise called the war on drugs. It was a hypocritical and, as we can see now, utterly useless endeavor launched by U.S. President Richard Nixon. More than 50 years later, it's a universal example of political stupidity and clumsiness. The only thing Colombia has observed is that drugs have advanced unchecked and diversified in terms of products and customers. The marijuana dear to hippies is often hailed today as a miracle remedy. Magic mushrooms, already used in traditional cultures, gave way to a "line" of coke and heroin for executive types and partygoers, and more recently to chemical products made in the main consumer markets, which are the industrialized countries.

It has been a half century of growth, both in consumption and in the violence striking the weakest links in the production chain: coca cultivators and small-time vendors. Meanwhile, the multi-billion dollar business run by global criminal organizations continues, benefiting a few sectors in this world from deregulation in movements of money, goods and even people.

Instead of ending the business, it fertilizes and stimulates it with higher profit margins

Simple economic logic shows that the profitability of this business is directly proportional to the intensity of repressive actions undertaken in this so-called war. Clearly, instead of ending the business, it fertilizes and stimulates it with higher profit margins. An absurd scenario has been conjured up: of a phoney war waged in producing countries, and financed directly by the governments and indirectly by users in consumer countries, especially the United States. The narrative concocted to justify this is based on a warped and false understanding of wicked Hispanics preying on innocent Americans. While President Donald Trump took this narrative to its ridiculous extreme, it is an underlying theme of U.S. and even global policies.

Brazilian police stand guard over 20 tonnes of confiscated drugs that were set to be incinerated — Photo: Ernesto Carriuso/NurPhoto/ZUMA

Undoubtedly, the violence and corruption that have harmed the fabric of Colombian society and distorted its economy into a merciless, predatory form of capitalism may be sourced mainly in drugs. Narcotics have become a significant though not the only obstacle to Colombians living together in a democracy, in a country battered by decades of violence and its inevitable companion, corruption. The worst of it is that we're no longer just world champions in production as drug use increases inside the country, threatening public health and fueling a spike in urban crime.

Despite being one of its chief victims, a change in drug policy does not depend on Colombia. But we have a duty to denounce the "war on drugs' and back international initiatives to change current policies. Colombia not only has the right but an ethical obligation to do this. Authorities should view the rise in internal consumption, especially among young people, as a threat to public health and promote campaigns to educate youth on what drug taking means for society, and crime, violence and corruption in Colombia. It is about the type of country we want to leave behind, for nobody else will do it for us.

Geopolitics
Santiago Villa

Cuba Is A Dictatorship, Latin American Left Doesn't Seem To Care

Sympathizers of the Cuban communist regime tend to justify Cuba's violence on protesters and present it as a victim of Western imperialism.

-OpEd-

BOGOTÁ — There is a dictatorship in Cuba, and people have come out to protest, demanding freedom. This simple fact, with which any democratic person can sympathize, is rejected by sectors of the Left in Latin America. They have shown there is a big gap in their commitment to democracy, which must be addressed and rectified to leave no ambiguity in any political movement's commitment to civil liberties.

Furthermore, Latin American leftist movements have repeatedly worked against democratic institutions once in power. There's a litany of examples: Venezuela, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Bolivia have endured to a greater or lesser degree leftist governments that have carried out partial or structural coups to eliminate the opposition, concentrate power or perpetuate themselves in it.

One reason why Colombia's Left had a tough time in the last presidential elections, and why (the leftist candidate) Gustavo Petro generates so much resistance, is because many voters do not believe him when he says he is a democrat. They see him as another caudillo in the making, who would eliminate democratic checks and balances the moment he rose to power.

That's using a people's dignity as a bargaining chip.

There are ways of evading the Cuban question, an uncomfortable one for the Left. For example through ambiguous declarations, by calling for dialogue one moment, then suggesting the protests are being fomented from abroad, or citing the distraction that is the U.S. embargo on Cuba. Alternatively, they will say nothing about Cuba while talking endlessly about Colombia, Spain, Argentina or Chile.

