Colombia. Conquistadors to Capitalists: Peasants to Paramilitaries

Colombia is a country that is a perpetual contradiction, always moving forward whilst continuously taking a step back. The governments’ resolve to globalize as rapidly as possible while simultaneously strengthening the Colombian military has been an ambitious plan to consolidate political positions. For hundreds of years, the upper classes of Colombia’s society have controlled vast swathes of land, resources, the military and subsequently, the people; the peasants. Such a grip on the country has resulted in an oppressed, marginalized and exploited proletariat which has inevitably resulted in decades of violence and unrest. This piece will explore what the key causes have been in sustaining the continuous political instability and social unrest that has plagued Colombia for centuries. More specifically, I will emphasize how those underlying causes have translated to the creation of the modern day guerrilla and paramilitary movements.

Since the arrival of the first Spanish conquistadors in the sixteenth century, the indigenous peoples of South America have faced murder, enslavement and the appropriation of their lands and resources. Colombia was no exception. Indeed, as Hristov points out, “two intertwining motifs run throughout Colombia’s history: (1) social relations marked by inequality, exploitation, and exclusion and (2) violence employed by those with economic and political power over the working majority and the poor in order to acquire control over resources, forcibly recruit labor, and suppress or eliminate dissent.”[1] Out of the points that Hristov noted, the most devastating loss for the indigenous people of Colombia[2] was the loss of their common lands. Spanish control of indigenous lands caused two things to happen. The first was that indigenous groups were unable to continue living their traditional and self-sufficient agrarian ways of life that were slowly being eroded by various types of taxation imposed by the Spanish. As Bushnell points out, such taxes could take on different forms, “the tribute owed by an Indian to the Spanish (the encomendero[3]) could initially be in goods or labor or both.”[4] As a result, the roots of modern day social unrest would begin to take shape amongst these local populations, and as we will see later, still continue to battle oppression and inequality today. The other significant impact from the loss of lands was the indigenous dependency created by the Spanish on themselves. The introduction of a wage labor market combined with a crops for export economy meant less available arable land for natives to farm while simultaneously forcing them to adopt a wage labour way of life to pay for food, debts and other necessities. Indeed, as Hudson notes, “other systems of quasi-voluntary labor developed, too, while in early years some Amerindians were subjected to outright enslavement.”[5] While undoubtedly these were not the only difficulties facing indigenous populations during the colonization of Colombia, they served as the most powerful provocations for uprising amongst the rural indigenous peasant communities of Colombia.

Early in the nineteenth century as the Spanish crown was facing increased creole resistance for independent South American states, the indigenous peoples of the region were anticipating a future of positive social change. However, as Safford and Palacios point out, “ the wars of independence brought some significant social changes to New Granada, yet the creole aristocracy was able to retain a virtual unchallenged monopoly of power.”[6] While the creole aristocracy tightened their grip on power they also wanted to move the country forward economically; the newly created political elite was looking to join a globalizing world. Yet, the new political elite that was taking shape in the mid nineteenth century had its struggles. The emergence of two main political parties, the Conservatives and the Liberals would be the source of much conflict through their early stages up until the present day. “The intensity of party competition created a potentially unstable situation; petty outbreaks of violence at the local level were a normal accompaniment of election campaigns, and from time to time general civil war broke out.”[7] While politicians and their followers fought for positions of power, the majority population of the indigenous people and slaves were not a part of the political process. Palacios asserts, “the rural poor who were the vast majority of Colombians, were with few exceptions immune to the democratic virus (as many conservative critics considered it to be), and their daily lives were ruled by custom, religious belief, and inherited notions of deference and hierarchy.”[8] While the social and economic disparity between the majority rural poor of Colombia and the minority urban political elite are evident, the status quo would eventually buckle under the stresses of inequality and civic upheaval.

In effect, the political squabbles between the Liberals and Conservatives, essentially a struggle for power between the elites, led to La Violencia and inanely gave rise to guerrilla and paramilitaries. Consequently, increasing hostility in the government led to deeper political divisions within Colombia that would inevitably lead to all out civil war in 1948. The conflict became known as La Violenica[9]. According to Human Rights Watch, La Violencia “became one of the largest armed mobilizations of peasants in the hemisphere.”[10] And so, it is from this conflict that the modern guerrillas and paramilitaries rose from. “In all the years since then the agrarian frontier has been the theatre par excellence of guerrillas and counter guerrillas, both sides made up of young men (many just adolescents), unemployed or underemployed, in search of opportunity.”[11] Palacios makes a great point here, this lack of opportunity forcibly radicalized peasants who had no other option but to form or join guerrilla movements in the absence of any sort of legitimately functioning political system.

