Friday, July 25, 2008

What is behind the struggle in Colombia?

Friday, July 25, 2008 By: Gloria La Riva Revolutionary movements battle U.S.-backed repression Colombian trade unionists and peasant leaders continue to be gunned down in record numbers by a death-squad government that is armed and financed by the Bush administration. More trade unionists are assassinated every year in Colombia than anywhere else in the world. The FARC is waging a struggle against Colombia's ruling class and their U.S. backers.

These facts are never reported in the U.S. corporate owned media. Such bastions of "free speech" could not care less about the epidemic of killings against progressive workers and small farmers. Instead, all concern and sympathy is being drummed up for the individuals who were taken prisoner by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army (FARC-EP, or simply FARC). In the 1980s, when the FARC laid down its weapons and entered the political process to "peacefully" compete with the U.S.-backed political parties representing the ultra-rich landowners and capitalists, government-backed death squads murdered more than 5,000 of their members. Since 2000, the U.S. government has spent more than $5 billion on Plan Colombia to exterminate the revolutionary movement. Bombings, assassinations and every other conceivable tactic have been used against those resisting imperialism and capitalism. Now the imperialists’ operatives in the CIA and their Colombian puppets are organizing a worldwide campaign against "violence" and "hostage taking." The hypocrisy is so great that few parallels come to mind. Hitler organized a war crimes trial in 1942 that found French socialists guilty and, consequently, blamed them for "starting" World War II. Their punishment was their immediate dispatch to German concentration camps. ‘Rescuing hostages’: the hidden story The timing of "Operation Jaque"—the July 2 "rescue" of French-Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt and 14 other prisoners held by the FARC—was designed to bolster Colombian president Álvaro Uribe's war against the country's progressive forces and to possibly win him a third (unconstitutional) term for that war. It was soon exposed as a set-up. Instead of a "brilliant Colombian military operation" that supposedly proved the end of the FARC, it was unmasked as a staged event to disrupt and destroy the active negotiations that were underway between FARC negotiators and Swiss and French emissaries to free Betancourt and others. The groundwork for negotiations was being established because the FARC has also sought the liberation of its members in an exchange of prisoners. Many FARC members are enduring extremely long sentences in U.S. and Colombian prisons after kangaroo trials on bogus charges of terrorism and narcotrafficking. In the thousands of media stories extolling Betancourt's release, scarcely a word has been uttered about the existence of imprisoned FARC guerrillas. On July 15, Alfonso Cano, the FARC's new leader, issued his first statement since taking over after the death of legendary founder Manuel Marulanda. Cano said in part, "We will insist for as many times as necessary our willingness to achieve a humanitarian accord that fixes clear and obligatory rules for both parties with respect to the civilian population, and above all, to prioritize the freedom of our extradited comrades Sonia, Simon, Ivan Vargas and of all the prisoners of war of both sides." Cano mentions Simon Trinidad, the nom de guerre of FARC member Ricardo Palmera Pinera. On Jan. 28, Trinidad was sentenced in Washington D.C.'s federal court to 60 years imprisonment in the United States. He is in prison as the result of a false conspiracy conviction linking him to the kidnapping of the three U.S. mercenaries who were just freed with Betancourt. The mercenary contractors were shot down in 2002 while flying military reconnaissance planes over FARC-controlled territory. Conspiracy is a charge that needs no real evidence for conviction. Interestingly, the maximum prison sentence in Colombia used to be 40 years, but it was extended after its penal code was modified under the direction and funding of the United States Agency for International Development. Class struggle in Colombia The most fundamental issue in Colombia's struggle is hidden by the media and denied by the U.S. and Colombian governments: There are two sides in Colombia's struggle representing irreconcilable classes—that of owners and that of dispossessed, of oppressors and of oppressed. Colombian President Álvaro Uribe is leading a U.S.-backed campaign to exterminate left-wing forces.

