Colombia War and negotiation/FRFI 235 Oct/Nov 2013

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 235 October/November 2013

Since November 2012, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army (FARC-EP) and the government have grappled fiercely with each other in negotiations taking place in Cuba. Colombian President Santos, backed by US imperialism, is attempting to force FARC to comply with a well-prepared scenario aimed at breaking its political influence and dispersing its members. FARC, however, is holding firm and making demands as socialists, in the interests of the masses, through its ‘Bolivarian Programme for a New Colombia’. ALVARO MICHAELS reports.

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Colombia: Negotiating for the future

Discussions which started last November in Oslo, Norway, between the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the Colombian government continue in Cuba. Central to the agenda are: land redistribution; a secure and open electoral process to allow FARC’s political representatives and allies - the 10-year-old underground Bolivarian Movement for a New Colombia (MBNC) - to campaign for office; a national solution to the production and sale of cocaine, and compensation for war victims. At the start FARC declared a ceasefire, yet the government refused to reciprocate. Under continued attack in the field FARC returned fire from 20 January 2013, while remaining open to a bilateral truce. The discussions continued.

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Colombia – the struggle for peace /FRFI 229 Oct/Nov 2012

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism! 229 October/November 2012

On 27 August, President Santos of Colombia announced that his government had agreed to engage in formal discussions with leaders of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army (FARC-EP) with the aim of ending the 48-year civil war. These talks will begin on 8 October in Oslo and will then move to Havana. The agreement follows six months of exploratory talks in Cuba and will be the fourth attempt in 30 years to end the war.

Santos was Minister of Defence (internal repression) in the preceding government of millionaire rancher Alvaro Uribe. Despite his continued assaults and bellicose statements, Santos recognises that the FARC will not be defeated by armed force. The systematic attempt to liquidate the FARC leadership, rather than negotiate peacefully, has not succeeded. From 2010 Santos started to put out feelers, but continued the war, killing FARC leaders Mono Jojoy and Alfonso Cano. Rodrigo Londono, Cano’s successor, took up these contacts. Between 23 February and 27 August this year there were ten exploratory meetings out of which emerged the agenda for the forthcoming talks, with its five main points.* Central to these are democratic guarantees for the FARC and ‘in particular for the new movements that arise after the signing of the Final Agreement’, including access to the media. Colombia’s congress passed a law in June creating a framework for amnesties and ‘pardons’ for rebel leaders.

Resistance can be expected from wealthy rural ranchers of the ‘old economy’ and plantation owners allied with Uribe, who as president from 2002-2010 waged a relentless war against the FARC while making peace with far-right militias who did most of the killing during the dirty war. A further intention of the new agreement is to discuss compensation for the victims of the conflict.

Of course Santos’s aim remains to dismantle both FARC and the other guerrilla forces in the country – the Ejercito de Liberacion Nacional (ELN) and the Ejercito Popular de Liberacion (EPL). Jorge Mora Rangel, chief of the armed forces during negotiations with the FARC ten years ago, is part of Santos’s team. If the talks succeed, Santos will trust the rest of the ruling class in Colombia to control any subsequent forms of struggle, electoral or otherwise. Formal diplomacy and ‘peaceful’ struggle may once again become the continuation of the armed class struggle in Colombia.

A strengthened state and economy

The renewal of discussions about peace ultimately results from the development of the forces of production in Colombia and the simultaneous and necessary centralisation of state political authority and military power. Since US President Clinton’s wholesale funding of the Colombian ruling class from 1999 to create a united front against the peasants and workers, there has been a reduction in the squabbling between bourgeois political cliques, and since 2003 more central control of the the far-right paramilitaries. A massive expansion of the state’s forces has been funded with over 100,000 professional soldiers, 80 Black Hawk helicopters, plus another 350,000 armed men in various state militias.

At the same time foreign investment has been embraced in all areas of natural resources, with everything up for sale to foreign capital. Colombian delegates to trade talks with the US baulked only at the sale of the genetic rights to the Colombian forests found in drafts of the trade agreement the US put before them.

European and Chinese interests in Colombia have expanded and extended urban centres. The destruction of so much of the peasantry and the growth of the urban working class has created a new context for the anti- imperialist struggle. In July 2008 Fidel Castro suggested that the FARC should unilaterally free its remaining political and military prisoners. It did this. He advised them however, not to lay down their weapons, warning that, as a rule, fighters who have done so over the preceding half-century ‘did not survive to see the peace.’ In any case FARC will never forget that following the peace talks of 1984, it promoted the Patriotic Union, an open and broad political movement in 1985 to conduct a successful electoral campaign. But between 1986 and 1998, during 12 years of ‘liberal’ governments, the Colombian butcher rulers, guided by the CIA, assassinated 4,000 leaders of the Communist Party and thousands of peasants and workers who had been drawn into open democratic and electoral work.