The end of La Violenica saw the Liberals and Conservatives come to a power sharing agreement where terms would be rotated under the new party of the National Front (NF or FN). The consolidation of power under the NF largely benefited the elite and failed to address the concerns of majority of the population. As Palacios notes, “the FN repressed political dissidence and sought to co-opt and control both the poor and the emerging middle classes by widening their patronage networks.”[12] These conditions directly contributed to the creation of the guerrilla and paramilitary movements. Additionally, Palacios goes on to argue that, “the FN was the golden age of gentlemen’s agreements between the leadership of the state and the quasi-corporative trade associations such as ANDO (industrialists), FENALCO (merchants), ASOBANCARIA (Banks), and SAC (large landowners).”[13] Certainly these sort of agreements further compounded feelings of discontent amongst the peasants who would feel the negative of effects from the Colombia’s audacious shift towards capitalism mostly through labour exploitation and loss of land. Kline brilliantly sums up how these negative effects translated on the ground towards the end of La Violencia. “In this environment, which was created by a weak and divided state, problems arose in Colombia. The guerillas entered with the justification of ideology, the drug dealers with the millions of dollars that their illicit trade produced, and the paramilitary squads with the rationalization that they were doing no more than protecting the basic human rights of life and property.”[14] Some of the significant guerilla groups that emerged from the left were the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the Army of National Liberation (ELN) and the Movimiento 19 de Abril (M-19). Though these leftist guerrillas did indeed have differences, for the most part they all tried to protect peasants, wanted greater equality and were opposed to the mechanisms of capitalism and or American influence. In opposition to the emergence of the left wing guerrillas arose the paramilitaries that held the support of large landowners and politicians. As Amnesty International concluded in a report, “army brigade commanders and intelligence units attached to brigades and battalions in the conflict zones, recruited, armed, trained and supported paramilitary “self-defence” squads, while large landowners industrialists, regional politicians and later, drug-traffickers, gave them economic support.”[15] The largest and most brutal of the paramilitaries were the United Self-Defense Groups of Colombia (AUC), which was formed from many other smaller right wing factions. The right wing group was responsible for some of the worst atrocities in Colombia as they fought for money, power and to suppress the guerillas. The clash of ideologies between the right wing paramilitaries and the left wing guerillas is nothing new. Since colonization, both of these groups have existed in one form or another in a constant struggle against one another; the peasant proletariat against the bourgeois elite.

More recent developments in Colombia of AUC demobilization and the currently ongoing peace talks[16] with the FARC may seem promising but history would indicate that similar patterns of violence and instability will continue. As Hristov notes, “The fusion of the state with the paramilitary has created the illusion that there is lack of state – a notion as deceptive as the claim that paramilitarism disappeared after the demobilization process, an argument also made possible by this very fusion.”[17] Corporations, politicians and drug traffickers alike have all come to benefit from the presence of a private yet independent group of ruthless armed “protectors”. This relationship only served to perpetuate the feelings of animosity among the poorest populations in Colombia and thus the continued formation and existence of left wing armed resistance movements in Colombia.

Ultimately, the Spanish colonization of Colombia left an unmistakable impact on the people and the lands which reverberate to this day.   Neglect of indigenous and peasant populations combined with an insatiable appetite for wealth led to the imminent exploitation of both resources and labor. Furthermore, these exploits created the extreme conditions necessary for armed movements to emerge. A more in depth analysis could examine effects of foreign intervention in Colombia by global institutions, state actors and multinational corporations in the form of policy changes, economic and militarily aid. The deep-seated effects for foreign intervention very much continue to present issues of contention in Colombia that must be resolved. Indeed, the Spanish conquistadors created and left a lasting divide which paved the way for a continuous instability which will only be reconciled by meaningful dialogue, increased human rights, demilitarization and the cessation of elite capitalist exploitation.

[1] Hristov, Jasmin. Blood and Capital: The Paramilitarization of Columbia. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2009. P. 3

[2] For the purposes of this essay I will be referring to (the Spanish colony of) New Granada and or the geographical region where the present day nation of Colombia now sits, as Colombia.

[3] Encomendero’s ran encomiendas. Encomienda’s were granted to Spanish conquerors and officials by the Spanish crown. Such grants included lands, indigenous people and other minerals and resources.

[4] Bushnell, David. The Making of Modern Colombia: A Nation in Spite of Itself. Berkley: University of California Press, 1993. P. 13

[5] Hudson, Rex A., ed. Colombia: A Country Study. Washington, D.C.: Federal Research Division, Library of Congress, 2010. P. 9

[6] Safford, Frank, and Marco Palacios. Colombia: Fragmented Land, Divided Society. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002. P. 102

[7] Bushnell, David. The Making of Modern Colombia: A Nation in Spite of Itself. Berkley: University of California Press, 1993. P. 118

[8] Palacios, Marco. Between Legitimacy and Violence: A History of Colombia, 1875-2002. Trans. Richard Stoller. Durham: Duke University Press, 2006. P. 17

[9] La Violencia (1948 – 1965) was a civil war in Colombia between Conservatives, Liberals and the rising Communist party.

