This interview was carried out in the Colombian Congress on the same day that US Secretary of State Colin Powell visited Alvaro Uribe Vélez in Bogotá. Uribe has quickly established himself as Washington’s favourite in Latin America. Alexander Lopez is one of the national leaders speaking out against the Uribe and Powell war machine. Alexander, known for his leadership of the SINTRAEMCALI occupation, was elected in March as the Social and Political Front candidate for the Valle del Cauca. He is a member of the Polo Democrático grouping of opposition Congress deputies and Senators, and he is the chair of the Sixth Commission of the Congress responsible for overviewing all public services.
"Two issues demonstrate the lack of security guarantees that we have as a democratic opposition. The National Attorney General sacked 16 attorneys who were investigating massacres by paramilitaries linked with the military. All of these investigations have been stopped. And then there are the threats against us. A plan by Carlos Castaño, [the leader of the paramilitary AUC] to assassinate Gustavo Pedro, a comrade deputy in Polo Democrático, came into the hands of the Attorney General. We, the opposition MPs who are trying to defend Gustavo, are now in conflict with the Attorney General. The army’s 13th Brigade, which is responsible for Bogotá, has taken the decision to assassinate Wilson and me, Alexander Lopez.
The social problems are more generalised than just the issue of privatisation. All the laws passing through Congress fit under Uribe’s themes of ‘democratic security’ and the ‘communitarian state’. In fact his policies are all pre-programmed. They are not dealing with the conjunctural situation, they were prepared several years ago in Washington.
The government declared a State of Internal Commotion and passed Decree 2002. The whole of Colombia is now a ‘zone of rehabilitation and consolidation’, but the zones specifically designated for special measures have the richest natural resources. The army has imposed curfews, from 8 in the morning until 4 at night. The population is unable to mobilise. In Arauca more than 500 people were corralled into a stadium and marked with ink. The army or the police, any state official, can on their own suspicion capture, process and imprison citizens for supposed terrorism. We have two comrades from SINTRAEMCALI detained right now because of this situation, and there are 46 comrades, brought from Arauca to prison in Bogotá, including three trade union leaders on the CUT Regional Committee and others from all the social movements.
The government is pushing through drastic state reforms. 300 state bodies will be either privatised or shut down, affecting of 150,000 workers. Their purpose is to get some short term funds to finance government repression.
There is a Public Order Law, law 418, that delegates to the president the powers of Congress to negotiate with armed actors, hold peace talks and grant them pardon or amnesty. Through this dispensation Uribe is preparing to legalise the paramilitaries. Another law in progress is the Security Statute, very similar to the Statute of [President] Turbay [of the early 1980s]. This is very serious. It threatens a profound reform of the criminal justice system. While democratic and civil rights are curtailed under Decree 2002, the new law will criminalise the entire social movement by labeling all forms of protest as terrorism.
The proposed labour reform will reduce work contracts down to just one hour, and it will remove all protection for the workers. The proposed pension law puts two conditions for receiving a state pension; that you are 62 years old, and that you have completed 1,300 weeks of paid up work. Very few people will be able to get a pension. On average the Colombian worker has just 16 weeks of work in a year, at that rate it would take over 80 years of work to qualify!
The people are going to react to this type of pressure. They will wake up and rise up against what is happening. The state knows this, and they are very busily building the structures to deal with it. They are building prisons, they are increasing the armed forces, they are preparing for the social resistance to their project.
The first phase of globalisation was implemented in Colombia by the Gavíria administration (1990-94). They now want to implement the second phase. In a lot of countries in Latin America even the governments are resisting the implementation of this – in Brazil, in Uruguay, in Ecuador and even in Argentina. What they have done in Argentina is what they want to do here. Except that there is a lot more repression here.
The US is trying to use Colombia as a contrast to Venezuela. If they get away with introducing another wave of neo-liberalism in Colombia then it will open up that possibility across the whole of Latin America. On the other hand it will be impossible for them to generalise the offensive if they do not succeed here. The IMF, the World Bank etc all have policies which are pushing in this direction. Uribe is being counterposed to Chavez.
We are inside Congress, but the solution is not really here. However being here gives a measure of legality and a certain authority. It allows us to speak to people and represent people that we otherwise couldn’t do. So although we are here, we are with the people.
The conflict here in Colombia is without precedent in the history of Latin America. It’s not strictly speaking just a civil war, it is a direct confrontation with neo-liberalism and with the US empire. In these circumstances the solidarity from outside is not only extremely important, it is essential, quite possibly it is the key. Those who are resisting neo-liberalism anywhere in the world are on our side too."