When The Respectable Become Extremists The Extremists Become Respectable: Colombia And The Mainstream Media – OpEd
By James Petras
By any historical measure, whether it involves international law, human rights conventions, United Nations protocols, socio economic indicators, the policies and practices of the United States and European Union regimes can be characterized as extremist.
By that we mean that their policies and practices result in large scale long-term systematic destruction of human lives, habitat and likelihood affecting millions of people through the direct application of force and violence. The extremist regimes abhor moderation which implies rejection of total wars in favor of peaceful negotiations. Moderation pursues conflict resolution through diplomacy and compromise and the rejection of state and paramilitary terror, mass dispossession and displacement of civilian populations and the systematic assault on popular sectors of civil society.
The first decade of the 21st century has witnessed the West’s embrace of extremism in all of its manifestation both in domestic and foreign policy. Extremism is a common practice by self-styled conservatives, liberals and social-democrats. In the past, conservative implies preserving the status quo and at most tinkering with change at the margins. Today’s ‘conservatives’ demand the wholesale dismantling of entire social welfare systems, the elimination of traditional legal restraints on labor and environmental abuses. Liberals and social democrats who in the past, occasionally, questioned colonial systems have been in the forefront of prolonged multiple colonial wars which have killed and displaced millions in Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya and Syria.
Extremism both in terms of methods, means and goals has obliterated the distinctions between center left, center and rightwing politicians. Moderate opponents to policies subsidizing a dozen major banks and impoverishing tens of millions of workers are called the “hard left”, “extremists” or “radicals”.
In the wake of the extremist policies of public officials, the respectable, prestigious print media have engaged in their own versions of extremism. Colonial wars that devastate civil society and materially and culturally impoverish millions in the colonized country are justified, embellished and made to appear as lawful, humane and furthering secular democratic values. Domestic wars on behalf of oligarchies and against wage and salaried workers, which concentrate wealth and deepen despair of the dispossessed are described as rational, virtuous and necessary. The distinctions between the prudent, balanced, prestigious and serious media and the sensationalist, yellow press have disappeared. The fabrication of facts, blatant omissions and distortions of context are found in one as well as the other.
To illustrate the reign of extremism in officialdom and among the prestigious press, we will examine two case studies: US policies toward and the Financial Times and New York Times reportage on Colombia and Honduras.
Colombia: The “Oldest Democracy in Latin America versus “the Death squad Capital of the World”
Following on the heels of euphoric eulogies of Colombia’s emergence as a poster boy in an April issue of Time,and in the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and the Washington Post, the Financial Times ran a series of articles including a special insert on Colombia’s political and economic “miracle”, “Investing in Colombia”. According to the FTs leading Latin American journalist, one John Paul Rathbone, Colombia is the “oldest democracy in the hemisphere”. Rathbone’s rapture for Colombia’s President Santos extends from his role as an “emerging power broker” for the South American continent, to making Colombia safe for foreign investors and “exciting the envy” of other less successful regimes in the region. Rathbone gives prominence to one Colombia business leader who claims that Colombia’s second biggest city “Medellín is living through its best of times”. In line with the opinion of the foreign and business elite, the respectable print media describe Colombia as prosperous, peaceful, business friendly-charging the lowest mining royalty payments in the hemisphere – a model of a stable democracy to be emulated by all forward-looking leaders. Colombia under President Santos, has signed a free trade agreement with President Obama, his closes ally in the hemisphere. Under Bush the trade unions, human rights and church groups and the majority of Congressional Democrats were successful in blocking the agreement on the bases of the basis of Colombia’s sustained human rights violations. When Obama embraced the free trade agreement, the AFL-CIO and Democratic opposition evaporated, as President Obama claimed a vast improvement in human rights and the commitment of Santos to ending the murder of trade union leaders and activists.
