In her new book, Blood & Capital: The Paramilitarization of Colombia, author Jasmin Hristov writes: “For roughly forty years, the Colombian state has been playing a double game: prohibiting the formation of paramilitary groups with one law and facilitating their existence with another; condemning their barbarities and at the same time assisting their operations; promising to bring perpetrators of crime to justice, while opening the door to perpetual immunity; convicting them of narco-trafficking, yet profiting from their drug deals; announcing to the world the government’s persecution of paramilitary organizations, even though in reality these ‘illegal armed groups’ have been carrying out the dirty work unseemly for a state that claims to be democratic and worthy of billions of dollars in US military aid.”
As the largest recipient of US military aid in the hemisphere, Colombia has long been the US’ most important ally in Latin America. Simultaneously, Colombia has also become the hemisphere’s worst human rights violator, with Colombia’s numerous paramilitary organizations recently taking center stage, as they’ve gradually become directly responsible for more human rights atrocities than the formal military and police. In the name of fighting “narco-terrorism,” poor people and dissidents are massacred, assassinated, tortured, and disappeared, among other atrocities—done to eliminate particular individuals and to “set an example” by intimidating others in the community. 97 percent of human rights abuses remain unpunished.
In recent years, a variety of human rights organizations, as well as mainstream academics and journalists have found it impossible to ignore the astronomical human rights violations. However, even though these groups have accurately reported on the actual atrocities, Jasmin Hristov argues that in their reports, the atrocities are largely de-contextualized from the powerful forces in Colombia and the US that directly benefit from this repression. According to Hristov, this mainstream presentation serves to mask the fact that US and Colombian elites directly support (via funding, training, supervising, and providing legal immunity for) state repression carried out by the police and military, as well as illegal paramilitary groups that are unofficially sanctioned by the government. Whether it is murdering labor organizers or displacing an indigenous community because a US corporation wants to drill for oil on their land, Hristov passionately asserts that death squad violence is purposefully directed towards sectors of society that stand in the way of the ruling class’ efforts to maintain economic dominance and acquire more resources to make even more profit.
In her book, Hristov does make a convincing argument that Colombia’s notorious death squads are inherently linked to maintenance of the country’s extreme economic inequality. Particularly since the neoliberal reforms of the 1990s that have increased poverty, Colombia’s poor continue to resist their oppression in many different ways. In response, state repression on a variety of levels is needed to terrorize unarmed social movements and other community groups and activists.
Throughout Blood & Capital, Hristov seeks to expose the rational motivations behind state violence for capitalism’s economic elites in the US and Colombia. In meticulous detail, Hristov shows how the super-rich benefit from state repression and how the violators of human rights have essentially become immune from any consequences for their actions. If death squads are truly to be abolished in Colombia, we must look honestly at how and why they exist today. Hristov’s new book is a powerful tool for exposing who truly calls the shots.
Neoliberalism or neopoverty?
Hristov asserts that “it is not a mere coincidence that during the era of accelerated neoliberal restructuring, the deterioration in the living conditions of the working majority has been accompanied by an increase in the capabilities and activities of military, police, and paramilitary groups, as well as the portrayal of social movements as forces that must be monitored, silenced, and eventually dismantled.”
I don’t know if it’s fair to blame this atrocity on neoliberal ideology. But surely this helps make the case against prohibiting drugs. You’re only creating crime instead of discouraging it.