The embargo is a criminal policy, but it has served Cuba's dictatorship more than it has the United States. Thanks to the embargo, the dictatorial regime has had a perfect excuse to justify its monumental failure. The embargo also assures it the sympathy of the Latin American Left, which is anti-U.S. in principle. You can hear people saying the United States must first lift its embargo before we can talk about any opening, democracy, human or civil rights in Cuba! That's using a people's dignity as a bargaining chip.

One can understand the nostalgia, the dreams of a socialist utopia and decades of romanticism. But political sentimentality cannot weaken commitment to democracy nor hide the savagery of 100 people jailed or disappeared in a single day of protests. There is another myth, that Cuba has an exemplary healthcare system and there is food for everyone, and it only needs to listen more to ordinary folk. This myth is the work of a propaganda machine. People are hungry and there isn't healthcare for everyone. Above all, people want freedom.

Let us pop the little bubble. Cuba is an island where musicians, artists, writers, journalists and opponents are jailed, or continuously monitored. Its supposedly socialist government is inefficient and criminal.

There is something decidedly dangerous about people who defend the Cuban regime: how much repression would they defend in their own countries should one of their own ideology (or what they peddle as their ideology) take power? I am hoping these sympathizers do not want a Cuban-style dictatorship at home. But they shouldn't even want it for Cuba.

Society
Jorge Tovar

The Europe v. South America Football Question Has An Easy Answer

European soccer is inspiring and professional, in sharp contrast with the national histrionics and 'amateurish' mediocrity of South American football.

-OpEd-

BOGOTÁ — There's no year like 2021 for comparing the state of the art of world football. In the same year, month and almost at the same hour, we could compare the best of European and South American soccer. And we haven't come out of it looking good.

The differences encompass every imaginable aspect. We can start with the sensations the competition generates on each side of the Atlantic. While the Euro Championship has been a kind of traveling party across the continent, the South American Copa is a pariah spurned in Colombia, Argentina and practically in Brazil too. Over there, football remains a much needed distraction, entertainment and a passion. Here, it is the motive for ridiculous quarrels in which various academics and political analysts who have read little about the history of this sport, believe a country's ruler can use the Copa América to manipulate opinion.

In Europe, you see a pitch for professionals.

Infrastructures are naturally another, substantial difference. On the Old Continent, they play on a field similar to the smooth cloth covering a snooker table. It is not just in Wembley, but even in Hungary: the grass gives the impression that, yes, this is a pitch for professionals. The simple reality is that the ball rolls smoothly in Europe.

In Brazil, which I would still like to consider a soccer-loving country, the pitch looks more like a potato field. The ball doesn't roll but bobs up and down on a rugged, disorderly and ill-kept lawn. Certainly, the Copa América arrived here at the last minute, but one cannot understand how they are used to playing soccer on these bungled tracks.

The gaping contrasts get bigger, if it were possible, when you compare how UEFA and Conmebol (soccer governing bodies) utilize data. Originally I had wanted to quantify the differences in football in statistical terms. Impossible.

On the UEFA website I find data on ball possession, precision passing, shots, ball recoveries, assists, speed, distance cover etc. Essentially one finds the minimum you would expect in a professional tournament in the 21st century. The Conmebol website reports goals, assists and shots. Europe gives me data on any player in the match. In South America I could only find out about the first 20 in the three categories. A Conmebol report appears to be for an amateur match, compared to UEFA's.

We can talk about the players another time. Certainly we have stars like Lionel Messi and Neymar, though one is 34 years old, the other, 29. National teams like those of Bolivia and Venezuela have been mired in mediocrity for decades. Our soccer needs a regional plan that allows us to generate quality for the long term. The longstanding system of seeking out future stars among kids playing in shantytown terrains helped make Latin America a football mecca. It's no longer enough.

Geopolitics
María Mónica Monsalve

Colombian Farming: The Costs Of Replacing Coffee With Avocados

The Hass avocado, fast becoming one of Colombia's big export earners, is  threatening local ecosystems and causing water shortages.