This is the real reason the U.S. and Colombian governments have done everything possible to thwart such a prisoner exchange from taking place in Colombia. Despite numerous FARC proposals for a peace settlement and prisoner releases, Uribe and Washington have deliberately sabotaged them. For U.S. imperialism, agreeing to a prisoner exchange would be a de facto recognition of the FARC and the National Liberation Army (ELN) as legitimate military armies. The United States is not interested in negotiations. Its objective is the wiping out of the opposition, armed and unarmed, at all cost. All the crocodile tears cried by U.S. government officials and Uribe over the fate of prisoners held by the FARC belie the fact that the real danger to the prisoners has come from U.S.-Colombian military operations, including the mass bombing of FARC encampments and other lightning attacks. One such military raid was carried out in June 2007 on a FARC camp with a goal similar to "Operation Jaque." It was meant to boost Uribe's presidency and make crystal clear that the U.S. and Colombian perspective of "no concessions, no negotiations under any circumstances" with the FARC, except for purposes of deceit. Twelve members of Colombia's congress had been taken prisoner by the FARC. While negotiations were ongoing for their release, on June 18, 2007, a SWAT team of CIA, British and Israeli mercenaries and the Colombian army stormed the FARC jungle camp. Eleven of the congress members were killed. FARC spokesperson Rodrigo Granda explained Uribe's intention in the raid in an October 2007 interview: "What has to be said about the deaths of the 11 congressmen is that it was undoubtedly a meticulously prepared plan, both politically and militarily, and also in terms of propaganda. "Uribe's government began its plan by talking about the possibility of releasing a number of FARC-EP prisoners for whom no one had made any request, because we had sought a bilateral humanitarian exchange of prisoners between the FARC-EP and the government. ... This, in my view, had to do with the preparations for action on a large scale in the Colombian mountains [the June raid]. "The intended blow was that, if this special force appeared to have successfully freed the 12 congressional representatives, Uribe would have kept in prison those he was supposedly attempting to free and embarked on a political campaign at home and abroad claiming that direct interventions would henceforth be the most appropriate way to secure the release of those being held by the FARC-EP, thereby ruling out the feasibility of humanitarian exchange or any possibility of dialogue." In November 2007, renewed negotiations for a prisoner exchange were at first agreed to by Uribe, who approved of Venezuelan president Hugo Chávez's role as a mediator along with liberal Colombian senator Piedad Cordobas. Prominent individuals held by the FARC were set for release. At the last minute, however, Uribe abruptly called off the talks and accused Chávez of violating the ground rules by engaging in a telephone conversation with a Colombian general. This was a spurious accusation, yet the official relations between both countries almost came to a breaking point. Chávez has accused the U.S. government of having intervened to put a sudden stop to the talks. Despite Uribe's sabotage of the talks, the FARC unilaterally released two prisoners on Jan. 10: Clara Rojas, Betancourt's campaign manager in her 2002 presidential bid; and Consuelo González. On Jan. 31, four more civilians were released by the FARC to Venezuela’s president Hugo Chávez in yet another unilateral gesture. Days later, Uribe's answer was, "We will exterminate the FARC." On March 1, the Colombian military conducted an attack at dawn on a FARC encampment a few miles inside Ecuador's territory along Colombia's southern border. The aerial bombing, which violated Ecuadorian airspace, lasted several hours. The assault killed almost all 20 encampment occupants, including four Mexican university students who had just arrived hours before to express their solidarity with the FARC. Raúl Reyes, the FARC's number two leader and actual ground commander, was executed in the mop-up operation after the bombing ended. The military intelligence and logistics were provided by the United States. Days later, another top FARC commander, Iván Rios, who had a million-dollar bounty placed on his head, was betrayed and executed by a member of his battalion. High-priced bounties have been issued against key FARC leaders. If it were still not clear to all those who follow developments in Colombia that the intent of the United States and the Colombian bourgeoisies is the brutal elimination of the FARC and ELN, Uribe stated it explicitly on July 9. Still flush with his "rescue" victory, Uribe announced a renewed military offensive against the ELN. According to the July 10 edition of Mexico’s La Jornada, "[T]he Colombian president Alvaro Uribe ordered the military forces to launch an offensive against the Army of National Liberation (ELN), the second most important guerrilla in the country, in particular to locate and capture their maximum leaders …" Organized resistance The FARC's methods as a revolutionary guerrilla force in wartime are not the cause of the violence in Colombia. It is the necessary outcome of a class war that was intensified in the late 1940s by U.S. imperialism and the Colombian oligarchy and that has never let up. With state power in their hands, U.S. imperialism and Colombia's comprador bourgeoisie have employed the most ruthless means to vanquish all opposition movements, armed or unarmed, including the trade unions. The fascist paramilitary forces, armed and supplied by the United States, have ferociously tortured and murdered workers and peasants trying to resist the aggressive free-trade and neoliberal policies of Bogota and Washington. The FARC and the ELN were born as a means of defense and survival for the peasants and working class against the state terror that was unleashed on the population in the 1940s. A turning point was in 1948, when the popular presidential candidate Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, from the left wing of the Liberal Party, was assassinated. The violence that broke out between the Conservative Party and Liberal Party supporters, known as the "Bogotazo," soon became the ruling class's justification for an unending war against Colombia's peasants. Colombian peasants had first begun to organize cooperatives and small units of self-defense to protect themselves against large landowners from the 1930s to the 1950s. These peasant organizations grew in size and influence by the 1960s. Throughout Latin America, movements of workers and peasants were gaining in organization and strength, many inspired by the Cuban Revolution of 1959. In response, the U.S. government pumped millions of dollars of military assistance to repress numerous popular movements. The 1960s and 1970s brought a wave of state terror and dictatorship throughout Latin America, with military coups directed and financed by U.S. imperialism, from Chile to Argentina, Bolivia to Brazil, and Haiti to Venezuela. A Marxist understanding of violence Literally hundreds of thousands of people across the continent were murdered in the U.S.