•  HOME 
  •  BOOKS 
  •  WWP 
  •  DONATE 
  • Loading

Follow workers.org on
Twitter Facebook iGoogle

Massacres, corruption accompany Plan Colombia

Published May 19, 2005 9:10 PM

During her whirlwind trip through Latin America in late April, U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice stopped in Bogotá to give Colombian president Álvaro Uribe assurance that her government is firmly behind his policies and will continue funding his counterinsurgency programs. In fact, President George W. Bush is asking Congress for $741.7 million in aid for Colombia for the 2006 fiscal year. This is in spite of the 2005 time limit for Plan Colombia, and mounting criticism both nationally and internationally.

An article by Associated Press writer Andrew Selsky, carried on May 7 by many U.S. newspapers, was entitled “Backing for Colombia Drug War Criticized.”

It began: “Resilient rebels. Rebounding drug crops. Rogue American soldiers, snared in plots to smuggle cocaine and funnel stolen ammunition to paramilitary death squads. The bad news has been piling up fast, almost five years after the United States began spending $3 billion under its Plan Colombia aid program to wipe out cocaine and heroin production and crush a long-running leftist insurgency.”

Selsky refers to criticism of Plan Colombia in the U.S. and quotes from a Pittsburgh Post-Gazette editorial saying that Colombia “has turned into a sinkhole of money and military resources over the past five years.” It adds, “The Congress should scrap Plan Colombia now, rather than throw more good money after bad.”

In another paragraph Selsky wrote, “John Walsh, a senior associate at the Wash ington Office on Latin America think tank, said recently that ‘the drug war is failing to achieve its most basic objectives.’”

‘Rogue soldiers’—
what’s unique is publicity

The “rogue American soldiers” refers to three incidents reported recently in the media. Shortly after midnight on May 3, an anonymous caller alerted police in Cundinamarca, the municipality where the capital Bogotá is located, to a “big” event in the region—the delivery of a shipment.

When the police arrived, they found 29 metal boxes with 32,900 rounds of ammunition and three men—one Colombian plus a colonel and a sergeant from the Special Forces of the U.S. Army. The last two were shooting instructors at the nearby National Army Training Center of Tolemaida.

The booty was reportedly going to be sold to right-wing paramilitaries.

This incident comes after two others: one on March 29, when five U.S. soldiers who were part of the “anti-drug” operations in the south of Colombia were arrested for carrying 16 kilograms of cocaine in a U.S. military plane, and a recent case of a U.S. soldier being investigated for the hit-and-run death of two Colombian soldiers last year.

These episodes are not unique nor isolated incidents. In fact, as part of Plan Colombia the Colombian government had to, at Washington’s request, sign a treaty that grants immunity to the 800 U.S. military personnel and 600 U.S. contractors operating in that country.

What is unique is that these incidents became news in the Colombian media, which reflects the opinion of part of the oligarchy. It is still early to ascertain their real meaning.

Realignment of Colombian
ruling class?

The governing Liberal Party is having its convention in June amidst a polarization of its membership. One sector is fully behind Uribe and the other, to which popular Sen. Piedad Cordoba belongs, seems to want to take a more populist route. Does this reflect a realignment of the Colombian ruling class?

Uribe has also raised the possibility of forming a new party on his own. Some Colombian analysts suggest that this could be insurance in case the Supreme Court invalidates a ruling allowing him to run for reelection. His election campaign promise of ending violence, which should read as “ending the guerrillas,” has not been fulfilled and he is seeking a second term to “finish his goal.”

Let it not be forgotten that the paramilitaries control more than 30 percent of the Congress, have regional and local government positions and increasingly administer important services, including health care. And that so-called negotiations between Uribe and the paras in Santa Fe de Ralito, supposedly to demobilize and disarm them, are described by the president’s opponents as “monologues” or “conversations of me with me.” They are in fact a smokescreen for an attempt to legalize the paramilitaries.

As a result of the “demobilization,” these criminals are being hired in Uribe’s programs of “Peasant Soldiers” and are used as secret informants to accuse, indict, imprison and murder leaders of the progressive, unarmed popular social movement. These “demobilized paramilitaries” are then set free in the communities, both rural and urban, constituting an ever present danger. Uribe’s links with the paramilitaries since before he became president are well documented.

Uribe is clearly putting all the pieces together for a fascist state. Are all the mem bers of the ruling class behind this effort? Is there a part that feels that its economic and financial interests are not being served well under these circumstances? Particularly when the Latin American masses are in uprising and the Bolivarian president from Venezuela is rapidly advancing a proposal for the region’s integration and increasing the possibilities of significant trade with other countries besides the United States?

