Black Youth Reclaim Land and Culture in Violence-Torn Cauca

by Bill Weinberg

Heading south in a "chiva" mini-bus from the teeming and chaotic city of Cali, the road crosses into the southern department of Cauca–one of the most conflicted in Colombia–as suburbs and industrial sprawl gradually give way to small campesino plots and extensive haciendas where cattle graze. On the cusp of this urban-rural divide lies Villa Rica, a community of some 15,000 African descendants. On a wall near where the chiva drops me and my photographer off is a mural depicting Black youth studying, building, playing musical instruments. The legend reads LA JUVENTUD NO VA A LA GUERRA–Youth Don’t Go to the War. It was painted by a group of Villa Rica’s young residents this July 20, Colombia’s independence day.

On the southern edge of metropolitan Cali, Villa Rica must contend with both the urban and rural manifestations of Colombia’s endemic violence– the gang warfare that terrorizes the city barrios and the dialectic of retaliatory bloodshed between guerillas and paramilitary groups that reigns in the countryside. But in Villa Rica, it is the youth–who are most impacted by the violence–that are on the frontlines of resisting it and finding alternatives.

Juan Carlos Gonzalez, now 23, helped found the group Colombia Joven–Young Colombia–when he was only 12. He does some construction work for money, but devotes far more time to his community activism. A young man with an almost relentlessly serious demeanor–in contrast to his friends who joke and sing as they guide us on a tour of the community–Gonzalez explains how Colombia Joven sees cultural revival and recovery of economic self-sufficiency as the keys to an exit from increasing embroilment in the region’s armed conflicts.

"We came together to address unemployment, violence, human rights," he says. "We have drawn up a development plan for this region of Cauca, based on local micro-enterprises. We want to recuperate values of love and respect to halt the disintegration of families. We want to empower youth so they wont be recruited by armed groups."

Under Article 55 of Colombia’s 1991 constitution, the Afro-Colombians are recognized as having local jurisdictional authority of the same kind that the indigenous peoples were given by the same constitutional reform. But acheiving real autonomy has been a challenge–especially for communities, such as Villa Rica, outside the Afro-Colombian heartland along the Pacific coast in Choco department. Gonzalez is cynical about the officially-instated Afro-Colombian autonomy. "Its a lie, the state doesn’t respect it," he says–citing especially the military presence on A fro-Colombian lands in spite of community wishes.

Villa Rica became a self-governing municipality in 1999 as a "fruit of the social struggle," according to Gonzalez. Before that it was part of mestizo-dominated Santander de Quilichao municipality. Santander has large Indian and Afro-Colombian minorities, but the leaders have always been mestizos. A Black mayor elected in 1998 was promptly removed on corruption charges. After this, the Villa Rica residents began petitioning the Cauca government for a referendum on remunicipalization. The referendum was held the following year, and creation of an independent municipality was overwhelmingly approved by Villa Rica’s residents. Villa Rica’s current Mayor Maria Edis Dinas is a community leader and former Cauca department representative who had led road blockades in the ’80s to pressure for potable water projects and recuperation of usurped lands.

Villa Rica now has its own hospital, but still has no potable water. A truck comes once a week to bring drinkable water; what comes out of tap is contaminated by both biological and industrial pollutants. But the overriding concern for the new municipality is lack of economic opportunity.

There is some agriculture in Villa Rica, with a few residents growing platano, sugar and cacao on small plots to sell in local markets. But with inadequate lands, most youth find work in a nearby industrial park–or join armed groups. The ultra-right paramilitary militias pay the best–but indoctrinate their young recruits with a depraved insensitivity to human life. Gonzalez says paramilitary recruits are literally paid by the head. "They give them chainsaws to cut off the heads and limbs of their victims as proof of the kill," he says. "They bring them back and are paid for each death."

Colombia Joven sees recovery of local lands traditionally worked by the region’s African descendants as critical to the struggle against violence and paramilitarization. Under 1993’s Law 70, the empowering legislation of Article 55, Afro-Colombians have the right to recover traditional lands and hold them collectively, in a system similar to the Indian "resguardos" or reservations. In Caloto municipality, to south of Villa Rica, Pilamo Hacienda–once worked by African slaves–is now controlled by an Afro-Colombian community council. The land was first occupied by the descendants of the former slaves in the 1980s, and was titled as an inalienable communal holding–with no right to resale–under Law 70 in 1994. It is now producing fruit, cacao and cattle.

