23 January 2013

Alejandro Obregón, Estudiante Muerto, 1956
Readers of Piri' Miri Muli' may be capable by now of guessing my favorite Charles Mingus tune from my repeated references to Cumbia (I, II) and birdsong (I, II, III). In the 70s, when Colombia's drug trade was growing into what it would become in the following decade with the use of shipment points across the US-Mexican border, Mingus was asked to write music for the films Todo Mundo and Investigation of a Citizen Above Suspicion, both about the Medellín-NY cocaine traffic. In the course of traveling around the country gathering Cumbia records, he took note of how "in Colombia the Indians in the mountains are poor, and at times, they come down to the cities and sing songs about rich people. Songs about the differences between having nothing and having so much. That got me to thinking about the ghetto in America, and how blacks there have no money either. And they too want, like I sing, 'all the fine things of life.'" Mingus' vocals for "Cumbia & Jazz Fusion" beginning at 19:27, a parody of the song "Shortnin' Bread," begin with references to gourmet food and quickly move into cultural stereotypes, educational integration, and, finally, that sought-after commodity "freedom" which Mingus methodically forged for himself by guarding the development his own musical projects and influences. The session employed a conga quartet to bring Caribbean timekeeping to his 16-piece big band.

I just noticed that, over 30 years later, someone set Cumbia diva "La Negra Grande" Leonor González Mina's "Campesino de Cuidad" - produced with orchestral accompaniment right around the same time - 1977 - to images from a 2008 documentary about forced displacement...

Colombia was named the world leader of forced displacement in February 2011 by the Consultancy on Human Rights and Displacement, concurring with a report two years earlier by the UN. "Some 5.2 million people were displaced from rural areas of this South American country between 1985 and 2010." A small percentage of Colombia's displacement currently results from the guerrilla war that began in 1964. "Some observers, including on occasion government officials, allege that displacement is predominantly caused by fighting, i.e. people fleeing combat zones. Whilst it is clear that people do flee combat zones, sometimes on a temporary basis, this is not in fact a major cause of forced displacement. The International Committee of the Red Cross has clearly stated that displacement in Colombia is 'a deliberate strategy rather than a by-product of the conflict.' The fact that large scale economic projects subsequently occur in many of regions where displacement is most intense, would also indicate that a deliberate strategy to expropriate land is in use."

2011 saw 239 attacks against human rights activists and 49 murders, mostly committed by AUC paramilitaries known to have had tacit, informal cooperation with the government and with large corporations. James Bageant filed a report two weeks ago that Chiquita was supporting a continuation of its displacement by paramilitaries through an arrangement with the supplier Banacol. In 2007, Chiquita pled guilty in the US to funding Colombian paramilitaries, paying a $25 million fine, leading to a 60 Minutes piece that used the theme "extortion is the cost of doing business down there." Banacol, now its largest supplier of bananas, has hired subsistence farmers to work the land seized by paramilitaries, defending it, with the help of paramilitaries, from local activists attempting legal restitution. "The land restitution process is now reaching a critical moment and violence and threats are again on the rise. Tensions increased earlier this year when Manuel Ruiz, a land rights campaigner involved in the restitution process, was abducted, tortured and murdered, along with his 15-year-old son Samir." In Honduras, where campesinos are being driven off their land for the harvesting of palm oil, which has also been grown in Colombia after displacement, campesinos have told Annie Bird they saw paramilitaries that appeared to be Colombian. (below: Alejandro Obregón, La Violencia, 1952; below right, Gabriel Carvajal/ Fady Flores 2004 photo tribute to Obregón's La Violencia)

Colombia's oil exports have expanded rapidly in recent years, and after Occidental Petroleum was given military support to herd the U'wa ("the thinking people") off their land and didn't find anything, the Colombian company Ecopetrol has similar plans, for whom "the new Santos government has achieved a complete change in how it exercises authority through processes of militarization, new laws, and guarantees to foreign investment." "In 2009 the Colombian Constitutional Court issued Ruling 004, stating that 34 indigenous peoples in Colombia are at risk of disappearing, culturally and physically." Previously, the largest sector for foreign investment in Colombia had been "African Goldmines! Diamonds in the know!" emeralds, nickel, and other minerals. One of González Mina's most famous covers is "A La Mina No Voy" (I Won't Go To the Mines), dating from resistance to the use of slaves for mining in the 19th Century.

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