BOGOTÁ — One of Colombia's star export products, the Hass avocado, has cracked open two major environmental issues: the destruction of traditional landscapes and recurring water shortages.

The country has been promoting the Hass avocado since 2016, and proudly publicized in early June the arrival of its first 1.6 tons of Hass in South Korea, Asia's fifth biggest importer of avocados. But on May 29, the Senate's Fifth Commission, which considers land and environmental issues, questioned Agriculture Minister Rodolfo Enrique Zea about the effects of Hass farming in the Quindío department.

While the government is keen to boost avocado exports — the country exported more than 77,000 tons in 2020 — environmental concerns have grown in the three departments with just over half of all avocados, Antioquia, Caldas and Tolima. A well-known reason is that the avocado is a thirsty fruit. Comparatively, while a banana is grown with 160 liters of water, the avocado requires 227 liters. It has been blamed for water shortages in other producer countries like Chile and Mexico. Zea told the committee Hass was cultivated in rainy departments that allowed it "to be planted with drainage not irrigation systems."

Besides water, some avocado farms, which may be foreign properties, are cropping up next to or inside protected woodlands, beside moors or skipping environmental permissions.

Mónica Flores, a spokeswoman for the CittaSlow lifestyle network said that many farmers have been pushed into farming avocados and other cash crops by the collapse of coffee prices after 1989. While traditionally, the local crop was coffee, she said many farmers going broke after the end of the International Coffee Pact, had heeded the government's suggestions to branch out. "It was citrus fruits or passion fruit, then came the banana boom..." and then came the avocado.

In 2016 farmers asked for permission to plant 230 hectares of Hass avocado in the department, which she says have risen to 2,000 hectares in her Pijao municipality in western Colombia. "Foreign firms arrived to buy land, just to plant Hass avocado," she says.

Besides concerns that small-scale farmers being forced to sell their plots and the demise of the region's coffee-growing culture, there are worries about the impact of cultivations on protected areas. This, she says, is the case with the Doña Eva estate, owned by the firm Inversiones ASL S.A.S., whose crops are in a reservation and close to two rivers. "We're not saying they shouldn't plant avocados, but that it should be done respecting soil use and environmental conditions," she says.

Inversiones ASL told El Espectador that only 680 hectares of Doña Eva's 2,433 hectares are used for the avocados, and there are no plans for developing "future planting or production of avocados in these areas."

There are complaints of avocados being planted next to palm trees.

The Quindío Autonomous Region Corporation (CRQ), the local waters and environmental authority – has imposed regulations to prevent the destruction of emblematic wax palm trees, after reports in 2020 of five being burned down on the estate and avocados being planted next to the trees. Currently the CRQ is looking into 10 other reports of environmental offenses by avocado farms, says a CRQ adviser, Jáider Andrés Lopera.

The nearby district of Cajamarca in Tolima made the news in 2017 for its referendum rejecting mining there by the firm AngloGold Ashanti. Today it faces another environmental threat in avocado farming. The "rumors began in 2017," says Róbinson Mejía, head of the local Environmental Committee in Defense of Water, about reports of AngloGold buying up plots. "In 2019, we saw how avocado firms arrived, paying good money for land. They were paying 50 million pesos per hectare (more than $13,000)," nearly five times the average price for a hectare in Cajamarca.

Mejía estimated that some 3,000 of the district's 51,000 hectares were now reserved for avocados, with AngloGold still owning 5,000 hectares. "They're outsourcing the land," he said. One of the country's cultivators is Green Super Food, a registered Colombian firm, but part of a Chilean conglomerate, Inversiones Benjamin. Some 1,300 hectares of its farming lands in several departments are used for avocados. The firm has asked for several water-related permits in Tolima, though not necessarily for avocados alone, and has penalties pending too for several environmental infractions.

In Cajamarca, like Pijao, there have been complaints of avocados being planted next to palm trees, or others being burned to make way for avocados. The Tolima water authority has also warned that the Coello river, whose waters are presumably used for avocados, is drying out. Green Super Food insist they are growing avocados in areas with ample or excessive rainfall, and citing FreshPlaza, a Spanish website, claim that in any case, avocados require less water than some other fruits.

