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JUNE 2024

“An Open Letter from Tumaco (Colombia) to the People of Korea (North, South, East, West, Capitalists, Communists, or Otherwise)”

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“An Open Letter from Tumaco (Colombia) to the People of Korea (North, South, East, West, Capitalists, Communists, or Otherwise)”

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Written by Daniel Edgar

Que Reciban un Cordial Saludo el Noble Pueblo de Corea / A Cordial Greeting to the Noble People of Korea,

The following is a letter I sent to the Korean Embassy in Colombia several years ago (in November 2019) when the efforts to improve relations between the respective governments and peoples of the Korean Peninsula were still underway, driven by the strategic goal and universal imperative of consolidating and expanding existing confidence building measures, establishing mutually beneficial social and economic interactions and projects, renouncing the popular but dangerous practice of reverting to hostile discourses and threatening postures (with politicians on both sides competing over who can make the ‘toughest’ speeches and the scariest threats), reducing the imminent risk of military incidents or provocations (which once started could rapidly lead to an irreversible process of mutual annihilation no matter who ‘wins’ the war – does anyone really doubt that the entire peninsula will become an unlivable wasteland if a nuclear attack is launched, no matter whether it be against targets in the ‘north’ or the ‘south’), and ultimately making incremental but steady progress towards the signing of a peace agreement.

I called the embassy several times after forwarding the letter seeking to discuss the project but was not successful (among other things, the communication barrier was formidable – I didn’t really understand much of what they said, and I think they understood even less of what I was trying to say).

In the faint but stubborn hope that there are still some people on the Korean Peninsula who have not succumbed entirely to the renewed war fever, I have therefore decided to forward the letter directly – sometimes political problems are too important to leave to the politicians to resolve by themselves, and sometimes questions of national security are too important to leave to the generals, so it becomes incumbent upon ‘The People’ to get involved directly to help them (or if necessary to compel them) to find a constructive way forward and start building pathways to peace and reconciliation (which is never easy, but is always necessary, unless we are to resign ourselves to bequeathing yet another host of existential threats and problems to the next generation to resolve).

The main purpose of the letter was to invite the embassy to send a delegation to Tumaco (on the Pacific coast of Colombia) to get to know the people of the region and explore the viability of establishing some joint social, economic and environmental projects of solidarity and friendship. An underlying motive and objective was to discuss the possibility of forging practical and meaningful links and bonds between the respective peace processes in each country in order to create a dynamic of mutual support and reinforcement, as well as to demonstrate the inherent advantages and benefits of the respective peace processes by starting to generate some tangible ‘peace dividends’ with immediate effect.

While one of the most pressing needs in the Tumaco region is the elaboration of a comprehensive and cohesive planning process capable of finally resolving the woeful condition of the existing infrastructure and facilities for the most basic and essential of public services (water, energy, transport, health care and education), which I was faintly hoping that the Korean people might be able to assist with in some way, the potential for mutually beneficial social and economic projects is also immense. For this reason, I also subsequently made some preliminary efforts to contact the embassies of China, Japan and Russia, given that they would also benefit enormously from a successful peace process on the Korean Peninsula (and also have very substantial technological capabilities and skills in the construction of essential services infrastructure).

I am of course aware of the drastic upsurge in hostility and tension on and around the Korean Peninsula over the last couple of years, though only have a very basic knowledge of the underlying motives and objectives of those responsible for the grave deterioration in the prevailing state of national and international relations and the overall security climate. Notwithstanding my very limited understanding of the complicated situation the region is going through, I would like to add one brief comment before concluding.

With respect to the surge in the production and deployment of weapons of mass destruction by both sides over the last few years, I have noticed considerable consternation in the mainstream media in Korea to the south of the 38th parallel concerning the consolidation of relations between Koreans to the north of the 38th parallel and Russia in particular. One could not even begin to speculate as to how they would react if the Russians (or Chinese) were to establish a permanent military presence of some 30,000 military personnel (+ an unspecified number of ‘contractors’), along with regular deployments of nuclear armed ‘stealth’ aircraft and submarines in the context of massive military exercises simulating a preemptive strike against the Korean Peninsula?

One could further ask, what is the real purpose of these ostentatious displays of terrifying firepower – everyone knows that the US is perfectly capable of obliterating any place on Earth at any time their warmongers decide to do so: moreover, that at times they seem anxious for an opportunity to do so. As the women, children and elderly of Hiroshima and Nagasaki discovered in 1945 (there were very few men of military age left in the cities by that time, as almost all of them had already sacrificed their lives for the glory of the ‘Greater East Asia Co-Prosperity Sphere’ – Japanese for ‘Lebensraum’) to clear the way for the burgeoning US Global Empire.