[10] Human Rights Watch. Colombia’s Killer Networks: The Military-paramilitary Partnership and the United States. New York: Human Rights Watch, 1996. P. 10

[11] Palacios, Marco. Between Legitimacy and Violence: A History of Colombia, 1875-2002. Trans. Richard Stoller. Durham: Duke University Press, 2006. P. 166

[12] Ibid., P. 170

[13] Palacios, Marco. Between Legitimacy and Violence: A History of Colombia, 1875-2002. Trans. Richard Stoller. Durham: Duke University Press, 2006. P. 171

[14] Kline, Harvey F. State Building and Conflict Resolution in Colombia: 1986-1994. Tuscaloosa: University of Alabama, 1998. P. 17

[15] Amnesty International. Political Violence in Colombia: Myth and Reality. London, U.K.: Amnesty International Publications, 1994. P. 52


[17] Hristov, Jasmin. Blood and Capital: The Paramilitarization of Columbia. Athens: Ohio University Press, 2009. P. 203

The Consequences of Colonialism: The Continued Exploitation of Latin America Through Capitalism

Latin America is and always has been a geographically diverse region of the world rich in resources, cultures and ecological diversity and the first Spanish colonizers certainly recognized this. The early Spaniards were quite explicit about their intentions to usurp this new territory, plundering the lands and relentlessly subjugating the indigenous peoples for generations. And, as a result of over five hundred years of colonial exploitation, the poorest in Latin American societies, usually people who are of indigenous or of African decent have been continually marginalized. These neglected and impoverished populations of Latin America continue to suffer to this day under the continuation of aristocratic rule. This paper will briefly examine what the key aspects have been in creating and maintaining those economic structures which have preserved power for the elite and sustained contemporary social neglect for the most impoverished people of Latin America. However, because modern Latin American history is robust and varies from issue to issue and from country to country, I will only focus on the components that do apply or have applied principally to most regions of Latin America at one time or another.

The economic and political power structures that are in place throughout Latin America today began with Spanish colonialism in the 1500’s. When the Spanish colonized Latin America, privileges were always reserved for those who were richest and most powerful in the new lands. The aristocracy established these privileges by using force in taking over the land and controlling the population. This structure of control through force became firmly entrenched in the evolution of the economic and sociopolitical construction of Latin America that was important to colonialists in establishing power as well as profit. As Thorp notes, “the social and economic processes of export-led growth, building on the land grants and monopolies of the colonial period, had cemented inequality” (Thorp 1998, 24-25). It is precisely from these roots of inequality that further weakened the position of the poor and strengthened that of the rulers. Fishlow underscores this concept when he notes that after colonialism, neo-classical policies produced unequal exchanges, profits from cheap exports were based on artificially low wages therefore, it is this trade which impoverishes rather than enriches (Mitchell & Fishlow 1988, 98). This reinforces Thorp’s aforementioned notion that, the cemented inequality persisted through whatever political turbulence may have swept through Latin America. The benefit of having such abundant resources with a large work force was unquestionable. Green and Branford note the subsequent difficulties facing local populations, “for the indigenous peoples everywhere in the continent, the conquerors’ military victory was only the beginning of the process of extermination. […] Enslaved to the Spanish lust for gold, those who survived smallpox, influenza, measles and other new diseases committed mass suicide by poisoning and hanging” (Green & Branford 2013, 17-18). Between fighting for food, land, their health and culture, it is unsurprising to see that the result of such appalling conditions led to widespread poverty and further oppression by subsequent regimes and generations of control.

Following the colonial era, capitalism began to emerge as the ruling economic and political force in Latin America. Essentially capitalist ideals preserved the most useful aspects of colonial policies while simultaneously moulding a new doctrine from which to govern. Consequently these ideals would continue the subjugation of poor mixed and indigenous peoples while consolidating elite control over resources. As Ascher points out:
The conservative oligarchies, largely military-dominated governments supported by the landed elite, offered less hope for the poor. Instead, their use of dictatorial power in defense of the economic status quo fuelled the commitment of their opponents to employ authoritarian means of their own to redress the imbalance of wealth. (Ascher 1984, 49).
This suggests a blatant move by the Latin American elite to preserve the status quo, which is complete monetary and political control. Additionally, the method of operation was of little importance, as Isbester & Rice illustrate in Venezuela, “the weakness of the country’s governing apparatus in the aftermath of the Independence Wars led to a reliance on local militias and their leaders as the foundations of authority. These paramilitary groups formed the nation’s local and regional governments” (Isbester & Rice 2011, 231). Certainly, the preservation of wealthy, oppressive and militant regimes maintains control of the population and their means to an end. As a result, exports continued to flow out of Latin American countries through trade agreements and corporations which replaced the colonies. Additionally, the labour force, the poorest people in society saw little change with independence as mentioned earlier, land redistribution was a dream and serf-like conditions the gloomy reality of the situation. Galeano’s analysis of more recent absurdities regarding low wages is not much different than the historical norm for the region. “ Latin America’s low wage scale is reflected in the low prices the region gets for its raw materials in the international markets, where denationalized industry sells manufactured goods, prices are kept high to maintain the inflated profits of the imperialist corporations” (Galeano 1997, 251). While this economic and socio political system of resource extraction, low wages and persecution of the impoverished continued unabated, the actors in charge would constantly vie for a position to control a piece of the riches. “To a degree, power still operates through informal, non-democratic institutions. Partially due to neoliberalism, the state has been made unable to achieve autonomy from its economic elite who has become more entrenched in policy-making as well as continuing to dominate the economic sector” (Isbester 2011, 352). Indeed, the system of power put in place during the colonial era set the precedent for the continuation of elite policies through unstable governments, authoritarian rule and or military dictatorships. However, Malloy’s postulation reinforces Isbester’s idea while also reinforcing the idea that capitalist ideals took on many different forms through its Latin American evolution. “The contemporary trend toward authoritarian corporatist regimes in Latin America must be viewed against the backdrop of the region’s previous pattern of economic development, which is best described as delayed dependent capitalist development” (Malloy 1977, 5). As has been noted, the emergence of capitalism through the foundations of colonialism maintained and even widened the gap between the elite and the poor, economically, politically and even physically. The result has been a continuation of these structures weighted heavily in capitalist activities including, resource extraction, agro-export economies, land accumulation and “free market” privatization of anything not tied down, not to mention the ongoing abuse of the poor and indigenous people of Latin America.