Just outside Villa Rica’s urban center–within the municipality and across the road from the industrial park–lies the former slave-labor cacao plantation of La Bolsa, now a cattle ranch. Juan Carlo s and his friends walk us out there, and the expanse of vacant, verdant land contrasts both the tired and overworked campesino plots and shoe-box factories that surround it. We walk through the gate despite the menacing barks of guard dogs that surround t he stately and palatial old hacienda house in the middle of the fields. As we wait in a drive-way shaded by centuries-old orchid-laden trees, a young mestizo boy comes out. Gonzalez explains to him that we are journalists who want to see the slave-era relics on the hacienda. But we are told that the patron is not around now, and we will have to return later.

We cross back out the gate. But Gonzalez and his friends lead us down the road and across a barbed-wire fence onto La Bolsa lands. We cross a field and arrive at a patch of trees that shade a cluster of decrepit gave markers of brick and cement. The most recent dates are from the 1930s. The oldest bear no visible markings. Gonzalez tells us that this is where generations of La Bolsa’s slaves and their descendants–the ancestors of Villa Rica’s inhabitants–are buried.

Why haven’t you retaken the hacienda, and claimed it under Law 70?, I ask. For the first time, Gonzalez cracks a wry smile. "That’s a good question," he admits. He fa ults lack of education about history and land rights under the old Santander municipal government. "Our ancestors struggled for the land and understood their history, but they didn’t have a law. We have a law, but we don’t know our history."

Slavery was officially abolished in Colombia in 1851, but little changed for many Afro-Colombians, who continued working the same lands under similar conditions as debt laborers. Even before abolition, escaped slaves, or "cimarrones," sometimes founded their own armed and fortified communities known as "palenques" in the rainforest or mountains, devising elaborate tricks to hide their whereabouts–such as only approaching them walking backwards to throw off trackers. Some palenques still survive as autonomous Afro-Colombian communities. At Palenque San Basilio near Cartagena, in the north of the country, a distinct language is still spoken today, incorporating elements of the African tongues Bantu and Kikongo.

Cimarrones from La Bolsa went to a place called El Chorro, on the banks of the Rio Cauca, and founded a community there–because it was the only land available. Even there, they were eventually forced to flee–both by periodic floods when the river broke its banks and attacks by the gunmen of big landowners who coveted the rivershore lands. In the 1930s, the local story goes, La Bolsa’s owner, Don Julio Arboleda, was killed by a Black child whose parents he had killed. Don Julio’s children who inherited the hacienda were somewhat more modern a nd enlightened–and also found cattle more profitable than labor-intensive cacao. In 1939, they ceded a large chunk of their lands to their former laborers to found a community on. Blacks from both La Bolsa and El Chorro gathered there and founded Villa Rica as a "vereda" or unincorporated village of Santander municipality.

Villa Rica’s inhabitants trace their ancestry to Guinea, Senegal and Angola; African traditions survive and are being institutionalized in the new municipality. We watch Villa Rica’s children perform the dance called El Chunche at the village community center. Juan Carlos’ friend Einer Diascubi, who beat on the bombo drum to drive the ceremony, says the dance depicts rice harvesting and other means of community sustenance. "Chunche" means pollen in Caucana, the region’s local dialect, and at one point the young dancers writhe on floor shaking off imaginary rice pollen. Diascubi says the Associacion Folklorica Chango was founded 15 years ago to preserve the dances that contain the collective historical memory of Villa Rica.

A new political group, the Unity of Afro-Caucano Organizations (UOAFROC), has recently come together to extend the land recovery movement–much stronger in coastal Choco department–into Cauca. New cross-ethnic alliances are also emerging. "The indigenous and the African descendants are now cooperating to recover their lands," says Gonzalez. "The Afro-Colombian and indigenous communitiess are the most marginalized in the country. So we took the decision to struggle together."

Both groups have lost traditional lands to government mega-development projects as well as landlord encroachment in recent years. The Salvajina hydrodam built on the Rio Cauca south of Villa Rica in 1980s affected both Nasa Indians and Afro-Colombians. Black residents of Suarez municipality had thier lands seized by the government for the floodplain, and were relocated. Many ended up joining armed groups, Gonzalez says.

In May 2002, the First Inter-Ethnic Meeting of Cauca was held in Villa Rica’s school building, bringing together both Afro-Colombian and indigenous leaders to discuss land recovery and cultural survival. Convened by Villa Rica’s first mayor, Atie Aragon, it was attended by 2,000 local Blacks and some 3,000 Indians, mostly Nasas.

But such efforts are daily ground down by the harsh realities of war and an entrenched culture of violence. In 2002, eight Villa Rica youth were killed by paras or violent crime–in some cases, the bodies were burned or mutilated and thrown into Rio Cauca, in trademark para style. Paramilitary outfits recruit youth to assassinate both accused guerilla collaborators in the mountains and–making the war nearly fratricidal–their own kin who have become gang members. A Villa Rica-based gang called Los Crazy steal cars and hold up buses on the road to Cali–and are targetted for death in the paramilitaries’ "social cleansing" campaign.

