Colombia’s Fascist Attack on Academic Freedom

It has been well publicized that on March 1, 2008 the Colombian government, with support from Washington, carried out a series of attacks on Ecuadorian soil which violated the sovereignty of a foreign nation (and international law) and resulted in the murder of Raúl Reyes and two dozen other members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – People’s Army (FARC-EP). Less attention, however, has been given to the five Mexican academics present in the FARC-EP encampment at the time of the attack conducting research on the insurgency movement.

Dr. Miguel Ángel Beltrán Villegas

It has been well publicized that on March 1, 2008 the Colombian government, with support from Washington, carried out a series of attacks on Ecuadorian soil which violated the sovereignty of a foreign nation (and international law) and resulted in the murder of Raúl Reyes and two dozen other members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – People’s Army (FARC-EP). Less attention, however, has been given to the five Mexican academics present in the FARC-EP encampment at the time of the attack conducting research on the insurgency movement. Of the five only Lucía Andrea Morett Alvarez survived while Soren Ulises Aviles Angeles [29], Fernando Franco Delgado [28], Veronica Velazquez Ramirez [30], and Juan Gonzalez del Castillo [29] were violently killed.

Since arriving to power in 2002, the administration of Álvaro Uribe Vélez has repeatedly targeted any faction of society – be they human rights advocates, oppositional political parties, investigatory journalists, unionists, and so on – as terroristic if they demonstrate tendencies critical to government and military policy (see Isacson, 2008; Reuters, 2006; O’Shaughnessy and Branford, 2005: 62; Stokes, 2005: 127, 128). One sector of Colombian society increasingly silenced has been that of the academy (Brittain and Hristov, 2004). The past seven years have seen an escalation of harassment and imprisonment for scholars who have conducted research on Colombian society and politics and have published material critical of the state.

The most common tactic has been to classify such academics as members of the FARC-EP or, more recently, the ‘intellectual bloc’ of the guerrilla (also applied to left-of-centre politicians). Flatly associating professors and young scholars – without a shred of credible public evidence – with said revolutionary movement is exceedingly dangerous, as the accused subsequently become ‘justified’ targets of paramilitary (and state) reaction. For example, this past November 67 university students and professors had warrants issued under the belief they were members of the FARC-EP whom infiltrated Colombia’s university system (Colombia Reports, 2008c). Yet, in Colombia, things are not always as they seem and every rule has an exception. When concerning the November events it was not the state that acted first but rather it was paramilitaries who first labelled the above individuals as guerrillas and the state followed suit. Once again, the international community bears witness to the Colombian state mirroring paramilitary forces policy.

In mid-November the Águilas Negras (Black Eagles) issued what it declared to be a final ‘warning’ to various faculty and students at the Universidad Nacional de Colombia in Bogotá. The paramilitary, which admitted they had already dispersed members on campus, stated roughly three-dozen individuals (and their families) at the university were connected to the FARC-EP and/or the Clandestine Colombian Communist Party (PCCC) thus making them ‘military targets’ (Colombia Reports, 2008a).

Rather than issuing a statement to protect those threatened or secure the university by sifting out the Águilas Negras therein the state began an investigation of some 55 students throughout various public universities thought to be associated with the FARC-EP. Ironically, no investigation was administered concerning paramilitary infiltration in these same institutions even though the Universidad Nacional de Colombia has received over 312 threats from paramilitaries (Colombia Reports, 2008b).

The threat of academic freedom and integrity has been greatly jeopardized and restricted by the actions of the state. One can only imagine how critical they can be in classes, lectures, or debates if they know right-wing paramilitary networks are in the midst. Nevertheless, arguing the FARC-EP has acquired a significant presence throughout Colombia’s public universities the Uribe administration established a specific wing of the Department of Administrative Security (DAS) to exclusively gain intelligence on campuses. In 2007, Cecilia María Vélez White, Colombia’s then Minister of Education, argued the government/military must “watch those students who might be recruited by rebels” and suggested universities and the state must start working together “to follow up on students and their professional futures to prevent them joining guerrilla groups … This is why we will insist on a campaign that strengthens young people’s social values” (as quoted in Xinhua, 2007).

On May 22, 2009 this fascist attack on higher education reared is ugly head once more when Dr. Miguel Ángel Beltrán Villegas, an internationally recognized and respected sociologist, was arrested under the charge of ‘rebellion’. Beltrán Villegas was expelled from Mexico where he was working on his post-doctoral studies related to Mexican politics with the Centre of Latin American Studies in the Faculty of Political and Social Sciences at the Independent University of Mexico (UNAM).

