Colombian ruling class – under US orders

The current aim of the Colombian government is clear: prolong the role of Colombia as a US client state, prolong the presidency of Uribe, prolong the attack on the revolutionary opposition. Peace and justice are not on the agenda, unless it is ‘peace’ brought by the Colombian Army, its terrorist accomplices in US special forces, independent contractors and the fascist paramilitary AUC. Any opposition to control of Colombian assets by private US interests must be destroyed; this is essential in the case of FARC (the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) and the ELN (National Liberation Army). ALVARO MICHAELS reports.

On 13 December, Colombian police, assisted by corrupt Venezuelan national guards, abducted Ricardo Granda, foreign minister for FARC, from Caracas. He was taken to the Colombian border and detained by Colombian police. The Venezuelan government delayed a public response to consider the implications, before giving details that included the £800,000 bribery of security officials. In September 2004 Interpol had rejected a Colombian request to put Granda on its international wanted list because the charges were seen as political.

On 12 January the Colombian defence minister tried to cover up, stating that the arrest took place in Cucuta, Colombia on 15 December. Later that day Colombia admitted paying a bounty for the capture! Venezuela withdrew its ambassador from Bogota. President Chavez declared the suspension of business negotiations between the two countries ‘until there is redress’ for this violation of Venezuelan sovereignty.

Colombia justified hiring bounty hunters to snatch ‘state enemies abroad’ in a nine-point briefing. It claimed that Venezuela shelters ‘terrorists’. Since US funding is nine-tenths of the law, nothing must stand in the way of US demands. This illegal and deliberate provocation – ‘divide Colombia and Venezuela and rule’– has all the hallmarks of US direction. Naturally, the US ambassador in Bogota backed Uribe’s nine points ‘100%’.

US repression
The US-funded and guided assault against FARC in southern Colombia continues. On 13 January, 20 military personnel were killed when a US-donated Black Hawk, part of an assault mission of seven aircraft, crashed near Manguipayan. As part of ‘Plan Patriota’, begun in 2004, and intended to destroy FARC and the ELN, 16,000 troops invaded south east Colombia. In preparation General James T Hill of US Southern Command met at least ten times in Miami and Colombia with Colombian military leaders. He proposed raising the number of US troops and private contractors from 400 to 800 and from 400 to 600 respectively. This was approved in March 2004. The extermination campaign has been funded to 2006. Its aim is to push armed resistance to imperialism to the Ecuador border, where 21,000 Ecuadorian troops are assembled to kill those trying to cross the border. The US base at Manta co-ordinates the strategy in Ecuador.

The declared aim is to eradicate the narcotics trade. Thousands of hectares have been poisoned with powerful herbicides, destroying small farms and seriously damaging the health of small farmers and farm workers. In fact it is the government-aligned AUC that runs the narcotics trade and penetrates and manipulates every level of government. The AUC’s leader, Mancusi, was invited to address Colombia’s Congress. The Centaur block of the AUC has begun planting 30,000 hectares with African palm as a counter-insurgency move on collective land seized from black communities in ‘el Choco’. They then received state credits for planting. The government intends to legalise the past theft of land from small farmers in regions such as Catatumbo, Arauca and Uraba to produce export crops. Monoculture will be enforced on the land to supply the US and European markets. Colombia will become dependent on US-produced staple products. In fact, 46% of all US non-military aid consists of agricultural surpluses, with the purpose of destroying domestic supplies and suborning the politics of the recipient country.

Whilst Uribe hands over senior prisoners from FARC to US courts on trumped-up narcotics charges, the US pardons such Cali cartel figureheads as Harvey Weinig, who laundered $100m. AUC gangsters on US lists are not handed over. Uribe has an open alliance with the AUC to create a stronger state. AUC ‘demobilisation’ means a legal identity for each member, plus a monthly pension for two years. They retain all arms and uniforms. They are being incorporated into the Colombian army, police, private security groups or into paid bands of civilian informants set up by the previous President. 4,000 AUC members have been transferred in the last two years. On 17 January a new mobile brigade was created out of four counter-guerrilla battalions to defend electricity and petroleum installations. 30,000 extra troops are planned, reaching 380,000 police and military (about two and a half times that of the British Army and police). In January, Human Rights Watch in Washington demanded that foreign donors refuse to pay Colombia to demobilise the AUC unless its members are first punished for past crimes. The World Bank has already approved $200m to support Uribe’s assault on labour, which will encourage bosses to employ AUC thugs without question.