In adjacent Puerto Tejada municipality–also with an Afro-Col ombian majority–the situation is even worse. Gangs with names like Los Ramallama, Los Emboladores and Los Mechas use military rifles and grenades as well as pistols in wars against both the paras and each other, jacking up a death toll of nearly 600 last year in a municipality with a population of just 35,000. Family members are often killed in retaliation for the killing of paras. A nephew of of Villa Rica’s Mayor Dinas was killed by presumed paras–along with 14 others–in a drive-by shooting in Puerto Tejada in August of this year.

Colombia Joven, which is now present in five Cauca municipalities, continues to wage its campaign against violence and militarization of Afro-Colombian lands. Gonzalez emphasizes that the group was founded well be fore Colombia’s then-president Andres Pastrana launched a short-lived national program of same name in 1998. The group remains independent of all armed factions–including the government.

When I ask Gonzalez if he has any closing words for readers in the United States, he immediately states that Washington must cut off aid to President Alvaro Uribe’s government. "The government is the greatest perpetrator of violence in our communities," he says. When I point out that most of the violence in Villa Rica seems to come from ostensibly illegal criminal gangs and paramilitaries, he responds: "The paramilitary groups are funded by the same government. Everybody knows it."

Before we get on the chiva back to Cali–before sundown, to avoid gang hold-ups–Gonzalez offers his final words: "Every dollar from the United States is one more death. They are cutting health, education, public services– everything is going for the war. The United States government needs to reflect about what it is doing to our country."

(Sept. 13, 2003)

Photo essay: Colombia 2003, by Maria Angueara de Sojo



Campesino Leaders Assassinated in Honduras as Fourth Mesoamerican Forum Convenes to Oppose Mega-Development Scheme

by Bill Weinberg

On July 21, leaders of indigenous, campesino and grassroots organizations from throughout the Central American nations and Mexico gathered in Tegucigalpa, capital of Honduras, for the Mesoamerican Forum, fourth in a series of meetings aimed at defending ecological culture throughout the isthmus–and opposing the Peubla-Panama Plan (PPP), an isthmus-wide mega-development scheme aggressively promoted by the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB). Meanwhile, in the Honduran countryside, three peasant ecologist leaders were assassinated just days before the Forumopened–casting the issues addressed at the meeting in a stark light.

In the southern province of La Paz, two Lenca Indian campesinos involved in an occupation of contested lands were killed in a dawn attack by presumed hired gunmen of a local landlord. In northern and remote Olancho province, a peasant leader who had been opposing illegal timberexploitation on communal lands was cut down at his home by an unknown pistolero. A banner above the check-in desk at the Forum read REMEMBER THE MARTYRS OF LA PAZ AND OLANCHO.

There was an irony that the Forum was held in a city dominated by the ubiquitous icons of corporate culture–Burger King, McDonalds, Pizza Hut. In contrast, the banner above the stage at Tegucigalpa´s Universidad Pedagogica, where the Forum was held, pictured a traditional Maya Indian design of a maize god.

The first Mesoamerican Forum was held in Spring 2001 in Tapachula,Chiapas, after the IDB and Mexican President Vicente Fox announced the PPP, which calls for new hydro-electric projects, trans-isthmus trade routes and industrial zones. The Forum convened again in Fall 2001 in Quetzaltenango,Guatemala; and in July 2002 Managua, Nicaragua. At the Tegucigalpa meeting, the agenda was topped by the issues of breakneck resource exploitation privatization of national resources and infastructure–especially water. A water privatization law currently pending in the Honduran national legislature would mandate that local municipalities allow private contracts to run their water systems. Honduras´second city, San Pedro Sula, already has such a contract with an Italian firm.

Such privatization moves are IDB and World Bank prescriptions–but, as representatives from throughout the Mesoamerican subcontinent pointed out, they are taking place in atmosphere of lawlessness, in which publicoversight is meaningless and opponents are targetted for assassination.


A featured speaker at the Forum was Mexican writer Armando Batra, author of The Heirs of Zapata, a study of post-revolutionary Mexican campesino movements, who called the PPP an example of "savage capitalism," and claimed that it is dividing Mexico. "It serves the interests of the northern, white part of the country which is a neighbor to the US, and condemns to poverty the southern, indigenous part which is a neighbor to Guatemala." But, echoing a frequent slogan at the Forum, he asserted that "another Mesoamerica is possible." As an alternative development model, he called for "rebuilding the links between rural and urban sectors, with agricultural production for internal consumption based on localcooperatives."

Indigenous representatives from Guatemala at the Forum included opponentsof the planned massive hydro-electic project on the Usumacinta River, which forms the border between Guatemala and Mexico. Juan Ixbalan ofGuatemala´s National Indigenous and Campesino Coordinator (CONIC) called the IDB-backed project, which would flood vast areas of rainforest, "a newconquest of Maya territory."

