The U.S., Colombia and Human Rights Doublespeak

Protesters block street to disrupt business as usual as Obama meets with Uribe.
Protesters block street to disrupt business as usual as Obama meets with Uribe.

Colombia, the number one ally of the U.S. in the Western Hemisphere and one of the top recipients of U.S. military aid in the world, accounts for a massive proportion of all human rights defenders (HRDs) killed worldwide. Thus, as documented by Frontline Defenders, a group which keeps track of various forms of repression of human rights advocates, 156 HRDs were either killed or died in detention throughout the world in the first 11 months of 2015. Astoundingly, Colombia alone accounted for over a third of all these, with 54 HRDs killed or dying in detention. Another close U.S. ally, The Philippines, came in second worldwide with 31 HRDs killed. No other countries come close to such figures.

Colombia also accounted for 60% of such HRD deaths in Latin America where a total of 87 HRDs were killed in 2015. Brazil comes in a distant second in Latin America with 9 HRDS killed. Close U.S. allies Mexico (8 HRDs), Honduras (7 HRDs) and Guatemala (6 HRDs) are the next highest in Latin America in terms of this grim ranking. The two big adversaries of the U.S. in Latin America, Cuba and Venezuela, account for a whopping total of zero such killings, and are not even mentioned in the report.

Of course, this fits the long pattern, often times noted by Noam Chomsky, of the U.S. supporting the worst human rights abusers in the world, and in this Hemisphere in particular, even while the main stream press continues to push the "prevailing orthodoxy" of the U.S. as the great defender of liberty and human rights around the globe. As Chomsky has explained,

The "prevailing orthodoxy" has occasionally been submitted to tests beyond the record of history. Lars Schoultz, the leading academic specialist on human rights in Latin America, found that U.S. aid "has tended to flow disproportionately to Latin American governments which torture their citizens, ... to the hemisphere's relatively egregious violators of fundamental human rights."

That includes military aid, is independent of need, and runs through the Carter period. More wide-ranging studies by economist Edward Herman found a similar correlation world-wide, also suggesting a plausible reason: aid is correlated with improvement in the investment climate, often achieved by murdering priests and union leaders, massacring peasants trying to organize, blowing up the independent press, and so on.

The result is a secondary correlation between aid and egregious violation of human rights. It is not that U.S. leaders prefer torture; rather, it has little weight in comparison with more important values.

While Chomsky wrote this back in 1998, the same holds true to this day, with the ongoing human rights nightmare in U.S.-backed Colombia being a case in point. And, the reasons for the U.S.-backed repression in such countries as Colombia remains the same as when Chomsky wrote this -- the advancement of investment opportunities for multi-national corporations. Thus, the First Defenders notes in its report that the most at-risk HRDs in Latin America, and most notably in Colombia, are "environmental, indigenous peoples' and land rights defenders" who oppose "so-called 'mega-projects,' especially those being developed by mining companies, and their work involved speaking out about the negative impact of business activities and the lack of proper prior consultation with affected communities." Such opposition to economic exploitation, especially by North American mining firms, is simply unacceptable to the U.S. and its allies, and is punishable by death.

Critical to the U.S.'s ability to get away with its backing of monstrous crimes is the Orwellian nature of U.S. government rhetoric about "democracy" and "human rights," and the main stream press's eagerness to parrot this rhetoric and selectively report upon human rights abuses. Again, Chomsky explains in words which ring true today:

In his preface to Animal Farm, Orwell turned his attention to societies that are relatively free from state controls, unlike the totalitarian monster he was satirizing. "The sinister fact about literary censorship in England," he wrote, "is that it is largely voluntary. Unpopular ideas can be silenced, and inconvenient facts kept dark, without any need for any official ban."

He did not explore the reasons in any depth, merely noting the control of the press by "wealthy men who have every motive to be dishonest on certain important topics," reinforced by the "general tacit agreement," instilled by a good education, "that `it wouldn't do' to mention that particular fact." As a result, "Anyone who challenges the prevailing orthodoxy finds himself silenced with surprising effectiveness."

And so, today, we find a corporate-controlled press in the U.S. which, in the interest of profit, "keeps dark" the massive crimes of such U.S. client states as Colombia -- which barely gets a mention in the news -- while constantly vilifying such countries as Venezuela with comparatively cleaner human rights records. This phenomenon troubles me greatly, and should trouble all those truly concerned about human rights. It is my concern with this ongoing Orwellian nightmare that motivates me to keep writing these posts. I hope someone is listening . . .