Colombia: lies, bribes and videotape
On 2 July the Colombian government triumphantly announced that it had deceived FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) into releasing some captives: Ingrid Betancourt, a prominent Colombian politician and one time presidential candidate, three US military contractors and 11 Colombian police officers and soldiers. The action cynically exploited the good faith built up with FARC by recent Venezuelan initiatives to release prisoners; military operatives were disguised as journalists and Red Cross representatives, once again demonstrating the moral turpitude of President Uribe, who is intent on destroying opposition to a ruthless ruling class.
The FARC believed that they were releasing their prisoners to a humanitarian organisation, a fraudulent ‘Mision Internacional Humanitaria’, flying two helicopters painted white and orange, one a Russian-made MI-17. Defence Minister Santos admitted that seven members of the nine Colombian military involved pretended to be a journalist and cameraman from the progressive Venezuelan-based news organisation TeleSUR, an Italian, an Australian, an Arab (wearing a Keffiyeh), a Cuban and a Dominican. Some wore Che Guevara T-shirts. Two others were a real doctor and nurse. Uribe was forced to admit that one used the Red Cross insignia. Misuse of the Red Cross emblem is governed by articles to the Geneva Conventions, the international rules of war, and can be deemed a war crime. TeleSUR has condemned the impersonation of journalists as a serious danger to press staff, but what does that matter to a state that oversees the regular silencing of journalists, and which breaks the law on a daily basis? The two FARC leaders who were holding the prisoners also got into the helicopter, and have since been condemned by FARC.
This is the culmination of a period in which President Uribe has intensified the war against FARC as he builds a centralised military and police system – with US, Israeli and British support – out of the welter of gun-toting factions that have been the state’s unofficial armed bands until now. The release of Betancourt and the others follows intense international and domestic pressure on Uribe to negotiate with FARC, a step he absolutely rejects. The Venezuelan government has pressed for international recognition of FARC to negotiate a peaceful political solution to the country’s disastrous social condition. In January, despite Colombian military obstruction, Venezuela facilitated the freeing of Clara Rojas (Betancourt’s presidential running mate) and former Congresswoman Consuelo Gonzalez de Perdomo. In late February, FARC unilaterally released four former Colombian legislators who had been held for more than six years – Senator Perez, Jorge Eduardo Gechem Turbay, Gloria Polanco and Orlando Beltran. FARC’s concern to open negotiations was strikingly shown last year when Colombian Senator Piedard Cordoba visited two FARC leaders, Ricardo Palmera and Omaira Rojas Cabrera (‘Sonia’), imprisoned in the US. They assured her that they would opt out of a prisoner exchange if their inclusion prevented a humanitarian accord being reached.
Furious at the way in which this demonstrated FARC’s desire for peaceful discussions, Uribe launched a ferocious attack on FARC. In March, he illegally attacked Ecuadorian territory, killing two Executive Committee members and 23 other FARC members of the 48th Front, many in cold blood after they had been wounded (see FRFI 202). The Colombian gangster state cynically took advantage of FARC communications as they tried to release prisoners in the pursuit of negotiations. The US has spent billions of dollars funding intelligence monitoring stations around Colombia to intercept FARC communications, man-hunting with Special Forces teams, using deception and infiltration, and a British-style ‘hearts and minds’ campaign, to turn the population against FARC.
This was followed by the bounty killing of Commander Ivan Rios, and the surrender of the head of the 47th Front, Nelly Avila Moreno (‘Karina’), on 19 May. Huge sums have been paid to informants since President Clinton set up Plan Colombia and provided the Plan’s first budget of $7.5bn. The US, Colombian and French governments offered to pay $20-100m each to those releasing Betancourt. This has paid off with invaluable propaganda benefits for both Uribe and Sarkozy in France.
Yet without FARC pursuing a policy of prisoner release, and without at least two traitors literally paid their weight in gold, the government would not have been able to induce – let alone videotape – the peaceful handover of Betancourt and the others by 60 FARC troops, the majority of them women, for apparent transfer to another location. Uribe has carefully retained his reputation as a non-negotiator with ‘terrorists’, and continues to reject all outside proposals for peace negotiations. On 19 July he refused to authorise Nicaraguan President Ortega’s offer to mediate peace talks. Military engagements between the two sides continue daily.
Despite propaganda against FARC claiming brutal treatment of its hostages, Betancourt was described as in ‘amazingly good condition’ by CNN, whilst her mother, Yolanda Pulecio, let slip that abuse directed at Betancourt in captivity had come only from the Colombian police and soldiers held with her! The three US ‘contractors’ were assessed as ‘in very good physical shape’ by the US army. Colombia and the US hold some 500 FARC prisoners in often barbaric conditions.
To prevent dialogue, Colombian opposition politicians and peace facilitators who support it are under formal investigation by the Prosecutor-General for communicating with FARC. They include Senator Cordoba, Colombian politician Alvaro Leyva, Carlos Lozano (editor of the Colombian Communist Party newspaper Voz), Democratic Pole Party Congressman Wilson Borja and Congresswoman Gloria Ines Ramirez, US development consultant Jim Jones and a number of Venezuelan and Ecuadorian officials. Ex-FARC prisoners, Senator Perez, former head of the Foreign Relations Committee in the Colombian Senate, and Clara Rojas have condemned Uribe’s position.
Colombia’s Defence Minister Santos admitted that the defeat of FARC was not yet in sight. On 5 July Fidel Castro wrote, ‘I am not suggesting that anyone lay down their arms, when everyone who did so in the last 50 years did not survive to see peace. If I dared suggest anything to the FARC guerrillas that would simply be that they declare, by any means possible to the International Red Cross, their willingness to release the hostages and prisoners they are still holding, without any precondition.’ The idea that the liquidation of organised working class resistance to state terror can be a solution to Colombia’s problems is nonsense. The state’s war against Colombia’s workers has resulted in almost four million poor peasants and labourers being forced from their homes since 1985, the worst record in the world.
On 15 July the new FARC leader Alfonso Cano declared: ‘As revolutionaries, we fight for the reconciliation of the Colombian family and the formation of the new just social fabric. But the oligarchy, that damned mixture of privileged fortunes, huge haciendas, gold cradles and political power, do not want to share even one iota of their privilege with the majorities of the country. That’s why they avoid any real possibility for a peace negotiation...We will never give up the struggle for justice’.