Even as technocrats portray privatization and mega-development proposals as part of an inevitable march towards democracy and modernization, ghosts from Central America´s violent recent past are returning to haunt the isthmus. Guatemalan indigenous leaders are currently preparing a case against former military dictator–and current presidential candidate–Rios Montt on genocide charges for his 1980s "scorched-earth" campaign against Maya Indians. The indigenous-led Justice & Reconcilation Association (AJR) is coordinating witnesses to 1980s massacres from 24 communities in the departments of Quiche, Huehuetenango, Chimaltenango and Alta Verapaz. Said Neela Ghoshal, a New York City shcoolteacher who recently served as ahuman rights observer with the AJR and attended the Forum: "The Guatemalan courts probably won´t hear the case, so they will have to go to the Inter-American Court of Human Rights. But they are really committed to seeking justice."

On July 25, just days after the Forum ended, violent riots rocked Guatemala City as supporters of Rios Montt–mostly former members of his paramilitary "civil patrols"–took to the streets to protest a court ruling that barred his candidacy under a law blocking former coup leaders from the presidency. The protesters erected barricades of burning tires and attacked random pedestrians, leaving one television reporter dead of heart failure. Five days after the riots, Guatemala´s top Constitutional Court would overturn the ruling, allowing the ex-dictator´s presidential campaign to proceed. US State Department spokesman Richard Boucher quickly assured that US relations with Guatemala would not be disrupted if Rios Montt is elected.

Another speaker at the Forum, Raul Moreno of El Salvador, representing the rural development group Sinti Techan (Nahuatl for "maize for the people"), condemned the pending Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA) and CentralAmerican Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), asserting that these agreementswould "modify the judicial order, subordinating the labor code,environmental laws and human rights. The PPP is not neutral–it benefits the US and its giant corporations. The PPP is not reformable." Nor, he asserted, is it inevitable. "We can resist. Electricity and the national health system remain public in Costa Rica, despite the desire of thegovernment and the World Trade Organization to privatize, because thepeople don´t want it."

Magda Lanuza of Nicaragua´s International Study Center noted that plansf or water privatization are even more advanced in her country than inHonduras. Several Nicaraguan departments–including Leon, Chinandega, Jinotega and Matagalpa–already have private contracts to manage their water systems with such firms as the French water giant Suez (whosecontracts with local governments in South Africa have won international criticism as soaring water rates have left many poor communities without access). Now, as in Honduras, the water privatization program is to beinstated nationwide–as a condition of a loan from the IDB. But Magdapredicts a political battle. "Local communities are prepared to defendtheir water resources," she says. "They understand that water is life."

Hydro-energy is also being privatized in Nicaragua. The private firmHydrogesa has won a contract to manage the Apenas dam in Jinotega, and the scandal-ridden Enron actually bid on it in 2002. But following public protest, the contract now suspended pending a national law on water privatization. Local Matagalpa Indians were relocated when the project was first built in 1960s, and now oppose its privatiztion.


The two Lenca Indians killed at La Paz, Fabian Gonzalez and SantosCarrillo, were part of a land occupation led by the National Center of Rural Workers (CNTC), one of the largest campesino unions in Honduras.

The killers opened fire with AK-47 rifles in dawn attack on their encampmentJuly 19. In an eerie coincidence, the very next day, July 20, is Dia deLempira, a national holiday commemorating the death in 1536 of the Lencawarrior who resisted the conquistador Francisco Montejo. The land inquestion had been first occupied in 1985, under a provision of the Honduran agrarian reform law allowing peasants to move on to unused private lands, and begin a process for their eventual expropriation andtitle transfer to the campesinos. But the agrarian reform law has now been almost completely repealed in Honduras.

Lenca leader Berta Caceres notes an irony that Lempira has become a symbol of national pride even as Lenca land rights and culture have been lost to modernization. "The indigenous context has been invisible in Honduras for too long," she says. "But there has been a new process of struggle since the 500 Years of Resistance campaign in 1992 and the Zapatista revolt in Chiapas in 1994. We are organzing to defend Lenca territory."

Caceres is the coordinator of the Civic Council of Popular and IndigenousOrganizations of Honduras (COPINH), representing 47 communities in theLenca heartland of La Paz, Intibuca and Lempira departments. It was founded in 1993, and has been at the forefront of a Lenca cultural and political renaissance. After the Forum, I visited COPINH´s modest officein the village of Itibuca.

The Lenca are among the northern most Chibcha Indian groups, whose cultural sphere begins just south of that of the Maya and extends into South America. Their language only survives in some 45 words–mostly referring to animals and places, such as the local Sierra de Puca Opalaca, which means "high mountain" in Lenca. They have also adopted Nahuatl, the lingua franca of the Aztec-Maya cultural sphere, to communicate with neighboring peoples.

