Colombia: total war

FRFI 169 October / November 2002

On 7 August, with sharpshooters surrounding Congress, US spy planes overhead and 20,000 soldiers and police on alert, Alvaro Uribe was inaugurated as President of Colombia. He arrived in an armoured truck. Just after all assembled foreign ‘dignitaries’ had taken their seats, the FARC fired 120mm projectiles at the Presidential Palace, hitting it three times. During the day electric pylons were blown up across the country, and fighting between the FARC and the drug-funded ‘Farmers Self-Defence Groups’ in Cordoba province left 50 dead and dozens wounded.

Sixty per cent of the population is now in deep poverty, 50% of the rural population is unemployed, 15 state bodies are bankrupt, and the external debt has risen over the past four years from 32% to 50% of GDP. A state of open class war exists between a deeply reactionary US-funded state machine and armed workers and peasants.

Uribe has effectively guaranteed immunity for state violations of human rights. ‘Fighting corruption’ is his slogan, yet the man himself is utterly corrupt. His home in Cordoba province is the national capital of the fascist paramilitaries. As former governor of Antioquia, he created the Convivir groups in 1995-97 that butchered thousands of poor peasants and workers, actions the evil AUC continues today. He is one of 2,300 cattle ranchers who own over 2,000 hectares each, and who between them hold 40 million hectares. This compares with the two and a half million small peasants with less than five hectares who have in all barely 4.5 million hectares. According to the World Bank this is one of the greatest concentrations of landed property on the planet, and has increased in the last decade. The land question is central to the struggle in Colombia.

Armed to the teeth by the US, which is providing a further $500m of ‘counter-insurgency’ aid in 2003, Uribe wants to destroy the FARC. He aims to double the size of the army, now 140,000-strong, and the numbers of police. He intends to create a network of one million informants – a fifth column ‘to defend property and support the authorities’. These new measures will cost $1.6bn. Other state expenditure will be cut, especially state workers’ wages.

A ‘State of Public Unrest’ was declared on 12 August, followed by ‘Public Order Decree 2002’ on 10 September. These allow telephone tapping, searches and detention for 24 hours without a warrant, and the imposition of travel restrictions and curfews at will. Uribe has created zones of ‘rehabilitation and consolidation’ (including the old FARC peace zone) in 14 departments, where all weapons and telecommunication equipment must be registered. To stop international witnesses, any foreigner must have permission to enter the zones. Three Basque trade unionists have already been expelled.

On 16 September in a massive demonstration, 800,000 workers around the country struck against Uribe’s wage cuts for state employees, and against the Free Trade Area of America, which opens Colombia to cheap US foods and privatisation. Demanding democratic rights, urban workers, trade unions from all industries, civil servants, peasants and students took action around the country over several days. 100,000 peasants were still mobilised on 24 September. Peasant actions were singled out for vicious attacks. On 17 September, five peasants were kidnapped and murdered in Barranquilla where 500 were demonstrating through the ‘National Co-ordination of the Displaced’. Two days later, anti-riot units of the army attacked 4,500 defenceless campesinos, including women and children, in fields 30 km from Popayan, seizing their plastic sheets, tents and food to force them to disperse. Two plantain growers, Carlos Alberto and Luis Orlando Mendoza, were detained at a check-point, decapitated and then skinned like animals (see www.

Elsewhere the fascist AUC murder of trade unionists – 108 this year so far – and human rights activists continues, aided by the army. The 18th Army Brigade in Arauca department has killed over 40 community leaders over the last 10 months. Journalists are fleeing the area. Local families cannot even file reports of the

Heavy fighting is continuing in the Colombian city of Medellin with some battles lasting for many hours as urban militias of the FARC and ELN guerrilla groups fight to prevent state security forces and paramilitary death squads from entering the sprawling shantytowns. The army and police are attempting to encircle certain poor neighbourhoods of the city in preparation for all out assaults.

On 20 September two paramilitary gunmen assassinated Father Jose Luis Arroyave, in front of his church. He was the religious leader of the Comuna 13 neighbourhood, one of the poorest areas in Medellin and a long-time stronghold of the FARC rebel movement. So far this year over 2,500 people have been assassinated in Medellin.

As the previous President Pastrana left to live safely in Europe he called for more rewards for information to liquidate the FARC: ‘We are speaking of $2 million dollars for the leaders, $1 million for area heads and $500,000 for leaders in the field’. The struggle continues.
Alvaro Michaels


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