AOC: “What Latin America Wants Is Sovereignty” – Jacobin magazine

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

I do think that we have a role to play. The notion that we would come in, wreak so much havoc, and then just leave is, I don’t think, a proper way for us to be held accountable and to also be a good partner moving forward. It’s not something that Colombia wants either, on any end of the political spectrum.

Something I appreciated far more in visiting there is how much the history of Colombia is never told, and how that prevents people in the United States from supporting just policies. For example, when you hear “Colombia,” if anything comes to mind, it is narcos and guerillas and different paramilitaries and warfare. It’s a caricature without an understanding of the root of this conflict.

The issues in Colombia, I believe, are fundamentally about the legitimacy of governments. You have a government that historically was dominated by elite interests that then stated they were going to be a democracy in the mid-1900s and ostensibly converted to that democracy — except every time a liberal or left party member began to ascend, they were assassinated. You basically have a one-party right-wing state, and it leads many people to say, well, clearly this is not a legitimate government, and if we want the poor, if we want working-class people to have any shot at life, we’re going to engage in revolution, and in violent revolution at that.

That’s the seeds of what we have in Colombia, which historically has right-wing government and left-wing militias because there’s no democratic space for an actual two-party system.

And when you have the introduction of cocaine and the drug trade, this situation grows much more complicated. You have a much more ideological frame, perhaps, in the ’80s and ’90s, but then with the introduction of illegal mining and the introduction of narco-trafficking, the financial incentives start to muddy the waters. Then you have Plan Colombia, where the United States starts to funnel billions of dollars: between the year 2000 and now, the United States has given $14 billion to the Colombian government, overwhelmingly militarized aid. And this was under Uribe, who was an autocrat. You have the scandal of falsos positivos, where the Colombian government financially incentivized killing guerilla combatants, and innocent people were killed and marked as guerrilla combatants.

All this has created an enormous divide.

Gustavo Petro as mayor of Bogotá, Colombia. (Wikimedia Commons)

The election of Gustavo Petro as the first leftist president in the history of Colombia is incredibly important. It is the first time that Colombians have had any shred of evidence that democracy can yield diverse political results. His election is less connected to him as a figure, and more that someone on the left can be elected president without being assassinated. It provides hope for some semblance of peace and nonviolence in this country.

That is why when we see Republicans attack Colombia and try to withdraw aid or block a US ambassador, it is so dangerous because it begins to reinforce this slide back into illegitimacy for Colombia. There is disagreement about how to approach very difficult topics, even in Latin America — for example, Venezuela, or how Latin America positions itself in an increasingly multipolar world. All of that discourse is valid and important, but what cannot be eroded is the legitimacy of this government.

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