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.”
“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
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.’”
what’s unique is publicity
“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
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.
booty was reportedly going to be sold to right-wing paramilitaries.
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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.”
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.
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