[News] Colombia's magic laptops and the war against social movements

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Sat Mar 7 11:28:42 EST 2009

The gift that keeps on giving

Colombia's magic laptops and the war against social movements

March 07, 2009 By Justin Podur

One of Colombia's major magazines, Cambio, published a story quoting  
from the magic laptops that survived bombing in the Ecuadorian jungle  
and were retrieved after the Colombian government assassinated Raul  
Reyes just about a year ago (March 3/08). This particular story  
concerns my friends Hollman Morris and Manuel Rozental.

Since last year, supposed documents from these magic laptops have  
appeared at politically convenient times for the regime to provide  
public accusations against social movement activists.

In August 2008, for example, I quickly responded to an accusation  
against my friend and mentor Hector Mondragon. I wrote the following:

The legality of Uribe's second term in office is itself in question,  
since there are accusations that bribery was involved in the vote in  
Congress when it passed the constitutional change to allow Uribe's  
re-election. The evidence that his party was heavily involved with the  
death squads is available in spades. He is isolated from his  
neighbours, in the region, and in the world - except for the US. And  
recent events in Pakistan show, as the fate of US clients from Manuel  
Noriega in Panama to Gonzalo Sanchez de Lozada in Bolivia that while  
authoritarian regimes are useful to the United States, any individual  
head of a regime is expendable if the costs of supporting him are too  

But against all this, Uribe has a weapon that has served him well:  
tremendous popularity in Colombia as expressed in the polls. This has  
to do with various economic tricks that have been used to keep  
Colombia afloat (even as the underlying economic basis is being  
eroded) and Uribe's ability to polarize the country between his regime  
and the guerrillas of FARC and to capitalize on the unpopularity of  
the latter, in recent months by pulling off spectacular operations  
against them, from the assassination of their most visible commander  
Raul Reyes to the rescue of their most visible hostage Ingrid  

Colombian regimes have always attacked social movements by claiming  
they are of the FARC. In Hector Mondragon, they attacked a pacifist  
and an economist with a history of work with indigenous movements.  
Manuel Rozental, like Hector, has a history of work with indigenous  
movements, and works with the indigenous movement in Cauca as part of  
its communication team, the "Tejido de Comunicaciones". It is thanks  
to Manuel that I was able to visit these communities and because he is  
a part of their movement and processes that they were willing to work  
with me at his recommendation. Likewise Hollman Morris, who I have  
toured with here in Toronto and translated for, is one of Colombia's  
best journalists and one who has covered the indigenous movements with  
the greatest depth and sympathy.

The Tejido de Comunicaciones of the Association of Indigenous Councils  
of Northern Cauca (ACIN) has been recognized as the best alternative  
media in the country. Competing with virtually no resources with a  
centralized corporate media, it has become one of the most popular and  
credible voices in the Colombian landscape (Hollman Morris is another  
such voice). The role of the Tejido was particularly important during  
the recent Minga, a massive mobilization that lasted 61 days and  
arrived in Bogota with a five point popular agenda for social change  
in Colombia. Its slogan was "From a country with owners and without  
peoples to a country of the people without owners". By attacking  
Morris and Rozental together, the regime hopes to silence two very  
important voices that are exposing it.

Using the exact same trick as before, the Colombian regime has leaked  
some supposed emails from the assassinated FARC commander, with the  
ultimate goal of accusing and threatening activists and journalists.  
Mondragon was supposedly being introduced to a FARC leader in Canada.  
Rozental and Morris are supposedly touring the mountains with FARC.  
Here's Canadian journalist Dawn Paley's translation:

In October, "Sara" says to "Reyes" that "Aníbal" - the apparent leader  
of the front - is worried because the ELN is taking his territory and  
because some of his recruits are touring around with [Hollman] Morris  
and Manuel Rozenthal [sic], a friend of [Morris]. In these moments,  
the FARC and the ELN are waging a bloody battle for territorial  
control in Cauca and Arauca.