State officials from Colombia claimed that the sociologist “is one of the ‘most dangerous’ members of Colombia’s largest guerrilla group” and has “a quite sophisticated terrorist profile” (CCTV, 2009; Latin American Herald Tribune, 2009). Without any open presentation of proof thus far, said officials alleged Beltrán Villegas was the mastermind behind infiltrating Central American academic circles under the direction and auspice of the FARC-EP (Colombia Reports, 2009). The basis of this tremendous threat has been that as an academic some of Beltrán Villegas’ work has been to evaluate the role of the state and the FARC-EP amidst the country’s half-century of civil war. While several of his peer-refereed publications raise questions about the classification of belligerent forces and armed ideologically led political movements being inappropriately categorized as terroristic it is highly disturbing that such critique is considered to be a revolutionary act. Even still, state authorities claimed Beltrán Villegas promoted the FARC-EP internationally and had articles published on what the state deems to be “pro-rebel Web sites” (CCTV, 2009). Is this really what it takes to arrest and incarcerate someone in Colombia? Apparently, for state officials in Colombia it is, as General Oscar Naranjo, the Director of Colombia’s National Police, expressed how pleased he was at the arrest of Beltrán Villegas and how his detention “is a heavy blow for the FARC’s international structure and influence in Latin America” (Colombia Reports, 2009).

It should, however, be added that Beltrán Villegas is not alone as there are literally dozens (if not hundreds) of scholars who have been targeted by the Colombian state in recent years. One example is Liliany Patricia Obando Villota – a colleague of Beltrán Villegas. In 2006, Obando Villota co-authored a peer-refereed article with Beltrán Villegas entitled “Colombia ¿terrorismo o insurgencia armada?” (Fermentum, 16(46): 327-354). On August 8, 2008, the mother of two was also charged with ‘rebellion’ and has been imprisoned since. At the time of her arrest, Obando was conducting research related to her graduate studies entitled “Dissident Memories and Peasant Resistance – FENSUAGRO: A Case Study”, which examined the historic role of peasant organization and the legacy of rural-based resistance in the Colombia. Having had the opportunity to look at some of this work, Dissident Memories offers a much-needed discussion of how mobilized peasantries were structurally excluded from any space of decision-making thereby weakening social and political structures in the countryside. By suppressing Obando Villota’s important work the violent persecution of peasant organizations and their capacity and attempts at change will remain a completely unknown phenomenon.

Significant protest has merged from various academics, students, and scholarly associations throughout Australia, Europe, Latin America, North America, and the United Kingdom concerning this silencing of critical and academically respected voice. It is time to expand this shout of protest so that more can recognize the fascistic tendencies of the Uribe administration.

What the Colombian political and economic elite fail to understand is that by silencing those who are critical they only propel the realities of state oppression and the injustice therein. This simply nurtures further antagonism toward those responsible. As so eloquently said by Lucía Andrea Morett Alvarez, the lone Mexican university student that survived the March 1, 2008 attack:

I am sure that very soon my comrades will have a worthy gravestone, that their death will not be in vain, and that their seed has fallen on fertile ground, where beside them will spring beautiful flowers and fruits. Their voice, a voice that they so viciously tried to silence, will multiply into the shouts of many millions all around the world. … I remain confident that this America, this great homeland that Bolivar and Martí dreamed of, will soon come to be. Our nations, after a long eclipse, shall flourish. No empire lasts forever (as quoted in Williamson, 2008).

Works Cited

Beltrán, Miguel Ángel y Liliany Patricia Obando. 2006. “Colombia ¿terrorismo o insurgencia armada?” Fermentum 16(46): 327-354.

Brittain, James J. and Jasmin Hristov. 2004. “The War on Campus: notes from the trenches of Colombia.” Critical Times 2(3):6.

CCTV. 2009. “Alleged top member of FARC extradited from Mexico,” May 24 On-Line Accessed May 25, 2009.

Colombia Reports. 2009. “Mexico extradites suspected FARC member,” On-Line May 23 Accessed May 24, 2009.

Colombia Reports. 2008a. “Águilas Negras threaten Bogotá university,” November 14 On-Line Accessed November 17, 2008.

Colombia Reports. 2008b. “Paramilitaries threaten university 312 times,” November 15 On-Line Accessed November 17, 2008.

