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A Tale of Two Foreign Policies February 26, 2015

Posted by rogerhollander in Africa, Angola, Cuba, Imperialism, Latin America, South Africa.
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Roger’s note: here are two articles that appeared in the same online edition of http://www.counterpunch.org.  They coincidentally make an excellent comparison of the foreign policies of a Goliath nation (the United States of America) and a tiny David (Cuba).

US foreign policy is characterized by overpowering military strength and aggression, and an overwhelming concern for protecting its corporate interests that is only matched by its lack of concern for human rights.  Cuba, on the other hand, has shown an abiding concern for justice and human needs (cf. its sending doctors around the world). 

Colombia and South Africa are only two nations among many, but the contrast in the actions of the United States and Cuba towards them can be seen as a microcosm with respect to overall foreign policy strategies.  It is notable that the first foreign visit made by Nelson Mandela upon his release from prison was to Cuba to thank Castro and the Cuban people.  As well, it hardly needs to be mentioned that with respect to a capacity to act for human good, the United States is the richest and most powerful nation in the history of the world whereas Cuba, in addition to being a third world country historically repressed by Spain and the US, has suffered for over 50 years under the US economic blockade.

 

The American Fingerprints on Colombia’s Dead

A Historian Instructs Peace Negotiators on U.S. Role in Colombian Civil War

by W.T. WHITNEY Jr.

Colombia is seemingly a “no-go” zone for most U. S. media and even for many critics of U.S. overseas misadventures. Yet the United States was in the thick of things in Colombia while hundreds of thousands were being killed, millions were forced off land, and political repression was the rule.

Bogota university professor and historian Renán Vega Cantor has authored a study of U.S. involvement in Colombia. He records words and deeds delineating U.S. intervention there over the past century. The impact of Vega’s historical report, released on February 11, stems from a detailing of facts. Communicating them to English-language readers will perhaps stir some to learn more and to act.

The Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the Colombian government have been at war for half a century. Vega’s study appears within the context of negotiations in Cuba to end that conflict. Negotiators on both sides agreed in August, 2014 to form a “Historical Commission on Conflict and its Victims” to enhance discussions on victims of conflict. The Commission explored “multiple causes” of the conflict, “the principal factors and conditions facilitating or contributing to its persistence,” and consequences. Commission members sought “clarification of the truth” and establishment of responsibilities. On February 11 the Commission released an 809 – page report offering a diversity of wide-ranging conclusions. Vega was one of 12 analysts contributing individual studies to the report.

Having looked into “links between imperialist meddling and both counterinsurgency and state terrorism,” he claims the United States “is no mere outside influence, but is a direct actor in the conflict owing to prolonged involvement.” And, “U. S. actions exist in a framework of a relationship of subordination. … [T]he block in power had an active role in reproducing subordination, because, (Vega quotes Colombia Internacional, vol 65), ‘there existed for more than 100 years a pact among the national elites for whom subordination led to economic and political gains.’” As a result, “Not only in the international sphere, but in the domestic one too, the United States, generally, has the last word.”

In 1903, after 50 years of minor interventions, the United States secured Panama’s independence from Colombia as a prelude to building its canal there. As a sop to wounded Colombian feelings and to secure oil- extraction rights, the United States paid $25 million to Colombia under the Urrutia-Thompson Treaty of 1921. Colombia that year sent 72 percent of its exports to the United States, thanks mostly to U.S. banana and oil producers and U.S. lenders.

Vega highlights Colombia’s “native” brand of counterinsurgency. Under the flag of anti-communism, the Colombian Army violently suppressed striking oil, dock and railroad workers. On December 6, 1929 at the behest of the U.S. United Fruit Company, that Army murdered well over 1000 striking banana workers near Santa Marta. According to Minister of War Ignacio Rengifo, whom Vega quotes, Colombia faced a “new and terrible danger … The ominous seed of communism is being sprinkled on Colombian beaches [which] now begin to germinate in our soil and produce fruits of decomposition and revolt.” Having investigated those events, Representative Jorge Eliécer Gaitán told Colombia’s Congress in 1929 that, “It was a question of resolving a problem of wages by means of bullets from government machine gunners, because the workers were Colombian and the Company was American. [After all,] the government has murderous shrapnel for Colombians and a trembling knee on the ground before American gold.”

From the late 1930’s on, Gaitán and the left wing of the Liberal Party were leading mobilizations for agrarian and labor rights. With the advent of Conservative Party rule in 1946, repression with anti-communist overtones led to thousands of killings. By then U.S. military missions and instructors were operating in Colombia. U.S. military units no longer needed specific permission to enter Colombia. Colombia and other Latin American nations in 1947 signed the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance, a military security agreement. Then on April 9, 1948, Gaitán was assassinated.

Colombian cities erupted in destruction and chaos. Within two weeks, 3000 died. Prompted by U.S. Secretary of State George C. Marshall, the Colombian government blamed communists for Gaitán’s killing. Marshall was in Bogota that day presiding over a hemisphere-wide meeting at which, for cold war purposes, the Pan-American Union became the Organization of American States. Over the next ten years, war between the Colombian Army and peasant insurgents took nearly 200,000 lives. Most insurgents were affiliated with the Liberal Party but were labelled as communists.

The two nations signed a military assistance agreement in 1952 in response to an alleged “communist conspiracy.” Colombia was the only Latin American nation to send troops to the Korean War. Returning home, “Korea Battalion” veterans attacked insurgents and strikers. Colombia established its “School of Lancers” in 1955, modeled on and facilitated by the U.S. Army Ranger School. That year, with U.S. advisers on hand, Colombian troops used napalm in an unsuccessful effort to eradicate peasant insurgents in Tolima department. In 1959 U.S. military advisers secured President Alberto Lleras Camargo’s approval for a helicopter-equipped, 1500 – person counter-insurgency unit. A “secret CIA team” visited military detachments and inspected security archives to expand counterinsurgency and psychological warfare capabilities.

Yet rural uprisings continued, and, increasingly, insurgents were identifying themselves as communist. In response U.S. General William Yarborough and a U.S. Special Forces team visited four Colombian army brigades in 1962. They were there “to evaluate the ‘effectiveness of counterinsurgency operations’” and plan U.S. assistance. The U.S. army soon stepped up training and technical assistance, and provided new equipment, especially helicopters. Significantly, the Yarborough report, in a “Secret Supplement,” proposed that the “Colombian state organize paramilitary groups in order to ‘execute paramilitary activities like sabotage and/or terrorism against known partisans of communism. [The report emphasized that,] The United States must support this.’” It recommended new “interrogation techniques for ‘softening up’ prisoners.”

The FARC did not yet exist. In 1964, however, the Colombian army sent 16,000 Colombian troops into small-farmer communities in the Marquetalia region of southern Tolima. The U.S. government provided $500,000, and U.S. advisers were on hand as soldiers descended upon a relative handful of rebels. They escaped and within weeks established themselves as the FARC.

Continuing, Vega details:

* The subsequent flow of U.S. equipment and funding to the Colombian military

* Training of 10,446 Colombian soldiers – torture techniques included – at the U.S. Army’s School of the Americas between 1946 and 2004 (5239 between 1999 and 2012).

* S. launching of Colombia’s FBI-like police and intelligence agency known as the Administrative Department of Security (DAS) in 1960

* Military and police assistance costing $10.7 billion between 1999 and 2007 under U.S. Plan Colombia. Its implementation caused the FARC in 2002 to end peace negotiations with the government.

* Use of the U.S. “drug war” as a new pretext for military aid, beginning with the Reagan administration

* Collusion between CIA teams and Colombian drug lords

* Deployment of U.S. soldiers and military contractors in Colombia

* Impunity for U.S. personnel accused of civilian killings and anti-women violence

* Establishment of seven U.S. military bases in Colombia in 2009

* S. use of Colombian personnel to train security forces in U.S. client states throughout the world

*High – technology intelligence equipment supplied for targeting FARC detachments and leaders, often with direct U.S. participation

The U. S. protégée DAS monitored opposition politicians, journalists, unionists and government officials, including Supreme Court justices. Adverse publicity led to its dissolution in 2011. The DAS had used paramilitaries to murder many of those under surveillance. Vega says U.S. embassy officials identified civilians for DAS targeting.

Vega reports on the 5000 or so civilians whom soldiers killed and then dressed in FARC uniforms to make them look like casualties of war. The scandal of the so-called “false positives” broke in 2008. It came about in part because extra U.S. funding was available to military units demonstrating effectiveness. The way to do that was to exhibit a high number of FARC casualties.

Vega quotes from the U.S. Institute of Policy Studies: “Everything indicates that support from the CIA or U.S. Special Forces to paramilitaries was the tool allowing them to be consolidated like never before.” He cites a “quantitative study” of municipalities showing that proximity to military bases receiving U.S. military assistance was associated with increased numbers of paramilitary attacks against civilians. From the bases, paramilitaries secured armaments, logistics, and intelligence, plus access to “helicopters or airplanes acquired from the United States.”

Having reported on what happened between the United States and Colombia, Vega then drew conclusions. Their essentials appear below in translation:

“During much of the twentieth century, Colombian governments and dominant classes continued a strategic alliance with the United States that was mutually beneficial to both sides …”

“A native counterinsurgency exists in Colombia nurtured on anti-communism that preceded the advent of the counterinsurgency doctrine. Anti-communism was renewed and integrated with the latter for the sake of U.S. geo-political interests during the cold war.”