The peace, security and prosperity eulogized by the oil, mining, banking, and agro-business elite are based on the worst human rights record in Latin America. With regard to the murder of trade unionists Colombia exceeds the entire rest of the world.Between 1986-2011 over 60% of the trade unionists assassinated in the world took place in Colombia, by the combined military-police-paramilitary forces, largely at the behest of foreign and domestic corporate leaders. The “peace” that Rathbone and his cohort at the Financial Times praise is at the cost of over 12,000 assassinations and arrests, injuries, disappearances of trade unionists between January 1, 1986 and October 1, 2010. In that time span nearly 3,000 trade union leaders and activists were murdered, hundreds were kidnapped or disappeared. President Santos was the Defense Minister under previous President Alvaro Uribe(2002-2010). In those eight years,762 trade union leaders and activists were murdered, over 95% by the state or allied paramilitary forces.
Under Presidents Uribe Santos 2002 – 2012 over 4 million peasants and rural householders were displaced and dispossessed of their homes and their lands were confiscated and taken over by landlords and narco- traffickers. The terror tactics employed by the regimes counter-insurgency strategy served a dual purpose of repressing dissent and accumulating wealth. The Financial Times journalists ignore this chapter in Colombia’s “resurgent growth”. They are especially enthused by the “security” that ensued because large scale foreign investment, over $6 billion dollars, in 2012 flowed into mining and oil regions that were formerly “troubled” by unrest.
Leading drug lords, who were closely linked to the Uribe-Santos regime, and were subsequently jailed and extradited to the US have testified that they financed and elected one-third of the Congress people affiliated with Uribe-Santos party in what Rathbone refers to as Latin America’s “oldest democracy”. According to Salvatore Mancuso, ex-chief of the former 30,000 member United Self-Defense of Colombia paramilitary death squad, he met with then, President Uribe, in different regions of the country and gave him money and logistical support in his re-election campaign of 2006. He also affirmed that many national and multi-national corporations (MNC) financed the growth and expansion of the paramilitary death squads. What Rathbone and his fellow journalists at the FT celebrate as Colombia’s emergence as an investor’s paradise is writ large with the blood and gore of thousands of Colombian peasants, trade unionists and human rights activists. The gory history of the Uribe/Santos reign of terror has been completely omitted from the current account of Colombia’s “success story”. Detailed records of the brutality of the killings and torture by Uribe/Santos sponsored death squads, which describe the use of chain saws to cut limbs from peasants suspected of leftist sympathies, are available to any journalist willing to consult Colombia’s leading human rights organizations.
The death squads and military act in concert.The military is trained by by over one thousand US Special Forces advisers.They arrive in a village in a wave of US supplied helicopters, secure the region from guerillas and then allow the AUC terrorists to savage the villages, killing, raping and dissemboweling men, women and children suspected of being guerilla sympathizers.The terror tactics have driven millions of peasants out of the countryside
Allowing the generals and drug lords to seize their land
Human rights advocates (HRA) are frequently targeted by the military and death squads. President Uribe and Santos first accuse them of being active collaborators of the guerillas for exposing the regime’s crimes against humanity. Once they are labeled, the HRA became “legitimate targets” for armed assaults by the death squads and the military who act with complete impunity. Between 2002-2011, 1,470 acts of violence were perpetrated against HRA, with a record number of 239 in 2011, including 49 assassinations during the Presidency of Santos. Over half of the murdered HRA are Indians and Afro-Colombians.
State terrorism was and continues to be the main instrument of rule under Presidents Uribe and Santos. The Colombian “killing fields” according to the Fiscalia General include tens of thousands of homicides , 1,597 massacres, thousands of forced disappearances between 2005 – 2010.
The practice, revealed in the Colombian press, of “false positives” in which the military kidnaps poor young men, dresses them as guerrillas and then assassinates them, comes across in the respectable US print media as evidence of Santos/Uribe’s military successes against the guerrillas.. There are 2,472 documented cases of military false positive murders.