Paley points out that the magazine, Cambio, that published this  
supposed email, is owned by the same group that owns El Tiempo, which  
published the earlier supposed email about Mondragon.

In Colombia, the turnaround time from an accusation like this to a  
death threat is remarkably short. Manuel Rozental has had to live with  
threats to his safety for some time. Indeed, I have written about  
whisper campaigns and death threats against Manuel in the past:

They followed the predictable pattern. They focused on Manuel. There  
was mud slung from diverse directions, and of many kinds. From friends  
and allies they consisted of trying to hold Manuel to standards to  
which they would not hold any human being, let alone themselves. From  
those less familiar with our work, the accusations got filthier, in  
concentric circles. At the outer circle were the filthiest  
accusations, made by those with the least knowledge. Manuel was a CIA  
agent (something there could be no proof for). Manuel denounced other  
activists in public (though no public record could be found). Manuel  
supported terrorism. Manuel used the indigenous cause to personally  
enrich himself. No one, of course, would stand behind such statements  
in public - if evidence was asked for, another "source" for them would  
be found. Ask that "source", and get sent off to the next source. But  
the whisper campaign worked...

When he left Canada in 2003, Manuel didn't announce his departure or  
where he was going. Sometimes, in those years, people in Canada who I  
suspected of being part of the rumor mill would ask me about him,  
pretending nonchalance. Worried about his safety, I was vague. Rumors  
in Canada were difficult enough. Rumors in Colombia can be a death  
sentence. They caught up with him there, in late 2005, transmuting  
into death threats, and he was forced to return to the place where the  
rumors started, where the technique of slander for demobilization was  
perfected, where "solidarity movements" can chew up and spit out the  
best and most decent people.

The threats forced Manuel out of Colombia at a time when the Nasa  
organizations wanted him to be there. National elections are coming  
up. The indigenous sparked a campaign for "Freedom for Mother Earth",  
recovering land in a process similar to that of the MST in Brazil and  
in a context that is even deadlier for activists.

As in the past, these attacks are not coincidental. The regime is  
militarily confident and attempting to take the offensive politically  
against social movements. A few weeks before the magic laptops found  
evidence against Hollman Morris, Colombia's Defense Minister Juan  
Manuel Santos denounced him as a "collaborator" of FARC as part of a  
general denunciation of the militarily devastated FARC's attempts to  
talk peace, unilaterally release kidnap victims, and make other such  
gestures that threaten to end the long civil war. Morris defended  
himself publicly (see this interview), and a few weeks later,  
"evidence" emerges from the magic laptop!

Meanwhile Rozental had been working with the indigenous in Cauca, who  
most recently have been preparing to remove an armed faction from  
their lands. While the Colombian government is mired in scandals over  
human rights abuses and its relations with paramilitarism, the  
indigenous movement is trying to advance a popular agenda. As an  
activist who helps connect different groups, Rozental was pushing the  
popular agenda in Colombia's democratic left political party, the Polo  
Democratico Alternativo (PDA). Rozental was recently elected to the  
National Directorate of the PDA as part of the list that obtained the  
largest support.

The agenda of peace, democratic transformation, and of "freedom for  
mother earth" that Morris, Rozental, the PDA, and the indigenous  
movement have been working for, is the real threat to the regime. In  
Rozental's case, the content of the accusations this time is  
completely different from the last round (last time he was supposedly  
CIA, this time he's touring with FARC), but the content is irrelevant.  
All that matters is the denunciation, preferably repeated, but offered  
without evidence (or provided wholesale from magic laptops), to try to  
break the movement apart by isolating activists from one another. It's  
the same vile tactic that failed on Manuel in the past, failed on  
Hector last summer, and will fail again.

Justin Podur is a Toronto based writer. He is part of the Pueblos en  
Camino collective (www.en-camino.org) with Manuel Rozental.

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