Modern day Latin America is still a maturing region and, capitalism is playing an important role. Globalization has made it difficult for countries to avoid being caught up in free market economic endeavours. While some countries have disengaged the markets, such as more recently elected left wing governments in Venezuela and Bolivia, there still remains vast inequality throughout Latin America with foreign presence dictating the flow of wealth and goods. The disparity between the rich and poor undermine the democratic process in two ways. One, poor people are essentially shut out of the political process while concentrating on issues such as shelter, health and unemployment. And second, the political apparatus of a given country has become just another vehicle of capitalism, through bought out governments, foreign financial institutions or crippling free trade agreements. Considering a similar position, Isbester notes, “high levels of inequality erode social norms such as trust and tolerance, which are conducive to democracy. Finally, inequality offers the elite undue access to the corridors of power, hollowing out democratic institutions. The political and economic elite merge, and cronyism trumps transparency” (Isbester 2011, 358).

Latin Americas’ powerful and influential neighbour to the north, the United States, has no doubt been an influential player when it comes to gaining favourable conditions for them and their corporations. Gil reinforces this position, “Implicit in these objectives is the maintenance in Latin America of stable regimes capable of safeguarding U.S. interests” (Gil 1988, p. 3). Part of these interests is to keep the flow of exports such as resources and agriculture to the U.S. high while keeping the costs as low as possible. Herrera notes:
Latin America’s economic relations with the rest of the world continue to follow the traditional pattern of raw material exports and imports of manufactured goods of varying technical complexity. This has led to a progressive weakening of the region’s foreign trade, […]. This situation is one of the chief causes of development lag, but it also conditions other features of the economy, including the dominance of export activity and agricultural stagnation—except for export products—because of the social structure and insufficient modernization of production. (Herrera 1965, 248).

The more recent governments of Latin America that have experienced heavy lobbying through multinational corporations and global banking institutions such as the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank have been willing to go along with their programs. Agreeing to unrealistic debt repayment programs with the IMF has essentially superimposed them over Latin American countries as executives of the state. Galeano posits that, “with the Latin American economy getting steadily weaker over the past two decades, the state’s influence upon it has been reduced to an all-time low by the good offices of the International Monetary Fund” (Galeano 1997, 209).

However, even this long-standing system of structural violence and deeply rooted partisan rule that has lasted for centuries will have a breaking point. The IMF is losing traction as left leaning governments are gaining power and finally investing more money into the people. “The backlash against neoliberalism in Latin America is now leading to confrontations between several of the region’s governments and two major international lending institutions, the World Bank and the International Monetary (IMF)” (Fireside & Reuss 2008, 113).

Not only this, but more frequent social actions by the most marginalized in society are also pushing for change. The diffusion of less profit-orientated ideologies in governments and the growing demands for social and environmental justice appear to be shaking the foundations of the global free market juggernaut. Using the Zapatista movements as an example Stahler-Sholk notes, “The Zapatista movement had its roots in independent rural organizing initiatives that demanded rights rather than clientelisitic privileges” (Fireside & Stahler-Sholk 2008, 161). This type of organizing for human rights and the environment seems to be gaining momentum as the gears of capitalism increase inequality not just in Latin America, but worldwide.

