lunes, 30 de noviembre de 2015

The Politics of Fear: An European Intelligence Agency? Why?

In light of the recent Paris attacks, it is only understandable that the European population is feeling particularly vulnerable and exposed, seeing as such events are definitely not common in European territory. But the reaction that European cities, social conglomerates, individuals, politicians and other civic leaders are displaying as a response is primarily based, and basking, on fear, which might not be the best course of action. 

Today, France 24 reported that Belgium is proposing the formation of an European intelligence agency; for all purposes an European CIA. One is left to wonder what use would yet another layer of data collecting and military intelligence have in a world already plagued with such structures. Their legality or whether they are at all necessary will not be addressed here, as it becomes irrelevant inasmuch as its resolution changes nothing.

Data collection has been a fact of life for much longer that many are willing to admit, including human rights advocates and NGOs. Illegal data collection and sharing have also been around for years, if well the world has chosen to scandalize over it until fairly recently. The intelligence alliance known as the Five Eyes has collected, shared and used personal and private data both on public personalities and on the common joe for the entire lifetime of nearly the whole population of planet Earth alive today.

That being said, two points are set clear:
  • Government surveillance is an established world state policy that will simply not be revised.
  • Though many will openly defy the existence of surveillance agencies, the fact is that when an attack hits close to home, every society will seek shelter behind its military and its intelligence constructs. 
On the first point, there is simply no debate in my view. The leftist parties of the world will forever ride the battle horse of data privacy, but the underlying fact that governments are surveilling their citizens, each and every one of them (us) is not going to change. Entire power structures, both political and financial, are built on what stock traders call insider knowledge, or in other words, knowing things before everyone else. Naturally, posessing this information and controlling it grants the wielders of the headset the power to foresee, or actually set up, what is going to happen anywhere at any given time. This ability rivals that of the Turing machine that cracked Nazi communications, and in fact grants the same level of power, if well on a much different scale. 

But one must stop and think why, beyond the foiling of terrorist attacks (yawn), would a governmentwant to spy so much? Is there that much fear of a coup, or perhaps of a secessionist movement? Alas, in a time when protesters ask the police for permission to take to the streets, who wants to spy on individuals who plan anything?

I don't believe the proposal to form yet another intelligence agency, on top of all the ones already in existence in the EU makes any sense, security-wise. The German government replied to the Belgian proposal that pooling resources to form a pan-European intelligence agency was a waste of said resources, and that the right course of action was to improve interagency cooperation. But that is a nearly impossible task, if history is to be any indication. Why, then, would Belgium propose such a travesty?

The answer must lie on one of the purest principles of mass politics: fear. When the people, or primary constituent, is scared enough it will turn to the strongest-looking leader available. Europe is definitely teaching this generation what it is like to live in fear and anxiety, akin to what so much of the planet experiences and deals with daily, and in this state of constant impending doom and militarized urban centers, the time is right for a dose of politically instilled and fueled fear to keep secessionists in line and citizens content.

Ah, and the plot reveals itself. Could all this be part of a political strategy, of which I am a fan, to bring back a measure of joy and peace to Europeans, while at the same time flexing muscles for the international community to see? There is that little political scientist in my heart screaming to the top of his lungs that this is correct.

Now, such an attitude from the political class and the civilians has great impact on the military. Armies, and the full array of their capabilities, will now be regarded as indispensable for domestic peace keeping duties, and their budget will surely be increased. The citizens will feel safer, although smothered in their countries, and Europe and its shaky union shall prevail, yet again.

In sum, do not get sucked into the politics of fear. Unfortunately, armies are due to the fact that they are the strong arm of the state. But as individuals, we cannot become subject to political maneuvering seeking only to strengthen political institutions, instead of ramping up citizen fear. As we have seen, life goes on despite all that goes on that is illegal, unethical or unnecessarily covert. 

lunes, 5 de enero de 2015

The Need to Respect the Military and the Absurdity of Absolute Transparency

Comic book fans, especially of Marvel characters will likely remember Marvel's Civil War, issued in 2007. In this storyline, the United States Government passes a bill known as the Superhuman Registration Act, which intends to compel every individual with superhuman powers or abilities to register and reveal their secret identity to the public and the government. Those who registered were offered to become operatives of S.H.I.E.L.D. which is a United Nations agency. Public support for the bill grows fueled by the consequences of some of the superheroes' actions, including deaths and property destruction. For the sake of a story, and as a reflection of what reality would bring in such a scenario, there is a sector of superheroes that opposes the bill. Their leader is Captain Steve Rogers, the famed Captain America. On the bill's supporters side Iron Man takes the lead. So it is basically a recipe for disaster.


The reason why this storyline appeals to me so much, and why I am using it as a basis to write, is that it shows a reality that has been happening in my country over the course of several years, and threatens to get worse as time goes by.

Along the many years that Colombia has been at war with the rebel guerrilla forces and the drug cartels, many events have taken place where the military –the legitimate strong arm of the government- have had to react in the only way possible under the circumstances: open violence. And while the situation lasts, civil society lies down and lets the soldiers take the heat. But when it all calms down, there is always someone who cries abuse from both sides, demanding retribution, truth and punishment.