Since 2007 President Chavez had shown his willingness to support peace negotiations, but Uribe tried to use the offer to discredit the Venezuelan president. Now the Venezuelan government is formally facilitating the new talks, and Cuba is the centre of the process. FARC will propose a bilateral ceasefire as soon as peace talks with the Colombian government start on 8 October.

FARC has long demanded a National Agreement for Peace, and now finds its anti-imperialist position supported by the majority of the electorate in Venezuela, Cuba, Bolivia and Ecuador, as well as by students and masses elsewhere in Latin America. The change in the political climate throughout Latin America in the last decade has brought about this latest step. Sections of the Latin American bourgeoisie have allied with peasants and workers to assert degrees of national independence from US imperialism, and have sought closer relations between themselves. Ultimately this is a response to the demands of the masses who have suffered so greatly from the neo-liberal assault of the 1990s, itself built upon the US-backed bloody dictatorships of the previous period.

FARC’s ‘Bolivarian Programme for a New Colombia’, a democratic, independent path to socialism, is central to its negotiation position. Their agenda for the talks thus includes agricultural development policy to boost the integration of the regions and to develop social and economic equality, eradicate poverty and secure food supplies, build infrastructure and improve the land. It is to be seen how imperialism responds to this shift in strategy by the most militant representatives of the poor peasants and workers.

Alvaro Michaels

* sheets/25784-agreement-colombia-government-and-rebel-group-farc.html

Colombia: renewed state onslaught on FARC/ FRFI 224 December 2011/January 2012

Fight Racism! Fight Imperialism 224 December 2011/January 2012

The assassination of FARC leader Alfonso Cano on 4 November has renewed the hopes of the Colombian state that it can defeat the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. These hopes will be in vain. FARC is based in the countryside where 5.2 million Colombians have been displaced with appalling brutality since 1948, most of them indigenous peoples and peasants. Colombian president Juan Santos speaks of restoring land stolen from these people to defuse the growing opposition to the ruling class. Yet the reality is that, without state violence, the wealthy and their foreign financiers cannot cling to their privileges.

In September, newly-appointed Defence Minister Juan Carlos Pinzon promised an extra $550m military spending, with orders to ‘deal the final blow to the FARC’. But despite the loss of several leaders in the last three years, FARC and the National Liberation Army (ELN) have increased their actions in many areas, including attacks on key energy installations, in the face of an intense military campaign directed against them, supported by US technology and Israeli advisers.

Alfonso Cano was FARC’s top political emissary. He launched the Bolivarian Movement for a New Colombia in 2000, and was in charge of the Colombian Clandestine Communist Party. Rodrigo Londono-Echeverry, or Timochenko, who has a strong military reputation, has now been elected FARC leader.

The Army and paramilitaries are continuing to murder peasants, and then pretend the corpses are those of  FARC or ELN guerrillas. They are also returning to an old deceit of dressing up as FARC members to rob and kill. A new wave of narco-paramilitary groups, BACRIMs, has been created with ex-members of the United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia, a paramilitary organisation set up by wealthy landowners to fight the FARC. These urban groups join other regional paramilitary gangs and sections of the police to steal from workers and small businesses.

University students strike

In October Colombian university students refused to attend classes until the government withdrew a bill aimed at privatising public universities. Inspired by the Chilean student protests, massive demonstrations blocked the capital on 10 November. 550,000 public university students went on strike. Former vice president Francisco Santos, said on radio that students on strike ‘will be faced, forcefully, with the legal arm of state repression.’ Subject to a wave of protest he formally apologised the next day for saying that the state should use tasers to control the protesters. On 16 November the students returned to classes in return for the president’s promise to demilitarise the universities and withdraw the bill, although this will require a vote in Congress. The students continue to demonstrate against it.

Alvaro Michaels

Colombia: a new phase in US global militarization / FRFI 211 Oct / Nov 2009

FRFI 211 October / November 2009

Expelled from its Manta military base in Ecuador from 18 September, the US has reorganised its military infrastructure in South America so that Colombia becomes the regional hub for operations. On 14 August, it concluded a secret deal with Colombian President Uribe, allowing US Southern Command the use of seven military bases – three naval, and two each for the US air force and army. South American states immediately called an emergency meeting of UNASUR to discuss their response to this threat to their security.

Military changes

The new agreement increases the 250 US military operatives now officially in Colombia to 800 plus 600 ‘civilian’ contractors. The Palanquero air base will support P3 surveillance and E3 early warning aircraft, and C17 military transports, able to reach across half the continent without refuelling. The Puerto Salgar air base will be capable of receiving more than 2,000 soldiers, its runway will be the longest in Colombia at 3,500 metres. Three airplanes will be able to take off simultaneously. It will have its own casinos, restaurants, supermarkets, theatres and hospital.