“U. S. interference in the social and armed conflict in our country has been constant and direct since the end of the 1940’s …”

“Successive U.S. governments of the last seven decades are directly responsible for the perpetuation of armed conflict in Colombia. They have promoted counterinsurgency in all its manifestations and stimulated and trained the armed forces in their methods of torture and elimination of those seen as internal enemies …”

“The Yarborough mission of 1962 was directly responsible for the consolidation of paramilitarism in Colombia … “

“The United States has contributed to militarization of Colombian society through financing and support of the Colombian state and its armed forces …”

“The United States shares direct responsibility for thousands of assassinations committed by the armed forces and paramilitaries … It sponsored military brigades dedicated to that type of crime and backed private groups of assassins.”

“Direct U. S. control of DAS from the time of its formation to its recent dissolution makes that country responsible in part for the numerous crimes committed by that security organism against the population, [especially] unionists and social leaders …”

“In promoting the so-called drug war, the United States in a direct way participated in the destruction of the small-farmer and indigenous economy all over Colombia …”

“By virtue of agreements between the United States and Colombia, privatization of war promoted by Plan Colombia and the new counterinsurgency encourages utilization of mercenaries in our country’s internal war. They commit crimes … with full impunity. This encourages the “culture of impunity” characterizing the Colombian armed forces.”

“Since the late 1940’s state terrorism in Colombia has been promoted not only through military and financial support from the United States but also by our own dominant classes intent upon preserving their power and wealth and rejecting basic economic and social reforms of a re-distributive nature.”

“Some firms based on U. S. capital, like Chiquita Brands, having financed and sponsored paramilitary groups, are directly responsibility for hundreds of crimes …”

Reflections from a northern vantage point are in order. First, it’s not clear that the U. S. government, a force for war in Colombia, will accept a peace settlement reflecting FARC ideas of peace with social justice. Surely the time is now for fair-minded North Americans to pay attention to and get involved with solidarity efforts on behalf of the peace process and justice itself in Colombia. Secondly, while the thrust of Professor Vega’s study should be understandable by one and all, appreciation of the Colombian conflict as struggle between social classes will help with a full understanding and with movement toward action.

W.T. Whitney Jr. is a retired pediatrician and political journalist living in Maine.

Source: http://www.rebelion.org/docs/195465.pdf   (The author translated.)

 

 

 

Enough! Accounting and Remembering the Long War in Colombia July 29, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Drugs, Foreign Policy, Human Rights, Latin America, War.
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US military interventions differ greatly from each other. Some, like the one currently contemplated in Syria or the invasions of Kosovo and Haiti, are publicly rationalized as humanitarian in purpose, while others, such as the long occupation of Afghanistan, are purportedly in self-defense, and still others supposedly fight drug trafficking, as in Colombia and Mexico. Some involve enormous commitments of US troops and treasure, as in Iraq and Vietnam, while others involve a relatively small number of US personnel, as in El Salvador or the Philippines.

 

(Photo: n.karim/ Flickr)

But a constant among all such interventions is the stated belief of those propagating them that they will have a positive impact in the invaded nation. This may be a cynical ploy for US and international support, but the most effective prevaricators are those who have convinced themselves of the lie they tell or the myths they perpetuate. An antidote to such myths is the historical memory of the victims of wars where the United States has played a part.

That is the starting point of Basta Ya! Colombia: Memories of War and Dignity, released last week, and compiled over five years by the Group for Historical Memory. The 420-page report is the culmination of 24 volumes that focused on emblematic atrocities and cross-cutting issues of the war in Colombia since 1958. Basta Ya! overwhelms with statistics: 220,000 killed in the conflict, 81.5% of them civilians; 25,007 people forcibly disappeared; at least 4.7 million people displaced from their homes by the violence – one in every ten Colombians; more than 27,023 people kidnapped; 10,189 injured or killed by landmines; as well as people victimized by military recruitment of children, and sexual violence as a weapon of war.

Of nearly two thousand massacres documented in Colombia since 1980, 59% of them were committed by right-wing paramilitaries (often in alliance with the military and/or local political elites), 17% by guerrillas, 8% by the armed forces, and 15% couldn’t be determined.
But the experiences of victims and survivors are never far from these cold numbers: the absolute impotence of those who couldn’t stop the bloodletting, the silencing caused by the violence – which was one of its objectives, the collective fear after a massacre and the ways that selective killings took even more lives, the high levels of impunity for these crimes.

Last month, I sat with family members of a dozen people killed by army soldiers and police in Arauca, the oil-producing department near the Venezuelan border.  Most of the killings had occurred eight to ten years ago, but their cases are languishing in the criminal justice, with no movement at all. A reform to the military justice system this year increases the chances that these mothers and fathers will never see justice, and their dead children will continue to be stigmatized.

The United States has influenced the doctrine, weapons and operations of the Colombian military for decades, especially since Colombia fought alongside the U.S. in Korea. Washington dramatically escalated its involvement in the war between 1998 and 2002, just as it was generating its worst toll. The terrible synergy produced by the Bush administration’s brutal and cynical use of 9/11 with Colombia’s fatal reaction against failed peace talks created an alliance bent on war and militarization without end, while hypocritically certifying improvements in human rights. As paramilitary groups partially demobilized between 2003 and 2006, some of their perverse practices transferred back to the US-client Colombian Army, which adopted a “body count” strategy that became so mercenary that recruiters were paid to supply hundreds of men who were executed and counted as guerrillas killed in combat.

The authors of Basta Ya! clearly intended it for a Colombian audience. There is only a Spanish version, and comparisons made to show the scale of damage from the war are made to Colombian cities that most non-Colombians are unlikely to know. This could explain, at least in part, why the authors also give little attention to the role of the more than $8 billion in US assistance to the Colombian military and police, multinational corporations that have assisted paramilitary groups, or the international narcotics trade that also has financed much of the armed conflict. The focus is on national actors and relationships, many of them hidden and under-reported.

An accounting of what impact the United States has had on Colombia’s terrible suffering has yet to be made. Washington trumpets the success of its military assistance in Colombia, and is financing the exporting of Colombian military expertise to other nations in Latin America and around the world.

But the Pentagon and State Department are increasingly secretive about just what that assistance consists of. After the Fellowship of Reconciliation published a published a report in 2010 indicating that increased civilian killings were committed by US-aided Colombian Army units, the State Department pointedly classified its list of supported units. Similarly, after School of the Americas Watch began to more effectively use lists of Latin American graduates of the U.S. Army school to show how many had committed atrocities, the Pentagon began to systematically refuse disclosure of those names. With the United States spending $25 billion a year on foreign military and police aid, transparency about what units receive assistance is increasingly important for fiscal reasons, as well as a political and ethical imperative.

As human rights, peace, and solidarity activists work against reflexive US military adventures, the victims of wars where the United States takes part deserve the truth about how the U.S. impacted the conflict. This task of constructing and reconstructing memory will require work not just by projects in the affected countries, like Colombia’s Group for Historical Memory, but by researchers, activists, advocates, legislators, whistleblowers, and ordinary people in the United States as well. It is a necessary prerequisite to the United States’ own transformation.

John Lindsay-Poland is research director and southwestern regional coordinator of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, and author of Emperors in the Jungle: The Hidden History of the U.S. in Panama.

Keep Colombian Ex-President Alvaro Uribe out of Georgetown and send him packing to La Picota prison in Colombia! September 2, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Human Rights, Latin America.
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U.S. and Colombia

Take Action Here

Georgetown University has recently announced that former Colombian president Álvaro Uribe will be named a “distinguished scholar in the practice of global leadership,” and will soon begin giving seminars at the university’s Edmund A. Walsh School of Foreign Service (SFS). Uribe has said it is a “great honor” for him, and that his “greatest wish and happiness is to contribute in the continuous emergence of future leaders.”

Uribe’s 8-year tenure in Colombia was rife with corruption, human rights violations and widespread impunity. In a letter in June to the White House, Human Rights Watch expressed “serious concerns” about the Uribe administration’s record on and commitment to human rights, democracy, and the rule of law.

  • More than 3 million Colombians (out of a population of about 40 million) have been forced to flee their homes, giving Colombia the second-largest population of internally displaced persons in the world after Sudan.
  • More than 70 members of the Colombian Congress are under criminal investigation or have been convicted for allegedly collaborating with the paramilitaries. Nearly all these congresspersons are members of President Uribe’s coalition in Congress, and the Uribe administration repeatedly undermined the investigations and discredited the Supreme Court justices who started them.
  • Colombia has the highest rate of killings of trade unionists in the world.
  • A clandestine gravesite of 2,000 non-identified bodies was recently discovered directly beside a military base in La Macarena, in central Colombia. When the news became public, Uribe flew to the Macarena and said publicly that accusing the armed forces of human rights abuses was a tactic used by the guerrilla. These comments put the lives of those victims who spoke at the event in grave danger.
  • Starting in 2008, reports came out that the Colombian military was luring poor young men from their homes with promises of employment, then killing them and presenting them as combat casualties. The practice not only served to stack battle statistics, but also financially benefited the soldiers involved, as Uribe’s government had, since 2005, awarded monetary and vacation bonuses for each insurgent killed. Human rights groups cite 3,000 or more “false positives”.

    For more information on Uribe and human rights violations, click here.

    Students, community activists and religious leaders have already spoken out against the university’s decision, and will be planning actions of protest for this fall.

    Take action NOW, by signing this letter to Georgetown University President, Mr. John J. DeGioia.