Abuse happens. The logic of combat and the dynamics of war dictate, despite what the Geneva Convention has to say about it, that abuses and unfair events will happen. It is impossible to adhere to the many rules lawyers would have soldiers follow. They must make split-second decisions that are not always the fairest, and yet function towards the greater good. Soldiers do not have the luxury of senators and lawmakers, who get to debate calmly and be bribed, bought and lobbied about everything. Soldiers have much less time and much more on the line when it is their turn to act. Marvel's Civil War shows exactly what happens when civil society attempts to have too close a hold on the military; when it attempts to hold the military responsible for actions in which, if well civil society has a high stake on, fails miserably in its feeble try to understand.

It should be mentioned that in a conflict, though representing nations, institutions and countries pitted against each other, it is human beings who are bearing the brunt of the fighting. These human beings, like those who are civilians, also have difficulties, feelings, emotions and react in very similar ways as a civilian would when presented with the same situations as soldiers have to face as part of their job description.

Now, though abuses are not something to be proud of, they are but a part of the whole situation. Colombia's military has not escaped this obvious consequence, which has already been seen in many other countries with conflicts of their own. I am by no means condoning this, but merely stating that it is something to be expected and prevented where possible. Yet its correction and punishment are a different matter. The human condition is regrettable filled with a desire for retribution and vengeance. This, mixed with the ever present fear of death and loss of loved ones, leads civil society to always look for a name to blame when abuses take place. That being said, there are far too many cases of officers and soldiers who are being ostracized by civil society for things that happened in combat, such as unwanted kills, summary executions, property destruction and other forms of collateral damage.

As in Marvel's Civil War where the superheroes are the ones responsible and able to keep the order against unimaginable threats, the military keeps civil society safe from all forms of threats to peace and normal development. And in that light, it seems evident that the military ought to be thanked and protected, not persecuted and blamed for fulfilling its constitutional mandate in situations no one wants to be in.


Returning for a moment to Marvel's Civil War, Captain Rogers leads the rebellious superheroes against Iron Man and the government. The latter argues that superheroes must work together and become part of the government scheme to control peacekeeping actions. The former sustains that superheroes must retain their secret identities to protect themselves and their loved ones –by the way there was a strong case in the rebel side for the protection of families embodied by The Punisher-. Captain Rogers states that they are already doing the heavier lifting when it comes to defend the world and its citizens, and that certain liberties must be permitted them because of the risks they are constantly facing. Iron Man on his end feels that the government cannot and should not be opposed. But Rogers feels that a mandatory registration simply hinders the superheroes' possibilities to fight crime in that now they will be held accountable for things they do in battle that no one else will ever come to understand.


This focus signifies the comprehension that the Marvel Rebels have of their own actions and the abuses they become a part of while fighting to protect humanity. But if one is to be honest, there is no war without casualties and abuse. There is no perfectly executed combat, and military operations have the habit of changing unexpectedly and to the cost of human lives. Currently, the Colombian government is in the middle of peace talks with FARC, the largest and longest standing guerrilla in the country. The conversations are taking place in Havana, Cuba. There are government and FARC representatives present. To accomplish this, the government had to rescind the arrest warrants weighing over prominent FARC members and secretly –by the military, of course- extract them from Colombia to Cuba. That was criminal, and yet necessary. On its own shore, the government negotiators had to be granted carte blanche to keep some agreements secret and commit other crimes for the sake of secrecy and success of the peace talks. Everything worked out fine, until civil society caught wind of all this, and the need for public knowledge kicked in. Then, criticism against the negotiations found a new battleship: transparency. What would be the benefit of civil society, which as a mass is ill-educated regarding the process and its future consequences –even if it is well aware of its past actions- knowing and issuing opinions about it all? As president Santos himself declared, one gets nowhere if one stops to throw rocks at every dog that barks along the way.

I ask a question: After half a century of war, will the FARC simply surrender and lay down their arms? The answer is a resounding No. Now, will civil society expect just that? And in this case the answer is Yes. But hoping does not accomplish anything. FARC will likely split into smaller criminal groups, though as an institution it might just turn into a political party. This means that it will still be necessary to fight it, and the military will have to know how to do it. But civil society, in this case embodied by some government officials and pressure groups, decided to keep most of the military out of the loop. So the military decided to eavesdrop on the government negotiators. I do not believe or accept they should be blamed for so doing. They must have the information in order to prepare for the battle ahead. On another subject and returning to the theme of soldiers being human, they know personally and firsthand the names of the perpetrators of countless atrocities committed in the course of the conflict. These soldiers who know so much feel betrayed when they are told they must look the other way and simply let these acts go unpunished. So, some officers have decided to start taking matters into their own hands and skip judicial process, going straight into the executions. Human rights defenders have called this a trampling of the rights of the insurgents being killed by the army. But I ask here: What about the rights of their victims? In my eyes, and because I am military-minded, when someone willingly and knowingly violates the rights of another, they renounce to their own rights. Judicial procedures open the door for guilty perpetrators to walk, and if well military summary executions also open the door for injustice, from a social and human, not state, standpoint a choice must be made.


Ultimately, state forces and their allied superheroes overrun Captain Rogers and the rebels, arresting Rogers and subduing the others. The Superhuman Registration Act is put into force, and Captain Steve Rogers is secretly shot dead under orders of Red Skull, his classical nemesis.