Notwithstanding the apparent futility of positive action, for as long as a final confrontation and mutual annihilation of all life on the Korean Peninsula has not occurred, it is never too late to intensify efforts for peaceful coexistence. By any and all means necessary.

 

Sincerely / Atentamente

Daniel Edgar

“An Open Letter from Tumaco (Colombia) to the People of Korea (North, South, East, West, Capitalists, Communists, or Otherwise)”

The main islands of Tumaco

To the Korean Embassy

Esteemed Counsellors,

I would like to take the opportunity to review the situation in rural Colombia, in particular in the region of the municipality of Tumaco (located on the Pacific coast adjacent to the border with Ecuador). I must emphasize at the outset that I am only writing on my own behalf (I am a relatively recent arrival, having lived in the region for about 4 years – I am from Australia originally), with the purpose of describing the situation here and asking if you might be interested in exploring the possibility of establishing relations and joint projects with the communities in the region.

The Indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities of the Pacific coast have only relatively recently received official recognition of their territories and natural resources (having received constitutional recognition and protection for the first time in 1991 with the adoption of the new constitution). Although their territories contain an abundance of agricultural and natural resources, they do not have access to the capital, technology and expertise necessary to exploit them effectively and gain access to the market. There is also the risk that in attempting to do so, they will remain as mere exporters of unprocessed raw materials, trapped in a condition of dependence and losing control over the ownership and management of their communities, territories and resources.

One of many possible examples is the tourism sector: although the potential of the region is vast, tourism remains extremely limited and largely restricted to hotels and relatively modest resort complexes in Tumaco itself clustered around the city’s main beach and the city centre. Although the lack of access, essential services and transport are major obstacles to expanding tourism facilities and activities to more communities throughout the region, the main problem is the endemic violence and lack of security throughout the region; until this can be resolved, the tourism sector will remain very limited. Nonetheless, moderate tourism projects could be viable in some areas with careful planning and consultation with local communities. However, due to the factors noted above there is a considerable risk that tourism projects could end up being owned and controlled by outsiders and displacing local inhabitants from the best locations and real estate rather than being managed by local communities for their own benefit.

Lack of Infrastructure & Services

The risk that communities will be forced to accept agreements on unfavourable and disadvantageous terms is exacerbated by the absence or obsolescence of essential goods and services and associated infrastructure throughout the region. No towns or communities have a water supply that delivers potable water – all drinking water must be purchased. The electricity supply is of very low standard and very expensive, roads, health and education facilities and services are all of very poor quality. In many cases, the entire infrastructure will need to be replaced and extended if the provision of basic goods and services in the region is to be modernised and available to all communities.

However, there are also many possible sources of energy and water that could be utilised to elaborate a network of multiple layered complementary sources and systems of supply, from individual households and farms to networks elaborated to serve neighbourhoods, towns or spanning the entire region as appropriate: large tidal differences and rapid tidal currents, solar, and wind energy in particular could provide complementary sources of electricity with careful planning; similarly, abundant rainfall with little air pollution, and relatively unpolluted rivers in the mountains approximately 200 kilometres away (as the rivers cross the plains towards the coast they become heavily polluted) offer potential for multiple sources of potable water from the household to entire communities and beyond. The quality and availability of ground water in the region is highly variable.

Lack of State Capacity & Willpower

The capacity and willpower of State agencies and of many of the elected representatives at all levels of the federal system of government – national, provincial and municipal – to initiate and institutionalise effective and comprehensive planning and development strategies is in many cases very limited at present. The autonomous governments of Indigenous and Afro-Colombian territories and other community councils have in many cases only recently been established in legal and organizational forms that are recognized by and comply with the requirements of the Colombian Constitution adopted in 1991, and all are severely under-resourced and generally cannot count on much support from the traditional State institutions.

The Indigenous and Afro-Colombian governments and councils have also been heavily targeted by illegal armed groups that operate throughout the region: many of their leaders have been, and continue to be, assassinated, and in the current conditions it is impossible to consider the planning and implementation of sustainable social and economic projects in many areas. An important factor contributing to the violence and difficulty of access to many areas is that there are extensive illicit crops in the region (in particular coca leaf) which are fought over by numerous illegal armed groups and organised crime networks; there are also numerous other lucrative resources (including illegal gold mining and extremely fertile land for agricultural production) apart from the regions strategic importance due to its location on the border with Ecuador and the Pacific ocean.

