Note: Violence under the capitalist-imperialist global system comes in various forms. This includes subtle forms of violence, such as the denial of public services, or more overt forms, such as military and police violence. Both forms, intrinsically linked to one another, must be combatted. In this article, we will focus primarily on overt forms of violence.
Western liberal ideas have permeated the thoughts of Latin American and Caribbean people for centuries. But with recent technological developments, these ideas have become even more standardized.
The mental castration of our communities that colonials achieved in prior centuries using the sword and the bible have now been perfected by Western liberal ideology. Whether it’s through television, newspapers or viral Youtube and Facebook videos — or even through the old methods of religious scare-mongering — violence has become off limits.
Unless it’s applied by state authorities, of course.
In this societal model, borne from the capitalist-imperialist system, violence must be contained and can only be accepted wherever official institutions such as the police or military use it. Even if these institutions abuse their powers and go overboard with violence (which is often), it is justified one way or another.
On the other hand, groups or individuals who use violence as a political tool and who are not tied to official state institutions are seen as deviant and are often labeled “terrorists.” We have been taught that all violence which is not state sanctioned must be “evil” and that nothing can justify it.
In Colombia, guerrilla organizations that have had clear intentions for their violent actions are often portrayed as “terrorists,” “narcos” or simply “criminals.” Any revolutionary ideals that could be attributed to them are said to have been lost decades ago. Today, their critics claim, they have become criminals with no political purpose.
Revolutionary heroes such as Che Guevara, who used violence to achieve political and economic change, are viewed more as myths than as actual historical figures. That is, their use of violence is seen as something which can only be accepted because it happened all those decades ago. Today, those like Che who attempt to change society through violent means are despised and shunned.
If we are honest, cutting through today’s dominant liberal narrative, violence has been and continues to be a powerful force for good. It is the most effective tool for achieving freedom from the global capitalist-imperialist system.
The demobilization of guerrilla fighters in Colombia is failing. If anything, their abandonment of violence has negatively affected society as more peasants are left unprotected from state and paramilitary violence.
Social democratic processes in Venezuela, Bolivia and Ecuador have, despite so many social advancements, failed to permanently address the violent structures that protect the elites and oppresses the impoverished masses. Cuba’s government, which ironically achieved power through the bullet, is now one of the main proponents of attempting to change society through ballot boxes.
The failure of social democracies, most clearly seen in Ecuador with the election of President Lenín Moreno, begs the question: must we keep violent social change as an option for the immediate future? Moreno was meant to be a continuation of former President Rafael Correa’s government, coming from the same center-left party. Once in power, however, Moreno made it clear that he would not be continuing the reforms of the Correa administration and has made deals with the country’s right-wing elites.
The reality and the conditions of the region suggest that we would be foolish to abandon violence altogether.
As Colombian revolutionary priest Camilo Torres suggested, wherever social justice cannot be achieved through peaceful means, violence becomes not just an option, but a duty.