Honduras: New York Times and State Terrorism
The New York Times featured an article on Honduras, emphasizing the the regime’s “co-operation” with the US drug war. The Times writer Thom Shanker speaks of a “partnership” based on the expansion of three new US military bases and the stationing of US Special Forces in the country.
Shanker describes the successful operation of the Honduras Special Operations forces guided and directed by trainers from the US Special Forces. Shanker mentions a visit by a delegation of Congressional staff members who favorably assessed the local forces respect of human rights, and cites the US ambassador in Honduras as praising the regime as an “eager and capable partners in this joint effort”.
There are insidious parallels between the NY Times white wash of the criminal extremist regime in Honduras and the Financial Times’ crude promotion of Colombia’s death squad democracy.
The current regime headed by “President” Lobos- which invites the Pentagon to expand its military control over swathes of Honduran territory- is a product of a US backed military coup which overthrew an elected liberal President on June 28, 2009, a point Shanker forgets to mention. Lobos, the predator president, retains control by killing, jailing and torturing critics, journalists, human rights defenders and landless rural laborers seeking to reclaim their lands which were violently seized by Lobos’ landlord backers.
Following the military coup, thousands of Honduran pro-democracy demonstrators were killed, beaten and arrested. According to conservative estimates by Human Rights Watch 20 pro-democracy dissidents were murdered by the military and police. Between January 2010 and November 2011 at least 12 journalists critical of the Lobos regime were murdered.
In the countryside, where NY Times reporter Shanker describes a love fest between the US Special Forces and their Honduran counterparts, between January and August 2011,30 farm workers in northern Honduras Bajo Aguan valley were killed by death squads hired by Lobos backed oligarchs . Nary a single military, police and death squad assassin has been judged and jailed. Coup leader Roberto Micheletti and President Lobos, his successor, have repeatedly assaulted pro-democracy demonstrations, especially those led by school teachers, students and trade unionists and have tortured hundreds of jailed political dissidents. Precisely in the same time span as the NY Times publishes its most euphoric article on the friendly relations between the US and Honduras, the death toll among pro-democracy dissidents rose precipitously: eight journalists and a TV commentator have been killed over the first 4 months of 2012. In late March and early April of 2012 nine farmworkers and employees were murdered by pro-Lobos landlords. No arrests, no suspects, impunity reigns in the land of US military bases. The Times follows the Mafia rule of omega-silence and complicity.
Syria: How the FT Absolves Al Qaeda Terrorists
As western backed terrorists savage Syria, the Western press, especially the Financial Times, continues to absolve the terrorists of setting of car bombs killing and maiming hundreds.of civilians. With crude cynicism their reporters shrug their shoulders and give credence to the claims of the London based terrorists propaganda mongers, that the Assad regime was engaged in destroying its own cities and security forces.
As the Obama regime and its European backers publically embrace extremism , including state terror, targeted assassinations and the car bombing of crowded cities, the respectable press has followed suit. Extremism takes many forms –from the omission of reports on the use of force and violence in overthrowing adversary regimes to the cover-up of the wholesale murder of tens of thousands of civilians and the dispossession of millions of peasants and farmers. The “educated classes”, the affluent reading public are being indoctrinated by the respectable media to believe that a smiling and pragmatic President Santos and elected President Lobos have succeeded in establishing peace, market based prosperity and securing mutually beneficial free trade and military base concessions with the US—even as the two regimes lead the world in the murder of trade unionists and journalists. Even as I read, on May 15, 2012 that the US Hispanic Congressional caucus has awarded Lobos a leadership in democracy award, the Honduran press reports the murder of the news director of station HMT Alfredo Villatoro, the 25th critical journalist killed between January 27, 2010 and May 15, 2012.