  • New Military Base in Colombia Would Spread Pentagon Reach Throughout Latin America May 30, 2009

    Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Foreign Policy, Latin America.
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    Written by John Lindsay-Poland  www.upsidedownworld.org  
    Friday, 29 May 2009
    Source: Americas Program, Center for International Policy (CIP)

    The Pentagon budget submitted to Congress on May 7 includes $46 million for development of a new U.S. military base in Palanquero, Colombia.

    The official justification states that the Defense Department seeks “an array of access arrangements for contingency operations, logistics, and training in Central/South America.”

    The military facility in Colombia will give the United States military increased capacity for intervention throughout most of Latin America. The plan is being advanced amid tense relations between Washington and Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador, and despite both a long history and recent revelations about the Colombian military’s atrocious human rights record.

    President Obama told hemispheric leaders last month that “if our only interaction with many of these countries is drug interdiction—if our only interaction is military—then we may not be developing the connections that can over time increase our influence and have a beneficial effect.”1

    In this Obama is on point. This base would feed a failed drug policy, support an abusive army, and reinforce a tragic history of U.S. military intervention in the region. It’s wrong and wasteful, and Congress should scrap it.

    The new facility in Palanquero, Colombia would not be limited to counter-narcotics operations, nor even to operations in the Andean region, according to an Air Mobility Command (AMC) planning document. The U.S. Southern Command (SouthCom) aims to establish a base with “air mobility reach on the South American continent” in addition to a capacity for counter-narcotics operations, through the year 2025.2

    With help from the Transportation Command and AMC, the SouthCom noted that “nearly half of the continent can be covered by a C-17 without refueling” from Palanquero. If fuel is available at its destination, “a C-17 could cover the entire continent, with the exception of the Cape Horn region,” the AMC planners wrote.3

    A U.S. Embassy spokesperson in Bogota said that negotiations are not yet concluded for the base.

    The SouthCom is also pursuing access to a site in French Guiana that would permit military aircraft to reach sites in Africa, via the Ascension Islands, according to AMC.4 SouthCom apparently sought use of facilities in Recife, Brazil for the same purpose, but “the political relationship with Brazil is not conducive to the necessary agreements,” AMC wrote.

    The lease for the U.S. “Forward Operating Location” in Manta, Ecuador expires in November 2009, and Ecuador notified Washington last year that it would not renew the lease. The facility in Manta was authorized to conduct only counter-drug operations. Yet, according to military spokesmen, drug traffic in the Pacific—where aircraft from Manta patrolled—has increased in recent years.5 U.S. forces in Manta also carried out operations to arrest undocumented Ecuadorans on boats in Ecuadoran waters. But public documentation of U.S. operations conducted from Manta does not indicate use of C-17 cargo aircraft, so their use in Palanquero apparently would represent an expanded U.S. military capacity in the region.

    The “mission creep” in the proposal for continent-wide operations from Colombia is also evident in President Obama’s foreign aid request for Colombia. While the budget request for $508 million tacitly recognizes the failure of Plan Colombia drug policy by cutting funds for fumigation of coca crops, the White House is asking for an increase in counterinsurgency equipment and training to the Colombian Army.6

    Colombian and U.S. human rights and political leaders have objected to continued funding of the Colombian army,7 especially after revelations that the army reportedly murdered more than 1,000 civilians and alleged they were guerrillas killed in combat, in order to increase their body count.8 The Palanquero base itself, which houses a Colombian Air Force unit, was banned from receiving U.S. aid for five years because of its role in a 1998 attack that killed 17 civilians, including six children, from the effects of U.S.-made cluster bombs.9 The United States resumed aid to the unit last year.

    Colombian Defense Ministry sources said that Colombia was attempting to obtain increases in U.S. military aid as part of the base negotiations.10 Palanquero offers the U.S. military a sophisticated infrastructure—a 10,000-foot runway, hangars that hold more than 100 aircraft, housing for more than 2,000 men, restaurants, casinos, supermarkets, and a radar system installed by the United States itself in the 1990s.11

    Colombian activists also point out that a new base at Palanquero would reinforce the existing U.S. military presence at other bases in Colombia, such as Tres Esquinas and Tolemaida. “The militarization of Palanquero is an obstacle to effective and visionary peace initiatives such as those promoted by communities throughout the country, as well as to the humanitarian exchanges developed by Colombians for Peace,” says Danilo Rueda of the Intercongregational Commission for Justice and Peace.12

    “Colombian military bases where there are foreign—especially U.S.—soldiers, provide tangible evidence that in this country there is neither sovereignty, nor autonomy, nor independence,” says the Medellín Youth Network. The Palanquero base, the Youth Network says, “is the political lobby, is the payment and the legal lie so that the armed conflict generated by social inequality may be turned over to others.”13

    U.S. law caps the number of uniformed U.S. soldiers operating in Colombia at 800, and the number of contractors at 600. Until last year, a significant number of them were intelligence personnel assigned to the effort to rescue three U.S. military contractors kidnapped by the leftist FARC guerrillas. With the rescue last year of the three contractors, many U.S. intelligence staff left Colombia, leaving space for soldiers to run operations in the prospective new U.S. base or bases.

    Former defense minister and presidential candidate Rafael Pardo opposes the base. “That the Colombian government asks for a U.S. base now would be a serious error,” he says.14

    Replacing one military base that was set up for the failed drug war with another base to intervene in South America and to support the abusive Colombian army would be a serious error for the United States as well.

    End Notes

    1. CNN, “Obama: Summit of the Americas ‘productive’,” 19 April, 2009, at: http://www.cnn.com/2009/POLITICS/04/19/obama.latin.america/.
    2. “White Paper, Air Mobility Command, Global En Route Strategy,” p. 22, preparatory document for Air Force Symposium 2009—AFRICOM, at http://www.au.af.mil/awc/africom/documents/GlobalEnRouteStrategy.pdf.
    3. Ibid.
    4. “Global En Route Strategy,” p. 22.
    5. Chris Kraul, “Cocaine Culture Creeps into Ecuador,” Los Angeles Times, October 5, 2007, http://articles.latimes.com/2007/oct/05/world/fg-ecuadrugs5.
    6. Adam Isacson, “First Peek at the Obama Administration’s 2010 Aid Request,” 7 May 2009, http://www.cipcol.org/?p=848; see also: http://www.state.gov/f/releases/iab/fy2010/index.htm.
    7. In February 46 national and regional U.S. organizations urged Obama to terminate military aid to Colombia, while a letter from more than a hundred Colombian leaders urged a reformulation of policy, putting promotion of a negotiated end to the armed conflict at its center. See http://www.forcolombia.org/monthlyupdate/march2009#president.
    8. Nadja Drost, “In Colombia, Suspicious Deaths,” Global Post, 11 May 2009, at: http://www.globalpost.com/print/1280781. See also “426 militares han sido detenidos por ejecuciones extrajudiciales,” Semana, 11 May 2009, at: http://www.semana.com/noticias-justicia/426-militares-capturados-falsos-positivos/123701.aspx.
    9. Congregación Intercongregacional de Justicia y Paz, “Masacre en Santo Domingo, 13 de diciembre de 1998,” at: http://justiciaypazcolombia.com/Masacre-en-Santo-Domingo-Arauca.
    10. “Con traslado de base de Manta,” El Tiempo, 18 April 2009, at: http://www.eltiempo.com/colombia/justicia/con-traslado-de-base-de-manta-eu-tiene-en-la-mira-varias-pistas-del-suroccidente-del-pais_4877714-1.
    11. “De Manta a Palanquero?” Cambio, 2 November 2008, at: http://www.cambio.com.co/portadacambio/779/4234729-pag-2_3.html.
    12. Statement by Danilo Rueda, May 2009, at: http://www.forcolombia.org/rueda.
    13. Statement by Medellín Youth Network, May 2009, at: http://www.forcolombia.org/PalanqueroRed.
    14. “De Manta a Palanquero?”

     

    John Lindsay-Poland co-directs the Fellowship of Reconciliation Task Force on Latin America and the Caribbean, in Oakland, California. He can be reached at johnlp(at)igc(dot)org.

    Colombia: Paramilitary Chief Says He Helped Finance Uribe’s Campaign April 29, 2009

    Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Latin America.
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    www.upsidedownworld.org Print E-mail
    Written by Constanza Vieira   
    Tuesday, 28 April 2009
     (IPS) – Former Colombian paramilitary chief and drug lord Diego Murillo, alias “Don Berna”, testified in a U.S. court that he helped finance President Álvaro Uribe’s first election campaign, in 2002.

    The president’s campaign chief denied the allegation.

    “Don Berna” was sentenced Wednesday to 31 years in prison and fined four million dollars for conspiring to smuggle cocaine into the United States.

    Murillo, 48, was extradited in a surprise move by Uribe on May 13, 2008, along with 13 other heads of the far-right paramilitary United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC), which formally disbanded in 2007 after engaging in demobilisation negotiations with the government from 2003 to 2006.

    They were wanted by the U.S. justice system on drug trafficking charges.

    During the trial in a New York courtroom, one of Murillo’s lawyers, Margaret Shalley, read out a statement depicting her client as a victim of Communist violence, a patriot who was left disabled – he has a prosthetic leg – and nevertheless continued generating money to help his people.

    The lawyer asked federal U.S. District Judge Richard Berman to take into account, before sentencing her client, that he and the AUC backed Uribe’s presidential campaign in 2002, to which he contributed “large sums of money.”

    When she was finished reading the declaration, the judge asked Murillo if he had any objection to what his lawyer had read out, and he said no.

    Murillo said that using the money that he derived from drug trafficking was the only way to block the advance of the Communist guerrillas in Colombia.

    This South American country has been in the grip of a civil war since 1964, when the leftwing guerrillas took up arms.

