by Daniesha Laquandria (4-24-00)
Non Cuban immigrants living in the US are well aware of the fact that the selection of Elian Gonzalez as the media's cause celebrity is a propaganda tool, and a distraction from more serious issues.
Elian Gonzalez, contrary to popular belief, is not the only suffering immigrant. Latin Americans who have come to the US to escape tyranny, oppression, poverty and oppression in their own home countries are often astonished at the amount of media attention given to the plight of one small boy. They are amazed at the LACK of coverage given to the sufferings of millions throughout the continent.
Three Colombian nationals who sat in Lafayette Park, in front of the White on April 16 confessed shock at the number of protesters they encountered in the streets surrounding the World Bank and IMF buildings. A fifty year old woman, named Elena, from the Colombian capital, Bogotá, said, "We know first hand how these World Bank policies lead to impoverishment at home. I have been living in Washington for 15 years, and I hardly know a soul here who is aware of it. Now I see thousands marching. The Washington Post is not giving this the coverage it deserves."
"We have seen incredible suffering in our country.," said Guillermo, a first time visitor to the US who has been here less than a week. "These student protesters seem to understand what is going on in the world. In Colombia workers wages are declining, poverty is increasing, labor union leaders are being assassinated a dozen at a time. I had to leave. There is nothing for me there. I have a tourist visa, and hope to stay here as long as I can."
"What irks me," Elena said, "is that the US spends loads of money to no purpose. They want to stop the drug war in Colombia, and stem the flow of Cocaine into the US. But the source of the drug problem is here . The demand is here."
The third speaker, a middle aged man named Juan, from Colombia's second largest city, Medellin expressed frustration at US military policy in the hemisphere. "The US government claims it wants to help Colombia, and thwart the drug lords. But they want to give the Colombian military over a billion US dollars. This money can serve no useful purpose. The military in Columbia is itself involved in the drug trade, and allies itself with right wing paramilitary groups, who are also involved with the drug trade. The Colombian armed forces and the paramilitaries are guilty of tremendous human rights abuses, against teachers, against journalists, against judges, and against trade unionists. The left wing guerillas are no better. But if the US wanted to help they would not pour oil onto the flames, they would help us with poverty reduction."
Elena said, "Americans would do best to spend more money on drug treatment at home, not on weaponry for the Colombian armed forces. They simply want to prop up their own arms industry here in the US. With no cold war enemy, the arms merchants have nothing to do."
"I am impressed with this movement and the number of followers it has attracted," Elena went on to say. "I am especially glad about the involvement of students. The laborers need to unite with the students, who are young and enthusiastic, willing to take risks, and able to articulate the issues. This is what impresses me most. Something new is happening. I have never seen anything like it in the US, in all my time here. I am in awe."
The three Colombians went on to talk about the sufferings in their homeland, about the massive unemployment, unprecedented recession, and horrendously low wages, spiralling lower and lower, as a result of decimated union ranks and privatization pressures of the World Bank, as well as misplaced priorities, in Washington Government circles and in Bogotá. Elena held in her hand a pamphlet given to her by one of the protesters. It was a critique of IMF, World Bank, and WTO policies in the Third World. "This gives me new hope," she said.