One of the direst possibilities of the military being stepped on, besides the increase of general insecurity, is the score settling the imprisoned or otherwise inactive military may become a target of. As the military themselves, the insurgents are human. They have the same emotional and vengeful problems as everyone else. In that scenario, the insurgents will take any opportunity they can seize to settle the score with soldiers with whom they have a personal feud. This is utterly unfair and reeks of injustice towards people who have risked everything for the sake of security. Those military men and women who survive and witness these injustices are then prone to turn to professional crime, and a new, powerful and dangerous enemy is created. But who could reasonably blame them? Radicalization can and must be expected of any human group that is made the object of forced submission or humiliation.

To conclude, attempting to subdue the military will result in negative consequences for civil society, and the unending quest for so-called justice and absolute transparency is both preposterous and counterproductive.

viernes, 31 de octubre de 2014

Rousseff Stays, But Not By Chance

For some of us, because I refuse to believe I am alone in this, Rousseff’s reelection in Brazil came as no surprise. Considering certain potentially disturbing factors, one finds that the result of this election was quite foreseeable, as many are nowadays.

One of such factors is the realization of the next Summer Olympic Games in Brazil, in two years’ time. In order to prepare for this event and the last FIFA World Cup, the Brazilian government forcefully evicted thousands of people from their makeshift homes, mostly built illegally in invaded zones of the cities where the sporting events were to take place. Be that as it may, it meant two separate realities: that the families who lost their houses to a fancy stadium were then left in a much worse state than they were already, and that the government had every legal and lawful resource to carry out the evictions and the demolitions that ensued. On that note, it becomes clear where the conflict lies: the monopoly of the use of force.

Under Rousseff, million dollar contracts have been pursued and signed in preparation for the sporting events and the scores of tourists that represents. Such contracts are reflected on new fighter jets, provided by Saab, electric stun guns provided by TASER, armor and other equipment for the police forces, and so on. The execution of the contracts, as well as their necessary oversight by government watchdogs will occur over the next few years as the new equipment comes in and new soldiers and police officers are trained. And in the meantime, a so-called socialist administration will foster business for openly capitalist and right-wing companies. And all along, the campaign was and continues to be fostered by non-existent leftist ideas. At the same time, and through the same channels, an incredibly grotesque illegal flow of weapons will continue making its way into the heart and hands of Brazilian gangs, justifying the huge defense investments.

On the other hand, there is also the issue of Eduardo Campos and his untimely, yet somewhat convenient demise. This circumstance left the pathway open for environmentalist Marina Silva to take his place in the race. And though the polls never truly showed Silva to be a contender for the presidency, she did gain considerable media exposure for herself and the party, which is ultimately the goal of campaining for many candidates around the world.

Back on subject, I know I am not the only one who feels Campos’s death was no accident. The hallmark of a rather dirty and aggressive campaign was the death of an outspoken socialist candidate running for office in a country in need of a profound reform in terms of social and domestic education spending. Nevermind the millions Brazil gives away in scholarships to foreign students. That money is better spent at home, showing kids and families that a professional career in soccer or organized crime are not the only options out there.

It should be said out loud that Brazil and many other South American nations have such incredible soccer players, not thanks to schools where families and kids choose to train, but rather out of a morbid lack of opportunity and means, together with far too much time to spare.

In sum, Rousseff stays. And that does nothing for the social scene of Brazil. It ensures continuity for the defense contractors and their contracts, and a sad preservation of a sickening devotion for sport that only the outside world cares about.

jueves, 10 de julio de 2014

The Manaos Stadium: A Rock in Brazil's Shoe

The World Cup is coming to an end. But as many celebrate the excitement the matches have brought, others mourn their adverse results. May I propose another topic for discussion, that of the Manaos stadium. Manaos is a city where there is no professional football team. The problem lies in the future of the stadium once the World Cup is over. My belief is that the stadium will become the object of a terrible power play between rival gangs, seeking to gain exclusive control of the stadium, regardless of what state forces can do.In fact, something similar might just happen in other cities where so many people were violently displaced to make room for the stadiums. I fear some of these people might take to pillage the stadiums, which would naturally call for a police or army response. It is the social aspect that ought to be considered here and of course its natural economic consequence. Funds that could have otherwise have been used to bolster the same social investment neglected by the World Cup preparations will have to go to the defense budget. This will not only enrage people further, but will also incite the indignation of the international community, including football fans.
And Brazilians will be left alone to try and quash the uprisings and the violence surge.
How this will escalate so quickly may not be clear to people who do not love football as much as South Americans do, but one thing that must be taken into consideration here is that, above all, South Americans are passionate about everything. Latinos know about limits, but choose to ignore them. In that way, the same passion that has fueled the World Cup celebrations for nearly a month now will swiftly turn to rage and rioting as soon as the dust settles and Brazilians realize as a whole that the World Cup has left virtually nothing behind.The police and military forces will find themselves in the crosshairs of the civilian population, and once again civilians will attack themselves, as it were. And only the defense contractors will stand to gain, as the political stage will also be shaken by the unrest. President Rousseff will seek her reelection, but with so much invested into the World Cup and so many other problems willfully neglected, it will be an uphill battle.Bottomline, I see the police having to control many very violent protests across the country. I see the press being strongarmed to broadcast government publicity, presidential debates and social propaganda. I see the independent press being attacked by agitators, and the stadiums destroyed.