Woman selling avocados in the Fruit market Galeria Alameda in Cali, Departamento Valle del Cauca, Colombia — Photo: Sergi Reboredo/ZUMA

Avocados, planted mainly for exportation, also threaten the livelihood of small-scale farmers. In 2019 the Colombian academic Ángela Serrano published a paper in Nature and Space on how avocado farming was making traditional farming unprofitable, and inflicting ruinous losses on the peasantry living in districts where avocados have become dominant. She wrote these were a monoculture fit for big enterprises, and a small plot holder could ill afford to invest his savings in a potentially risky business. Likewise big firms made more than enough avocados to cover the domestic market, from which small-holders were effectively excluded. State policies, she concludes, favor big farming in Colombia at the expense of the small farmers.

The fruit may be a perfect example of the globalization conundrum: are customers enjoying its taste and texture in South Korea, Europe and the United States even aware that its production is changing the landscape, running rivers dry and disrupting the lives of helpless folk in rural Colombia?

Geopolitics

Daniel Ortega Must (And Can) Be Stopped

The region, from the U.S. to Latin America, has the diplomatic, economic and legal leverage to end the brazen abuses of Nicaragua's aspiring dictator-for-life.

-Editorial-

BOGOTÁ — The repression recently unleashed in Nicaragua by its ruler Daniel Ortega and his wife, Rosario Murillo, has culminated in the jailing of the main candidates in the country's upcoming presidential elections, which take place in November, as well as of journalists and regime opponents. These actions are an insult to democracy in the region. Amid increasing international isolation and repudiation, and with sanctions imposed on their family, the Ortega-Murillo couple has already overcome the regime of Anastasio Somoza, the dictator Ortega helped to topple in 1979, in the number of killings, violations of the law and acts of corruption.

The only way to stop the abuses and achieve a free and transparent electoral process under foreign observation is to increase international, political and economic pressure on the regime. Ortega and Murillo must be made to understand that their spurious elections in November will not be recognized. There is no alternative. Unlike Venezuela, whose dictatorial regime has oil and enjoys the support of China and Russia, Ortega depends on exchanges with the United States in a free-trade pact that is in force, and on trade with Europe and other Central American countries. Increasing sanctions will affect the regime where it is vulnerable.

President of Nicaragua, Daniel Ortega and Army General Julio Cesar Aviles at the latter's inauguration — Jorge Torres/EFE/ ZUMA

Politically, the Secretary-General of the Organization of American States (OAS), Luis Almagro, has sent a firm letter to the OAS Permanent Council asking to apply the Inter-American Democratic Charter. Almagro wants the OAS to act against Ortega for "breaking the democratic order" with an "unprecedented onslaught" that has altered the constitutional order, as the Charter states.

In October 2020, the OAS general assembly approved a resolution urging electoral reforms in Nicaragua in May 2021, preceding free elections. Its 34 member states will hopefully pay heed to Almagro's demands and immediately begin steps to exclude Nicaragua from the group.

The objective was to eliminate any candidacy and all opposition.

Those arrested in recent days, on trumped-up charges bereft of legal bases, are aspiring presidential candidates or political and business leaders like Cristiana Chamorro, Arturo Cruz, Félix Maradiaga, Dora María Téllez and 25 more.

Téllez is a former Sandinista captain and one of Ortega's sharper critics. She has said the "dying dictatorship's objective" was to "eliminate any candidacy and all opposition." Carlos Fernando Chamorro, a reputed journalist, calls the situation a "new coup d"état against Nicaraguans' right to freely elect and be elected." Sergio Ramírez, a prominent writer and former vice-president, has said in turn that "the rule of law has ceased to exist in Nicaragua. The rest is all fiction and parody." All of them are right.