Given the information presented, it is clear that the drive to accumulate wealth and impose a new way of living by the colonial era Spanish, created the political and economic infrastructure upon which capitalism sits perched upon today. This paper has mainly focused on the transition of colonialism to capitalism and briefly touched on how the most marginalized people in Latin American society have been victims of this structure. However, it must be recognized that the paper has been a general overview and may not apply to specifically countries or specific times unless otherwise stated. Furthermore, a more complete investigation on the effects of modern day capitalism’s affects on the impoverished, the role of women, social movements and the rise of left wing governments would offer a more detailed picture of Latin America’s social and geopolitical situation. Alternately, a country case study could also be conducted to magnify important concepts. In the end, the fact remains that there is still significant work to be done in Latin America, living and working conditions must be improved for all, poverty reduction and education initiatives must be undertaken, and a substantial decrease in the gap of inequality must be made. Until profit is removed as the main component of all global trade, difficulties will always remain in all parts of society. It is the responsibility of our generation to learn, teach and implement the strategies necessary for a healthy and peaceful future for all, one not based on money, but rather each other.



Ascher, W. (1984). Scheming For The Poor: The Politics of Redistribution in Latin America. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.

Fireside, D., Morales, P., Reuss, A., Thornton, C., & Tilly, C. (Eds.). (2008). Real World Latin America. Boston: Dollars & Sense Economic Affairs Bureau.

Fishlow, A. (1988). Changing Perspectives in Latin American Studies: Insights From Six Disciplines (C. Mitchell, Ed.). Stanford: Stanford University Press.

Galeano, E., & Belfrage, C. (1997). Open Veins of Latin America: Five Centuries of The Pillage of a Continent. New York: Monthly Review Press.

Gil, F. (1988). United States Policy in Latin America: A Quarter Century of Crisis and Challenge, 1961-1986 (J. Martz, Ed.). Lincoln, Neb.: University of Nebraska Press.

Green, D. (2013). Faces of Latin America (4th ed.) (S. Branford, Ed.). New York: Monthly Review Press.

Herrera, F. (1965). Obstacles to Change in Latin America (C. Velliz, Ed.). London: Oxford University Press.

Isbester, K., Patroni, V., Phillips, L., Rice, R., & Teichman, J. (2011). The Paradox of Democracy in Latin America: Ten Country Studies of Division and Resilience. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Malloy, J. (Ed.). (1977). Authoritarianism and Corporatism in Latin America. Pittsburgh: University of Pittsburgh Press.

Marxism and ecosocialism

I just wanted to share this interesting article written by Hadas Thier of the International Socialist Review. Click the link below and have a read!

The following is based on a presentation at the Socialism 2014 conference, held in Chicago on June 26–29, 2014.
By Hadas Thier

Your News, You Decide: April 25th 2014: Today – BBC, Al Jazeera, CBC News, The New York Times

I am extremely concerned about the accuracy and validity of the news we read, see and hear on a daily basis.  The media is constantly manipulated for political or financial gain.  Some of the news is focused on largely irrelevant events; a good example is the Oscar Pistorius case.  Certainly there is no impact on international diplomacy, wars, hunger or democracy.  The whole case is nothing more than a theatrical display, other than the families directly impacted in the case the story should be close to, if not already on the last page, perhaps by the entertainment section?  But alas, it is not..  When I read the news, I want to read something relevant, something that is impacting the lives of people domestically and internationally.  However, it is not only a case of irrelevant stories, there are other issues with the news such as the problem of omission.  We saw it with the Occupy Wall Street movement, where everyone knew it was happening because of social media, yet no news outlets, particularly American, aired the story until several days into the protest. What were the reasons behind not reporting?  Omission and manipulation of the news and media is constantly happening around us whether we know it or not.

And so, because of tactics like omission, exaggeration, and manipulation I have decided to grab the same story off of several news sites and do a quick comparison to see the differences in the stories and let you, the reader, decide for yourself what the news really is. Today, I’ve taken a screenshot (at 1pm PST) of the top headline from each of these sites: BBC News (UK), Al Jazeera (Qatar), CBC News (Canada) and the New York Times (USA). I will summarize and comment on the closest related (hopefully same) story from each site and then analyze the differences to conclude.

BBC News sources:
The main sources used in the article but not limited to: the Government, Foreign, Interior and Defence ministries of Ukraine; the Government and Foreign Ministry of Russia; pro-Russian leaders in Ukraine ; the Government, Foreign and Defence ministries of Germany; The United States government.

Written by:
BBC News unnamed

Summary and Notes:
The article begins with information from the Ukrainian Interior Ministry regarding the abduction of electoral observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe by pro-Russian separatists in near the town of Sloviansk in the Ukraine.  It is noted that the abducted may actually be members of an unarmed EU military observation team headed by Germany.  The “west” is upset with current buildup of troops and Russian military exercises along the Ukrainian border and as a result, their credit status was downgraded by the credit rating agency Stanley and Poor.  Ukraine is claiming that Russia is trying to start world war three and purposely creating unrest in the EU.

The BBC seems to be very careful with this news coverage.  They leave virtually no comment or analyses of their own.  Almost all of the information is pieced together from the governments’ and ministries involved in the conflict.