But not the emblematic Maracana. No one would dare touch that one. That is a sacred one. 

martes, 17 de junio de 2014

Lo que queda de las elecciones

Teniendo la necesidad de expresarme sobre lo ocurrido en las más recientes elecciones presidenciales en Colombia, escribo lo siguiente a modo solamente de opinión, surgida de la observación.

Colombia salió el 15 de junio a las urnas a expresar varias cosas, ninguna de las cuales puede plenamente ser considerada su voluntad democrática, puesto que el modelo mismo de funcionamiento de la democracia permite que muchos, tal vez demasiados, elementos culturales afecten la elección en escalas nacionales y personales. Repito, la democracia fue pensada de ese modo, y se espera que una elección –especialmente la presidencial- exprese tanto de la cultura nacional como sea posible. Por tanto, es adecuado bajo el lente de la democracia que tantas formas culturales salgan a la luz tan claramente como lo hicieron el 15 de junio en Colombia. Especificando:

La Retribución: Me permito explicar mi opinión: Históricamente, y antes incluso de que existieran las elecciones, la democracia y los cargos políticos, las sociedades humanas hemos sido vengativas y retributivas. No nos es suficiente decir lo que pensamos, sino que tenemos la necesidad emocional de demostrar el error del contrario y recibir sus disculpas, disfrutando así de su derrota. Los ejemplos de esta actitud tan humana abundan, tanto en la historia antigua como la moderna, al igual que en la historia personal de cada uno, por lo que resulta engorroso y por demás innecesario citarlos. Con todo, el hecho permanece. En este sentido, Colombia se mostró vengativa al salir a votar en contra de varias cosas, a saber:

  • La guerra irregular contra las fuerzas insurgentes
  • La persistencia derechista en la vía militar
  • La bien conocida utilización de métodos ilegales para la captación de información

Todas las cosas citadas arriba son representadas en la mente popular colombiana por el llamado uribismo, que al ser analizado no es otra cosa que el conservatismo más extremo, o la famosa extrema derecha. Aquella de la que Kurt Cobain, vocalista de Nirvana, manifestó sentirse asustado, puesto que es sinónimo de guerras y destrucción. En Colombia llevamos ya medio siglo sufriendo, directa o indirectamente, las consecuencias de este conflicto. Lo llamo conflicto puesto que apenas hasta hace unos pocos años fue reconocido oficialmente como tal, lo que significa que se pueden utilizar los recursos legales y/o diplomáticos para su resolución. Cabe decir que el gobierno uribista nunca aceptó reconocer el conflicto armado como tal, y se limitó a tratar a los insurgentes como rebeldes sin motivo ni razón, dejándoles así ningún otro camino que la exterminación total por la vía militar.

Confieso que hace algunos años, yo mismo era partidario aguerrido de esta opción. Yo mismo abogué por el fortalecimiento de las estructuras militares en todos los niveles para ayudar a combatir la insurgencia. Con el tiempo, he cambiado de opinión y he llegado a creer firmemente que, más allá de mis convicciones militares –que no he perdido- lo que debe hacerse con las fuerzas insurgentes es darles participación política y opciones de empleo para los combatientes. Pero la actitud vengativa de la sociedad no permite que esto suceda. Al hablar con un gran sector de la sociedad, se encuentra fácilmente que pocas personas están dispuestas a votar por excombatientes o excomandantes insurgentes, mucho menos darles trabajo en sus empresas. Solamente cárcel en su pena máxima (65 años en Colombia) parece ser la única opción que la sociedad admite para los excombatientes desmovilizados. Sea claro: la pena máxima es vista como una opción porque en Colombia no existe la pena capital; si tal fuere el caso, esta sería la única opción aceptable para este sector de la sociedad.

Aquí surge un problema adicional, cual es el de la religión mal practicada.

La Religión: La derecha política ha sido tradicionalmente relacionada con la religión. Por ende, los valores más conservadores han sido usualmente esgrimidos por la derecha como elementos definitorios y determinantes de sus campañas políticas. Sin embargo, en la práctica de la campaña quedó claro que los valores religiosos no son más que un discurso político trasnochado de votantes de disciplina con poco criterio social, y menos criterio político aún. La derecha política arguye en sus iglesias que como cristianos deben perdonar y aceptar al pecador en busca de redención, y que todo el juicio le pertenece a Dios, pero no aceptan que los excombatientes y excomandantes sean integrados a todos los estadios de la sociedad civil como empleados, trabajadores, empresarios ni políticos. Así mismo, arguye que la guerra continuada es la única solución para un conflicto que ellos no reconocen, pero son los primeros en buscar evitar que sus hijos presten servicio militar. No obstante lo anterior, los votantes derechistas apoyan estas iniciativas solamente cuando no sean ellos quienes tengan que aportar para el esfuerzo de la guerra, bien sea en dinero o con sus hijos como soldados, evidenciando así la incongruencia de sus posiciones políticas con sus creencias personales. Particularmente me refiero al hecho de que en las iglesias cristianas se enseña sobre el perdón, y cómo a los creyentes les corresponde perdonar sin reservas a quienes les ofendan o ataquen, dejando el juicio únicamente a Dios, entendiendo que todas las personas tenemos la misma condición unos respecto de otros, e igualmente inferiores frente a Dios. Pero esto se queda en el discurso cuando los votantes derechistas se rehúsan a aceptar opciones de reintegración para los excombatientes y excomandantes insurgentes. Esta falta de consistencia lleva a los votantes a tomar decisiones electorales muy radicales y fuertes, sin estar dispuestos a pagar las consecuencias de ello. Mas la política tiene un alto componente de responsabilidad, en tanto la opinión que se exprese, si bien es personal, tiene repercusiones sobre toda la sociedad, convirtiéndose así en una opinión colectiva que debe tomarse buscando tanto el bien común como el consenso social y político, cosa que en unas elecciones presidenciales casi no se tiene en cuenta.