Conservatives are criticizing Plan Colombia for its failure, both in its stated goal of eradicating the drug industry and its intention of destroying the armed insurgency, which can no longer be hidden. But progressive organizations in Colombia and around the world blame it for causing terrible human rights abuses that have taken the lives and the freedom of thousands of Colombians.

Yet on April 27, during a media conference with Colombian Foreign Minister Carolina Barco in the Casa de Nariño—the presidential palace—Condoleezza Rice had said: “I‘ve just had a very productive meeting with President Uribe. It was a meeting in which we could discuss the impressive progress that the government of Colombia has made in improving security, in strengthening democracy, and indeed its commitment to protecting human rights.”

Toll of Plan Colombia, Patriot Plan

That “protection” was absent for Gisella, a 19-month-old girl who was murdered by paramilitaries in the village of Cerro Azul in northeast Colombia on the same day as Rice’s speech. Her house came under fire as they fired indiscriminately, supposedly against guerrillas. The residents—peasants who had warned the local government about the paramilitaries’ presence in their region—were ignored by the authorities. They say that 15 or more people were killed.

Crimes like this happen daily in Colombia. But under Uribe they have tremendously increased, particularly in the year since he secretly launched a new component of Plan Colombia, the counter-insurgency Patriot Plan. It is his and the U.S.’s effort to destroy the leadership of the revolutionary army, the FARC-EP, in the south of the country, where its “headquarters” are supposedly located.

In spite of the doubling of U.S. military personnel and contractors and an infusion of highly sophisticated equipment, the guerrillas have not been decimated. On the contrary, the armed insurgency since last February has intensified its guerrilla warfare on all fronts, reminiscent of the courageous North Vietnamese army. And despite the extradition to the U.S. of two alleged FARC leaders, Simon Trinidad and Sonia, and the kidnapping in Vene zuela of Rodrigo Granda, none of the top leadership of the FARC has been caught.

The repression has turned ferocious against the unarmed social movement, which is regarded by Uribe and the paramilitaries as the guerrillas’ base of support and as such stands accused as “guerrilla sympathizers.” This assumption, based only on the desire for social justice of both the armed and unarmed population, is enough for the regime to carry out mass detentions, selective assassinations, massacres and many other violent acts against labor, Afro-Colombian, Indigenous, peasant, student and human rights advocate leaders and anybody who opposes the state’s violence.

The listing of crimes committed by the state and the paramilitaries, particularly while the “demobilization” process is taking place, is extensive.

As illustration, here are just a few cases that took place in April and May.

In the beginning of April the Colombian Army indiscriminately machine-gunned a peasant community from helicopters. In another community, the Army closed a small gold mine where 20 families worked, with the excuse that the mine belonged to the guerrillas. In a neighborhood in southern Putumayo, five people were assassinated by paras.

In Bogotá, Italian reporter and teacher Cristiano Morsolin has been threatened and persecuted by paramilitaries after writing articles, particularly for European media, denouncing the massacre in February of residents of the Peace Com munity San José de Apartado. Morso lin works closely with Gloria Cuartas, former mayor of San José de Apartado and current general secretary of the progressive Social and Political Front. He also works with Jes uit priest Father Javier Giraldo, a respected human rights advocate who works with CINEP, the Center for Inves tigation and Popular Education, which has been documenting the abuses in a data bank accessible at http://www.nocheyniebla.org. Both Cuartas and Giraldo are under death threats.

On April 21 in the Cauca Valley, 12 Afro-Colombian children were found massacred and 12 others are still missing and feared dead.

On May 1, a 15-year-old boy was shot by police in Bogotá during a May Day event.

That same day, this writer received an email from a friend in Barranquilla, on the northern coast, saying that “while 15,000 of us workers demonstrated on the streets under a searing sun against Uribe’s reelection, the closing of hospitals, the privatization of the university and the violations of human rights, another crime was committed. While waiting to join the demonstration, two friends were shot at point blank. One was killed, and the other, a member of the Colombian Communist Party, was seriously injured in the head.”

Communists, members of the Patriotic Union and leftists are particularly singled out in this witch hunt. The following day, on May 2, the Colombian office of prosecution was inspecting mass graves in the north of Bogotá where the mutilated and tortured bodies of 40 people were found. These were union members from the left assassinated by paramilitaries since the year 2000.

While the brutal repression increases in Colombia, so does the perseverance and will of the people to defeat it. However, international solidarity is of enormous importance. It will make a difference in shortening the time until the victory of the masses.