Most of the detained are subjected to a law approved in 2020, which punishes those inciting "foreign intervention" in the country's affairs and seeking foreign military intervention or the use of foreign funds. The regime wants to use such charges or others alleging money laundering, to keep itself in power. The international community must be firm in defending democracy, while the OAS, in particular, must enact juridical provisions like its Democratic Charter to defend Nicaraguans at this critical moment.

Geopolitics
Catalina Ruiz-Navarro

Colombia Protest Violence: Stop Blaming The Victims

More than 20 people have been killed since demonstrations erupted against a government plan to raise taxes. Dozens more are missing, and yet some insist still on blaming the protestors.

-OpEd-

BOGOTA — I recently heard someone liken the "acts of vandalism" taking place during the current protests against the Colombian government's tax reforms to a child's "tantrum" against its parents.

That comparison says a lot about how people see these protests. The state, in their mind, is a "father," and the protesters are "minors' exaggerating their methods to "get his attention." The assumption, then, is that if the demonstrators could only state their demands in a "mature" or "reasonable" manner — without shouting — it would all be easier. They would win the father's respect and he would reward them for their manners, treating them as adults!

But here's the thing: Protesting over human rights is no tantrum. For many, it is the only and last option because behind their hunger, illness or poverty, lies death. There is no benevolent father who wants the best for us. Instead, what we have in Colombia is an unequal concentration of power in certain groups who want even more of it, and hope to get it by exploiting the population. When this exploitation reaches intolerable levels, people come onto the streets to voice their rage.

The state sees stones, glass and bits of metal as more valuable than people's lives.

What must people do — peacefully — to bring about political change here, as people asked on an Instagram sequence (attributed to whatradicalized you, @literally.noam.chomsky and @socialstudies4socialjustice)?

It's a question based on the common belief that a "peaceful" protest is all that's need to bring about change. Except it doesn't work that way. No authoritarian or corrupt government was ever moved by the poetic sight of people marching in the streets to promise an end to extrajudicial killings! It's not that poems are useless or unnecessary. Artistic manifestations play a key role in strategies to bring about social change. But so does direct action, including breaking windows and daubing graffiti in protests.

protesters_colombia_riots

Demonstrators throwing stones at the police in Bogota, on April 28, 2021. — Photo: Daniel Santiago Romero Chaparro/LongVisual/ZUMA

Certain cultural actions, like images or songs, will help people understand and sympathize with the protests, or make protesters feel more visible and present. Direct action (which is also a cultural act) serves to disturb, makes the protest inevitable and highlights the fact that the state sees stones, glass and bits of metal, which are termed "property," as more valuable than people's lives.

The Instagram carousel provides a more realistic sequence of how social change happens:

1) People protest peacefully (in a way the government cannot ignore).

2) The state's repressive agents manhandle peaceful protests in public venues.

3) The wider population sees this, is angered and takes the side of protesters.

The carousel clearly explains what is happening in Colombia today. What people with cushy lives do not understand is that by supporting only "peaceful resistance," they are not actually taking a stand against violence. Instead they're just asking the rest of us to go out and expose ourselves to the state's violence and then do nothing about it, all for the sake of winning the government's approval.

It is senseless to compare the destruction of a cash dispenser with security forces beating an unarmed protester to death.

That is what happened with Gandhi's iconic protests, famous for their non-violent resistance. They were hunger strikes in fact, thus there was violence, but only against the protesters. And so again, when people say that they only support peaceful protests, what they're really saying is: "We only back protests where protesters are ready to be beaten in the hope of earning wider public sympathy." That, in turn, means that they only want demonstrations with no real power to bring about change. They support the people's right to protest, as long as it is useless.

This isn't to say that a protest must, perforce be violent. But it is senseless to compare the destruction of a cash dispenser with security forces beating an unarmed protester to death. Nor is it the case that the only effective protest is one with broken windows. The point, rather, is that differentiating between "good" and "bad" ways of protesting just serves to stigmatize protests in principle.

With the excuse of curbing "bad" protests, the army came onto the streets of Colombia to brutalize civilians, regardless of whether or not they were engaging in vandalism. This is not about good protests versus bad protests. It is about Colombians facing down a government that is authoritarian, exploitative and corrupt. And for that, we need all forms of protest.

Ideas
Juan Manuel Ospina

To Fix The Border, Biden Needs To Look Beyond It

Rather than ratchet up spending on America's already bloated military, the U.S. president should take a broader view of national security and help develop economies elsewhere.

-OpEd-

BOGOTA — Can imperialism appear humanitarian? The short answer, as the United States has demonstrated time and again, starting in the period after World War I, is yes.

Then United States President Woodrow Wilson, the first to don this patronizing garb, displayed a self-righteous zeal as he preached to the world the "good news' of a better system: capitalism and liberal democracy, Anglo-Saxon style. The U.S. took it upon itself to sell this to the world as the only truth — a sure way to salvation. Later, in the heat of the Cold War and fueled by pervasive fears of the Soviet bear, this crusade took on even more momentum.

Traditionally this was more a Democratic than a Republican posture, as the Republicans generally espouse realism in foreign policy. That latter's best practitioners were President Richard Nixon and his secretary of state, Henry Kissinger.

Idealism seemed only to produce wars promoted by the U.S. itself, in Korea, Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq. They were costly in lives and treasure and produced military and political defeats, though not for America's own military-industrial complex. Almost three-quarters of a century ago, the complex was denounced by the outgoing President Dwight D. Eisenhower, a hero of World War II, the last 20th-century war the Americans won.

The fact of the matter is that U.S. military spending is unnecessary.

Were he still with us, Eisenhower might say similar things today given that the current U.S. administration, led by Joe Biden, is engaging in yet another arms race, the umpteenth in a century, this time to face down a supposed threat from China. Nevermind that the rhetoric doesn't match the reality.

The U.S. military budget is greater than those of the next 10 states put together. Talk of Chinese military might is therefore nonsense. The fact of the matter is that U.S. military spending is unnecessary.

It's encouraged, nevertheless, by an alliance of those same elements Eisenhower denounced, and supported by a stubborn belief in the United States that its bloated military budget produces periods of great prosperity. The theory is that in lean times, public (specifically military) spending can serve as a Keynesian demand engine and "activate" the economy.

In Tijuana, a U.S. border patrol agent drives along the border wall with Mexico — Photo: Allison Dinner/ZUMA

What all this ignores is that the principal challenges to U.S. security come from poverty across its southern frontier and in the Arab world. Poverty, migration and attendant conflicts are not resolved with walls or weaponry, but with a development strategy that is infinitely cheaper than an unnecessary, scandalous and immoral arms race. It is also a radical solution that addresses the roots of the crisis, unlike humanitarian actions of a palliative nature.

In this respect, President Biden is coming across as inconsistent and even weak. And in doing so, seems to be giving Trumpism in the United States free and abundant ammunition.

It has to be more than just an idea, more than just an idle promise.

Like Andrés Manuel López Obrador, his counterpart in Mexico, Biden is envisaging an ambitious development program for migrant-emitting countries, namely El Salvador, Honduras and Guatemala. The idea is to help people in those places find the jobs and basic services they seek in vain in the U.S. Biden's hero, President Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-1945), implemented the policy of rebuilding Europe and Japan after World War II so that their citizens could pick up their lives again and become prosperous customers of U.S. products.

Biden's on the right track, in this regard. But it has to be more than just an idea, more than just an idle promise, because if he treats it only as a half-measure, he'll find himself at the mercy of an unstoppable and crushing Trump.

To push forward on this policy, the new president will need to spend real money — sums that may seem extraordinary but are, in fact, just a fraction of the vast defense budget. Indeed, he should divert funds from the defense budget, all the more so because doing so it actually in the interest of national security. The money is there, in other words.

Such a program, once money is actually spent and its promises realized, would also confirm the administration's aura of solidarity and humanity. And it must be announced now, so people and officials in the migrant-producing countries realize that the problem is actually being addressed, once and for all. This would then give Biden a basis for reshaping U.S. migration policy so that it will no longer entice thousands to risk all in a bid to "jump the wall."