Al Jazeera News sources:
The main sources used in the article but not limited to:  Al Jazeera reporter Hoda Abdel-Hamid; Reuters;  AFP; the Government and Interior ministry of Ukraine; pro-Russian leaders in Ukraine; The OSCE.

Written by:
Al Jazeera News unnamed

Summary and Notes:
This article also notes that according the Ukrainian Interior Ministry, armed separatists seized a bus of international observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe close to the town of Slovyansk.  The separatists claim that there is a spy among the group which is the reason for the groups detainment.  They were seized when a problem arose at a checkpoint.  A Ukrainian ministry is currently negotiating their release.  Slovyansk a town of 130,000 has been under separatist control for 2 weeks.  Ukraine alleges that Russia is instigating a third world war.  The Ukrainian military is launching operations to try to regain control of Slovyansk.  And, a Ukrainian helicopter has exploded on the tarmac in the town of Kramatorsk, the source of the explosion has not been confirmed, although officials in Kiev says it was shot by a rocket propelled grenade.

Al Jazeera is cautious in their approach to the story.  However, Al Jazeera does use its own reporter as a reference. Also, at least two other news agencies credited in the article, Reuters and the AFP.  This article leaves our rhetoric and editorial comments. However the amount of sources used could be increased and some of the sources are not mentioned and noted at the bottom of the article as, “Al Jazeera and agencies”.


CBC News sources:
The main sources used in the article but not limited to: Reuters; The Associated Press; the Government, Defence and Interior Ministries of Ukraine; the Foreign Ministry of Russia; the Foreign Ministry of Sweden.

Written by:
CBC News unnamed

Summary and Notes:
The article also notes that according the Ukrainian Interior Ministry, armed separatists seized a bus of international observers from the Organisation for Security and Cooperation in Europe close to the town of Slovyansk.  Sweden is calling for the immediate release of one of the lone Swedish  OSCE inspector among the seized.   The United States is threatening further sanctions, with both Britain and Germany agreeing with them.  The tensions have resulted in the credit rating downgrade of Russia by Stanley and Poor  Russia denies any involvement in separatist activities and has called for armed Russian separatists to lay down their arms.  Ukraine alleges that Russia is instigating a third world war.  There have been clashes and in all parts of the country, and both sides say that any illegal groups and or occupations must end immediately.

The article appears to have some commenting in it.  Not all facts are quoted leaving the origin of some of the material open to question.  Roughly half of the article appears to be paraphrased sources but with no credit or quotes credited.  CBC notes “Thomson Reuters” at the very beginning and at the very ending of the article, however upon searching Reuters Canada and Reuters US  I was unable to find this exact article anywhere other than on CBC’s website.  (I’m not exactly certain as to how the relationship between Reuters and CBC works, so if you know more about this then please message me or leave a comment as I would like to know more about it.)


The New York Times news sources:
The main sources used in the article but not limited to: Reporters for The New York Times (listed below); The Interfax News Agency; the Government, Defence and Interior Ministries of Ukraine;  The government of Russia; The government of the United States of America; The OSCE.

Written by:
The New York Times;  Andrew Higgins (Kiev), C. J. Chivers (Kramatorsk), Alan Cowell (London), and additional contribution by David M. Herszenhorn (Moscow).

Summary and Notes:
The article notes the the Ukraine is ready to block out Russian allies in the town of Solvyansk.  It is reported that military observers from the Organization of Security and Cooperation in Europe were detained by pro Russian separatists.  Although the OSCE claims that it was a separate branch working under the OSCE umbrella that was detained.  Ukraine are labelling any separatist groups as terrorist organizations and are doing everything possible to cut off supplies and blockading their progress.  Soldiers are accumulating on both sides of the border near Solvyansk.  Russia denies having any involvement with the groups operating in the Ukraine.  The United States is threatening sanctions against Russia upon intelligence claiming that Russia is in fact aiding armed pro-Russian separatist groups.  The US claims it has confirmed photographs of Russian military operators working in Ukraine, while Ukraine claims US blackmail and rhetoric.

The New York times article is definitely written with more of a flow and a story feel with emphasis being put on their first hand accounts from their reporters on the ground.  The Times uses a mix of government sources, another agency and primarily from their own reporters, four in fact!  I think is odd that the headline did not mention the abduction, and that the story was so far down the page when other agencies were headlining it.  The validity of the article needs to take into account the reliability and bias, if any, of the reporters on the ground.


I mentioned cautious in a couple of my notes above, when I says cautious I’m referring to the news agencies distancing themselves from sources that are not governments related.

First off I would like to note that BBC, Al Jazeera and CBC news all started their articles almost exactly the same, with comments from the Ukrainian Interior Ministry.  All the three agencies also had the incident headlining their front pages as the top story when I observed all the sites at 1pm PST.  The New York Times did not have this as their top story and does not mention the incident in their headline.  The first story on Ukraine was 6 stories down from the first headline.  The detention of the observers is first mentioned the third paragraph and the headline to the article is “Ukraine Says It Will ‘Blockade’ Pro-Russian Militants”.  I find it quite interesting that the American news station has taken quite a different approach to the story, how and where it is headlined in their news.  And most importantly how it is written, which I will address below.