Since 1993, COPINH has organized a series of 4,000-strong "indigneous pilgrimages" to local sacred sites associated with saints and virgins (and, earlier, with Lenca deities and earth-spirits)–such as the Virgin of Lourdes in Ilama, Santa Barbara department, and the Virgin of Remediosin Tomala, Lempira. Caceres says these pilgrimages "linked the spiritualand cultural traditions of the Lenca with our political demands." COPINH has also resorted to more militant tactics, such the 1993 occupation oflocal timber mills to protest deforestation.

COPINH´s demands have won some results–such as the redrawing of municpalborders to give local Lenca communities legal contol over their territories. In 1994, the first new municipality was created, San Francisco Opalaca in Intibua department–the only municipality in the country where all land is collectively owned and managed by an indigenous land council. Six other new municipalities followed in the ensuing years.

Under the Honduran agrarian reform, some national lands were transfred to peasant collectives, which held them privately, but not for resale. Under the 1992 Agrarian Modernization Law–known as the "contra-reforma"–they can now be resold. The "contra-reforma" also overturned provisions forexpropriation of unused private lands for redistribution to peasant squatters. In addittion, the National Agrarian Institute (INA) started privatizing national lands and even "ejidos," the traditional communallands accruing to municipalities that had been protected since thecolonial era.

Salvador Zuniga, a member of COPINH´s executive committee, notes the shift from the "populist" policy of the 1960s, when the agragian reform wasinitiated, to the "neoliberal" policy of today, which is supported by the US, World Bank and IDB, and calls for a return to the 19th-century Liberal ideology of privatization of public or collective lands and resources.

In between was the harsh repression of th 1980s, which–if less severe than that in neighboring El Salvador and Guatemala–still saw the assassinationand "disappearance" of hundreds of peasant leaders, and the decapitation of peasant cooperatives. "The neoliberal policy of today is the fruit of the low-intensity war of the 1980s," says Zuniga.

And that war continues, as indigenous leaders are still marked for death.On May 17 of this year, Teodoro Martinez, a Tolupan Indian leader in the central department of Fracisco Morazan who had been leading a campaign against illegal timber operations, was assassinated. Martinez had been aleader of another indigenous alliance, the Confederation of Autochthonous Peoples of Honduras (CONPAH)–whose founder, Vicente Matute, was assassinated in 1989, the same year the organization was launched.


In another trip into the Honduran countryside after the Forum, I joined adelegation to Olancho, organized by the county´s foremost human rights group, the Committee of the Families of the Detained and Disappeared ofHonduras (COFADEH), founded during the repression of the 1980s. The largest department in Honduras by territory, Olancho is largely inhabited by mestizo settlers from the central and southern zones of the country who were encouraged by the government to colonize the wild fronteir to thenorth in the 1960s and ´70s. But, as always, economic interests followedthe settlers, and today the pine-clad mountains of Olancho are beingrapidly denuded by local timber barons. On the road, we pass numerous trucks loaded with huge pine logs, heading south towards the Panamerican Highway and foreign markets. We also pass several timber mills cutting the big logs into boards.

On the night of July 18, Carlos Arturo Reyes was shot down by an unknown pistolero at his home in Olancho´s El Rosario municipality. Reyes had founded the local Olancho Environmental Movement (MAO) in 2001, and had led a cross-country March for Life in June 2003, in which 30,000 marched fromOlancho to Tegucigalpa to demand a crackdown on outlaw timber operations. MAO used marches, community meetings and finally–in February of this year–physical blockades of logging roads to press thier demands for community participation in drafting what the group calls a "rational plan of exploitation." Twenty other MAO members are now said to be targetted for death.

Other peasant ecologists have likewise been assassinated in Olancho inrecent years. On June 30, 2001, Carlos Flores of La Venta, a village in Gualaco municipality, was gunned down in front of his home by AK-47 fire.As a leader of the local Heritage Center of La Venta, Gualaco (CEPAVEG), he had opposed a hydro-dam being built on the nearby Rio Babilonia by theprivate firm Energisa under contract to the Honduran government. Two of Energisa´s guards were eventually arrested in the case, but Gilberto Flores, Carlos´ cousin, says "the intellectual authors remain free."

Gilberto, still involved in opposition to the hydro project, is now facingdeath threats himself, has a National Police officer assigned to protect him in La Venta. Gilberto reports that on June 14 he had a an AK-47 levelled at him from a passing car in Juticalpa, capital of Olanchodepartment.