La Percepción de Poder: Las democracias y los sistemas presidencialistas dan vida a una forma de gobierno emanada del hastío aparente de las sociedades frente a las monarquías, en las cuales un sector pequeño de las esferas más pudientes ostentaba el poder por siglos. La historia nos cuenta de revueltas populares y levantamientos ciudadanos gracias a los cuales las monarquías –casi todas- fueron erradicadas y reemplazadas rápidamente con democracias y, con ellas, una falsa sensación de superioridad. Lo anterior lo digo dada la tendencia de los votantes todos a percibir a la figura del presidente como todo poderosa y sin necesidad de responder ante nadie, si bien sí se espera que responda públicamente por lo que dice y hace. Esta dicotomía puede explicarse solamente en el origen monárquico de las sociedades actuales, y su demasiado rápida transición hacia la democracia. Las sociedades democráticas asisten a las urnas para elegir una fórmula presidencial, de la cual en teoría son sus jefes y vigilantes, tras haber asistido a incontables debates y haber comparado apasionadamente las propuestas de todos los candidatos. Sin embargo, cuando vienen las elecciones de congreso, es alarmante –para los defensores de la democracia- ver la apatía y la abstención de voto de quienes usualmente acuden con tanta prisa a elegir al presidente. Siguiendo en esa misma línea, cuando emergen problemas o escándalos la opinión pública es muy veloz en culpar al presidente de turno por lo sucedido, ignorando al resto de la estructura política del país. Del mismo modo, cuando se presentan o aprueban leyes que van en contra del buen juicio popular, se culpa al presidente por lo ocurrido, ignorando al congreso y al proceso legislativo. Así, se nota en las elecciones que el mismo constituyente primario elige a un presidente sin gobernabilidad, enfrentado a un congreso de mayoría opositora a su programa de gobierno. En parte, este fenómeno puede explicarse a partir del machismo evidente en América Latina.

El Machismo: Bien sabido es que hasta años recientes, no era permitido ni razonable que las mujeres votasen. Las mujeres eran percibidas como personas inferiores, cuya opinión política debía ser ignorada, y cuya vida debía limitarse a los quehaceres domésticos. Incluso, en algún momento, no se les permitía hablar del todo en reuniones en las que los hombres fueran quienes guiaran la conversación. Esto ha cambiado ahora, pero hay en nuestras sociedades rasgos de esta actitud que afectan el proceso y el devenir político. Los votantes acuden a las urnas a elegir a un presidente, basados en gran parte en el miedo más común al momento de la elección, puesto que las elecciones son imperantemente emocionales. Así, los votantes eligen muchas veces a quien con sus ademanes, su tono de voz, su forma de vestir, y su comportamiento ante las masas demuestre valentía y combatividad. Como ejemplo presento lo que se decía en la segunda mitad de la década de 1940, cuando Jorge Eliecer Gaitán era candidato presidencial en Colombia. Gaitán, un hombre educado en Europa en una época en la que el solo pensar en el viaje desanimaba a la gran mayoría, era un hombre que se presentaba siempre bien ataviado, a la usanza de los más ricos del momento. No era un hombre dado a saludar personalmente a sus seguidores, ni mucho menos era adepto a pasar tiempo entre ellos. Pero a su electorado no le molestaba esto. Antes bien, se sentía orgulloso de ello diciendo "el jefe no se deja manosear". Hoy en día los candidatos y candidatas son mucho más cercanos a sus electores, aunque hay muchos de estos quienes aún desean al candidato lejano, altivo y poderoso. La diplomacia es vista por muchos como un signo de debilidad, más que de prudencia y sabiduría política, lo que implica que los candidatos que se muestran concesivos son normalmente vistos como menos aptos para el cargo. Lo anterior es especialmente cierto en la derecha política. Incluso a las candidatas que se presentan a las elecciones les es necesario hacer despliegues que las muestren como combativas, a veces en contra de sus propias convicciones. De nuevo, esto es visto por los defensores de la democracia con horror, pues significa que las candidatas deben mostrarse como no son para poder obtener el favor del electorado. Ahora bien, no es esto bueno para la política de ningún país.

El Regionalismo: La afinidad política de gran parte del país está determinada por el lugar de origen de los candidatos. El cariño por el lugar del que se es originario, y el nacionalismo que tantos exhiben en tantas situaciones se expresa en lo político al constituirse como el único criterio utilizado en las elecciones. Se cree que alguien que fue criado con los mismos valores y por personas similares debe ser tan bueno como uno mismo, tomando como punto de partida que uno tiene la razón. Por eso, para muchas personas todo cuanto necesitan saber sobre un candidato para decidir apoyarle con su voto es que haya nacido en su misma región. Este apoyo puede tener consecuencias buenas y malas, a saber: En 1949 se estableció el Grupo Éxito, una cadena colombiana de supermercados que en sus inicios se vio en competencia directa con la compañía norteamericana Sears, que incluso había construido tiendas muy grandes en Colombia. Parecía que no habría forma de vencerlos, hasta que se hizo evidente que el regionalismo colombiano hizo que las ventas de Éxito fuesen mucho mayores que las de Sears, hasta que esta última tuvo que vender sus operaciones en el país y marcharse derrotada. Este trazo cultural colombiano permea las elecciones presidenciales, toda vez que muchas personas votan por alguien a quien conocen, o perciben que conocen por ser originario de su región.