Overall, I feel that the BBC used the most resources in general, but stayed strictly with government quotes, they don’t appear to have any reporters on the ground for first hand accounts.  But I feel that they are trying to stay neutral on the matter even though it’s an agency that falls within the “West”.  Al Jazeera, when compared to the other stories is using a mix of government sources and other news agencies with one reporter account.  Depending on the validity of the new agencies used by Al Jazeera, the story might by slightly more open than the BBC story.  However, they are still fairly neutral on the story.  For this story, both agencies appear to be limiting any biases, which is good.  CBC News from Canada has the least amount of less sources out of the of four.  The CBC article does fails quote all of the paraphrasing, so this could be a little worrying as to who is saying what.  There is also the Thomson Reuters stamp at the beginning and end of the article which I would like to look into.  And then finally there is the New York Times.  The only agency that used four of their own reporters on the ground, two in the Ukraine, one in Russia and one in Britain.  I found that this story was written with the reporters thoughts as well as their analyses.  However they still mixed in government sources as well.  The article was definitely more of an entertaining read, than the other articles and I think thats partly due to it being The New York Times and that four reporters have had input into the story.  When cross-referenced it is plain to see that the only article that has slightly different information is the New York Times, this could be attributed to the reporters on the ground.  Most of the other information that aligns is from various government sources.  I hope this column has helped you take a closer look at the news you read and question the information that you come across..

I will vary the stories and agencies in the coming columns.  If there is a good response, I will look into four different agencies take on one story everyday.  I think it is important for us to open up our minds and decide what is really going on for ourselves rather than just take everything for face value.  I hope to look into articles that might have more variation as well, concerning environmental issues, sustainability and resources.  Thanks for reading and please leave me comments or suggestions if you can below!  (PS, some of the links may change as the sites update their articles.)



The Media Condition and Violence as the Norm

The recent killings at Sandy Hook Elementary school in the United States of America is no doubt a terrible tragedy and complete waste of lives.  Another sad chapter in what seems to be a never-ending American media story of murder, mass killings and suicides.

So, where to begin? Who is to blame?  Can you blame a way of life, is it possible? There are many questions that need to be asked.  How can this continue to happen time and time again? And why?  What perpetuates these heinous acts?  There are several different angles that one could use to interpret these mass American killings or even all murders in the Unites States of America and abroad. Mainly I would like to look at the way the media in the USA, Europe and the developed world use the media and raise some questions about the industries’ motives.  I also want to raise a few questions about the culture and policy of violence in our world.

Could one of the root causes be the deeply ingrained culture of violence in America? A population highly exposed to guns and violent crime through the media, movies, and video games to name but a few avenues.

Arguably it is the peace model versus a military industrial complex model.  An entire system and mindset which is completely interwoven into global policy.  The military industrial complex is probably the number one cause of violence all over the world, be it domestic or international violence.  The industry depends on that.

You could also argue that “Western” media puts a higher value on the lives of people in developed countries more than that of people in underdeveloped countries.  Why else do we not hear about the many lives being lost around the world on a daily basis in underdeveloped countries as much as we hear about the lives of those in the developed?  Do these acts receive such exclusive coverage simply because they take place in a developed country?

We may also want to question the American medias’ handling of the Sandy Hook aftermath, was it necessary to publish the name, make and model every firearm used in the attack?  What purpose does this serve other than free advertising for the gun manufacturers? It is a gun related crime, period.  In a country where you can get almost any type of gun at anytime in anyplace, it is really going to make a difference what make and model firearm the killer used?  (Ironically enough gun sales immediately shot up after the tragedy, so at least the gun companies were able to profit right?)

As you can see, it is easy to get carried away on this topic.  The main concern that I’ve had in the wake of this tragedy is the amount of attention it has been getting versus everything else that is happening in the world.  Not only that, but a story which has dominated the headlines for days on end.  Please do not get me wrong, I am not by any means discounting how terrible Sandy Hook was.  However,  there has been other tragic events taking place in the world during this time that have not been as widely reported.  Why is this the case?  It is as if the developed world, probably more so in North America, which seems to live inside of a type of bubble, shielded from the outside world.  The media in North America, particularly in the United States is a completely agenda driven industry (albeit an industry which will gladly accept your investment with open arms).  So is it a ratings game?  Would the networks benefit from reporting about children starving and dying in Syria everyday, children getting stabbed in China, the C.I.A. getting charged for torture by the European Union, or the polio volunteers who were shot dead in Pakistan? Mmm, I’ll let you decide for yourself.  It seems that the United States’ media wouldn’t consider these stories important enough to report on (although a couple of them did make the small print a day or two later!),  and or there is no immediate demand (i.e higher ratings value) in the other stories.  Besides low shock value to Americans, there is nothing in any of those stories that would seem to fit the agenda of the American news networks (and in some cases, their respective shareholders).  Additionally, those stories may not cause the same level of distraction that something like the Sandy Hook Elementary school may produce.

