The Guardian 30 November, 2005

Colombia — crying out for solidarity

Colombia’s long and brutal political crisis drags on. Human rights organisations and visiting trade unionists attest to the often unspeakable violence of the quasi-state paramilitary forces inflicted on progressive sections of the population. In the past decade alone, more than 35,000 people are believed to have been killed in the fighting between successive right-wing governments and leftist guerrillas based in the countryside.

In the cities, unions must bullet-proof their headquarters. Workers and visitors must be escorted to and from these buildings past the surveillance of a range of ruthless enemies. The murder of a union delegate from a factory, a mine or some other workplace is so commonplace that it scarcely rates a column-inch of coverage in the local press. At the same time, alternative TV news from recently-launched Venezuela-based Telesur is blocked.

The government of President Álvaro Uribe has proposed "peace talks" with the United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC) — a merciless paramilitary organisation with links to the official military and which has for years carried on a dirty war on behalf of the same elites that control the government. Legislation introduced in June shocked the world by granting virtual immunity from prosecution for the leaders of the notorious drug-trafficking forces.

Prosecutions against those suspected of murdering trade union­ists, peasant leaders and others would have to be launched within 24 hours after the individual paramilitary gives notice that he has "demobilised". Investigations have to be completed within 30 days. Former paramilitary thugs are under no obligation to give information about their terror networks. It is likely that, if ever they are brought to justice at all, those guilty of massacring peasants will get sentences of as little as two years.

The legislation rewards the paramilitary’s brutality and guarantees the survival of their structures into the future.

While some US Senators have joined human rights organisations in denouncing these developments, the Bush Administration has not given Uribe’s Government the cold shoulder or characterised Colombia as a pariah state. Quite the contrary. It has now ploughed US$3.1 billion into its "Plan Colombia" which, under the guise of a "war on drugs", is aiding Uribe’s campaign against leftist guerrillas who are seeking justice for Colombia’s masses of poor and dispossessed.

The US recently doubled its contingent of military "advisers" to the Colombian armed forces and its paramilitary offshoots to 800 and now contracts a further 400 mercenaries to carry out its more controversial activities. It also maintains extensive intelligence gathering networks in the country. All of these military and other resources are at the service of the pro-US elites currently represented by Uribe.

Neither is the US Government opposed to the rough justice dispensed to guerrilla fighters. In fact it has recently increased its involvement in the illegal campaign of kidnappings being carried out by the Colombian Government beyond Colombia’s borders. Leaders of the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia — Ejército del Pueblo ("Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia — People’s Army", or FARC-EP) are the main targets of these activities.

Last December, FARC-EP member Rodrigo Granda was abducted on the streets of the Venezuelan capital, Caracas. He was taken back to Colombia where National Police Director Jorge Daniel Castro insists he was arrested on Colombian territory. An investigation ordered by Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez found this to be untrue and a diplomatic standoff ensued. Colombian paramilitaries had already strained relations by conducting cross-border attacks against supporters of the Bolivarian Revolution underway in the neighbouring country.

Previously, Simón Trinidad (nom de guerre of Ricardo Palmera) was captured in Quito, the capital of Ecuador. The senior FARC-EP peace envoy to the UN was getting treatment in hospital for leishmaniasis — a disease common in Colombia’s jungles. Palmera is being extradited to the United States to stand trial for ordering the killing of a US mercenary in Colombia and for involvement in drug trafficking to the US. Palmera is only the latest of several FARC-EP leaders who have been packed off to the US under similar pretexts.

The smear against the FARC-EP being involved in the drug trade is old and threadbare. The complete bypassing of the Colombian justice system is a new development and lays bare Colombia’s complete lack of sovereignty for all to see.

Uribe is now proposing to intensify his government’s war against the guerrilla movements — essentially a war against the interests of the poorest members of Colombian society — if elected to the post of President again at next year’s elections. In fact, he has promised to eliminate them within 18 months. People of good will the world over must speak up now against the prospect of such a bloodbath and the condemnation of Colombia’s poor to utter defencelessness.

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