The respectable press’s embrace of extremism, its use of demonological terminology and vitriolic language to describe imperial adversaries is matched by its euphoric and effusive praise of state and pro-western mercenary terrorists. The systematic cover-up practiced by extremist journalism goes far beyond the cases of Colombia and Honduras. The reportage of the Financial Times Michael Peel on the NATO led destruction of Libya, Africa’s most advanced welfare state, and the rise to power of armed gangs of fanatical tribal and Islamic terrorists, is presented as a victory for a democracy over a “brutal dictatorship”. Peel’s mendacity and cant is evident in his outrageous claims that the destruction of the Libyan economy and the mass torture and racial murders which ensuied NATOs war, is a victory for the Libyan people.
The totalitarian twist in the respectable press is a direct consequence of its toadying to the extremist policies pursued by the western regimes. Since extremist measures, like the use of force, violence, assassination and torture, have become routinized by the incumbent presidents and prime ministers , the reporters have no choice but to fabricate lies to rationalize these crimes, to spit out a constant flow of highly charged adjectives in order to convert victims into executioners and executioners into victims. Extremism in defense of pro-US regimes has led to the most grotesque accounts imaginable: Colombia and Mexico’s Presidents are the leaders of the most thoroughly narcotized economies in the hemisphere yet they are praised for their war on drugs, while Venezuela the most marginal producer is stigmatized as a major narco pipeline.
Articles with no factual bases, which are worthless as sources of objective information, direct us to seek for an underlying rationale. Colombia has signed a free trade agreement which will benefit US exports over Colombian by over a two to one ratio. Mexico’s free trade policy has benefited US agro-business and giant retailers by a similar ratio.
Extremism in all of its forms permeates Western regimes and finds its justification and rationalization in the respectable media whose job is to indoctrinate civil society and turn citizens into voluntary accomplices to extremism. By endlessly prefacing “reports” on Russia’s Putin as an authoritarian Soviet era tyrant, the respectable media obviate any discussion of his doubling of living standards and the 60% plus electoral triumph. By magnifying an authoritarian past, Gadhafi’s vast public works, social welfare programs and generous immigration and foreign aid programs to sub-Sahara Africa can be relegated to the memory hole. The respectable press’s praise of death squad Presidents Santos and Lobos is part of a large scale long term systematic shift from the hypocritical pretence of pursuing the virtues of a democratic republic to the open embrace of a virulent, murderous empire. The new journalists’ code reads “extremism in defense of empire is no vice”.
 There’s a general consensus that the respectable print media include The Financial Times, The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal.
 Financial Times (FT) 5/8/12;See also FT (5/4/12)”Colombia looks to consolidate gainsin country of complexities”
 FT 5/8/12 (p. 1)
 FT ibid
 BBC News , May 5, 2012
 Renan Vega Cantor Sindicalicidio! Uncuento poco imaginativo) de Terroismo Laboral Bogotá, Feb. 25, 2012.
 Inforrme CODHES Novembre 2010.
 FT 5/8/12 p. 4.
 See the Annual Reports of CODHES, Reiniciar and Human Rights Watch
 Claroscuro Informe Aual 2011; Programa Somos Defensores Bogota 2012; Corporacion Colectivo de Abogados. Jan. – March 2012.
 Fiscalia General. Informe 2012
 Thom Shanker “Lessons of Iraq Help US Fight a Drug War in Honduras” New York Times, May 6, 2012.6
 Human Rights Watch, World Report 2012
 Honduran Human Rights, May 12m, 2012.
 The notorious cover-up of the car bombing is the handiwork of the FT’s star middle east journalists. See Michael Peel and Abigail Fielding-Smith “At Least 55 Die in two Damascus Explosions: Responsibility for Blasts Disputed”, FT 5/11/12.
 Honduras Human Rights, April 24, 2012.
 Michael Peel, “The Colonels Last Stand” FT 5/12 – 13/12
 One of Colombia’s most notorious paramilitary narco traffickers described the close financial and political ties between the Colombian United Self Defense terrorists and the Uribe-Santos regime. Se La Jornada 5/12/12.
 BBC News, 5/15/12. According to the US International Trade Commission estimates the value of US exports to Colombia could rise by $1.1 billion while Colombia’s exports could grow by $487 million.