    Murillo was sentenced to 375 months in prison on drug trafficking charges.

    After the trial, Murillo’s Colombian defence attorneys approached Iván Cepeda, spokesman for the Movement of Victims of Crimes of the State (MOVICE), and told him that their client had asked that his support for Uribe be explicitly included in the statement read out by Shalley.

    They also told Cepeda that Murillo was prepared to elaborate, before the Colombian justice system, on his allegations that incriminated Uribe, and to present proof, and said they hoped that this could be done as soon as possible.

    The manager of Uribe’s 2002 and 2006 campaigns, Fabio Echeverri, said in Bogota that Murillo’s declaration was “false.”

    Echeverri, who has been the spokesman for the National Association of Industrialists for 18 years, said the campaigns were financed by donations from companies and individuals, whose checks were deposited in a bank account after the origin of the funds was checked, a process that took between 15 and 20 days.

    The Colombian government has not responded to Murillo’s statement.

    The U.S. court did not agree to hear the testimony of any of Murillo’s victims.

    At the time, the Colombian government promised that the extraditions would not interfere with the legal proceedings carried out under the so-called Justice and Peace Law, which was approved by Congress to facilitate the demobilisation of the far-right militias.

    To that end, under an agreement with the U.S. authorities, Colombia’s attorney-general’s office and ministry of the interior and justice were to arrange for judicial cooperation with the U.S. courts.

    Under the Justice and Peace Law, which laid out the rules for the demobilisation process, the maximum sentence was eight years for those who gave a full confession of their crimes.

    The extradition agreement states that the sentences handed down to Colombians in U.S. courts could be no longer than the maximum penalties they would have faced in Colombia.

    The opposition Liberal Party expressed strong concern over Murillo’s declaration. “At this point we cannot make a judgment, but we need to know the whole truth,” said its spokeswoman, Senator Cecilia López, who aspires to become her party’s presidential candidate.

    The declaration implicating Uribe “in a U.S. court is extremely serious, and cannot be ignored,” Gloria Flórez, the head of the Minga Association, told IPS.

    “The Colombian state has the obligation to open an investigation into the declaration made by Don Berna, in which he openly refers to financing the president’s campaign,” she said.

    The constitution establishes that any investigation of the president has to be carried out by the lower house of Congress, and then the Senate. In case the charges involve criminal wrongdoing, the process is to be referred to the Supreme Court.

    But Uribe’s supporters have a majority in both houses of Congress.

    In any case, said Flórez, “the justice system has to move on this issue.”

    “If it is true, he (Murillo) has to show the evidence. If it’s not true, it has to be clarified before society that the presidential campaign was clean and that there was no involvement by drug traffickers,” the human rights defender said. And in order to do that, she added, “legal proceedings must be initiated, to show society the truth.”

    Flórez expressed “concern because there are no guarantees in the United States that action will be taken to find out the truth. Failing to listen to the victims of human rights violations in Colombia is part of that lack of guarantees.”

    “All the United States is interested in is the drug trafficking issue. So where does that leave the question of reparations for the victims?”

    During the demobilisation negotiations with the government, Murillo went by the name “Adolfo Paz”, portrayed himself as an AUC inspector, and wrote to journalists criticising their reports.

    Before he became a leader of the AUC, which is accused of committing tens of thousands of human rights crimes, “Don Berna” was a leftist guerrilla in the Popular Liberation Army (EPL), which broke off from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) – the main rebel group – in the 1960s and barely exists today.

    In the 1980s he became involved in the Medellín drug cartel, headed by the late notorious kingpin Pablo Escobar. But he then turned on his boss.

    “Don Berna” was active in and around the city of Medellín where, according to Verdad Abierta, the biggest Colombian on-line archive on the paramilitaries, “he brought in votes for the candidates he backed.”

    His henchmen in the area, who belonged to the Cacique Nutibara Bloc of the AUC, were the first to demobilise, in November 2003, when the government was still doubting whether to recognise “Don Berna” as a paramilitary leader, instead of just a drug lord.

    A year earlier, in October 2002, in Operation Orión, troops allegedly acting in collusion with “Don Berna’s” men seized control of a poor Medellín district known as Comuna 13 to “cleanse” the area of FARC and National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrillas.

    After the paramilitary demobilisation, some of the members of the Cacique Nutibara Bloc managed to get elected to Juntas de Acción Comunal, neighborhood councils that play the role of interlocutor with the state.

    Verdad Abierta cites the case of William López, alias “Memín”, who was elected in October 2007 as a representative of Comuna 8, another Medellín neighbourhood, but was later arrested and sentenced for forced displacement and aggravated intimidation of voters.

     

    Colombia: Secret Documents Show US Aware of Army Killings in 1990s January 16, 2009

    Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Human Rights, Latin America.
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    Written by Constanza Vieira   

    www.upsidedownworld.org

     

    Thursday, 15 January 2009

     

    (IPS) – Declassified U.S. documents show that the CIA and former U.S. ambassadors were fully aware, as far back as 1990, that the military in Colombia — the third largest recipient of U.S. aid after Israel and Egypt — were committing extrajudicial killings as part of “death squad tactics.”

    They also knew that senior Colombian officers encouraged a “body count” mentality to demonstrate progress in the fight against left-wing guerrillas. In an undetermined number of cases, the bodies presented as casualties in the counterinsurgency war were actually civilians who had nothing to do with the country’s decades-old armed conflict.

    Since at least 1990, U.S. diplomats were reporting a connection between the Colombian security forces and far-right drug-running paramilitary groups, according to the Washington-based National Security Archive (NSA).

    In the meantime, the U.S. State Department continued to regularly certify Colombia’s human rights record and to heavily finance its “war on drugs.”

    The declassified documents were published Jan. 7 by the NSA, a non-governmental research and archival institution located at the George Washington University that collects, archives and publishes declassified U.S. government documents obtained via the Freedom of Information Act.

    NSA’s Colombia Project identifies and secures the release of documents from secret government archives on U.S. policy in Colombia regarding issues like security assistance, human rights, impunity and counternarcotics programmes.

    “These records shed light on a policy — recently examined in a still-undisclosed Colombian Army report — that influenced the behaviour of Colombian military officers for years, leading to extrajudicial executions and collaboration with paramilitary drug traffickers,” says the NSA report released last week.

    The secret army report mentioned by the NSA led in late 2008 to the dismissal of 30 army officers and the resignation of Gen. Mario Montoya, the Colombian army chief who long “promoted the idea of using body counts to measure progress against the guerrillas,” writes the author of the NSA report, Michael Evans.

    In one of the declassified documents obtained by the NSA, then U.S. Ambassador Myles Frechette complained in 1994 about the “body count mentalities” among Colombian army officers seeking to climb through the ranks.

    “Field officers who cannot show track records of aggressive anti-guerrilla activity (wherein the majority of the military’s human rights abuses occur) disadvantage themselves at promotion time,” said Frechette.

    Evans, director of the NSA Colombia Project, states in his report that “the documents raise important questions about the historical and legal responsibilities the Army has to come clean about what appears to be a longstanding, institutional incentive to commit murder.”

    “But the manner in which the investigation was conducted — in absolute secrecy and with little or no legal consequences for those implicated — raises a number of important questions,” says Evans, who asks “when, if ever, will the Colombian Army divulge the contents of its internal report?”

    The question of extrajudicial killings by the army made the international headlines and drew the attention of the United Nations after a scandal broke out in the Colombian media in September 2008 over the bodies of young men reported by the armed forces as dead guerrillas or paramilitaries.

    It turned out that the men had gone missing from their homes in slum neighbourhoods on the southside of Bogotá and that their corpses had turned up two or three days later in morgues hundreds of kilometres away.

    Since then, scores of cases of “body count” killings by the army, also known as “false positives,” have emerged.

    Although the government expressed shock and indignation, evidence soon began to emerge of a pattern that dated back years.

    As defence minister under current President Álvaro Uribe, Camilo Ospina, who is now Colombia’s ambassador to the Organisation of American States (OAS), signed a 15-page secret ministerial directive in 2005 that provided for rewards for the capture or killing of leaders of illegal armed groups, for military information and war materiel, and for successful counterdrug actions.

    According to the W Radio station, which reported on the secret directive in late October, it could have encouraged extrajudicial killings under a new system, which may include “a mafia of bounty-hunters allied with members of the military.”

    But in the view of Iván Cepeda, spokesman for the National Movement of Victims of State Crimes (MOVICE), “this is not about an infiltration of organised crime in the armed forces, nor about people who have broken the law. As the NSA report shows, this is an institutional practice that has been followed for decades.”

    The Defence Ministry directive encouraged the phenomenon by creating a system of incentives that rewards “results” in the form of battlefield casualties, “discounting accepted methods and controls and the observance of human rights and international humanitarian law,” he said.

    Cepeda also maintained that the activities of far-right death squads and the army’s “body count” killings were connected, and that the military used the paramilitaries to show results.

    “The paramilitaries delivered to the army the bodies of people who were supposed members of the guerrillas but who were actually people selectively killed by those (paramilitary) groups,” he told IPS.

    When the killings became more and more widespread, the armed forces themselves asked the paramilitaries to hide the remains, to keep the country’s homicide rate from soaring any further, paramilitaries who took part in a demobilisation process negotiated with the right-wing Uribe administration have confessed.

    The declassified documents demonstrate “that the U.S. military as well as U.S. diplomats and governments have taken a complacent stance towards this kind of practice,” said Cepeda.