Por las razones anteriormente expuestas, creo que Colombia salió a expresar su bagaje cultural muy claramente el domingo pasado. Para ponerle nombres: el candidato Zuluaga obtuvo muchos votos motivados por el machismo de su posición política y de debate, por la religión que llena las filas de sus electores y por el regionalismo que volcó muchos votos de gran parte del país en su favor. Por su parte, el presidente Santos obtuvo su reelección gracias a la percepción de poder que la sociedad le otorga gracias a haber ocupado ya la presidencia por cuatro años –nótese que en las elecciones parlamentarias el mismo constituyente primario eligió como senador a Álvaro Uribe, detractor del presidente Santos y padrino político del candidato Zuluaga- , y al voto vengativo en contra de la derecha que hizo que muchos votantes quienes no votaron por él en la primera vuelta electoral le dieran su apoyo en la segunda, no a su favor sino en contra del candidato Zuluaga.

Ahora, creo importante decir que desde el inicio de su gobierno el presidente Santos previó el desarrollo electoral del domingo y creó la Unidad Nacional, en la que agrupó a tantos partidos y movimientos políticos como le fue posible asegurando así su gobernabilidad. También es importante aclarar que el presidente Santos se benefició mucho del proceso de paz con las FARC para impulsar su reelección, utilizándolo como vehículo electoral. Esto último fue criticado por algunos, pero yo creo que no estuvo mal. Creo que, en cualquier situación de la vida, mostrar el trabajo que se ha hecho y con ello buscar apoyo popular es lo más natural.

Yo voté por el presidente Santos, tanto en esta elección como en la pasada, hace cuatro años. Creo en su gobierno, y en lo que se puede lograr, no solamente respecto de la paz, sino de su programa social. Soy también un hombre religioso, y he escuchado todo acerca del perdón. Sé, por tanto, que es necesario perdonar a los actuales combatientes y comandantes insurgentes y permitirles que se reintegren a la sociedad civil y sean parte activa de ella. Sé que esto no será fácil, pero sé que será necesario. Sé que hay un gran sector de la sociedad que vive cómodamente y que no se ha visto afectada por la guerra irregular ni por la pobreza, y por ende es muy fácil para este sector apoyar a la derecha. Sé también que están en su pleno derecho de hacerlo, pero sé que no estoy de acuerdo con ellos, al menos no por ahora. Cuando nuestro país enfrente un conflicto armado regular, entonces apoyaré de nuevo a la derecha y su reorganización social en favor de la guerra. Ahora, cuando el proceso de paz ha avanzado tanto, cuando tiene tanta legitimidad como tiene, y cuando existe la posibilidad de que sea exitoso, será esa la opción que apoyaré.

lunes, 26 de mayo de 2014

¿Qué hacer ahora con Colombia?

A la luz de los resultados de las elecciones del pasado domingo, Colombia se enfrenta a una decisión con unas consecuencias inmediatas más obvias y numerosas que aquellas a las cuales el público está acostumbrado. Lo que más resalta es la decisión de continuar o interrumpir los diálogos de paz en La Habana.
Yo concuerdo con quienes dijeron al comienzo de los diálogos de paz que, tras medio siglo de guerra, se requiere más valor para hacer la paz que para seguir peleando.

