I met with the students on my second day at the University, along with my outstanding translator, who was there for me that every session, sometimes translating me into Spanish, and sometimes including my hosts into English for me. As the letter I posted yesterday suggested, they were all familiar with books of mine. They asked questions that showed a political awareness that would have been unlikely in a US, setting. Part of the interest in talking with me, was a desire to know how to respond to a transformation of the country that is underway. In addition to the impending free trade agreement with the United States and the arrangement for three military bases, the government is planning a massive reform, a word that should make any right-minded person tremble.
Presently, the country is fairly generous with students, apparently far more than United States. All this is going to cease because the program was funded with World Bank money, which now must be repaid. In addition, universities will be privatized and turned into trade schools for the extractive industries, upon which the new economic plan rests. Colombia has already been under a heavily neoliberal program. The new move smacks of a combination of absurdity and violence.
After meeting with the students, I did an interview with a magazine published by the University. My first lecture was entitled "the Crisis in Capitalism from a US Perspective." Each of the commentators based presentation on one of my books, together with their critique of my talk, as well as material of their own interest. German Umana [pardon the absence of the Spanish characters here.] Was the first commentator. I was very impressed by the depth of his critique, delivered with a vigor that seemed common among the presenters here. The professor told the audience that his daughter reprimanded him for not participating in the massive demonstration that day.
I did not know it at the time, but Blanche was there at the demonstration, taking pictures of the Army tank, but not of the helicopters at the demonstration. She was told that the show of military force was necessary to protect the demonstrators in case that the FARC would unleash violence there.
My afternoon lecture was called "The Social and Environmental Consequences of Neoliberalism." The commentator, Prof. Irma Banquero Haberlin, mostly concentrated on the environmental toll of the petrochemical industry in Colombia. Her presentation was very informative.
The next day, my first lecture was, "The Exclusion of Labor in Economic Theory." The commentator, Prof. Luis Armando Banco did an excellent job of commenting with the usual Colombian enthusiasm. He correctly used commentary to address a blind spot in my work: the condition of immigrants in the United States.
The final talk was "The Larger Theoretical Problems with Economic Theory." The commentator was Isidro Hernandez. His presentation was less political, but more on a high academic level, which I appreciated very much.
I would've appreciated the conference much more if I had not been plagued by food poisoning, which I got from eating two bites of an airplane salad. Blanche's was much worse.
Because my schedule, I saw nothing of Columbia, except the airport, the hotel, the University, and the road back to the hotel. The speakers and the students, however, offered a great deal of information. The most informative talk came from Eduardo Sarmiento Palacio [I spelled his name wrong yesterday], trained at the University of Minnesota in highly technical economics, and formerly director of national planning until criticism of the government marginalized him.
Correction: Some of the students told me that my report of the number of students in the economics program was about 140, not 340.