Repression and resistance in Colombia

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FRFI 172 April / May 2003

Gloria Ramirez, member of the National Executive of the Central Workers Union in Colombia and Carlos Lozano, editor of the Voz newspaper and member of the Central Executive Committee of the Communist Party of Colombia spoke to FRFI. They explained that the level of state and fascist paramilitary repression is escalating with the direct military intervention of the United States through Plan Colombia.

Carlos Lozano said the US government had openly interfered in the Colombian civil war for 40 years: ‘Plan Colombia is an instrument of intervention that, despite the name, has been adopted in the US Congress. It is a plan that never was approved by any Colombian institution.’

Under the pretext of combating narco-trafficking, the US military forces in Colombia are actively attempting to defeat the popular movement and the insurgency. In March 2003 the FARC guerrillas shot down a spy plane and captured three members of US intelligence who were on board attempting to locate the leading members of the FARC: irrefutable evidence of direct US involvement. ‘They are not there as military “advisors”; there are many US soldiers in different zones throughout the country’, explained Carlos. ‘There is a US military presence in Arauca, close to the border near Venezuela, which is rich in oil. They are setting up military bases in the Caño Limón-Coveñas oil pipeline zone, which has been attacked previously by the guerrillas.' The Colombian government is supporting the war on Iraq, calling for a quick war in the hope that US troops can then be transferred to Colombia.

Alongside operations against the guerrilla movement there is repression against those engaged with popular struggle, particularly targeted at trade unionists. Gloria Ramirez stated that the government has a policy of exterminating trade unionists. President Uribe has introduced a state of emergency under his so-called ‘democratic security’ doctrine, which criminalises social protest. Even NGOs and human rights organisations have been attacked and all their computer information has been seized by the state. ‘This government still calls itself a democracy, because they have the official institutions of “democracy”. In reality, Colombia is closer to a military dictatorship, comparable with Chile under Pinochet’ said Gloria. Since 1986 4,000 trade unionists have been assassinated.

Despite the ‘dirty war’, the Communist Party operates openly and publicly. The Party participated in the foundation of the Patriotic Union, set up after peace talks between the FARC and government in 1984 by a coalition of progressive organisations in an attempt at a democratic solution to the conflict. Communist Party members were among thousands from the Patriotic Union, including those elected to Congress, who were persecuted and assassinated with impunity.

The communists still utilise the limited legal spaces in Colombia, which were won through popular struggles. ‘But at the same time,’ Carlos told us, ‘we believe that the revolutionary armed struggle is a form of struggle that is valid in Colombia, because it develops from political, social and economic causes. The Party states that part of the tactic and strategy of Colombian revolutionaries is the combination of all forms of struggle of the masses and unity between the democrats and the revolutionaries. Our Party is working towards the consolidation of the so-called Social and Political Fronts, a coalition of the left, trade unions, popular organisations, to create an alternative to the Liberal-Conservative system.’

Gloria told us that the communists believed that armed conflict in Colombia stems from structural causes, the political, economic and social exclusion of the great majority of the people. ‘It is necessary to work towards a negotiated political exit, which we will arrive at through a structural transformation in our country’, she said. ‘That is why we have always pointed out the contradiction between the economic and social policies pursued by the various governments and the peace process.’ While the government talks peace they attack people’s rights, increase taxes, and throw resources at the war. ‘In our country 40% of the budget is going to pay the external debt, 25% goes to the military, so what is left for social investment is minimal.’

Plan Colombia reflects the US and Colombian government’s misconception that destroying the guerrilla movement will solve the problems of the country. ‘The violence in Colombia doesn’t have just one cause, but the main reason is the social inequity, the level of poverty and the model of wealth concentration.’