Quienes defienden la posición más conservadora y derechista esgrimen dos argumentos: que históricamente los diálogos de paz han sido fallidos; que en tanto las hostilidades no cesen por parte de la guerrilla no se pueden sostener las conversaciones. Estos son obstáculos que independientemente presentan sus propios desafíos. En primera instancia, al pensar en diálogos de paz con la guerrilla la mayoría de colombianos recordamos los adelantados en el gobierno Pastrana, cuando este accedió a desmilitarizar una zona del país como condición para las conversaciones. A todas luces esto resultó ser un error político y estratégico, si bien para la guerrilla fue un logro asombroso en los mismos campos. En su momento el gobierno intentó capitalizar este proceso todo cuanto pudo, mostrando fotos del presidente Pastrana con “Tirofijo”, el histórico líder máximo de las FARC. Pero cuando las actividades de fortificación y reagrupamiento de la guerrilla dentro de esta zona desmilitarizada salieron a la luz pública, el gobierno se vio obligado a suspender las conversaciones y lanzar un ataque aéreo. Esto sucedió hace menos de treinta años, lo que facilita que muchos de los votantes lo recuerden claramente, y sientan desconfianza frente a un nuevo proceso de paz.
El problema que esto supone es que estos votantes desconfiados del proceso de paz no cambiarán fácilmente su forma de pensar, pues en su mayoría son los mismos votantes que aprendieron a votar de forma disciplinada, sin meditar profundamente en las implicaciones de su voto ni en la potencial gobernabilidad del candidato favorecido con su voto. Muchos votan por alguien a quien han conocido por largo tiempo pública o privadamente, o con quien comparten una afinidad religiosa, o tristemente, quien mejor apariencia física tiene. Hago aquí una pausa para enfatizar un factor adicional que, a mi modo de ver, afectó grandemente los resultados del pasado domingo: el machismo imperante en le sociedad latinoamericana. Específicamente me refiero a las actitudes y las reacciones públicas del candidato de derecha, Oscar Iván Zuluaga, que se asemejan en su intensidad y frecuencia a las del expresidente Álvaro Uribe Vélez. A los ojos de los votantes de tradición, los votantes de disciplina, un líder efectivo no es quien se muestre cercano o sensible ante las necesidades de su gente; antes bien, lo es quien exhiba poderío y superioridad. Traducido a la realidad política que Colombia ha experimentado en años recientes, los votantes de disciplina buscan seguir a quien alce la voz, quien eventualmente profiera maldiciones dirigidas a sus detractores, quien rompa relaciones diplomáticas en medio de la ira, quien golpee la mesa, etc. El candidato Zuluaga ha mostrado estas mismas actitudes, lo que, creo yo, logró ganarle algunos votos de los sectores más conservadores. Sin embargo, la política ya no se hace así.
Algo que yo, como estudiante y amante de la historia, encuentro muy ofensivo es que estos votantes de disciplina y tradición citan ejemplos tomados de la historia para justificar su actuar. Por ejemplo, hay quienes cita la política espartana, donde a quien presentaba una propuesta públicamente ante sus iguales se le ataba una soga alrededor del cuello, la cual tenía la función de ahorcarle si su propuesta resultaba rechazada. Todo esto después de haber ganado el derecho a hablar ante todos habiendo gritado más fuerte que todos los demás. Nuestra sociedad ya no funciona de ese modo. Nosotros hemos construido nuestro actuar político y social sobre bases diferentes, y en ese sentido no es acertado citar este ejemplo histórico, aunque verídico, para explicar el presente. La historia debe estudiarse en su contexto, y debe juzgarse de acuerdo con las circunstancias que la moldearon, sin pretender que todo deba ser siempre igual. Las circunstancias cambian, y con ella debemos cambiar los seres humanos que nos preciamos de ser inteligentes, lo cual etimológicamente implica que somos capaces de adaptarnos a condiciones cambiantes.
No niego que la historia se repita, pero sí digo que lo hace porque no aprendemos de ella lo que debemos aprender: los errores cometidos.

Ahora bien, en cuanto al segundo argumento la situación podría entenderse mucho más sombría y compleja. Colombia ha sufrido ya medio siglo de un conflicto que ha dejado demasiada destrucción y desolación, no solo física sino psicológica y emocional también en cada colombiano. Los más conservadores sostienen que la única solución es la militar, el mismo enfoque que ha demostrado no tener resultados duraderos. Confieso en algún momento haber estado de acuerdo con esto, pero hoy rectifico mi opinión y reitero lo dicho arriba: que ahora, tras tantos años, es más fácil continuar con el modelo actual, en lo tocante al ordenamiento social y económico, que arriesgarse a cambiar y trabajar para que un nuevo modelo funcione.
Aquí se presenta el problema más grande, y es que generalmente los seres humanos esperamos resultados inmediatos. Traducido a nuestra realidad, queremos que el conflicto termine ahora mismo, sin más. Pero eso ignora parte de las víctimas, a saber los combatientes insurgentes. Es absurdo pensar que tras medio siglo las mismas personas quienes iniciaron el conflicto están aún combatiendo en todos los frentes de batalla. Habiendo pasado tanto tiempo, de necesidad hay combatientes quienes no han conocido más que las filas de la insurrección y el combate armado. Hay muchos combatientes que no saben hacer más que eso, que no han tenido más opciones, y por ende no se les puede exigir que se desmovilicen sin tener de antemano una fuente de ingresos establecida para sí mismos y sus familias. No podemos, como sociedad civil (!) esperar que dejen las armas y se entreguen a morir. Ellos son víctimas también, junto con sus familias. Ellos deben ser considerados en cualquier negociación, y deben ser tenidos en cuenta en los esquemas de reparación. Lo anterior lo digo no solo en cuanto a los programas gubernamentales que impulsen estos hechos, sino que lo digo también por los miembros de la sociedad civil (!). Me arriesgo a decir aquí que quienes apoyan el curso de acción más conservador y tradicional son ciudadanos inmaduros, que no comprenden los conceptos de bien mayor y de futuro.
En cuanto a las alianzas políticas que necesariamente se darán en las próximas semanas en preparación para la segunda vuelta electoral, creo que sucederá lo siguiente:
  • El Partido Conservador se adherirá a la campaña de Oscar Iván Zuluaga.
  • La Alianza Verde se adherirá a la campaña de Juan Manuel Santos.
  • El Polo Democrático Alternativo no se adherirá a campaña alguna, sino que fiel a su ideología y filosofía, y cumpliendo el papel de balance y control político, hará oposición. Cabe aclarar que estoy completamente de acuerdo con esto.
En suma, invito a quienes lean esto a apoyar el proceso de paz actualmente en negociación. No recurriré a referencias religiosas sobre el perdón, pese a ser un hombre religioso y creyente entre mis amigos. Apelaré solamente a la idea de paz  en Colombia que todos los colombianos guardamos, algunos de nosotros por toda nuestra vida.

martes, 4 de marzo de 2014

On the Role of the Police in Popular Protests

Four months ago, when all the popular unrest now in full force was still quite dialed down, I wrote a piece on why the new wars which are fought in the cities are to be won by the police forces instead of the military. It is something I still deeply believe, seeing as the military forces are not designed or trained for urban combat. Moreover, their urban combat skills are mostly composed of an elaborate, albeit easier (if only on paper), hide-and-seek game with tall, intricate structures that may collapse far easier than a tree or a forest ever would. But the techniques the military uses in urban combat are pretty much the same seek-and-destroy that works in the open field.

