The Americas: Columbia and the U.S.

By Johan Galtung

A few years ago the two countries were the leaders in mental anxiety in the Americas. Both had good reasons: the longest lasting violence in any contemporary country; in Colombia from 1949 with some interruption, then on again from 1964 with FARC, the famous guerilla. And for the USA the conviction that Evil is around every corner, domestic and global; better have the arms to handle those bad guys.

In both, structural violence as unequal distribution of economic wealth and control of economic assets are among the world’s highest.

There is a difference, though: one country submits its problem to third party mediation, of all places in Havana, facilitated by Cuba and Norway; the other submits its problem to nobody, nor does anybody seem to offer their services. Colombia admits openly to the world that they do not have sufficient capacity for self-regulation; from the USA no such admission has ever been forthcoming.

Colombia: This morning, 27 May 2013, there were news from Havana: a breakthrough in the peace negotiations about a rather basic economic asset: land, land reform, as distribution of land, and of better land, to small impoverished peasants. There are four other problems on the agenda: political participation–a problem being real democracy–ceasefire, drugs, and the rights of the victims and bereaved in a country with four million displaced, thousands kidnapped and killed.

Reasons to celebrate? Hold it. The class differences in a country ruled by landowners, military and clerics, as three brothers in many families – the iberic heritage – force upon us a sad prediction: there will be one more military coup in the chain of coups, supported by the rosary of the church. Let us pray that it won’t happen.

Let us hope for disarmament of FARC and the other guerrillas, particularly the reactionary paramilitary, and control of the army lest we end up with another Nepal: disarmament to the left, not center-right.

To produce food, not only land but also water, seeds, manure and some technology are needed. Water and seeds may be privatized – Monsanto. So where does the credit come from? And at what price?

With strong local democracy – like in Marialeda, close to Sevilla in Spain – collective, cooperative farming on communal land with direct democracy for decisions, yes; not by corruptible multi-party national elections. Plus, can farming compete with drug commissions when drugs change hand till they go to the USA in submarines? Or on the long road (the longer the more commissions) to the Mexican border? Small farms cannot compete; cooperatives would do better. Well, let’s hope.

Practice the five points in zones of peace, expand the zones and have them intersect; aim at all of huge Colombia, and we may lose all. [i]

The USA: There were no good news this morning; but a few days ago: Obama has concluded that he should pull back on drones and close the Guantánamo prison. Does he have the guts to do so, by executive order, using vetoes? There will be no military coup in the USA as it is already permanent, structural, in the links between Pentagon, Congress, the military industry and the media, this one owned by them. For the media peace news is bad news – making it more difficult to keep the war industry going.

That industry has one major purpose: to eliminate any initiative to eliminate the special status of the dollar as the world “reserve currency” – like by Saddam Hussein in Iraq, Gaddafi in Libya, by Iran, now by BRICS – so that the USA can pay by printing money, and even get the naive to buy US bonds, meaning lending the US petro-dollars or China dollars.

Alas, the US efforts are self-defeating. The more war against terror for US security, the more insecurity and terrorism; the more wars to save US dollar, the closer the collapse of the currency of that bankrupt country; by inflation, by stock exchange crashes, by serving debts rather than people. It may still cling for a couple of years, but the synergy of these three factors will catch up with the economy.

In the meantime Monsanto is at work, like AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee), NRA (National Rifle Association) and other lobbies threatening anyone whose voting is not to their liking with not being reelected. The finance industry is at work forcing the administration to withdraw one step after the other from the tiny measures after the Grand Repression to control the finance industry.

The US Supreme Court did its part of the job by subsuming money to politicians under “freedom of expression.” And Obama did his job by offering to cut Social Security entitlements in return for some compromise with Republicans, the average retirement in the USA now being only 40 percent of the salary as opposed to 70 percent in developed countries.

Montesquieu does not work: separating legislative, executive and judiciary powers so that they check each other. Negative feedback it is called in systems theory; in fact, that negative feedback is rather positive, correcting the course when it is wrong. In the USA today all three powers are on the same course set by the finance industry to which the dollar status is the key. Politicians are bought and cowed and the president once again betrays those who elected him.

Democracy does not work: that ultimate negative feedback is only operational every two years. The US blessing, the blossoming in disguise, the Occupy Movement, was itself occupied by armies of FBI agents. Even little Norway has had a secret police agent dressed up like a peace movement demonstrator to throw stones at police cars, “proving” that the movement was violent. So, with all feedbacks successfully eliminated the course can be steady. For the abyss.

All of this and worse was Colombia’s fate; the answer was FARC, armed revolt. Will it be in the USA – the guns are well distributed? For Anglo-American global direct violence yes, as they said, attacks on a Muslim is an attack on all Muslims, an eye for an eye. But for domestic structural violence, not yet. Let us hope for the revival of Montesquieu and democracy or, if not: submission to outside mediation.


[i]. For the TRANSCEND perspective on Colombia see Ch. [50] in 50 Years: 100 Peace & Conflict Perspectives, Transcend University Press-TUP, 2008.

First published here.

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