BY VAL REYNOSO
Venezuela and Colombia are Latin American nations located in the northern part of South America that are covered in diametrically-opposed ways.
U.S. propaganda claims the Venezuelan government is authoritarian and repressive, often describing the country as a socialist “hell hole.” Meanwhile, it claims Colombia is “democratic” and peaceful” in the wake of government peace accords with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.
However, this is not the actual case for either country.
Venezuela is a social democracy that is attempting to transition to socialism and is opposed by the United States. The country is not a dictatorship not only because socialism is democratic in nature, but also because President Nicolás Maduro was democratically elected and has confirmed future elections.
Washington even admitted that Maduro received the majority of votes in the 2013 presidential election, refuting the narrative that he was handpicked in a “dictatorial” manner by former President Hugo Chavez.
In terms of economics, the U.N. confirmed that poverty rates in Venezuela were cut from 60 percent before 1998 (when Chavez was elected) to less than 30 percent by 2015, despite economic crises facilitated by rapidly-declining oil prices. Moreover, healthcare became socialized and available to all through the Barrio Adentro program under the Bolivarian Revolution. As a result, health and life expectancy rates have risen.
In contrast to Venezuela, Colombia is an outright capitalist country that is not nearly as democratic, politically and economically, as the United States claims.
Statistics from 2016, for example, demonstrated that 65.9 percent of Colombians from the province of Chocó live below the poverty line, adding that 37.1 percent of them are classified as being “extremely poor.”
Chocó, Colombia’s poorest department, is home to one of the country’s largest Black communities and has been subject to police repression in recent months. For every 1,000 inhabitants, roughly 70 die from malnutrition and 42 percent of infants less than a year old die.
As Venezuela continues to alleviate poverty and do their best to provide social programs for its population, Colombia has yet to resolve the racist and classist issues that plague their most marginalized groups as a result of their capitalist system.
In terms of politics, Colombia and Venezuela also have diametrically-opposed systems that are covered in inaccurate ways. A perfect example of this is how they address climate change.
In June 2017, Maduro approved close to US$19 million in funding for emergency services due to Tropical Storm Bret. Additionally, in April 2016, Venezuela implemented new electricity-saving mechanisms in response to a severe drought that significantly reduced the generating capacity of the country’s hydroelectric dams. The mechanisms were intended to decrease water levels in the Guri reservoir, which represents 70 percent of Venezuela’s electricity.
In contrast, Colombia has much progress to make in the fight against climate change, given its ongoing history of violence from paramilitaries and other right-wing groups that have resultantly decimated the Colombian environment. Climate change driven by capitalism is to blame for disasters in Colombia, such as the tragic mudslide in April 2017 that destroyed the southwestern Colombian town of Mocoa and left over 250 people dead.
Let’s not forget human rights.
We’re all familiar with the U.S. lies about alleged human rights violations in Venezuela. They claim that “peaceful” protesters are being killed, that poor people are being starved and that dissent is being silenced. Not only are these allegations based on false evidence. They also serve to take attention away from real human rights violations being carried out in neighboring Colombia.
The decades-long attacks by the Colombian state and their lapdog paramilitaries against revolutionary communist groups like the FARC and Afro-Indigenous peasants have resulted in over 950,000 people people dead and seven million internally displaced in Colombia.
The Marxist-Leninist FARC was formed in the 1960s by peasants and campesinos after Colombian soldiers attacked rural enclaves. Paramilitary groups, on the other hand, are right-wing and were founded by bourgeois Colombian landowners. The Colombian military is funded by the United States under “Plan Colombia,” an “anti-drug” and counter-insurgency initiative created by the administration of former U.S. President Bill Clinton.
In the 1980s, the FARC liberated poor areas from oppressive landlords, leading bourgeois-backed paramilitary groups like the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, or AUC, to defend their private property. Up to 3,000 Colombians were killed by the AUC and other paramilitaries during that time.
Human rights violations intensified during the government of former President Álvaro Uribe, who used a “false positives” tactic where innocent people were murdered and presented as guerrillas, by dressing them in FARC uniforms, to spread fear and earn credibility.
Along with systematically attacking Colombia’s poor, the AUC and other U.S.-backed paramilitaries are committing serious environmental damages. These groups have bombed oil pipelines, fumigated crops with carcinogenic chemicals such as glyphosate and polluted rural areas with illegal mining, according to the Colombian organization De Justicia.
Between 1990 and 2013, 58 percent of deforestation in Colombia occurred in areas attacked by paramilitary and government forces. Now, deforestation is on the rise in areas abandoned by the FARC. Due to bombings of oil pipelines during past decades, 4.1 million barrels of oil have been spilled in the country.
Threats from paramilitaries are responsible for 90 percent of the 7,000 people who have been displaced from their homes since the beginning of this year, according to a recent U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees report. At least 68 social leaders have been killed so far this year.
Despite their drastic differences, some similarities that Venezuela and Colombia share are that the United States backs violence in both nations in different forms. For the former, it takes the form of violent right-wing protesters who are branded as “peaceful democrats.” For the latter, it takes the form of violent right-wing government officials and paramilitaries who are also branded as “peaceful democrats.”
Not only does the United States consider Colombia to be its most important ally in the region. It has also provided at least US$49 million since 2009 in aid for Venezuelan right-wing opposition forces that have sparked violent protests and are responsible for murdering hundreds of innocent civilians.
Given all of these reasons, it remains clear that Colombia, not Venezuela, is the Latin American country we should all be worried about.