All of this is part of a build-up of US military power in the region. Between April and May 2006, the US Navy conducted exercises involving four ships with 60 fighter planes and 6,500 soldiers. The US Fourth Naval Fleet, disbanded in 1950, was reactivated in 2008, shortly after Colombia's military incursion into Ecuador, with ‘responsibility’ for the Caribbean, Central and South America. In May 2008, US soldiers of the Task Force ‘New Horizons’ arrived in Peru, the US’s only other close ally in the region, under the pretext of humanitarian operations. In October 2008, heavily armed soldiers from the Task Force with Chinook helicopters supported 990 US soldiers in an operation 575 kilometres southeast of Lima, where the US is negotiating for a military base. Meanwhile, the US has requested that Uruguay and Paraguay allow US forces to operate from bases in the two countries.

Venezuelan President Chavez is clear that the US intention in Colombia is to expand its covert intelligence operations across the region and control natural resources. The US has already supported three coups d'etat in Latin America since 2000: Venezuela in 2002, Haiti in 2004, and most recently, Honduras.

Despite an initial refusal, Uribe attended the UNASUR summit hosted by Argentina on 28 August. Its aim was to strengthen South America as a ‘peace zone.’ During the discussion, Chavez brandished ‘The White Book of Aerial Mobility Command and the Global Strategy of Support Bases of the United States’ prepared in April 2009 and based on the US’s doctrine of ‘Global Engagement’. The final UNASUR statement agreed that its Defence Council would study it. Afterwards Chavez said that, ‘The Colombian representative had the audacity to excuse themselves for not presenting the document of agreement that they have signed with the United States, saying they couldn't show it because they needed the permission of the US government.’ Since the start of Plan Colombia in 2000, the Colombian army has received $4.35bn, making it South America’s best equipped army.

On 16 September the defence and foreign ministers of UNASUR agreed in Quito to exchange military information, make their defence spending transparent, consult about military activities in border areas, both consult and cooperate around unanticipated military action, and fulfil previous agreements. Uribe rejected the first three – slavishly saying, ‘Colombia needs the United States more than the United States needs Colombia.’! He objected to President Correa’s motion at UNASUR asking US President Obama to explain the agreement.

As far back as 2002, Brazilian army intelligence identified 6,300 US soldiers constructing runways and outposts in a militarised ‘belt’ around Brazil and concluded that this diminished Brazil’s military options, especially in the Amazonian region. Before 2004 Latin America was the region that spent the smallest proportion of its GDP on arms. To fend off US threats this is changing and countries are buying arms from non-US sources: Venezuela, for instance, from Russia. In 2008 Brazil announced a new defence strategy and has negotiated a $12.5bn deal with France for submarines, aircraft and land vehicles, notably advanced technology.

The economic question

Every imperialist state depends on oil imports. The US receives 25% of the oil it consumes from Andean countries; antagonism towards its extraction and competition compels the US to prepare for physical intervention. Venezuela and Brazil have enormous oil reserves which make them more independent. Further, the US has deteriorating trade relations with Latin America. Between August 2008 and May 2009 Brazil reduced its investment in US bonds by 17% – the largest reduction made by any of Washington’s 15 biggest creditors, further weakening the US’s grip on the most powerful country in Latin America. Argentina had already relieved itself of US debt through the help of Venezuela and China. Bolivia has followed suit.

China has now leapt to first place in Brazil’s export partner league. The growing relationship between China and Brazil, with goods passing through the Andes to Ecuador on the Manta-Manaus highway, is a strategic concern of the US. China’s growing investment, trade and influence throughout South and Central America causes further alarm. China has offered $10bn to Venezuela to exploit the Orinoco oil fields, a sum not far short of US recent annual foreign direct investment (FDI) in Venezuela. The Chinese presence in Panama is so huge that the Congress there passed a law making the teaching of Mandarin obligatory.

However, it is not just the US that is a threat to South American peace and prosperity.  European investments and the profit they extract distort and poison the development of the continent. The EU is making every effort to displace the US in every possible market. Net flows of FDI into Brazil between 1997 and 2008 saw the US’s 21% eclipsed by that of four European countries (Netherlands, Spain, France and Italy) at 43%. For Argentina, between 1997 and 2006, US share of FDI inflows was 27%, Spain’s was 43% and France, Netherlands and Italy together a further 19%. The US’s dominant position in investment, loans and trade has been eroded by EU states over the last 10 years. In this we find the explanation for US imperialism’s new military strategy.

Alvaro Michaels