    The declassified records are in line with the results of “Colombia nunca más” (Colombia never again), a monumental effort to document human rights abuses carried out by 17 organisations since 1995.

    “’Colombia nunca más’ has created a databank on 45,000 (human rights) violations, including around 25,000 extrajudicial executions and 10,000 forced disappearances, committed between 1966 and 1998,” said Cepeda. Colombia’s two insurgent groups emerged in 1964 and the paramilitaries in 1982, although the latter launched a lethal offensive beginning in 1997.

    Cepeda told IPS that in the next few months, MOVICE would begin to organise the families of victims of extrajudicial killings, which would culminate in a national meeting to discuss “what routes of documenting the truth and obtaining justice can be followed in an organised manner by the families of the victims of this practice.”

    The earliest of the declassified documents obtained by the NSA is a 1990 cable signed by then U.S. Ambassador Thomas McNamara, addressed to the State Department and copied to the Defence Department, the U.S. army Southern Command, and the U.S. embassies in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru.

    The cable, whose subject line reads “human rights in Colombia — widespread allegations of abuses by the army,” cites reports that an army major “personally directed the torture of 11 detainees and their subsequent execution…carried out by cutting of the limbs and heads of the still living victims with a chain saw.”

    Referring to the connection between army officers and the paramilitaries, the ambassador stated that many “officers continue to discount virtually all allegations of military abuses as part of a leftist inspired plot to discredit the military as an institution.”

    In addition, the cable mentions “strong evidence linking members of the army and police to a number of disappearances and murders which took place earlier this year in Trujillo, Valle de Cauca department.”

    McNamara also mentioned “an apparent June 7 incident of extra-judicial executions.”

    “The military reported to the press that, on that date, it killed 9 guerrillas in combat in El Ramal, Santander department. The investigation by Instruccion Criminal and the Procuraduria (legal authorities) strongly suggests, however, that the nine were executed by the army and then dressed in military fatigues. A military judge who arrived on the scene apparently realised that there were no bullet holes in the military uniforms to match the wounds in the victims’ bodies, and ordered the uniforms burned,” said the ambassador.

    As sources told the ambassador, “all of the victims were part of the same family, and one of them, said by the army to have been a guerrilla, was 87 years old.”

    Chesa Boudin on Colombia’s Civil War December 26, 2008

    Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Human Rights, Latin America, War.
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    Posted on Dec 26, 2008, www.truthdig.com

    book cover
    amazon.com

    By Chesa Boudin

    In February 2007 I visited Colombia’s Chocó region as a guest of local Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities that had previously suffered forcible eviction from their communal lands. The phenomenon, known as forced migration or internal displacement, is so widespread across Colombia that the country trails only Iraq and Sudan in its number of internally displaced people. The communities that hosted me in Curvarado and Cacarica had recently returned to their homes after years of abuse at the hands of illegal paramilitary organizations intent on controlling their ancestral lands. Thanks to their determined efforts and support from a local NGO, Justicia y Paz (Justice and Peace), my hosts had been able to obtain legal title to their communal lands, an anomaly in a country where most forcibly displaced people lack the necessary resources or connections to navigate the legal bureaucracy. Despite their title to the land these communities remained frightened about threats from armed groups, so Justicia y Paz stationed observers to help document trespassing or attacks. 

    The farmers who hosted me, and countless more farmers across Colombia, are caught in the midst of a conflict more complicated than most. Fueled by cocaine profits and U.S. military aid, it has raged for decades, pitting the government security forces and illegal paramilitary groups against various Marxist-inspired guerrilla movements. It is in this broader national context that fundamental human rights and self-determination of peoples come into constant, direct conflict with global economic growth and wealth accumulation in Colombia’s northwest Chocó region. The narrow isthmus, covered in mountainous tropical forests and dense swamplands, is increasingly the target site for potential development projects, including the completion of the Pan-American Highway, a pipeline to carry Venezuelan oil to Pacific ports, and an alternative shipping channel to the Panama Canal. In 1996, the price of land doubled following then-President Ernesto Samper’s announcement of a plan for a new inter-oceanic highway link connecting the Pacific and Atlantic. The Chocó has also attracted agriculture, timber, coal and mining interests both from Colombia and abroad. Peasants who happen to live on resource-rich territory suffer from a violent form of land speculation. In Colombia, neoliberal economic policies have gone hand in hand with militarization of a historic conflict.

    “Beyond Bogotá: Diary of a Drug War Journalist in Colombia,” Gary Leech’s new book on Colombia, provides an engaging firsthand account of the country’s drug war. The book is structured around an 11-hour detention ordeal Leech underwent at the hands of the largest guerrilla group in the country, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), in August 2006. Each of the 11 chapters in the book corresponds to one of the hours during which he was held at gunpoint on a coca farm in rural Colombia while the FARC higher-ups decided his fate. As Leech anxiously waits out his detention, he reflects back on his first trips to Latin America and his years reporting on Colombia’s drug war. The literary device succeeds; suspense and drama remain present throughout the book, and he provides an easy-to-follow background to the country’s civil strife, mostly narrated through first-person accounts. Luckily for Leech and his readers, he safely made it home to tell the tale. He writes with the raw passion and vivid energy of a wartime correspondent who regularly risks his life to cover stories ignored by major international media outlets. While most writers on Colombia only talk abstractly about policy, Leech goes into villages, speaks with people on the front lines and peels back the skin.

     

    book cover

    Beyond Bogotá

     By Garry Leech

    Beacon Press, 272 pages

    Demonstrating considerable courage and persistence, Leech managed to visit the hottest areas of Colombia’s conflict, survive shootouts and detentions, interview high-ranking leaders of the FARC and the AUC (United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia) and visit coca farms and cocaine labs. He describes all this with compelling narrative and evocative characters, taking the reader with him on his investigative adventures. While his descriptive ability makes the reading enjoyable, it is his conclusions that leave the strongest impression.

    President Alvaro Uribe, currently in his second term, is a darling of the U.S. State Department and has funneled billions in U.S. aid into a military strategy for solving the country’s problems. Meanwhile, he implements neoliberal economic policies that exacerbate the very wealth disparities that Leech sees as the root of the ongoing violence. As governor of the province of Antioquia, Uribe was instrumental in establishing a civilian vigilante organization, CONVIVIR, that quickly became a right-wing paramilitary network fighting a vicious war against the country’s leftist guerrillas and anyone accused of sympathizing with them. Uribe’s own father was killed by the FARC in a botched kidnapping attempt, blurring the line between the political and the personal in his support for those fighting against the guerrillas. As Leech reports, the paramilitaries that grew out of Uribe’s CONVIVIR are widely believed to be responsible for the majority of civilian deaths and human rights abuses in Colombia. Like the FARC and sectors of the state military apparatus, the paramilitaries became involved in drug trafficking and use cocaine profits to fund their arms purchases and operations. The FARC taxes growers in the regions it controls, and Leech suggests that the paramilitaries and military are actively involved in the more lucrative processing and trafficking as well.

    Leech explains how, after Sept. 11, 2001, the U.S. military aid to Colombia under the heading “Plan Colombia” rapidly shifted from anti-drug trafficking to combating “narco-terrorism.” The FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia) and the national paramilitary organization AUC (Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia) appeared on the State Department’s list of terrorist organizations. While Leech is quick to condemn all of the armed groups in the conflict, much of his criticism is reserved for U.S. policy in the region. “There was also plenty of anti-American sentiment in Colombia, particularly in the rural regions targeted by Plan Colombia’s fumigations [of illegal coca crops]. Again, this anger wasn’t rooted in a hatred for U.S. freedoms; it resulted from U.S. government policies that destroyed the livelihoods of Colombian peasants without offering them any viable alternatives.” “Beyond Bogotá” gives voice to people whose opinions and perspectives are rarely included in mainstream media reports. 

    Leech investigates a peasant massacre and finds that “U.S. military aid was being used as much to wage a war of terror as to fight a war against terror. At best, it appeared to be funding a selective war on terror—one that targeted civilians seen as suspected leftist terrorists, yet supported a military responsible for perpetrating state terrorism and maintaining close ties to right-wing terrorists.”

    Moreover, according to Leech, the U.S.-led aerial fumigations of coca crops throughout Colombia have backfired; there is now a “super herbicide-resistant strain” of coca that is capable of yielding four times as many leaves from the same acreage. Thus, “although the U.S. and Colombian governments claimed that Plan Colombia was working because the fumigations were reducing the number of acres under cultivation … in reality coca production had remained relatively stable.” Meanwhile, Leech tells us, “Not only do coca farmers earn the least amount of profit among all those engaged in the production, trafficking, and sale of cocaine, but they are also the most vulnerable link in the chain because of their poverty and lack of mobility. Even with the widespread cultivation of coca, 85 percent of rural Colombians live in poverty. And at the close of the twentieth century, those poor farmers became the principal target in the U.S. war on drugs.”

