Contextual Content

Angry investors protest in Colombia

Thousand of angry protesters gathered in Bogota to protest the shutdown of DMG, a company implicated in the Colombian pyramid scheme. Several hundred were tear-gassed as they blocked a main street in support of DMG founder David Murcia Guzman. President Alvaro Uribe appeared defiant in his quest to bring the perpetrators to justice, but the economic aftershocks are emblematic of an underlying crisis facing Colombia as a whole. Forrest Hylton states that "Uribe has shown himself to be incapable of resolving economic issues."

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Angry investors protest in Colombia

Producer: Zaa Nkweta

ZAA NKWETA, TRNN: Thousands of angry investors gathered in the Colombian capital to protest the shutdown of DMG, a company implicated in the Colombian pyramid scheme. Several hundred were teargassed as they blocked the main street in support of David Murcia Guzmán, who was deported from Panama this week on money laundering and bribery charges. Colombian President Álvaro Uribe appeared defiant in his claim to bring the perpetrators of this scandal to justice.

ÁLVARO URIBE, PRESIDENT OF COLOMBIA (SUBTITLED TRANSLATION): And so this afternoon I expressed my gratitude last night [sic] to President Torrijos for his efforts to help us in the capture and delivery to Colombian authorities, through the application of the Panamanian immigration law, of one of the people responsible for defrauding the Colombian people.

NKWETA: I spoke to political analyst Forrest Hylton via broadband about the unfolding crisis.

FORREST HYLTON, JOURNALIST AND HISTORIAN: It’s kind of the collapse of casino capitalism on the frontiers of empire. The entire southern part of Colombia has become an economy that hinges on two things—or, really, three: pyramid schemes, one; war, two; and cocaine, three. So you have an economy down there on the border with Ecuador that’s based, essentially, on illegal activities related to the war and narcotics. And out of that arise pyramid schemes of various degrees of capitalization, and the most important one is DMG, which was just shut down the other day, even though it hadn’t in fact stolen any of the money from what it called its "associates." It’s a form of popular capitalism, where people, instead of using banks, they have decided that it’s much more in their interest to use these so-called investment schemes whereby they get back, you know, 100 percent or 150 percent on their initial investment, and usually the turnaround time is three months, or six months at the longest for DMG. So people have really turned to the kind of speculative casino capitalism model in the south, which is a region that the government has long neglected and which has been one of the poorest regions and most peripheral regions in Colombia for a very long time.

NKWETA: One of the things that I saw was that although the government stepped in and said that it would take action against pyramid schemes that included DMG, along with all the other organizations as well, the public itself very vehemently opposed any government intervention. There was a huge demonstration, a huge march a couple of days ago, with the broad Colombian public supporting DMG. Can you explain that?

HYLTON: Precisely because the popular economy in Colombia, I mean, survival is so difficult for the majority of Colombia’s 45 million people that this kind of speculative enterprise that has delivered astonishing profits in relatively short period of time to its investors seems like some kind of magic salvation. And, in fact, David Murcia Guzmán is also known as David Midas, as in the man with the golden touch, Guzmán. So people see him as sort of a figure of redemption who himself came from, you know, humble origins and started out with nothing, and all of a sudden created a business empire as if by magic, which so far, you know, like I said, hasn’t stolen people’s money. So these people see, the people who have invested in DMG see, that it has been their way out of severe economic crisis. Now, it’s interesting that the government of Colombia says it has 2,500 hours of recorded conversations between the head of DMG and various associates, demonstrating that DMG in fact was capitalized through money laundering and cocaine profits, and there is some evidence to suggest that that may be so. But what’s interesting is they had all of this material. Why didn’t they intervene before? And why was there no regulation whatsoever on this type of speculative activity, which has been going on for some time before, you know, President Uribe decided to oppose it? Another thing is that one of President Uribe’s sons and one of his brothers is rumored to be deeply involve in DMG, and that was played out in the media in Colombia over the weekend. So we don’t really know what the relationship between, you know, some of President Uribe’s relatives, and many other very powerful people with DMG, and, you know, kind of the world of official banking. Many people say that this is the world of official banking attacking this kind of sort of outlaw, popular banking; but the truth is we don’t really know what laws DMG has broken, if any. Another scandal has been Uribe’s complete inability to resolve the issues with indigenous communities in the south not very far from Nariño, where all this kind of popular capitalism is taking place. The march of indigenous people first went to the city of Cali, which is one of Colombia’s three largest cities. It arrived in Bogotá, and the indigenous march is staying at the Universidad Nacional, the national public university, which has also been persecuted quite recently by Uribe. Students have been framed on trumped-up charges of terrorism and so forth. So Uribe has been totally unable to contain the kind of spreading protest that began with the indigenous movement and now includes public university sectors and a whole range of public workers. He’s got a real alternative to his policies in front of him. The indigenous have put forth a platform of five points about how they think the conflict should be resolved, how Colombia’s economy and politics should be reshaped, and Uribe so far is losing the debate. So he’s going through a kind of McCain moment, where national security concerns have temporarily faded into the background and economic concerns have become paramount, and Uribe has shown himself so far to be completely incapable of resolving any of these economics issues. And at the same time, you know, his kind of typical rhetoric of security, security, security is only leading to more widespread resistance.

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