Now, considering that the police is a public, rather than a military force, it owes it to the people to protect it and defend it against any enemy. In this sense it is quite different from the military, inasmuch as the latter answers to the constitutional and the legal structure of the country which it defends, whereas the former is the people’s response to any threat at its level. For that reason, the police is better suited to fight the city-based war.
But then 2014 came, and Venezuela and Ukraine began seeing their share of popular uprisings with their normal dose of repressions, carried out by the police. As it happens, it is the local administration that stifles the protests by violent means using the police as its vehicle. See, here lies part of the problem with democracy as it exists today: the people elect the mayor of the city, who is also the commander in-chief of the police forces attached to the city. But the mayor does not necessarily represent the people’s wishes, or at least not the majority in atomized party systems (like in my Bogotá).
This being the case, the police acting against the inhabitants of the cities -which is to say in very abstract terms that the people is attacking itself-, it adds up to an ignorant state/city, oblivious to what the real unrest is. An example that turned out to be too public and graphic for me was what the Ukrainian police officers did once President Yanukovich fled the country to Russia.
Police officers apologize on their knees for repression
To many, this may have been just the right thing to do, as it were the police officers who beat up and bloodied up many rioters in Ukraine. But there are two standpoints that are being overlooked by this perspective: that the police officers were acting under orders, a concept that results a foreign one to anyone not a (former) member of a military or police force; that the police officers are men and women who have families and lives to care for, and that being police officers is their job. It seems unfitting that a person who is doing what they know how to do best, or in some cases the only thing they know how to do and the means whereby they bring food to their homes and families, has to apologize for it. And in public, of all settings.
Of course, there will be those who see this act of public contrition by the Ukrainian police officers as an attempt to get in the good grace of the people, fearing an upcoming purge in which they would sustain the greatest number of casualties. And they may well be right. But personally I see it as a very dangerous precedent.
Dissecting further the standpoints presented above: The members of a force always take an oath which binds them to obey the orders given to them, so long as those orders pursue a greater good, be it safety or stability. Sometimes those orders will include attacking a person in clear disobedience of the law, a bad element in the organization of society. And though this realization might make compliance with the order somewhat reasonable for the police officer, that does not mean they feel any better for having to do it. Be it mentioned here too that police officers and members of the military are removed from society (they are forbidden to vote) and taken into the bosom of the state/city administration to be used as its strong arm. As such, they act in representation of the state/city, not in their own name.
Now, in Venezuela there are still many protests underway, which are also being repressed by force using the police and the military. I do not think the Venezuelan police will ever apologize publicly. Rather, the long-standing social unrest in Venezuela, supported internationally, will more likely develop into a full fledged revolt with the police and the military in on the action. Remember that the crises affects all, police and civilian alike.
In Bogotá, Colombia there have recently been a couple of protests over the poor public transportation service. In like fashion as those in Ukraine and Venezuela, these protests have also turned violent and have been responded to using the police. The protests have occurred as a natural result of the frustration of not being able to catch a bus a mere three blocks away from the main station. That situation has left many bogotanos arriving late to work and school all over the city, which understandably has sparked off citizen anger. I do not believe launching a police attack on the protesting citizens was the right thing to do. But it happened, under orders.
For many people, doing police work for a living seems unthinkable. It is deemed as low, backstabbing and disloyal. “Pigs” are sometimes called the men and women who do this kind of work. I have never agreed with those names. Why would you call someone a pig (and many other derogatory terms) for doing their job?

Take a traffic police officer: you are driving too fast and he stops you and writes you a ticket. You call him a pig because he stopped you and because he is making you pay for your mistake. How on earth is that his fault? But you forget that that police officer is also a human being, who is subject to the very same problems you are subject to. He might be tired, sad, depressed, going through a divorce, having issues with his children, you name it. That police officer is also a person, like you.
Take a riot control officer. You are masked and throwing homemade bombs against a building, possibly damaging official property (paid for with your taxes, mind) and endangering other people’s  lives and yours. He stops you and cuffs you preventively for your protection. For that you call him a pig. But you forget that that police officer is also a human being, subject to the same problems as you are and susceptible to anger, exhaustion and frustration, much like you.

Police forces should not feel afraid to do their job, but supported and thanked by the people they risk their lives to protect. No less important is the need for people, rioters and observers alike, to remember that police officers are human too, susceptible to making mistakes and having feelings, and in need of keeping their jobs.
The role of the police in the face of popular protests and riots is clear, and that is not about to change. This piece is not by any means a call to change that. What I find worrisome and threatening to the social fabric of society is the fact that police forces are found in the position of apologizing and being blamed and sacrificed for doing their job, which is protecting the people from whom they came, and whom they serve.