Just remember there is always news both good and bad all over the world everyday.  Unfortunately, western news reports on violence, disaster or tragedy, and usually regarding events in the developed world (unless it is an event in the underdeveloped world so large that it is unavoidable).  We turn on the television or open the newspaper expecting to see and hear something terrible.  We have been conditioned by the media to expect that the news will be bad, to accept that bad news is the news, and we have.

Diversions in “Western” media are common place, after all, the media is owned by the corporations which run much of the globalized world.  It makes senese that if an event can produce high ratings and or divert attention from undesirable global issues or events, that many companies and even governments may able to benefit in one way or another.

Luckily, we have access to the internet which means we can still proactively seek out other sources of information to make our own minds up about the news we hear.  I really hope that the North American corporate media can take a more balanced view of global events in the future and pop the “bubble”.  I hope that more people take it upon themselves to look outside of the media bubble which has been created in the “West” and to ask more questions about what you see and hear.  As important as domestic news is, it is equally important for all of us to be more conscious about global current events as our world becomes more and more connected.  To make the world a better place for everyone we need to stay informed and educated about all of surroundings not just the ones in front of us.  It is important for us to look outside of the bubble and seek out as many sources as possible and make our own decisions based on these multiple sources of information.

Clearly, I feel that North Americans in particular receive filtered and very specific news coverage.  However,  the fact of the matter is, whether we are in North America or not, the culture of violence is not isolated to certain people or regions.  Globalization has transformed the way our world views violence, and unfortunately it is increasingly accepted as a part of everyday life in our system.  Violent events will continue to occur, because, they always just always just have, right?  Indeed, they will continue if we as a civilization continue to accept it as the norm.  We are living in a world run by an old way of thinking, one based on realist principles, a retributive justice system the need for more.  Until a new generation can create and run governments that are not based on fear, retribution and power we will continue to hear about events like the Norway massacre and Sandy Hook.  An adaptation in how we view and treat our neighbours all over the world is necessary.  What we will allow and what we will expect from our media and governments in the future will depend on our willingness to continually evolve, educate and engage ourselves in the process of shaping our future.  There must be a fundamental change in the way that an entire generation thinks about and views our world.  Difficult? No one said it was going to be easy. Possible? Definitely!



Iranian President Ahmadinejad visits Latin America

Click picture for related article at the Foreign Policy Association

Back in mid January the Iranian president Ahmadinejad made a visit to the Latin American countries Nicaragua, Cuba, Ecuador and Venezuela in a show of public diplomacy.  This trip was not only for securing business and security relationships, but it also sends a message to the United States and the West that Iran is alive, well and functioning.  The appearance of having allies so close to US soil was surely on the agenda of the Iranian president on his most recent visit to the region.  Crippling sanctions imposed by the US and the EU have left Iran with but little choice but to seek and ensure economic stability and security for their country in other parts of the world.  However, the latest sanctions are no ordinary sanctions since they also come with the threat force with them.  Israel, most notably has let their intentions be known that the “smart” sanctions are only a precursor to what would eventually be inevitable conflict.  Obviously this act of coercion towards Iran from western powers leaves them looking for new strategies in the international community.  Arguably western powers could say that even this visit to Latin America is only compounding Iranian provocations towards the west, in an escalation of aggressive behaviour towards the west.  It seems that if you are with the west, then Iran is deliberately escalating the situation by building a nuclear bomb.  If you are Iran, you are trying to provide nuclear energy for you’re country.  It is a situation which is extremely delicate and probably both sides of the argument have valid and invalid points.  However, in my opinion the US, Israel and Iran are each engaging in this situation from very realist perspectives.  Each  country is acting in it’s own self interest, America for Iran’s oil, Israel for it’s sovereignty and Iran for its nuclear ambitions.

It appears that Iran’s foreign policy is built upon a realist beliefs using a pluralist model of decision making.  However, Iran’s pluralist model of decision making likely does not resemble that of liberal states.  I would imagine Iran has several small contingents of elites and or ministers who would have their input taken into account.  As opposed to having a larger umbrella of groups to contend with such as multinational corporations, interest groups, opposition parties, and of course a massive bureaucracy.  In this way, it seems as though even though a pluralist model exists, it is simply in place to appease certain elites or for consultation.  So it may not be so simple to define after all, Iran in fact, actually appears to be acting based on a Rational model of decision making.  Iran’s leader has identified the pressing issues, made clear cut decisions based on what he and his country needs, and is selecting, for now, the diplomatic routes which seem to make the most sense at this point in time.  Now with the Syrian conflict in full out civil war it will be interesting to see who supports whom and for which reasons.  Over the next few months it will be interesting to observe the shifts in foreign policy decision making as even the slightest alteration in policy could mean the difference between a violent or peaceful outcome. Let’s hope for the latter.