Gilberto emphasizes the necessity of halting Olancho´s deforestation and fighting to maintain public control over water resources: "In many municipalities in Olancho, there is no water. We dig wells and we find none. The department is going dry. This has happened over the last 20 years, along with the exaggerated exoploitation of our forests. There arearound 100 trucks full of timber leaving Olancho each day for Trujillo,"the northern Caribbean port.

Also apparently targetted for death is Rafael Ulloa, former mayor ofGualaco. Ulloa protests that the appropriation of the Rio Babilonia forthe hydro-dam represents a reversal of national priorities. "Officially, water is to go first for muncipal use, then for irrigation, and then forelectrical generation. But downstream communities will lose thier accessto the river by this project."

The small Rio Babilonia plunges down from the mountain of that same name in a series of cascades, and eventually joins the Rio Tinto Negro that drains to the Caribbean to the north. The site of the dam is officiallywithin the Sierra de Agalta National Park, and but for the constructionactivity the forest-cloaked mountain is indeed beautiful. From La Venta,we set out on horses and mules up the steep and muddy trail which is alsoused by the Energisa workers. This area is too rugged and inaccessible forheavy equipment, and the workers carry the plastic tubing up the mountainon their backs, or slung between makeshift wooden poles. The trail followsthe ditch cut in the mountainside which will re-route the river throughthe plastic pipes to the power station below, still yet to be built. Atthe top, the dam itself is alrady intact, standing astride the first cataract, but the gates have yet to be closed and flood plain which has been dug off to the side yet to be filled. An Energisa guard with ashotgun stands on duty.

The campesinos at La Venta also take us to nearby Las Delicias in neighboring San Estaban municipality–where national police and private gunmen evicted some 20 families from 83 manzanas of land on July 23. Across the barbed-wire fence we can see the remains of recently-razed homes. The families, settlers from Choluteca department in the south, hadbeen on the land for over 20 years. They are now living in an overcrowded one-room schoolhouse and makeshift bivuoacs on adjacent municipal land.They say that the courts ruled for the local Calderon ranching family inthe land dispute despite the campesinos´ title to the land. The case ispending before INA, but the families, who worked their land as a peasantcollective, have little hope the decision will be reversed. They say their meager cattle were stolen in the eviction as well, and probably wound upon the already-expansive lands of the Calderon family. Says evicted grandmother Heribeta Aguilar: "We came here for a better life–now everything is gone." Added evicted farmer Silverio Molina: "We will die fighting for land and water."

The evicted campesinos show us a beat-up Toyota pick-up truck parked near thier bivouacs. It is riddled on the driver´s side with bullets from an AK-47 attack in the prelude to the eviction–allegedly by Calderon gunmen.The driver, Candido Cruz, lost his leg in the attack, and now hobbles on crutches.

Another environmental crusader facing death threats in Olancho is Padre Jose Andres Tamayo, a Salvadoran-born priest who now leads the parish thatcovers both Salama and El Rosario, where Carlos Reyes was killed. He too notes a dramatically declining productivity in Olancho´s land as a result of erosion and aridification related to destruction of the region´s forests. "Just five years ago, the campesinos here got 30 sacks of maize for every manzana," he says. "Now they usually get twelve."

On the road between Salama and El Rosario, Padre Tamayo points out a large expanse of mountainous and forested land owned by a local "cacique"–a land baron and political boss favored by the corrupt bureaucracy. He says trucks leave the cacique´s land hauling out timber frequently, and the mountainsides are rapidly being denuded. Across the road, more forested slopes form the opposite wall of the valley. These, Tamayo says, are the communal lands of local peasant communities. But they are also beingdenuded by the local timber barons, as campesino leaders are bought offwith cash or alcohol. Tamayo asserts that 80% of the wood cut in Honduras is felled illegally.

On March 2, 2002, the Honduran daily El Heraldo reported that ex-head of the national forestry agency, COHDEFOR, Marco Vinicio Arias, faces corruption charges for illegally allowing the felling of trees in the RioPlatano Biosphere Reserve, which stretches north from Olancho into the extremely remote lowland tropical rainforests of the Miskito Coast.

Tamayo says that six companies control the Olancho timber trade in a shady network that overlaps with that of the narco-gangs who use Olancho as an artery for US-bound cocaine between clandestine ports on the Miskito Coastand the Panamerican Highway. Timber revenues are used to laundernarco-profits, and both go to arming paramilitary-style mafia enforcement gangs. Tamayo refers to the timber gangs as "narco-madereros."

Tamayo claims that the timber is largely resold to US-based companies forexport, and much of it is off-loaded in New Orleans and other US ports.Once again, corporate power appears to have an incestuous relationship with the criminal and paramilitary gangs that terrorize the isthmus. "Thisis the second conquest of Mesoamerica," says Tamayo.

