Colombia’s workers, peasants need int’l solidarity
/ Thursday 25 October 2007
International Action Center activist and journalist for Workers World.
Why should Colombia be high on the list of priorities of progressive movements in the United States?
Colombia is facing the most serious political crisis in its recent history. International solidarity can have an enormous impact in helping the Colombian progressive and social movements advance in their quest for a peaceful and just country. This solidarity will not only benefit Colombia but the whole Latin American region.
It is no accident that Plan Colombia evolved into the “Andean Regional Initiative,” a plan by the U.S. government to quash the growing resistance of the Latin American peoples to the neoliberalism that Washington imposes under the cover of “bringing democracy.”
What is the nature of Colombia’s crisis?
A scandal, known as parapolitics, is being uncovered that is shaking the very foundations of the state. Parapolitics is the murderous and intimate working association between the deadly paramilitaries and government officials, members of Congress, mayors, governors and others from the parties and groups close to Colombian President Álvaro Uribe Vélez.
The paramilitaries themselves claim to be affiliated with 35 percent of the Colombian Congress. The U.S.-backed Colombian police and army, as well as U.S.-owned transnational corporations like Occidental Petroleum, Coca-Cola, Chiquita and Drummond, are also involved with the paramilitaries.
In 2006, compromising information revealing many of these links was found in a computer seized from paramilitary leader Rodrigo Tovar Pupo, alias Jorge 40. As a result, more than a dozen Congress members and other officials from the government are in jail and more than a hundred are being investigated, with the number and accusations growing daily.
Close collaborators of Uribe have been indicted—among them, the brother and father of his young protégé, Foreign Minister Maria Consuelo Araujo. As a result of public outcry, Araujo was forced to resign despite Uribe’s refusal to fire her from his administration.
But most damaging of all for Uribe was the arrest of his close ally Jorge Noguera, who had been director of the Department of Administrative Security (DAS) or secret police. Noguera was charged with having given a “hit list” of trade unionists, human rights advocates and other social activists to the paramilitaries. Several people named in the list have been murdered.
The circle is drawing closer and closer to Uribe. Recently the Supreme Court, the judicial entity in charge of the parapolitical case, ordered the investigation of Uribe’s cousin, Sen. Mario Uribe. Francisco Santos, Uribe’s vice president, is also under suspicion of having been associated with paramilitaries, particularly with Carlos Castaño, founder of the paramilitary group AUC.
Television presenter Virginia Vallejo, mistress of the now-deceased Medellín cartel head Pablo Escobar, said publicly last month that she had met Uribe through Escobar. Vallejo, who has recently published the book “Amando a Pablo, Odiando a Escobar” (Loving Pablo, Hating Escobar), said in an interview with the Spanish newspaper El País that Escobar “adored” Uribe who, as head of Civil Aeronautics in 1980-1982, had “given dozens of licenses for landing runways and hundreds for planes and helicopters which helped build all the infrastructure for the drug traffic.”
This crisis has made it impossible for Uribe’s backers abroad to pretend ignorance any longer. Even the New York Times, which has reported very little about the horrendous violence against Colombia’s workers and campesinos, in an Oct. 8 editorial recommended that the pending Free Trade Agreement with Colombia be delayed because “President Álvaro Uribe and his government have not done enough to bring to justice the paramilitary thugs—and their political backers—responsible for widespread human rights violations.”
The nature of these relations between the paramilitary institutions and the government is not just an “infiltration” by drug-trafficking paramilitaries into the government. It is the pervasive paramilitarization of the country’s institutions.
Paramilitaries are not merely “death squads.” They control a significant sector of the Colombian economy. They own health clinics, benefiting from the privatization frenzy pushed by the IMF and World Bank and implemented by Uribe, which has affected the most important basic services for the population. They hold vast territories stolen from small farmers, who had been terrorized into leaving their homes by paramilitary massacres. They control the multi-billion-dollar drug trade. They work together with the transnational corporations to clear land for the benefit of foreign capital.
But this paramilitary government is being challenged by the popular movement. A growing social movement representing broad sectors of society—labor, Afro Colombians, Indigenous, peasants, displaced people, women and youth—has been mobilizing to expose and oppose the murderous complicity of government-paramilitary-transnational corporations.
Recently, from Oct. 10-12, the National Agrarian and Popular Mobilization held actions in different parts of the country. One of the organizers, the Peasant Association of the Valley of the Cimitarra River (ACVC), had been threatened and repressed by the Colombian government even before the mobilization started. Three of ACVC’s leaders were detained on Sept. 29 by the DAS and are still in prison.
Nevertheless, the rest of the organization courageously went forward with the action; thousands of peasants demonstrated in different regions, standing up to violent state repression that killed several activists.
The role of progressives worldwide has been crucial many times in preventing more murders and saving the lives of social and labor activists in Colombia. These are the class sisters and brothers of working people everywhere. As the labor slogan says, “An injury to one is an injury to all.”
Solidarity from individuals and organizations in the United States is very important. Letters of protest to the governments of Colombia and the United States, messages of solidarity to the mass organizations, press releases and delegations to Colombia are among the many ways that needed solidarity can be shown.
For more information, contact Colombia@action-mail.org.