    President Uribe, a willing partner in the war on drugs, has succeeded in improving Colombia’s image in the international business community and increasing urban security. Yet the government presence in many rural areas is limited to military incursions without meaningful investment in development or economic and social infrastructure. Leech shows us the divide between rural and urban Colombia, narrating multiple political perspectives throughout. In one scene that takes place over a three-hour period, he interacts with pro-FARC rural peasants, then with nonaligned, pro-peace small-town residents, and finally with right-wing pro-Uribe urbanites. 

    book cover

    Beyond Bogotá

     

    By Garry Leech

    Beacon Press, 272 pages

    Buy the book

    Leech clearly knows Colombia intimately, and this makes the book. One area where “Beyond Bogotá” falls short, however, is that it lacks regional context. Colombia is just one country in a fascinating and rapidly changing region. In many ways Colombia is an outlier among its neighbors: While Colombia is still a close ally of the U.S. and an adherent to the Washington Consensus, Andean neighbors Venezuela, Ecuador and Bolivia, for example, have elected left-wing, anti-neoliberal, populist presidents, including Hugo Chavez, Rafael Correa and Evo Morales. Uribe appears to represent the old guard of Latin American governments, while Chavez’s 1999 election was the vanguard of a wave of progressive democratic victories across the region. This regional context has shaped U.S. aid to Colombia, as well as Uribe’s domestic policies, but is largely absent from the book. Also missing are recommendations for how Colombia might find its way out of its quagmire, or how the international community can help it do so.

    Latin America is a rapidly changing region, and perhaps no country illustrates this better than Colombia. Writers focusing on current events there inevitably face the pitfall that nothing remains current for long. While this book is one of the most recent, most up to date on Colombia available today, crucial developments occurred after “Beyond Bogotá” went to press. Several of the key FARC leaders Leech writes about or interviewed for this book, including Simón Trinidad, Raúl Reyes and Manuel Marulanda, are no longer on the field of battle: Trinidad was caught and extradited to the U.S., where he is currently in prison; Reyes was killed by the Colombian military; and Marulanda died of natural causes. Moreover, the FARC’s most valuable hostages, among them one-time Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt and several American civilian contractors, were rescued last summer in a daring raid coordinated by the Colombian military. What implications these developments have for the FARC’s viability as a national rebel army remain to be seen. For those interested, as I am, in Leech’s ongoing analysis of these issues and future developments in Colombia, it should be noted that he is the editor of a regularly updated Web site called Colombia Journal [under construction as this review is published].

    As I was finishing reading “Beyond Bogotá”, I received an e-mail from Justicia y Paz, detailing threats and kidnappings of its members working in the communities in Curvarado. A series of anonymous phone calls had preceded the kidnapping of a human rights worker based in one of the formerly displaced communities I visited in 2007. Throughout Colombia, paramilitary groups are engaged in ongoing assaults on poor communities living on resource-rich land. U.S. military aid continues unabated, even as the Colombian military is complicit with these illegal attacks or simply looks the other way. This book is an excellent way to familiarize oneself with a multifaceted conflict that sadly shows no sign of letting up soon.

    Chesa Boudin is the author of “Gringo: A Coming of Age in Latin America,” forthcoming from Scribner. He studied forced migration and public policy in Latin America at Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar and is currently enrolled in the Yale Law School.

    Colombia Confirms It Cannot Meet Necessary FTA Prerequisites; Death Squads on Rise December 20, 2008

    Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Human Rights, Latin America.
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    Dan Kovalik, December 4, 2008

    www.huffingtonpost.com

    (UPDATED) In his final debate with John McCain, President-elect Barack Obama made it clear why he opposed passage of the Colombia Free Trade Agreement (FTA) – because of the problem with union assassinations in Colombia (still the highest in the world) and because the Colombian government has failed to investigate and prosecute those killings. This statement echoed Speaker Nancy Pelosi who, just last year, set forth the yard marks which were necessary for consideration for the Colombia FTA – namely, “concrete and sustained” results in dealing with continued violence against trade unionists, impunity and the role of paramilitary groups in that violence.

    2008-12-04-fernandoboteromasacre.jpg
    Fernando Botero, “Masacre”

    On the issue of impunity, the Colombian government has successfully investigated and prosecuted around only 3% of the almost 2700 union killings since 1986, resulting in an impunity rate of 97%. And, recently, the Colombian Office of the Attorney General confirmed that this impunity rate will not be appreciably lowered.

    Indeed, as Human Rights Watch recently explained in a letter to Nancy Pelosi, Congressman George Miller and Congressman Charles Rangel, “[t]he Office of the Attorney General reports that as of October 20, the specialized prosecutors unit is only reviewing a total of 1,272 cases involving anti-union violence – including both threats and killings (even though nearly all of the 2,685 reported killings and more than 3,700 threats remain unresolved).” (emphasis added).

    In short, impunity will not decrease very much in Colombia because the Colombian government, by its own admission, is not even looking into the vast majority of anti-union violence cases. This is an incredible admission by the Colombian government given its continued full-court press for passage of the Colombia FTA. This admission should finally end Colombia’s chances at passage of the FTA, at least so long as Barack Obama is President and Nancy Pelosi is Speaker of the House.

    What’s more, the other key issue blocking passage of the FTA – ongoing anti-union violence – continues to be a big problem. As Human Rights Watch noted in its same letter, “[a]fter dropping to 39 last year, the number of killings has increased once again in 2008. Through October, 41 trade unionists have been reported killed, compared with 33 through October 2007. More than 150 unionists have reported being threatened so far this year.”

    Addressing Speaker Pelosi’s third concern about continued paramilitary violence in Colombia, particularly against trade unionists, Human Rights Watch makes it clear that this problem remains grim and is actually getting worse. Indeed, as Human Rights Watch noted, while there was some temporary abating of paramilitary violence as a result of the demobilization which accompanied the “Justice and Peace” process, the paramilitaries are now re-mobilizing. As Human Rights Watch explained, “new armed groups often led by mid-level paramilitary commanders have cropped up all over the country. The Organization of American States (OAS) Mission verifying the demobilizations has identified 22 such groups, totaling thousands of members. The groups are actively recruiting new troops and are committing widespread abuses, including extortion, killings, and forced displacement.”

    These conclusions about the paramilitary resurgence in Colombia were just reinforced by a Dec. 5, 2008, L.A. Times article by Chris Kraul, entitled, “Paramilitary groups still spread terror among Colombia’s people.” This article concluded that, in spite of President Uribe’s denial of the existence of any paramilitarism in Colombia, there are as many as 100 new paramilitary “gangs” in Colombia, “including as many as 10,000 fighters.” As this article reports, the rise of these new death squads is “creating an enormous catastrophe” with massive new displacements of people, adding to the already almost 4 million internal refugees — the second largest in the world. According to the L.A. Times, the hyper-violent Black Eagles “may account for half of the newly emerged fighters.”

    The strong re-emergence of the paramilitary death squads does not bode well for trade unionists, for as Colombia’s Office of the Attorney General reported in March of 2008, of all the persons convicted of killing unionists, 73% belonged to paramilitary groups.

    Finally, the Colombian government continues to turn a blind eye to the participation of government officials and major corporations in the murder of unionists. As Human Rights Watch explained, the Colombian government has done little to investigate the credible allegation that Jorge Noguera, the former chief of Colombia’s DAS (the analogue of the FBI which has actually received U.S. monies to protect unionists) passed a hit list with the names of trade unionists to the paramilitaries with the intent that the paramilitaries carry out the assassination of said unionists.

    Further, Human Rights Watch noted that the Colombian government has failed to abide by the order of a well-respected judge to investigate the role played by the Nestle Corporation in the murder of union leader Luciano Romero. The issue of such corporate responsibility in the murder of trade unionists continues even as Colombia, on December 6, commemorates the 80th anniversary of the massacre of striking banana workers in the town of Cienaga, Colombia at the behest of then United Fruit Company (now, Chiquita Banana, a company which has continued to fund atrocities in Colombia). This event inspired Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s portrayal of the murder of banana workers in One Hundred Years of Solitude – a book I am told is the very favorite of none other than Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

    Sadly, this history of anti-union violence at the hands of elites in Colombia is repeated today on a regular basis. And, to put an end to this, Congress must continue its refusal to consider passage of the Colombia FTA.

    Colombia: A Day That Will Live in Infamy (Once Again) December 19, 2008

    Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Latin America.
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    Written by Mario A. Murillo   
    Wednesday, 17 December 2008
    Army’s Killing of CRIC Member Tragically Marks 17th Anniversary of Nilo Massacre. Episode Coincides with Latest Act of Sabotage Against Nasa Community Radio Station in Northern Cauca.

    December 16th is supposed to be a special day for most Colombians.

    It’s the day that marks the start of what is called “La Novena,” the traditional nine-day countdown to Christmas.

    For families around the country, rich and poor, urban and rural, “Las Novenas” are supposed to be a time of celebration, ritual gatherings with friends and loved ones. They are filled with community sing-alongs, of old-school holiday songs that take just about everybody back to their childhood.

    But this December 16th will not be one of joy for Aida Quilcué and her family. Indeed, December 16th is once again being marked as a day of violence and terror for the indigenous communities of Cauca, and for the entire country.

    This morning, at about 4:00am, on the road between Inzá, Tierradentro, and Totoró, on indigenous territory, the official car of the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca, CRIC, was shot at 19 times by a column of the Third Division of the Army, fatally wounding the driver, Edwin Legarda Vázquez, Quilcué’s husband. Quilcué is the Chief Counsel of CRIC, and one of the most visible leaders of the recent Indigenous and Popular Minga that began on October 11th, culminating in a massive march and rally in downtown Bogotá on November 21st.

    Three bullets penetrated Legarda, who did not survive the emergency surgery he was given after being rushed to San José Hospital in Popayán, the departmental capital.

    But most people close to CRIC believe the bullets were really meant for his wife, who apparently was just returning from Geneva where she had been participating in the United Nations Human Rights Commission sessions on Colombia. She was not in the car when the attack occurred.

    Ernesto Parafán, the lawyer for CRIC, believes it was a deliberate act committed against the organization, and specifically an attempt on Quilcués life by the government’s security apparatus. According to the indigenous leadership, Quilcué, along with other prominent leaders, has received numerous death threats in recent months, especially during the six weeks of mobilization and protests that captured the attention of both national and international public opinion.