Colombia Reports. 2008c. “Prosecution warrants arrest of 67 university students and teachers,” November 19 On-Line Accessed November 19, 2008.

Isacson, Adam. 2008. “In his own words,” September 19 On-Line Accessed September 20, 2008.

Latin American Herald Tribune. 2009. “Mexico Expels Presumed Colombian Guerrilla Leader,” May 23 On-Line Accessed May 25, 2009.

O’Shaughnessy, Hugh and Sue Branford. 2005. Chemical Warfare in Colombia: The costs of coca fumigation London, UK: Latin American Bureau.

Reuters. 2006. “Colombia’s Uribe Accuses Foes of ‘Masked Communism,'” May 6 On-Line Accessed May 8, 2006.

Stokes, Doug. 2005. America’s Other War: Terrorizing Colombia. London, UK: Zed Books.

Williamson, Owen. 2008. “Murder in the Andes,” March 30 On-Line Accessed March 30, 2008.

Xinhua (2007). “Colombia says to watch students at risk of rebel recruitment,” December 11 On-Line Accessed December 12, 2007.

Short list of publication by Miguel Ángel Beltrán Villegas:

[2006] “El Monstruo de la Globalización”. Reseña del Libro del profesor Jacques Gélinas. En Le Monde Diplomatique. Mayo 2006.

[2005] “Perspectivas Contemporáneas de las Ciencias Sociales” en Revista Trabajo Social. Departamento de Trabajo Social. Universidad de Antioquia. Medellín, Julio-Diciembre 2005 pp. 29-44. [ISN: 1794-981X]

[2005] “El dilema: Acción y Estructura. Una visión desde Jeffrey Alexander y Anthony Giddens” en Revista Colombiana de Sociología No. 24. Departamento de Sociología. Facultad de Ciencias Humanas. Universidad Nacional de Colombia (ISSN 0120-159X).

[2005] “El agotamiento del Discurso Postmoderno” en Trabajo y Derecho. Revista de la Asociación de Abogados Laboralistas de Trabajadores No. 41. Bogotá: Colombia. (ISSN 0120-4718)

[2005] “La Sociología Europea y Norteamericana de Postguerra: Autores, Enfoques y Perspectivas” en Revista Universidad Latinoamericana de Medellín (en prensa)

[2005] “Colombia: El mapa de las luchas Sociales en medio del Conflicto” en Contrahistorias. La Otra Mirada de Clío. México: 2005. Coautoría: Natalia Caruso.

(2005). “La Sociología Frente a los Espejos del Tiempo: Modernidad, Postmodernidad y Globalización”. Cuadernos de Investigación. Departamento de Economía. Universidad EAFIT. Medellín. [en coautoría con Marleny Cardona].

[2004]. “La Guerra en Colombia: Una Reflexión desde la larga Duración” en Eliseo Zeballos, José Vicente Tavares y Darío Salinas. América Latina: Hacia una nueva Alternativa de Desarrollo. Arequipa.: Universidad Nacional de San Agustín. Arequipa (Perú).

[2004]. “La Sociología Hoy: Nuevos Horizontes y Viejos Problemas” en Sociología No. 27. Revista de la Facultad de Sociología de la Universidad Autónoma Latinoamericana. Medellín.

[2004]. “A propósito de los cincuenta años del 8 y 9 de junio: estudiantes, política y universidad” en Revista Debates. Universidad de Antioquia. No. 38. Medellín: Universidad de Antioquia. Páginas 33-39. (ISSN 1657-429X)

[2004]. “Colombia: Guerra y Política al comienzo del Nuevo Siglo”. En Wifala. Luchas Sociales en los Países Andinos. Lima. Páginas. 73-88

[2004]. “Una visión histórica del mundo después del 11 de septiembre de 2001”. Entrevista a Carlos Antonio Aguirre. En Contrahistorias. La otra Mirada de Clío. No.2. México: Jiménez Editores. Páginas 83-104 (ISSN en trámite)

[2004]. Reseña del Libro. “Carlos Antonio Aguirre Rojas. “2002. Antimanual del Mal Historiador o ¿Cómo hacer hoy una buena historia Crítica?. En Revista Mexicana de Sociología. México: Instituto de Investigaciones Sociales, UNAM, Año LXVI. No.1. páginas 196-204 (ISSN: 0188-2503)

