Colombia: Multinationals in collusion with state terror

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The revelation of the secret Ralito Pact between leaders of the fascist AUC and a number of senior elected officials has lifted the lid on political collusion between the paramilitary death squads and successive Colombian governments, in particular that of current President Alvaro Uribe. An investigation into the collusion has already led to the arrest of eight of President Uribe’s congressional allies on grounds that they conspired with the death squads. A further 20 are now under investigation.

One of the signatories of Ralito Pact, pro-government Senator Miguel de la Espriella, announced its existence in a newspaper interview in November 2006. Other signatories included politicians who supported Uribe in his successful 2002 presidential campaign as well as AUC leaders Salvatore Mancuso and Rodrigo Tovar, alias ‘Jorge 40’, both of whom are wanted for extradition to the US for being amongst Colombia’s biggest cocaine traffickers.

As part of a process of centralising state power, President Uribe’s government has offered pardons, pensions and jobs – in local militias, the army and police – to over 31,000 demobilised AUC members through the ‘Law of Justice and Peace’. The aim is to create a force capable of defeating the socialist armed resistance of the FARC. Ex-AUC members keep their businesses and political networks and even their arms. The government also hoped to escape any accusations of working with the AUC terrorists.

Under the law, a leader like Mancuso can confess to as many massacres as he likes but face only a maximum of eight years in gaol, provided he pays compensation to his victims. This means he can let dozens of his co-terrorists off the hook by claiming the crimes that they committed – so far his list is over 500. With nothing to lose – in 2003 he was convicted in absentia for the 1997 massacre of 14 peasants in El Aro – his statements have been carefully worded to implicate only those government and military officials who are already imprisoned or dead.

The revelation of the Ralito Pact has blown this strategy apart. Links between the military and AUC have been well documented for some time, but not the political links. Now President Uribe, a wealthy landowner who was involved with other ranchers in setting up the death squads in the 1980s, finds six of his allies being questioned about drug trafficking and extortion. On 30 November 2006 the Supreme Court ordered the investigation after the seizure of a laptop belonging to ‘Jorge 40’ revealed detailed accounts and recordings of meetings between politicians and AUC paramilitaries. These involved the arrangement of elections for chosen candidates and scams involving the theft of funds from the health services. These funds are held by local governments and feed a whole chain of local gamonales (political tyrants). The money links mayors, military officers, landlords and paramilitary gangs, creating an interlocking network of political and military power.

Two senators – one of whom, Alvaro Garcia, is on the run – face charges of murder for plotting to kill 14 villagers in Macayepo in 2000 and for ordering the murder of an election official. Along with Erik Morris, in March 2006, Garcia sought re-election for the northern department of Sucre. to the Chamber of Representatives. Both are charged with financing terror. Five others face investigation. Senator Araujo, who is also being questioned, is brother of Foreign Minister Maria Consuelo Araujo. He has threatened that if he goes down, others will follow. A former head of Colombia’s intelligence agency (DAS) who served under Uribe, Jorge Noguera, is also under arrest for organising an electoral fraud in coastal municipalities which secured Uribe the 300,000 votes that gave him his first-round presidential victory. One other former congressman has admitted his part in the Ralito Pact and has resigned his government office. A former Congresswoman, Muriel Benito Rebollo, has been arrested, whilst a former governor, Arana Sus, is also on the run.

Corporate terror
It is not just the Colombian state that connives in the murder of its citizens. US corporations do as well. On 10 March, US federal judge Bowdre allowed a case to be opened in Alabama against the US Drummond Coal Corporation for ordering the murder of three of its employees in Colombia. The men’s union, Sintramienergética, is using the testimony of ex-DAS member Rafael García who is now in prison in Colombia.

García, former head of DAS IT, stated in 2006 that he had attended a meeting with Augusto Jiménez, President of Drummond in Colombia, who gave him a suitcase with $200,000 to pass on to ‘Jorge 40’ to pay for the assassination of Valmore Locarno and Víctor Hugo Orcasita, both trade unionists at Drummond. They were murdered in 2001. Locarno and Orcasita were respectively President and Vice president of Sintramienergética. The next President, Gustavo Soler, was also murdered.

This is not the only example of collusion between US multinationals and the AUC death squads. In 1997 the then chief of the AUC, Carlos Castaño and the managing director of Banadex, a Chiquita Brands subsidiary, agreed an operation to ‘pacify’ its Urabá plantations. In March, Chiquita Brands was fined $25 million for paying the AUC paramilitaries $1.7m over more than six years – to February 2004 – becoming one of the main financiers of terrorism in plain violation of its own government’s Patriot Act, and the US’s belated and hypocritical classification of the AUC as a terrorist group in 2001.

The US Department of Justice, following a Securities and Exchange Commission report, has now confirmed that in November 2001 Chiquita shipped 3,400 AK-47 rifles and four million 7.65mm cartridges from Nicaragua and stored them for the war against the FARC. Chiquita was forced to sell off Banadex after the 2004 revelations. Yet there has been no trial of Chiquita, Banadex or any of its directors for any of the crimes they committed in this period. It has taken until March 2007 for the State Prosecutor to ask the US for information about the case. The ‘pacification’ of areas such as Magdalena Medio involved the murder of thousands of workers as the AUC cleared the land for the large corporations to enable them to set up their plantations. Such land clearances have displaced three million people within Colombia. Chiquita itself has a notorious history, including, as the United Fruit Company, funding the CIA’s overthrow of the progressive Arbenz government in Guatemala in 1954.

Drummond and Chiquita are not alone. Coca Cola has paid for the murder of union members on its property, whilst Nestlé and Del Monte’s Multifruit currently face charges for abuse of workers. Meanwhile the US has made no move to extradite either Mancuso or ‘Jorge 40’, or to suspend $700 million aid it is giving annually to the Colombian government to crush the revolutionary movement of the FARC. Mancuso has threatened to stop talking if he can’t leave prison and live freely, and has declared himself insolvent to avoid paying compensation to his victims’ families. In Colombia, the multinationals and their ruling class allies murder with impunity.
Alvaro Michaels

FRFI 196 April / May 2007

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