Investigating Preliminary Social and Economic Opportunities and Projects

While the current situation is extremely difficult and in the immediate future opportunities are limited by the inadequacy of existing infrastructure and services and the endemic violence that threatens community leaders and prevents access to many areas, some preliminary projects and activities would be possible that could be built upon in the future.

Probably the best place to start would be to explore the potential for educational and cultural exchanges, for several reasons. The entire region lacks adequate educational facilities and materials at all levels, and although there are several tertiary education institutes there are no universities at all in Tumaco (which has a population of around 200,000). All students who want to complete further studies must go to Pasto, Cali or further, and very few families can afford this. Perhaps as a starting point schools and colleges could initiate interactions with their counterparts in Korea by internet to build interactions, familiarity and friendships (it might be necessary to use English as an intermediary language at the outset).

If all goes well, after the initial period groups of students could go on exchanges between the two countries (in the case of the Tumaco region, I would suggest that prospective students be selected on merit based on performance in learning the language and similar indicators – I would further suggest that this be based on improvement over time rather than just the overall level of education, as children and youths in many areas have had almost zero educational opportunities up to now). Apart from the dire need for improved educational opportunities and infrastructure, such a program would have the additional advantage of probably facing least resistance from potentially hostile groups and vested interests that have a significant presence throughout the region (exercising almost total social control in many cases, monopolising political, administrative, social and economic institutions and resources and regularly utilising both generalised and targeted violence and terror to entrench their control).

In terms of possible economic projects, one resource that has considerable potential as the basis for a preliminary venture that if successful could be expanded upon over time is the processing and export of cacao and derived intermediary and finished products. Some initial steps have been taken to improve education, research and development capabilities in the region which could be complemented or directly built upon and deepened.

In this sense, an appropriate starting point could be to investigate the region’s production capacity to support a processing facility in Korea (if suitable terms could be agreed, the joint industrial zone would be an ideal location as both a symbolic and practical boost to support the peace process). While for the reasons stated above (i.e. to avoid entrenching a condition of dependence and disadvantage) it would be preferable in the medium term to also establish processing facilities in the Tumaco region capable of producing a variety of finished products for both local and international markets (again, this is only my opinion), it may take some time for this to be feasible. A more distinctive and unique resource of the region is a variety of very powerful natural medicines.

Peace Process

I decided to contact your embassies first (I have also forwarded a copy to the embassy representing the other part of Korea – I am considering forwarding the letter to other embassies, perhaps Russia, China, Japan and Norway in particular) given the shared experience of your country in seeking to forge a durable peace agreement after many years of armed conflict, hostility and mutual recriminations.

As in Korea, despite a high degree of support among Colombian society generally the peace process in Colombia faces many obstacles and difficulties in its implementation. The peace process is also directly opposed by some very powerful sectors of society and vested interests, both within as well as beyond Colombia’s borders, who are determined to prevent the conclusion and implementation of a definitive peace agreement at any cost. To be more precise, such sectors and groups opposed to the peace process include some of the most powerful politicians (in both Colombia and the US) – who are irrevocably committed to Colombia’s alliance with and military dependence on the United States and who can only envisage an end to the armed conflict in terms of the unconditional surrender of their opponents or their extermination, many generals and other military officers (who never have to face the field of combat at close quarters and who have been rigorously trained and indoctrinated by their US counterparts) who presumably may be concerned about the possible reduction in their importance, prestige and budget, along with weapons producers/ merchants and their financiers. Renan Vega examines these relations in detail in one of the chapters of the Historic Commission on the causes of the armed conflict in Colombia.

In addition, the armed conflict has provided some sectors of the financial, corporate and landowning classes more generally with lucrative opportunities for further accumulation of land and resources.  In many cases these political and economic sectors and groups have been linked directly and indirectly with the structural violence in rural and remote areas, and the violence against communities is often associated with the takeover of land and natural resources by these same groups following the forced displacement of local communities. All of these factors are apparent throughout the Tumaco region. Nonetheless, the difficulties could also constitute opportunities, given the importance of promoting and elaborating meaningful interactions and tangible cooperative projects and activities that demonstrate the viability and advantages of transforming many years of hostility and conflict into peaceful and amicable relations to the benefit all parties.

