Fanning the Flames: The Freedom Project Blog


Going Beyond Handouts

By Eran Wade

If we are to get beyond just giving handouts to countries and the poor, we need to ask the question of what is causing the poverty in the first place. Are the people lazy? Do they simply want a free handout? Are they simply jealous of our wealth? Do they want to hurt us and our way of life? Do they simply want socialism and not capitalism? The educated people I’ve talked with here say no. They say there is a deeper injustice occurring.

The latest email of the Washington Office of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), says, “Colombia is still a country at war. Its record on human rights is dismal. Attacks on civil society, union leaders, Afro-Colombians and Indigenous people continue with impunity. The FTA will deepen the economic disparity, which is a root cause of the conflict, and diminish human rights…Colombia is already the world's largest producer of cocaine. The FTA will threaten livelihoods and displace small farmers leaving, for some, no other alternative than to join the lucrative drug trade…

It continues, “Laws put in place in anticipation of the FTA to attract investment dismantle the legal rights related to territory, mineral and forest resources of these communities. Once the FTA is in place, under its investment rules, multinational corporations benefiting from these legal reforms will be able to sue the Colombian government for compensation for future lost profits if the laws are revoked…Enforcement of the new changes will be dependent on Colombian President Uribe who has a consistent record of undermining domestic labor and environmental law enforcement. Colombia is the most dangerous country in the world for union and labor organizers”

Madeline Albright writes about this in her new book, “With communism essentially dead and the victory of capitalism presumed, we might think that Marxism could safely be forgotten. Yet Marx predicted that capitalism would fail precisely because it concentrated wealth in the hands of a few. Increasingly, this is happening both within and among nations. Globalization, though celebrated for increasing productivity, has been accompanied by growing inequality. Critics allege that this split is caused by corporate interests who have used their power to impose unfair rules governing trade and tax policies. She continues, “Because the rules are unfair, the Western prescription for economic health, embodied in so-called Washington consensus…can seem the wrong medicine. Governments are forced to curtail social spending and give higher priority to pleasing foreign investors, so it is said, than to meet the needs of their citizens. When this happens, policies intended to aid development are perceived as marginalizing the poor.”

It may be hard for those of us in the United States to understand how we and our international policies are viewed regarding Colombia. It’s easy and natural for us to look out for our own self-interests, but it may be harder for us to see why it makes a difference that our international policy take into consideration the human rights violations of another country. When we do business and support another country that corruptly ignores the plight of it’s own citizens and the leaders who are trying to help, we are perceived—as Albright says—“as marginalizing the poor.”

Being here in Colombia has given me a new perspective. Maybe if I can share this perspective, it could help us to see how taking a stronger stance on human rights could benefit the United States. One leader told me, “It’s not just that the U.S. is rich. It’s how they got that way.” Our support of the Colombian government is perceived as “stepping on the backs of the poor” (who have nothing) so that corporations (who already are sustainable) can have more.

I’m all for democracy, freedom and entrepreneurship. The U.S. is a capitalist society and the economics of our country are very important. But if most of us knew that our country’s economic interests were growing at the expense of peoples lives, we might look into how we can change that. I don’t believe the average person in the U.S. wants to have our economic interests advanced at the cost of human rights and the First Amendment freedoms of people here in Colombia. I wish I could report that we look like the good guys here. I wish we were seen as the bearers of freedom, democracy and fairness. I wish we had a better reputation. But the truth is, we not only are perceived as ignoring the rights of freedom and the poor, we’re perceived as only advancing our own economic interests at the expense of freedom and the poor.

Some would say that we need to focus on protecting the interests of the U.S. and we cannot help the poor in other countries. However, I’d like to make a point that is entirely and personally mine regarding the situation in Colombia. When our economic interests in other countries encourage the human rights we ourselves value and take for granted in our Constitution and Bill of Rights, we go further to consolidate our best long-term economic interests. We create fewer enemies and more long-term friends who will be happier doing business with us later on. We support fair rules that allow people to work hard for a meaningful life. They are less likely to resent us. Making friends with people in other countries does more to solidify our economic security in our global world.

A university student here in Colombia wrote to me, “I don't know how much the vision you had about Colombia before coming here has changed, but I guess the experiences you have lived here, have changed your mind. Now you can understand what is really going on here and what kind of support the people really need. Even for me, sometimes it's really hard to try to understand how much the people have suffered in my country, because I am used to living in a city apparently far away from the conflict; but I am not blind, and I don't want to be blind. There are people who have lost their hope, and I know that every single thing I do (and other people do) to help them can bring back the hope, and encourage us to keep the faith and to build a new country with opportunities for everybody, especially for those who need it.”

There’s a great song by the Flaming Lips called the “The Yeah Yeah Yeah Song,” from their album “At War With the Mystics.” With plagiarism being the hot topic last week, I better admit that the title of one of my blogs came from the words in the chorus of this song: It’s a great song with a very catchy tune. If you have never heard it, go to this radio station’s web site, stream the audio live, and email or call the request line to ask for this song. I end this blog with the lyrics:

“If you could blow up the world with the flick of a switch
Would you do it?
If you could make everybody poor just so you could be rich
Would you do it?
If you could watch everybody work while you just lay on your back
Would you do it?
If you could take all the love without fiving any back
Would you do it?

And so we cannot know ourselves or what we'd really do...
With all your power
With all your power
With all your power
What would you do?

If you could make your own money and then give it to everybody
Would you do it?
If you knew all the answers and could give it to the masses
Would you do it?
No no no no no no are you crazy?
It's a very dangerous thing to do exactly what you want

Because we cannot know ourselves or what we'd really do
With all your power
With all your power
With all your power
What would you do?

Click here for Eran's previous post about Colombia


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Managing Director

McCormick Freedom Project

Shawn is responsible for overseeing and managing the operations associated with the McCormick Freedom Project. Additionally, he serves as the in house content expert and voice of museum through public speaking and original scholarship. Before joining the Freedom Project, he taught American Government, Economics, American History, and Chicago History at Community High School in West Chicago, IL and Sheboygan North High School in Wisconsin.

Shawn is a doctoral candidate within the Political Science Department at the University of Illinois at Chicago where he received his MA in Political Science. He is a 2001 James Madison Fellow from the State of Wisconsin and holds a bachelor's degree in Political Science, History, and Secondary Education from the University of Wisconsin at Madison.

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About Fanning the Flames and the McCormick Freedom Project

Fanning the Flames is a blog of the McCormick Freedom Project, which was started in 2006 by museum managing director Shawn Healy. The blog highlights the news of the day, in hopes of engaging readers in dialogue about freedom issues. Any views or opinions expressed on this blog represent those of the writers alone and do not represent an official opinion of the McCormick Freedom Project.

Founded in 2005, the McCormick Freedom Project is part of the McCormick Foundation. The Freedom Project’s mission is to enable informed and engaged participation in our democracy by demonstrating the relevance of the First Amendment and the role it plays in the ongoing struggle to define and defend freedom. The museum offers programs and resources for teachers, students, and the general public.

First Amendment journalism initiative

The Freedom Project recently launched a new reporting initiative with professional journalists Tim McNulty and Jamie Loo. The goal is to expand and promote the benefits of lifelong civic engagement among citizens of all ages, through original reporting, commentary and news aggregation on First Amendment and freedom issues. Please visit the McCormick Freedom Project's news Web site, The Post-Exchange at

Dave Anderson
Vice President of Civic Programs
McCormick Foundation

Tim McNulty
Senior Journalist
McCormick Freedom Project

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