[2003]. “El Trabajo y las instituciones Industriales: un análisis desde Herbert Spencer” (coautoría). Parte del Libro Colectivo: Lecturas Clásicas y Actuales del Trabajo. Medellín: Escuela Nacional Sindical. páginas. 49-74 (ISBN: 958820732-0)

[2003]. “Historia y Sociología: Encuentros y Desencuentros”. Publicado en Las Ciencias Sociales y la Interdisciplinariedad. Medellín: Cuadernos del CISH de la Universidad de Antioquia y Colciencias. Páginas, 41-60

[2003] “Guerra y Paz en Colombia” en Análisis Político No. 48. Enero/abril 2003. Instituto de Estudios Políticos y Relaciones Internacionales. Universidad Nacional de Colombia. Páginas.

[2001] “Pensar la Historia en ¿Tiempos posmodernos? en Memoria y Civilización No. 4. Universidad de Navarra. España. Páginas. 19-41. ISSN 1139-0107

[2001] “La Oposición política y Social Bajo el Frente Nacional”, en Utopía Siglo XXI. Revista de la Facultad de Ciencias Sociales y Humanas, No. 7. Universidad de Antioquia. En coautoría con el prof. Jaime Rafael Nieto. Páginas. 37-56. ISSN 0123-1952

[2001]. “Sociedad y Política en Colombia. La Experiencia del Frente Nacional”. En Anuario Latinoamericano. Del Centro Coordinador y Difusor de Estudios Latinoamericanos de la UNAM. En Coautoría con el prof. Jaime Rafael Nieto. Páginas. 145-166

[2001]. “El Factor Trabajo: un asunto de la economía y la Sociología” en Ecos de Economía. Revista de Economía, Carrera de Economía, Universidad EAFIT. Páginas 6-42 (coautoría)

[2000]. “México a finales de los años cincuentas: De la unidad nacional a la liberación nacional” en Anuario de Historia Regional y de las Fronteras V. Bucaramanga: Universidad Industrial de Santander, Facultad de Ciencias Humanas. Escuela de Historia. Páginas, 153-176. ISSN 0122-2066

[1999-2000]. “Globalización y Sociología: Algunos retos para el fin de siglo”. En La Sociología en sus Escenarios. Revista Electrónica del Departamento de Sociología. Universidad de Antioquia. Versión más amplia publicada por la Facultad de Derecho y Ciencias Políticas. Universidad del Cauca. Páginas, 151-162, ISSN-0122-8382.

[1999/2000]. “La zona de despeje: un laboratorio para la paz en un país en guerra” en Revista, Facultad de Derecho y Ciencias Políticas y Sociales. Universidad del Cauca, Vol. 3. Páginas, 101-110. ISSN-0122-8382.

[1997]. “Guerra y Política en Colombia” en Revista de Estudios Latinoamericanos. Facultad Ciencias Políticas y Sociales, Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México.Páginas, 127-142. ISSN-0187-1811. La Revista aparece en los siguientes índices: CICH (Centro de Información Científica y Humanística), PAIS (Public Affairs, Information Service), Sociological Abstracts; ULRICH’S (International Periodicals), INIST (Institut de l’Information Scientifique et Technique), International Bibliography of the Social Sciences, Zeller Verlag; International Political Science Abstracts.

[1997]. “Exclusión, Guerrilla y Lucha por la Democracia” en Memoria, México DF. CEMOS Páginas, 32-38. (ISSN 0186-1395)

[1996]. “Violencia y Seguridad Nacional en Colombia”, en Coyuntura. Análisis y Debate de la Revolución Democrática. México, DF. Páginas, 56-62.

[1994]. “Al Rescate de Antonio García” en La Jornada Semanal, México, D.F. Páginas, 38-41.

[1993]. “La Guerrilla en Colombia: Una Realidad Histórica” en La Jornada Semanal, México, D.F. Páginas, 41-45.

[1986]. Los Conquistadores: Gonzalo Jiménez de Quesada, capítulo 11 del libro, Historia de Colombia, vol.1, De Los Orígenes a la Conquista. Bogotá: Oveja Negra, 1986. Pgs. 129-140.

[1986]. Coautor. La Leyenda del Dorado, capítulo 12 del libro, Historia de Colombia, vol.1, De Los Orígenes a la Conquista. Bogotá: Oveja Negra, 1986. Pgs. 141.-152

See also: (Listen to Uribe’s statement about “sociology professor dedicated to terrorism”)

For commentary: