Our Historic Struggle Continues
“Narco News Provides this Continental Resistance with Truth, Our Most Important Weapon”
By Teo Ballvé
Special to The Narco News Bulletin
April 18, 2005
On the way to dinner one night in Cochabamba, Bolivia, Karla Aguilar and I had pulled ahead from our group of fellow scholars from the recently ended 2004 Narco News School of Authentic Journalism. As we walked, we glanced and saw one of those sights from which you want to immediately turn away, but can’t.
A girl who could not have been more than 11 or 12 knelt facing the entrance of an abandoned building with her hands carefully cupped around a small bottle of glue. She knelt there, deeply inhaling the fumes through her nose, blindly staring at the empty doorway as if she were praying at an altar.
“That’s one of the saddest things I’ve ever seen,” I said. I turned to look back at Karla to gauge her reaction, and she looked away—but not before I noticed tears building in her eyes.
Later that night, at dinner, about a dozen of us sat at a large table on the sidewalk, celebrating one of our last nights in the city. As our food came to the table, two kids emerged that obviously lived on the streets. They asked for money, and a few of us spared some change, others of us shared with them the food on our plates. Before long, the two boys had acquired a veritable feast, and they walked away comparing their relative bounty.
Those two memories from the 2004 Narco News School of Authentic Journalism have stayed with me. They not only demonstrate the severe problems facing the hemisphere, but they also attest to the compassion, honesty and commitment to justice that guides the work of the participants of Narco News. By participants, I mean all of us: readers, supporters, reporters, the Narco News staff—we are all contributors to this important project. I applaud Narco News and its contributors for the five years of hard-hitting, compassionate, honest, fearless and timely reporting and commentary that I deeply depend on. And I thank all of you for it.
The Americas’ Historic Crossroads
Never before have the Americas been so perfectly and simultaneously poised for disaster on the one hand, and promise on the other. In the case of the former, we see the guises of U.S. imperialism – the War on Drugs, the War on Terror and, yes, even the Cold War. We also see the weakness and acquiescence of domestic governments that bend with the military, political and economic wishes of Washington (most notably, in Colombia and Central America, but elsewhere as well).
Meanwhile, we have also witnessed the related rise of hemispheric resistance to Washington’s imperial designs, both from “above” and from “below.” From above, the rise of a loosely aligned bloc of left-of-center presidential administrations has, in some cases, valiantly defied the U.S. government and its allies in forging sovereign national and international policies.
More importantly, however, is that these governments rode to power on a wave of resistance that had been building from below for quite some time. Neoliberal economic policies and the increased militarization pushed by Washington – and lamely accepted by corrupt Latin American governments – have inadvertently created a powerful mass resistance of unprecedented continental proportions.
An important point missed by most media – commercial and non-commercial – in reportage concerning the rise of left-leaning governments is that this groundswell of social activism against Washingtonian diktat that led to the election of progressive administrations may very well be irreversible. The effects of popular resistance and revolt continue to reverberate and speak for themselves: el Caracazo (1989), Chiapas (1994), Ecuador (1999), Cochabamba (2000), Argentina (2001), post-coup Venezuela (2002) and El Alto (nunca de rodillas). A new reality has emerged in Latin America’s collective consciousness that accepts the possibility of finally emerging from the imposing shadow emanating from the North and other imperialist cloaks.
The New Revolutionary Cycle
These social explosions and, in most cases, highly organized social movements have initiated a revolutionary cycle that addresses an array of issues: from indigenous rights and economic justice to national sovereignty and “drug” policy. A promising aspect of this forceful continental activism is that, by and large, it realizes the interrelatedness of the problems faced by the region.
No longer (if ever) can opposition to drug policy or coca eradication be parsed from economic policy or broader movements for social and economic justice. If Bolivia teaches us something, it is that economic and drug/militarization policies go hand in hand, especially when under the direction of a repressive government like that of Gonzalo Sánchez de Lozada. They breed off each other in a disgusting form of symbiosis. For example, it is no coincidence that coca eradication in the Chapare, which displaces campesino families from their small plots, coincides with oil exploration by foreign energy conglomerates that have predetermined sweetheart deals with the government.
Washington’s policy of “certifying” countries’ counternarcotics efforts is another glaring example of economic and drug policy interconnectedness. Cash-strapped governments throughout the region have little choice but to concede to authoritarian anti-drug measures in hopes of gaining U.S. financial assistance, which comes with even more conditions and strings attached: say, for instance, the privatization of a nations’ strategic oil sector.
Systems of Violence
Simply put, the political economy of the drug war in Latin America requires (and perfectly executes) a destructive, self-reproducing cycle. Nowhere is this more evident than in Colombia, where the outcome of the country’s long-standing conflict is only more conflict, or what Nazih Richani, a respected Colombian academic, calls a perpetual “system of violence.”
Richani argues that with the foundational lack of viable avenues for the resolution of social conflicts (around land reform or unemployment, for example) and with the seemingly interminable material incentives – U.S. military assistance for the Armed Forces and drug revenues for the guerrillas and paramilitaries – a “comfortable impasse” emerges that neither side wishes to disrupt in the interest of a “costly” peace.
An added component fueling the conflict that Richani’s analysis partly fails to address are the economic policies pushed by Colombian and transnational elites – namely, economic austerity, trade liberalization, privatization, labor flexibility, etc. These policies further eviscerate Colombians, creating more poverty and greater inequality, which produces a population that has few recourses other than turning to economies of last resort: a cocaine laboratory, illicit coca cultivation or trafficking, never mind, joining the military, armed insurrection or paramilitary enlistment. From 1995 to 2001, poverty rates in Colombia rose by seven percentage points; now, two-thirds of the population lives in poverty. “Colombians in the top 20 percent of the resource scale receive 60 percent of the [entire] national income,” reports the World Bank.
The Resistance Needs Us All
After more than a decade, the other nations of Latin America have not fared much better; in fact, many are far worse. The region has collectively responded to the related rampages of military, economic, social and political crises with promising new forms of social protest and alternative forms of political, economic, power relations. This broadly arranged resistance stands in fierce opposition to the allied forces of domination that continue to call the shots in so much of our América.
In this context, the coverage and perspective offered by Narco News is more important than ever. The footing of this resistance remains firmly in place, but the opposition is vicious, relentless and does not play by the “rules.” Despite the opposition’s proclamations for “democracy,” we can see their disregard for the wishes of the majority in Venezuela’s 2002 coup or the desafuero process against Andrés Manuel López Obrador in Mexico to prevent him from running in next year’s presidential elections.
Narco News is one of the few trustworthy publications that I can count on to roll up its sleeves, dig deep and uncover the real story behind the glib headlines of most media. It shows the real power behind the throne, regardless of who or what that throne or that power may be. Just as important, though, is that Narco News provides this continental resistance with truth (our most effective weapon), which gives added leverage to the sincerity and compassion of our message – in essence, our authenticity. As Zapatista Subcomandante Marcos so simply stated, “Our word is our weapon.”
Thanks again to all the contributors of Narco News and Happy Fifth Birthday to us all. I send a particularly special thanks to Al Giordano for launching Narco News five years ago. I wish all of Narco News many more years to come in this historic struggle.
Teo Ballvé was a 2004 Scholar of the Narco News School of Authentic Journalism in Cochabamba, Bolivia. He is currently a co-editor of the NACLA Report on the Americas.
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