Meanwhile the US keeps pressure on it clients. A declassified 1991 US Defence Intelligence Report reveals that US intelligence considered the then Senator Uribe to be involved in the narcotics trade and that he participated in Pablo Escobar’s parliamentary campaigns. Escobar headed the Medellin cartel. The report also shows that Uribe attacked all attempts to extradite Colombian drug traffickers to the US. This, in the case of the AUC, he continues to do. The report also says that Uribe’s father, Alberto Uribe Sierra, subject to a US drug trafficking warrant, was killed by rival traffickers over a $300,000 debt and not killed by the FARC as the President regularly claims. Bush paid a flying visit to Cartagena on 22 November to stress continued support for Uribe, the only South American president to send troops to Iraq.

Breaking the US grip
On 19-20 November 2004 the Colombian section of the Congress of Bolivarian Peoples met in Bogota and declared its opposition to neo-liberal globalisation and the purchase of the most important sectors of the economy by multinational corporations. It denounced ‘Plan Colombia’, the ‘Andean Initiative’ and ‘Plan Puebla Panama’ as expressions of US imperialism. The second full Congress in December in Caracas reiterated these statements, calling for an international movement within Latin America and the Caribbean to struggle against US imperialism and its rejection of international law and human rights. The Congress supports the Social Charter presented by Venezuela to the Organisation of American States and the creation of a new South American Union of Nations.

Operation Dragon
The heroic fight of Colombian labour, subject to continuous assassinations, can be seen in disputes with Coca-Cola. On 27 March 2004, Sinaltrainal, the union in the Coca-Cola bottling plants, announced the suspension of a hunger strike against the killing and intimidation of union members. The hunger strike had lasted for 276 hours. Agreements had been reached with the company’s Colombian president Jaramillo which allowed for a further delegate meeting on 2 April 2005 from all the plants involved and a promise of no reprisals against hunger strikers and removal of sanctions against them. There would be two weeks’ paid leave and medical treatment for the hunger strikers so they could recover, plus publication of a notice in a national daily newspaper demanding that the protesters’ claims and the lives of the workers be respected. Sinaltrainal thanked the many labour and international solidarity groups that had supported the hunger strikers. Opposing the workers we find Ulster Unionist leader David Trimble who, at the First International Conference of Terror Victims, held in Madrid on 27 January 2004, backed Colombian vice president Francisco Santos. Trimble said, ‘One of the great curses of this world is the human rights industry...They justify terrorist acts and end up being complicit in the murder of innocent victims’.

The Colombian state has prepared Operation Dragon directed against the trades union Sintraemcali and its allies. According to a Colonel Villate, who has been detained by the Attorney General, the paramilitaries and military, with full knowledge of the Interior Ministry, devised this plan. Documents found in Cali and Medellin exposed a hideous plot to assassinate up to 80 opposition activists and politicians. The documents revealed the complicity of the Military Intelligence Organisation, the Cali Metropolitan Police and the Ministry of the Interior. Central to the plan was the assassination of the leadership of Sintraemcali. Intelligence gathering had been commissioned by their employers at Emcali and by the Superintendent of Public Services.

State economic policy
Presidente Uribe’s government privatised important companies such as Telecom, national radio, television organisation Inravision and the Agricultural Credit Savings bank, weakened social expenditures of the National Petroleum Corporation Ecopetrol and undermined the National Institute of Social Security and 130 other economic organisations.

The signing of a Free Trade Agreement by Colombia with the US will ruin fishing and what remains of national industry. It will remove workers’ access to health, education and other public services. Colombia’s bio-diversity, water and all natural resources are to be privatised. Its indigenous cultures are being destroyed. La Contralorla (Colombia’s equivalent to the National Audit Office), reported that official poverty increased from 55% in 2002 to 64% in 2003. Some 20% are in absolute poverty. In May 2004 the United Nations described Colombia as the western hemisphere’s worst ‘humanitarian situation’. Three million people have been forced from their homes over the last 10 years. Two million people are internally displaced by counter-revolutionary terror. This reserve army of labour holds the aspirations of all other workers in check.

A 2004 referendum to extend Uribe’s term of office was defeated and he turned to an ever-anxious bourgeois Congress to force through a change in the law. Legal opposition against him is now centred upon the forthcoming presidential election. The last, in 2002, was extremely violent, with AUC terrorists manning voting stations, forcing voters to mark votes as instructed. The same can be expected this time.

FRFI 183 February / March 2005