    General Justo Eliceo Peña, commander of the Army’s Third Division in Cauca, acknowledged on Caracol Radio that various members of the Army did indeed fire at CRIC’s car, a vehicle recognized throughout the area for its tinted windows, and for its countless trips throughout the mountainous terrain regularly carrying the movement’s leadership, particularly Quilcué. According to the General, his troops fired because the car did not stop at the military roadblock set up in the area. General Peña later expressed regrets for the attack, recognizing that even if they had not obeyed orders to stop, the excessive volley of bullets was not appropriate, and violated the Army’s protocol.

    But the indigenous movement is not accepting these words at face value, and is demanding a full, independent investigation into the incident, given the recent wave of threats against Quilcué and other leaders.

    “I think the attack was for me,” Quilcué later told Caracol Radio, in reference to her role in the MINGA social.

    The Association of Indigenous Councils of Northern Cauca, ACIN, pointed out on its website that the area where Legarda was killed was near the Finca San Miguel in the village of Gabriel López in Totoró, “a property where there is a permanent presence of the National Army,” making it highly unlikely that the soldiers did not recognize the vehicle as being that of CRIC, one of the most prominent social organizations in the country.

    Meanwhile, Perafán was quoted in El Tiempo saying that if the military does not thoroughly investigate, capture the perpetrators and bring them to justice, the Indigenous Guard of the community will do so “because these crimes were carried out within the territory of the (indigenous) community.”

    Alvaro Mejía, a spokesperson for CRIC, added “we demand that this crime does not remain in impunity.”

    December 16th: A Day that Lives in Infamy

    If one considers the long track record of the government’s deliberately lackluster investigations into crimes committed by state actors against the indigenous movement, there is considerable reason for the community to be concerned. Today’s tragic incident ironically comes on the 17th anniversary of one of the most brutal episodes of Colombia’s violent history against indigenous people, and perhaps its most despicable account of criminal cover up and public deception.

    On Dec. 16, 1991, 20 indigenous people from the Huellas-Caloto community, including five women and four children, were murdered as they met to discuss a struggle over land rights in the estate of El Nilo in northern Cauca. Some 60 hooded gunmen stormed into the building where the community was meeting and opened fire. Initial news reports indicated that the gunmen were drug traffickers who had been seizing land in the region to grow opium poppies to produce heroin, but it soon became apparent that the culprits of the massacre were much more than simple narco-traffickers operating outside of the law. The killings had followed a relentless pattern of harassment and threats against the indigenous community by gunmen loyal to local landowners who were disputing the indigenous community’s claim to ownership of the land. In many ways, it was a massacre foretold.

    According to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, the Special Investigations Unit of the Office of the Attorney General, which handled the first stages of the investigation into the massacre, uncovered evidence of the involvement of members of the National Police, both before and during the execution of these horrific events. They were working hand in hand with drug traffickers and wealthy landowners, who were not comfortable with the organizing and mobilizing capacity of CRIC and the local communities.

    The Inter-American Court of Human Rights established that the Colombian state should hand back their land as part of the integral reparation to victims of the massacre committed by those ruthless death squads in collaboration with the police. In 1998, President Ernesto Samper acknowledged the responsibility of state actors in the massacre of El Nilo, and on behalf of the Colombian state, he apologized to the families of the victims and to the Nasa community of Northern Cauca, making promises to the relatives of the victims and the communities, to implement the recommendations of the Inter-American Human Rights Commission in the matter of Justice and Individual and Collective Reparations.

    To this day, only a small portion of the land has been returned to any of the family members of the Huellas community, this despite repeated promises from various governments to do so. The issue of recuperation of the lands in the northern Cauca region continues to be a major point of contention between the government of Alvaro Uribe and the indigenous movement, and has sparked repeated mobilizations by the community in the last 17 years.

    The Social and Community Minga that was initially launched in September 2004, but was re-initiated this year with the above-mentioned six-week mobilization, made the government’s fulfillment of its pledges to the community one of its five main rallying points, although it was not the only issue on their agenda of protest. The organizers of the Minga recognize that the failure of the government to come clean on its pledges to the community is just one manifestation of a much larger strategy of pushing back the indigenous movement’s national, broad-based call for social transformation on several different platforms. This platform of resistance includes a rejection of the government’s counter-reform measures that negate protections afforded to indigenous peoples across the country, measures that have opened the way for free trade agreements that in essence will rob the communities of their territories and the resources within. And it is a platform that is openly calling for an end to the government’s militarization of their territories, what President Uribe calls “Democratic Security,” but in the end results in the kinds of state-sponsored violence that took the life of Edwin Legarda Vázquez in the early morning hours of December 16th.

    Aida Quilcué has been one of the most eloquent voices promoting this agenda. Are we jumping to premature conclusions in assuming those bullets were meant for her?

    Will there be justice in this latest case of violence against the Nasa people, or will it be as slow in coming as it was (and still is) for the many victims of the Nilo massacre?

    Silencing the Truth in Northern Cauca

    The senseless tragedy befalling Quilcué, her family, CRIC and the entire indigenous community of Colombia is currently being reported peripherally by the corporate national news media such as El Tiempo, Caracol Radio and other sources. However, one media outlet where it is not currently being reported is on the community radio station of the Nasa people of northern cauca, Radio Pa’yumat, licensed to the ACIN.

    Over the weekend, the station’s transmitter equipment, and antenna were severely damaged in an act of sabotage by as of yet unnamed actors, although the community refers to the perpetrators as the same forces of terror that continue to try to silence the indigenous movement with acts of violence. ACIN has denounced the latest assault on their primary communication vehicle on its website, stating that it is part of an ongoing process of intimidation and fear:

    “Not coincidentally, these prior acts of sabotage have occurred at the precise time that our communities were initiating major mobilizations and important actions against the armed actors that constantly provoke war in our territories. Therefore, the assault against our community radio station is not an isolated incident, but is part of a deliberate strategy of silencing the indigenous movement of northern Cauca, because the radio station is the most important medium within the community. It allows us to listen to one another, to discuss important issues, reflect on them, make decisions in the interest of the community, and take actions collectively in defense of life and of our territory.”

    It is understood by most observers that the indigenous communities that have been most successful over the years at confronting the myriad threats to their autonomy throughout the country, are those with the strongest organizational structures, legitimized by being in a constant dialogue with the base. These are the same communities that continue to play the role of interlocutor with other, non-indigenous actors, be they state institutions, different social sectors like the peasant or trade union movements, and international solidarity organizations.

    And not surprisingly, many of these communities, like the cabildos that make up ACIN, maintain their own, independent media channels as essential components of their collective resistance. These community media channels spring from a long tradition of grassroots, independent, citizens’ media projects that have emerged throughout Colombia over the past 35 years, and that coalesced alongside broad based social movements with the rewriting of the Constitution in 1991. Naturally, these community-based media are only as effective as their organizations’ capacity to successfully confront the destructive, militarist, and undemocratic models that surround them. In the long run, strong organizational bases make them more secure and protect them from the inevitable, reactionary backlash, given the high levels of violence that has always been directed towards independent voices in Colombia. But sometimes that high level of organizing is not enough to prevent the kind of sabotage that occurred over the weekend.

    “Those who carried out this act of sabotage knew what they were doing,” said Dora Muñoz, Coordinator of the Radio station. She added “all of this points to a systematic wave of terror. I’m afraid we’re only just beginning to see what may come in the coming days and weeks, directed against us.”

    The Nasa communities of Cauca, with their long trajectory of mobilization spearheaded by CRIC and ACIN, in the spirit of constructing sustainable, democratic alternatives, are working alongside truly revolutionary, transformative practices in communication. Radio Pa’yumat happens to be one of the national models of these transformative communication practices, rooted in indigenous traditions of bottom-up consultation and community reflection. However, it is not supported in any way by state institutions.

    “If there were some state communication policies that were in defense of the rights of the people, the immediate reaction of the government would have been to repudiate these acts of sabotage and provide some resources to support the radio station’s efforts, efforts that we depend on for our security and well being while we are under constant attack,” said Ezequiel Vitonás, a member of the council of chiefs of ACIN.

    Today, December 16th, 2008, on the 17th anniversary of the massacre of 20 Nasa on the Nilo estate, on the same day that the husband of CRIC’s chief spokesperson was killed by a fusillade of Army bullets, ACIN’s radio station remains off the air due to ruthless acts of sabotage.

    Is this all a tragic coincidence?

    Too often these types of stories are completely ignored by the Colombian corporate media, which are perpetually stuck on the faulty narratives relating to guerilla terrorism, false victimization, and celebrity gossip. These patterns of media obsession were evident most clearly this past Sunday, when El Tiempo released its list of personalities of the year. Topping the list was pop-super star and pretty boy Juanes, whose ambiguous politics – supposedly “committed to social change” – make him a safe bet for the editorial writers of the nation’s establishment newspaper of record. The multi-Grammy Award winner was followed on the year-end list by two of the principal architects of the government’s Democratic Security strategy, Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos and Armed Forces Chief Freddy Padilla, lauded for their so-called victories against FARC guerillas. These are the same individuals who are responsible for the False Positives scandal that only temporarily rocked the top brass of the military in 2008.

    And perhaps these are the same individuals who ultimately should be held accountable for the criminal act of violence perpetrated this morning against Legarda Vázquez.