Although I only have a basic knowledge of developments in Korea, it seems that progress has stalled completely due to the insistence on resolving the nuclear issue before any other confidence building measures or joint economic and social projects can take place. I hope you can excuse me for proferring an unsolicited opinion when I know very little about the details of the peace process in your country, but it seems to me that if you are to be successful in this most urgent task it is imperative that concrete projects of mutual cooperation are initiated without further delay in order to start building the trust necessary to resolve the more difficult issues (also, it seems to me rather unreasonable to demand that the north dismantle its nuclear weapons entirely – the main if not only real deterrent against a possible future attack by the United States – while the United States, the only country in the world that has ever used nuclear weapons, has thousands of them, many of which are deployed around the Korean peninsula, and is not required to dismantle any of them nor make any other gestures that cannot be reversed at any time with a rapid redeployment of forces; would it even be possible to elaborate a verification mechanism that could guarantee that the US has not deployed nuclear weapons in the vicinity of the Korean peninsula and would not do so in the future?).

Moreover, most members of Congress have severely criticised President Trump when he has made tentative suggestions that some type of agreement might be possible that isn’t based on the demand that the north must in effect disarm and render itself completely vulnerable and defenceless against the US military machine before any positive interactions and projects can take place on the Korean peninsula. Most US politicians appear to be competing over who can be ‘toughest’ in the negotiations (along with almost all of the mass media and the military experts given airtime to try to shape public opinion), making any future progress even more unlikely. Many of them seem to fear the possibility of peace more than the possibility of a catastrophic war. In commencing this letter it was not my intention to criticise what I don’t understand, but the impasse does have direct and grave ramifications for any efforts to boost and strengthen the peace process on the Korean peninsula.

In terms of the sanctions and penalties imposed by the Security Council, it should not be ignored that all of the permanent members have prodigious missile and nuclear weapon strike forces and they have demonstrated no inclination to comply with the terms of the non-proliferation treaty to substantially reduce their stockpiles so that other nations can feel safe too. If some cooperative economic, social and environmental flagship projects were to be developed in the joint industrial zone and elsewhere to generate goodwill and immediate and tangible benefits for all Koreans, would – or could – the Security Council really take additional punitive counter-measures without risking severe damage to its credibility?

While it would clearly be a great achievement for the prospects for enduring peace, harmony and prosperity in the Asian and Pacific regions if all nuclear weapons could be removed from the Korean peninsula, it is worth reiterating that it would surely be of great benefit to the peace process if it were possible to elaborate projects of social and economic cooperation for mutual benefit between Koreans forthwith – to multiply and consolidate confidence building measures and cooperative projects in order to produce concrete ‘peace dividends’ before disagreements over when and how to reduce the level of militarisation truncate peace negotiations completely.

Levels and channels of contact

One of the most difficult questions with respect to the Tumaco region is the appropriate levels and channels to initiate contacts and discussions. While the forms of community and regional government that are emerging are often (though not always) the organisations that are most in touch with and responsive to the needs of the communities throughout the region, the traditional political and administrative institutions (national, provincial and municipal) continue to control the overwhelming majority of resources, power and capacity. Moreover, they tend to be patronising and condescending in their relations with the Indigenous and Afro-Colombian community councils and governments rather than treating them as equals in planning and decision-making and respecting their constitutional right to control activities on their territories.

Worst of all, the most effective and committed community councils and governments have been heavily targeted by illegal armed groups and many of their leaders have been assassinated in a systematic (and very effective) effort to terrorise their communities and render them powerless (in numerous cases there has been a simultaneous campaign of harassment and persecution by State law enforcement and ‘security’ officials). Regional organizations that have been established to improve planning and coordination between communities remain very limited in terms of resources and capacity due to the extremely difficult operating conditions and the loss of many of their most influential and effective members.

While it would of course be necessary to communicate and coordinate with the traditional levels of government (national, provincial and municipal), time has proven that generally they are out of touch with communities in the region and do not consider them equal parties with the right and the duty to develop and approve or refuse specific plans, projects and other activities on their territories. Very often the Indigenous and Afro-Colombian governments and councils continue to have little or no power in the planning and implementation of major development plans, projects and strategies. Nonetheless, it may be possible to establish relations directly with an increasing number of communities and other local and regional organisations over time.

Another possibility for initiating dialogue is producer associations for particular products and social and economic sectors. Also, the regional church has an outreach program (Pastoral Social) that seems to have worked positively and on a basis of mutual respect with many communities in the region for many years which could probably offer valuable advice. There are many excellent Colombian foundations and organisations that could probably provide advice on how to initiate contact and with whom (e.g., perhaps Indepaz, Colectivo de Abogados Jose Alvearo Restrepo?).

I have attached some documents with information about the region around Tumaco as well as concerning the peace process in Colombia.

To conclude, if it can be ascertained that there is interest in the region in building relations and joint activities, might you be prepared to consider the viability of sending a delegation to the region to meet with representatives of the communities here at some point?

 

Attentively,

Daniel Edgar

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