Our delegation to Olancho ended with an ominous coda. On July 29, the day after our return to Tegucigalpa, the daily La Prensa ran a front-page photo of masked men carrying rifles in a dense pine grove, claiming they were a group of radical environmentalists who were arming themselves to defend Olancho´s forests. Their supposed leader, "Comandante Pepe,"claimed to have 10,000 men under his command. In an accompanying article, Honduran President Ricardo Maduro was pictured looking in dismay at photos of "Pepe" from the same newspaper. He was quoted as saying, "They are doing a great damage to the country," noting that the presumedeco-guerillas look like "Zapatistas or members of Sendero Luminoso." Hewas also quoted pledging a crackdown: "I am not going to permit the exitsence of any armed groups that generate violence. I don´t care whose side they´re on, because in this case there is no justified reason."

PadreTamayo was also quoted, saying that the mysterious Pepe and his followers were actually a creation of the timber gangs "to discredit the movement."




James Woolsey and Subcommander Marcos Say Yes

by Bill Weinberg

On September 13, 2001, the New York Times’ Tom Friedman wrote: “Does my country really understand that this is World War III? And if this attack was the Pearl Harbor of World War III, it means there is a long, long war ahead.”

More sophisticated minds have since challenged this declaration as numerically incorrect. While sharing the pro-war consensus, former CIA Director James Woolsey is on the lecture circuit asserting that the global crusade against terrorism is World War IV–the Cold War having been III. “This fourth world war, I think, will last considerably longer than either World Wars I or II did for us,” Woolsey told a group of UCLA students in April. “Hopefully not the full four-plus decades of the Cold War.”

Woolsey’s mathematics are shared by the unlikeliest of intellectual allies–Subcommander Marcos, verbose spokesman for the Zapatista Army of National Liberation (EZLN), in Mexico’s southern state of Chiapas. Marcos issued his communique asserting that the planet is in a “Fourth World War” in 1997–well before the 9-11 attacks. But his analysis illuminates why the new hawks prominently include those such as Friedman, who has made a career of boosting globalization as a boon and inevitability. For Marcos, the Fourth World War is indistinguishable from corporate global integration: “Globalization, neoliberalism as a global system, should be understood as a new war of conquest for territories… A world order returned to the old epochs of the conquests of America, Africa and Oceania. This is a strange modernity that moves forward by going backward. The dusk of the twentieth century has more similarities with previous brutal centuries than with the placid and rational future of some science-fiction novel. In the world of the post-Cold War, vast territories, wealth, and above all, a qualified labor force, await a new owner.”

Significantly, the Maya Indian rebels of the Zapatistas launched their revolt on Jan. 1, 1994, the precise moment that NAFTA took effect. The changes to the Mexican constitution calling for privatization of communal indigenous and peasant lands as a condition of the trade pact were declared a “death sentence” for Mexico’s Indians. These lands–protected as traditional village holdings as a gain of Emilianio Zapata’s peasant insurgency in the Mexican Revolution of 1910-7–now stand to be delivered to the highest multinational bidder. This is the most obvious example of “reconquest of territory” via the legalistic and bureaucratic means of “free trade” policy–or “neoliberalism” by its Latin American moniker.

If war is an extension of policy by other means, then it is axiomatic that Marcos’ “Fourth World War” and Woolsey’s “World War IV” are one and the same. Since 9-11, the war of reconquest has become, to a far greater degree, an actual shooting war.

In the Cold War (“World War III”), “communism” was the official target, but the real targets were often indigenous peoples fighting for their land and resources. The renewed Cold War of the 1980s saw actual genocide against the Maya Indians of Guatemala–as UN investigations have now confirmed. The bloodletting was an effort (largely successful) to force the Indians back into submission before the communist guerillas they had come to support could threaten Guatemala’s landed oligarchy. In World War IV, a “dirty war” has this time come to the Maya lands on the Mexican side of the border, in Chiapas. But the new Zapatista guerillas are proudly indigenist–not communist. And their movement was largely launched to protect their reduced and impoverished landbase from reconquest by triumphalist post-Cold War capital.

There is a double sense in which this is the Fourth World War. The “Fourth World” is a term coined by defenders of indigenous peoples to denote land-based, stateless ethnicities, distinct from the “First,” “Third” or (now non-existent) “Second” worlds. The Center for World Indigenous Studies in Olympia, WA, has been publishing a “Fourth World Journal” that reports on indigenous land struggles worldwide since 1984. In their fourth issue, at the height of the grueling Reagan-era wars for Central America, they published an essay by UC Berkeley geographer (and specialist on Nicaragua’s Miskito Indians) Bernard Nietschmann, who posited a universally overlooked essence to the crisis on the isthmus. Rather than left-versus-right, East-versus-West, communism versus the “Free World,” Nietschmann saw the Central American conflict as primarily one of nations versus states.