    So in his memory, and in the memory of Jairo Secué, Domingo Calis, Daniel Peté, Adán Mestízo, Darío Coicué, Feliciano Otelo, Calicio Chilhueso, Mario Juliqué, Edegar Mestizo, Jesús Peté, Julio Dagua, Carolina Tombé, Ofelia Tombé, Jose Elías Tombé, Foresmiro Viscué, Leonidas Casamchín, and José Elías Ulcué, and all the other victims of state-sponsored terror in Colombia, let’s not be silent today.

    In the spirit of Manuel Quintín Lame!

    Let our voices of rage be the megaphones projecting through the heroic signal of Radio Pa’yumat, temporarily silenced by reactionary forces. Let’s shout out collectively, in order to drown out the tacky melodies that will be sung throughout the country on this first night of the Christmas novena, in the spirit of resistance.

    So that the tears of Aida Quilcué can be converted into the fire of a people that will not be silenced!

    Despite National and Global Distractions, the Popular Minga Marches on to Bogotá November 15, 2008

    Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Latin America.
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    Written by Mario Murillo   
    Friday, 14 November 2008
    ImageBogotá, Colombia-The order to keep them out of the city apparently came from President Alvaro Uribe.

    As up to 6,000 indigenous protesters participating in the ongoing “Minga Popular” approached the city limits of Ibagué, in the department of Tolima, they were met by a squadron of mounted and special forces police known as ESMAD, as well as the Army, who were given explicit orders not to let them into the main highway of the city.

    On Tuesday, President Uribe had said the indigenous protesters should pass right through, but not stay in Ibagué, as a result of the “yellow alert” that had been announced related to the possible eruption of the Machín Volcano. Already some local families had been displaced as a result of the warning, so the government thought the presence of thousands of outsiders would only make matters worse for the local authorities. At least that’s how it was presented publicly.

    The leadership of the Minga, however, saw the order as yet another attempt to stifle their long march to Bogotá, a march called to protest the government’s economic development and security policies. The indigenous protesters, joined by union activists and sectors of the peasant movement, resumed their march on Monday in the city of Cali, on the 24th anniversary of the assassination of one of the indigenous movement’s most iconic leaders, Alvaro Ulcué

    . In actuality, the Minga really kicked off over a month ago, with the mobilization that began in La Maria, Piendamó, in the department of Cauca, on October 12th.

    Given the over-the-top show of force

    the state security forces utilized against the people during the start of the mobilization several weeks back, one could not help but appreciate the frustration and anger expressed by the people as they arrived yesterday in Ibagué, only to be told they could not stay.

    “This is yet another example that should be shown to the rest of the world, of the ongoing attacks that we as indigenous communities are facing here,” said Luís Evelis Andrade, Chief Council of the National Indigenous Organization of Colombia, ONIC

    .

    Andrade and others pointed out that theirs was a peaceful protest that, if anything, would show solidarity with the families displaced by the unexpected seismic activity of Machín. There was no legitimate reason to keep them out of the city, other than to sidetrack their message and keep them from talking directly with the people of Ibagué.

    ImageA Dialogue with the People

    Indeed, one of the main purposes of the Minga is to expand the scope of the popular movement that over the last several weeks has been publicly confronting the Uribe Administration on issues ranging from the US-Colombia Free Trade Agreement to human rights abuses carried out by the military as a result of the government’s so-called “Democratic Security Strategy.” After meeting with the President in a dramatic public debate on November 2nd

    in La Maria, Cauca, the communities decided to continue their protest with a national march to the capital, culminating with a massive “Congress of the People” scheduled for November 24th.

    Along the way, they will carry out barridos with local communities throughout the country, an ongoing dialogue designed to dispel the myth propagated by the government in the mainstream media, that the indigenous protests are a local phenomenon solely concerned about “returning some lands” to certain native communities in Cauca. Keeping the marchers out of Ibagué would have prevented them from reaching a very important sector of the population.

    Nevertheless, after some tense moments at the entrance of town that lasted a little bit over a half hour, it was agreed that the protesters could proceed with their planned march, and make their way to the famous Parque Murillo Toro, where they held a town-hall like meeting with the community. Once there, they articulated the five-point agenda of the Minga, and the need to continue building the mobilization throughout the country.

    As they made their way through the streets of Ibagué, the protesters were welcomed with cheers from the people lining the streets. They were later met with messages of solidarity from local and national union leaders, including Pedro Varón, president of the Central Workers Union, CUT, and Carlos Rivas of the Tolima Teacher’s Union, SIMATOL, both of whom acknowledged the important role the indigenous communities were playing in bringing together so many popular sectors in Colombia at this point in time, including women’s organizations, youth groups

    , the sugar cane workers, and the trade union movement.

    U.S. Transition Getting Considerable Attention

    The timing of the mobilization coincides with major events that are taking place in Washington with the Presidential transition process. Some activists see this as an opportunity to present the movement’s agenda vis a vis free trade and Plan Colombia, to both national and international public opinion, while, at least for the time being, Colombia is making headlines once again up north.

    Earlier in the week, much attention was given in the Colombian media to the high-profile meeting between outgoing President George W. Bush and President-elect Barack Obama, and more specifically, whether or not the two addressed the U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement in their private discussions. It was reported in the New York Times

    that during their meeting, President Bush had placed the bilateral trade deal between Washington and Bogotá as a condition to Obama’s request for an emergency recovery package for the ailing U.S. automobile industry. Later it was denied by both camps that there was a quid pro quo on these issues, although the report left considerable doubt in the minds of both the union and indigenous leadership here in Colombia.

    The Association of Indigenous Councils of Northern Cauca, ACIN, said on its website

    the “exchange of favors may not have been discussed explicitly (between Bush and Obama), but no doubt it was a tacit proposal. Impunity in exchange for the US-Colombia FTA. The lives of trade unionists in exchange for the FTA. The lives of 1,200 indians killed over the last six years in exchange for the FTA. We cannot accept that life is traded for a free trade agreement.”

    Anti-FTA activists in Colombia welcomed the election of Barack Obama, who had spoken against the Colombia trade deal throughout his campaign, including in the last Presidential debate held just three weeks before election day. During the campaign, President Uribe had been extremely critical of Obama, especially after the Illinois Democrat spoke out against the rampant human rights abuses committed against trade union activists in Colombia in an April 2008 speech. On several occasions, Uribe called Obama mis-informed, a tag that Senator John McCain used against Obama on this particular issue during the debate. President Uribe – and McCain – argued that the U.S.-backed “democratic security strategy” led to marked improvements in the everyday work of organized labor in Colombia, a claim that Amnesty International called the President’s relentless denial of his country’s human rights crisis

    .

    In the last week, Uribe has claimed in the Colombian media that he was “totally neutral” with respect to the U.S. elections, although a number of columnists had to remind him that he continuously courted the Republican ticket, hoping for a continuation of Bush’s policies regarding Colombia. He embraced Sen. McCain in the coastal city of Cartagena in July, and met face to face with Sarah Palin at the Colombian mission to the UN in New York when he was there for the General Assembly sessions. Now Uribe is faced with a temporary snub from the Obama team. How long it will last is anybody’s guess.

    With Obama in the White House come January, there is considerable hope from Colombia’s popular movement that the focus of U.S. policy towards Colombia will gradually move away from its emphasis on militarization and free trade, and shift towards human rights and social concerns. People are not naive to think it will lead to revolutionary change in policy, remembering that it was a Democratic Administration that pushed through Plan Colombia. Yet there is some degree of optimism, and a general feeling that Obama will be more open to their concerns. In an open letter to the President-elect, ACIN expressed gratitude for Obama’s recognition of the problem facing the trade union movement, but urged him to also consider the violence and aggression committed against indigenous peoples.

    “We hope that you will contribute to change all this,” they wrote. “We hope that you will listen to our words. … These are the words that we have shared throughout Colombia since October 10th, through the Minga of Resistance, a national mobilization we convened as indigenous peoples, in association with other peoples and processes. We believe that the spirit of change in your people cannot be contained.”

    The chances of these words being heard and felt by Barack Obama hinge on whether or not the Minga can reach many more people, both here in Colombia and in the U.S. Unfortunately, at least for the time being, their message to the Colombian people is not getting the same media coverage that the protests were receiving several weeks back, when the national police were firing on peaceful protesters in La Maria. Naturally, a non-violent march, even with thousands of people, meeting in permanent assembly with concerned citizens in cities and towns throughout the country, does not have the same dramatic impact that violent confrontations have, at least for the major corporate media. As a result, the Minga’s collective message of resistance is instead being drowned out by, for example, tonight’s Latin Grammy Awards ceremony, where several Colombian artists are up for some big prizes.

    This is the banal stuff that Colombian media love to report on, relentlessly.

    As for the U.S. public, it’s an even more difficult challenge. Colombia has never been, and is not now, high up on the agenda of policy makers and the corporate media. That said, there is considerable reason to be concerned. Both the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post

    published editorials in the last few days urging the passage of the US-Colombia FTA. They see it as a matter of U.S. national security, and argue that now is the time to “seal the deal.” It is strikingly clear that the urgent cries of the Minga Popular are not even on the radar screen of the shortsighted editorial writers in the U.S.

    But the resilience of the thousands of people participating in this historic march is evident nonetheless, and is resonating in many circles within Colombia and outside. The consistent messages of solidarity have been coming in from throughout Latin America, Europe and Canada. The hope is that the movement will keep growing, from Ibagué, where it left this morning, to its next several stops along the way, until it reaches Bogotá next week for the People’s Congress at the footsteps of the Presidential Palace.

    And eventually makes untilit makes its presence felt, all the way up to Washington.

     

     
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