Another front in Bush’s war on terror has opened in Colombia, providing a new spin for an old conflict. On March 6th the House of Representatives passed a resolution in support of the Colombian government’s brutal war against left-wing guerrillas, who were recently added to the US list of terrorist organizations. The resolution is part of the Bush administration’s drive to increase Congressional funding for Colombia’s corrupt, right-wing military. With Clinton’s “Plan Colombia” handing over $1.3 billion last year, and a hundred million more tacked on this year, Colombia is already the third largest recipient of US military aid.
In February, Colombian president Andres Pastrana broke off peace negotiations with FARC, the largest of three guerrilla groups there, and launched a full scale military offensive to retake the FARC-controlled “autonomous zone.” The impact in the coming months is painfully easy to predict: thousands of more civilians killed and forced to flee in terror.
An Oil-Fueled War
“Plan Colombia” was allegedly part of the “War on Drugs.” Now we are told our tax dollars will go to fight terrorism in Colombia. But the scores of US military personnel in Colombia tend to be more honest. Plan Colombia is about “defending the operations of Occidental, British Petroleum and Texas Petroleum, and securing control of future Colombian fields,” explained Stan Goff, former US Special Forces sergeant who until recently trained Colombian “anti-narcotics” battalions (quoted in October in the Bogotá daily, El Espectador). “The main interest of the United States is oil.”
Colombia’s oil production rivals Kuwait’s before the Gulf War. The US imports more oil from Colombia, Venezuela, and Ecuador than the countries of the Persian Gulf. However, operations have not been very smooth for the oil multinationals. Occidental’s major pipeline was out of commission 266 days last year, due to sabotage from indigenous protesters (whose land Occidental has occupied and destroyed) and guerrillas. Making Colombia safe for US business means crushing opposition.
Anne Patterson, America’s ambassador to Colombia, explains the deal: “American special forces and DynCorp [a Virginia-based mercenary corporation] professionals will train Colombians to guard Oxy’s pipeline…It is something we have to do… for our petroleum supplies and for the confidence of our investors.” This year Congress allocated another $100 million specifically to guard Occidental’s pipeline.
But the US ruling class is not simply worried about oil. They fear the conflict in Colombia is destabilizing the entire region and could ignite further struggles. The government of neighboring Ecuador was overthrown by a peasant insurrection in 2000. There have been mass struggles in Bolivia, Peru, Brazil and most recently the uprising in Argentina. In Venezuela, the populist government of Chavez is seen as a threat to US interests. By forcefully intervening in Colombia, the US is sending a clear threat to Latin America to stay in line, or else.
The Colombian guerrillas arose 40 years ago out of genuine peasant uprisings. Today, however, while these organizations wrap themselves in radical colorings, their methods of kidnapping, assassinations, and drug trafficking have rightfully discredited them in the eyes of most Colombian workers and peasants. Neither in political program or methods of struggle do the Colombian guerrillas offer a progressive way forward for workers and the oppressed.
But the real terrorists and biggest drug runners in Colombia are the official military and its right-wing paramilitary groups, both financed by your tax dollars. On March 4th, the Washington Post said it plainly: “Right-wing paramilitary forces, sometimes in tacit alliance with the Colombian military, have slain hundreds of rural villagers for alleged guerrilla complicity.”
Throughout the 1990’s US-based mercenaries have defoliated an area the size of Florida in order to destroy the guerrillas’ coca trade. While partially successful in guerrilla areas, total coca production has almost doubled since the early 90’s. This is because the production is concentrated in areas dominated by the pro-government paramilitaries.
The government and paramilitary groups are responsible for over 70% of the political murders in the last two years. Labor activists are particularly targeted; since 1986, 3,800 unionists have been assassinated. Worldwide, three of every five murdered union activists is Colombian.
“We have reasons for killing all those we do. In the case of trade unionists, we kill them because they prevent others from working.”
—Carlos Castaño (Head of the AUC, the largest paramilitary group in Colombia)
Scores of US military advisers and private mercenary corporations hired by the State Department are intimately involved in this repression. Over 10,000 of Colombia’s military personnel were trained in the Georgia-based School of the Americas (SOA). In training manuals SOA “pupils” were encouraged to torture and murder those engaged in “union organizing and recruiting,” distributing “propaganda in favor of the interests of the workers,” or who “sympathize with demonstrators or strikes.”
On March 10th Colombians elected a new Congress. Despite an abstention rate of 62%, the two ruling parties suffered a massive defeat. The biggest vote-getters were left candidates, who campaigned against Plan Colombia and the US/Pastrana strategy of “frontal war” on the guerrillas.
Our tax money is financing what promises to be a particularly bloody chapter in an already horrific war. We must build a movement in the US to oppose a foreign policy that is based on the interests of corporate profits.
Justice #29, March 2002