In Nietschmann’s eyes, states–whether right-wing like the Guatemalan military dictatorship, or left-wing like the Nicaraguan revolutionary regime–were claiming the land and resources of stateless but distinct nations within their official borders. When these native nations fought back, the offensives launched against them sometimes reached the point of genocide.

Criticizing Henry Kissinger’s 1983 report to the Reagan administration that mapped the White House policy of rolling back Central America’s revolutionary movements, Nietschmann (who died in 1999) wrote: “Not included in the Kissinger Report is mention much less analysis of Maya peoples (more than one-half of Guatemala’s claimed population and territory), who are being invaded and occupied under the guise of economic development. No mention is made of the Miskito, Sumo and Rama nations which have fielded the Americas’ only Indian army and who are fighting Central America’s largest army over Indian control of one-third of Nicaragua’s claimed territory. The report ignores [Panama’s] Kuna who have their own autonomous nation run by the Kunas’ own political, economic and social systems. These are different and distinct from those of Panama, and of the East or West, North of South. Not only does the Kissinger Report overlook the Maya, Miskito or Kuna, it only refers indirectly to indigenous peoples by mentioning Indians three times.”

Like Stalinism in the Cold War, the threat of terrorism is real–and not only to those things in the West which are genuinely worth defending (pluralism, secularism, basic rights for women), but also to indigenous peoples, who are invariably targeted by religious fundamentalists as heathens, much as they are relegated “backward” or “primitive” by globophiles. But the anti-terrorist states of World War IV have a paradoxically incestuous relationship with the Islamic terrorists, which they groomed to fight Communism in the Cold War from Egypt to Palestine to Afghanistan. And the actual targets of the global anti-terror campaign are more frequently indigenous peoples defending their lands from corporate resource plunder than actual terrorists.

The Zapatistas have played their cards very well, fastidiously avoiding targeting civilians, even for the brief period in 1994 when they were “at war” with the Mexican state. They are still perceived as occupying the moral high ground virtually across Mexico’s political spectrum–so it has been impossible for either the US or Mexican governments to effectively label them “terrorists.” But throughout the hemisphere, militarization in the name of counter-terrorism is now used to disenfranchise indigenous peoples.

Most US military aid to Mexico is still in the name of the War on Drugs, which can be seen as a 1990s transition war between the Third and the Fourth, especially in the western hemisphere. In Colombia, the transition has been made from the Drug War to the Terror War–yet the military (supported by the US to the tune of $2 billion since 1996) has been used against U’wa Indians protecting their lands from exploitation by Occidental Petroleum. Under the Andean Initiative (as Bush has dubbed his expanded version of Clinton’s Plan Colombia), military aid is also being distributed to Ecuador–where Shuar and Quichua Indians are resisting Occidental’s new trans-Andean pipeline. Also included is Bolivia–where the Huarani and Aymara Indians are resisting new pipelines being built by Shell and Enron.

In Eurasia and Africa as well, the US-led War on Terror is being unleashed on native peoples who are themselves targets of terror. The Indonesian military is let slip on the native people of Aceh, whose lands are coveted and exploited by Exxon. The Nigerian military defends Chevron and Shell from Ijaw and Itsekiri tribespeople asserting control over their own homelands. In Algeria, the latest recipient of US counter-terrorism aid, the indigenous Berbers are caught between the military dictatorship and the jihadis, both equally hostile to their autonomy demands–while Halliburton and BP-Amoco are assured of security for their oil and gas operations.

In Iraq, Kurds in the north and Ma’adan (“Marsh Arabs”) in the south–as well as Turkomans and Assyrians–are grateful to see the last of Saddam Hussein, who bitterly persecuted them, but pledge to resist the US occupation if they are denied local autonomy in the new order. And the lands of these ethnic minorities include some of the most oil-rich in Iraq.

In the Central Asian heartland now encircled by US and allied troops based in Afghanistan, Uzbekistan and Tajikistan, some of the most remote land-based cultures on Earth stand to be expropriated by the final thrust of corporate capitalism. The US Energy Department is even funding oil exploration in Siberia–where indigenous peoples such as the Evenks are making a last stand to save their culture from extinction, demanding rights to their ancestral lands from an intransigent Russian government.

And within the United States, the Navajo, Shoshone, Inuit and other native nations who faced the prospect of their lands becoming “National Sacrifice Areas” in the Cold War, to be plundered for their strategic coal and uranium, now face a renewed corporate threat in the atmosphere of economic “liberalization” and emphasis on “energy independence” given war and fear in the Middle East.

This may be the Fourth World War not only by the math of global conflicts since 1914, but because, even more so than the Cold War, it is a war on the Fourth World.


Center for World Indigenous Studies