Colombia: who are the terrorists?

FRFI 163 October / November 2001

Who is spending billions of dollars systematically despoiling thousands of hectares of agricultural land and forest, poisoning the eco-system, forcing tens of thousands of poor peasant families off the land they struggle to cultivate, making them sick, killing their animals, driving them hundreds of kilometres to the appalling slums of the larger cities? The US government has planned and is organising and paying for this terrorism. The aim of the notorious ‘Plan Colombia’ is to drive the poor from the land. ALVARO MICHAELS reports.

The Colombian state is completely politically dependent upon the US. It aims to force the poor off the land and destroy the basis of the armed resistance to imperialism. Thus more than 50,000 hectares have been fumigated with Monsanto’s ‘Roundup’ this year, destroying thousands of small holdings. In San Pablo 6,000 people were displaced after fumigation destroyed legal crops, burned the skin and damaged the lungs of farmers. Protests from the normally reticent middle class press in Colombia are met with threats from Anne Paterson, US ambassador, that an end to spraying would have immediate consequences for US military and economic support.

During the last ten years, 1.2 million people have been displaced, over 36,000 killed and half a million have fled into exile as a result of the war between rich and poor. ‘Plan Colombia’ aims to destroy the revolutionary opposition, with the help of 500 US new ‘advisors’, 300 other ‘contracted’ staff, 60 helicopters and a clause allowing open and unlimited future aid for the Colombian government. The number of Colombian soldiers will double to 60,000 over the next five years.

State politicians have created the AUC, a brutal fascist organisation, funded by drug dealing and local businesses and used by the Colombian army which channels arms and money to it. These terrorists are the non-attributable force supporting the Colombian army in preparing new assaults on FARC and ELN revolutionaries, along with three new ‘anti-narcotic’ battalions with US Special Forces trainers.

In August, 180 NGOs from 11 countries began an ‘International Caravan for Life’. The La Marcela boat set out up the River Magdalena, north of Bogota, to the San Lucas mountains with 68 passengers, to distribute food, medicine, and tools to the poor. This area is blockaded by the state and dominated by the revolutionary ELN. An ‘encounter’ or ‘demilitarised’ zone may be set up there, similar to the zone in the south dominated by the revolutionary FARC.

The publicity around the boat trip exposed the state’s cruel strategy of starving out the rural basis of revolt. This infuriated the AUC who promote anti negotiation organisations like Asocipaz (‘Councillors against demilitarisation for peace talks’). They blocked the river along with the state military forces. The boat was held up, but because there was international interest and prestigious people on the Caravan, including councillors from the Spanish Aragonese Cortes (local assembly), the boat was able to keep moving, but got into an area (Mica Ahumado) with a strong AUC presence. Robert Baranano of the ‘Committee for Solidarity of the Basque Country with Colombia’ explained that they were attempting to ‘deliver humanitarian aid to a population which the Colombian authorities are committed to wiping out’ and who have been blockaded for two years so that they abandon their lands and the natural resources there.

In response (and well in advance of Bush’s latest war on terrorism) the NGOs were immediately accused of being supporters of ETA (Basque liberation group) and the IRA, a charge which the AUC butchers thought would discredit the NGOs’ exposure of state starvation tactics. Radio ‘intercepts’ were published in the European press to make the link between the FARC and the IRA. Suddenly Interpol is supposedly hunting 200 ‘international terrorists’ (inevitably branded as drug dealers) supporting the Colombian ELN and FARC ‘terrorists’ (also branded as drug dealers). This happened in August after agricultural workers and poor peasants all over Colombia blocked roads demanding aid because of the desperate situations they face which have been created by the state and no one else.

In a speech to the military, President Pastrana announced the suspension of talks with the ELN being held in Venezuela. This was followed with a well-prepared assault by 2,000 troops on ELN positions. The FARC was also attacked on 1 August, facing 16 air strikes using new US equipment.

Workers unions
On 10 May, Carlos Castaño, leader of AUC was quoted in the El Tiempo newspaper saying that trade unionists were targets of his organisation ‘because they interfere with business’. Last year 136 trade unionists were assassinated in Colombia. The latest report from the human rights department of the Colombian trade union congress (CUT) records 87 assassinations of trade union organisers up until August this year with a further 18 attempted killings and 39 kidnaps or disappearances.

The trade union SINTRAEMCALI, a municipal workers union in Colombia’s second biggest city, Cali, has successfully fought a seven year campaign to block the privatisation of its employer EMCALI, which provides water, drainage, electricity and telecommunications to homes and businesses. In the first six months of this year, 13 members of this union were killed and about 70 (including Luis Hernandez, part of its leadership) are facing political charges.

Threats, kidnappings, disappearances and assassinations
Death threats by paramilitary groups against all active human rights workers, social and trade union leaders are common. On 1 July this year, teacher Cristina Echeverri Pérez, a member of United Educators of Caldas, was kidnapped. A march took place in Manizales two weeks later to demand her release. On 3 July this year, Jairo Domínguez, a member of the Santa Bárbara branch of the United Building Materials Industrial Workers Union, was kidnapped by armed men and shot dead one week later. Earlier in May, 200 plantation workers at two palm oil plantations in Casanare state were kidnapped and terrorised for two days by the AUC.

Miguel Ignacio Lora was assassinated on 11 July in Montería and his wife was seriously wounded. They were members of the National Association of Officers and Employees of the Justice Branch and they worked in the Córdoba Prosecutors Office. James Urbano, a leader of the Valle Workers Union, was assassinated on 12 July in Jamundí. Saul Alberto Colpas, president of the Atlántico Department Farm Workers Union and a former secretary for peasant affairs for CUT, was assassinated the following day in Ponedera. Manuel Pajaro Peinado, treasurer of the Public Servants Union in Barranquilla was murdered on 16 August for his anti-privatisation work. The same day Doris Lozano, committee member of the Electricity Workers Union, was assassinated and her colleague Omar Garcia was wounded. This list is a small indication of the Colombian state terror.

Stop state terrorism! USA out of Colombia!

Support and solidarity to: Luis Hernandez, SINTRAEMCALI: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Information from Colombia Solidarity Campaign. Tel: 07950 923 448, This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

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