-backed reign of terror. It is against this state violence that the rise of the revolutionary armed forces in Colombia must be understood. Funeral for Javier Suarez, a Colombian labor leader killed by right-wing paramilitaries, May 2000 Marxism, as a scientific method of assessing and giving direction to the class struggle, has a very particular view of violence. Marxism rejects the vile hypocrisy of the capitalist bosses and landowners who have always maintained their systems of slavery and exploitation by resort to the most extreme methods of violence. The rule over society by a tiny handful of the population would be impossible without the employment of repression. "Democratic" methods are fine, but only as long as the masses of the exploited remain meek. As soon as the oppressed take up arms to defend their organizations and their communities from the organized violence of the capitalist state, which is frequently supplemented by extra-judicial death squads, the corporate media condemns them as "terrorists." Unlike pacifism, Marxism is distinguished by its understanding that the armies of the capitalist state inevitably employ methods of violence, including outright war, assassination, prisoner and hostage taking, spying, covert operations, and other instruments of terrorism. The goal of these methods is not to kill all of their opponents. Only a relatively small number of opponents are killed in any war, be it a class war or one directed against targeted governments. The goal is to break the will of those who are still alive by inflicting sufficient casualties and widespread terror so that resistance appears futile. Pacifists denounce the violence of the oppressor state and those who resist it through armed struggle with equal fervor. Marxists, like all progressive people, do not "like violence." They would much prefer a non-violent end to the miseries of capitalist exploitation. But wringing one's hands about violence "from both sides" does not contribute in the slightest to arresting the violence of the oppressor state once the ruling class feels its interests are threatened. It is not possible for bourgeois pacifism to cite one example in history where a small exploiter class gave up its control over the economy and the political order without unleashing the fiercest, most violent war against the class forces that sought a new society. Colombia: a pivot in imperialist strategy For more than six decades, Colombia has been the anchor for U.S. imperialism in Latin America. Washington is intent on maintaining the oligarchy in power for its own means on the continent. By waging ruthless violence against the oppressed who have organized for economic and social betterment, Colombia's ruling class has been able to expand its wealth tremendously. It has also created the repressive environment necessary for greater U.S. exploitation. Today, the economic situation in Colombia is staggering. The country suffers the highest unemployment rate in Latin America, exceeding 15 percent in seven major cities. Over half of those who do work are based in the informal economy of street vending or living from scavenging in dumps; 54 percent of the population lives on only $1 to $2 a day. The richest 5 percent of Colombia’s population owns 90 percent of all property and almost 60 percent of peasants struggle to survive on less than 3 percent of the country’s land. Homelessness is estimated at almost 10 million out of a population of 44 million—the highest in the continent. To keep such an impoverished population down, Colombia's police, military and, by extension, paramilitary forces have received billions of dollars in U.S. military aid through the Plan Colombia and Plan Patriota programs of the United States. From 2000 to 2006, $5 billion were given to Colombia, 80 percent of it in the form of military aid. FARC leaders who were directly involved in negotiations over prisoner exchanges are being targeted for assassination or arrested and railroaded into U.S. prisons. All opposition activists, even those who do not employ armed resistance to the state terror, have been heavily targeted. That thousands of trade unionists have been slaughtered in recent years for peaceful, unarmed labor actions and for defending workers' rights strongly negates the argument that peace can be achieved by the FARC first surrendering their arms. The paramilitary death squads have particularly targeted trade unionists with the complicity of the government. Between 1986 and 2002, according to an AFL-CIO 2006 study, more than 3,000 labor leaders were assassinated in Colombia. Only five cases ended in a successful prosecution. The state terror against aboveground and legally recognized organizations and their members is not a thing of the past. Located in the northeast of the South American continent, Colombia shares extensive borders with Venezuela and Ecuador, whose governments are engaged in a radical societal transformation. Some leaders, including Venezuela's president Hugo Chávez, have called for the FARC to lay down its arms in order to initiate a peace process. History and on-the-ground reality in Colombia shows the reason for the revolutionary forces to maintain its arms and organization. Again, it is not a fetish for armed struggle; it is an estimate of reality that leads to basic calculations about strategy and tactics. In 1984, it was the FARC that agreed to a peace settlement with Colombian president Belisario Betancur. The FARC was instrumental in establishing the Patriotic Union (UP), an aboveground and legal political party created for electoral purposes. Despite the FARC’s efforts at peaceful forms of struggle, a bloodbath ensued in which paramilitary death squads murdered over 5,000 militants of the UP. Colombian struggle in international context With 60 years of state terror and violence, Colombia has seemed impenetrable by the phenomenon of the Latin American masses in motion, demanding dramatic change after the "lost decades" in the 1980s and 1990s. Those times were characterized by economic surrender to the U.S. imperialism. More than 200,000 Colombians take to the streets to protest paramilitary violence, March 6. But in fact, there has been a growing consciousness and mobilization among many sectors in Colombia in recent months. They do not receive much notice in the international press. Recently, more than 200,000 people marched in Bogotá demanding an end to death squad violence. And a major scandal involving Uribe's links to the paramilitary and narcotraffickers resulted in his lowest public ratings since he became president. There is also an ongoing investigation of the more than 70 members of Colombia's Congress—with direct links to the death squads—who used their offices to help re-elect Uribe for his second four-year term in 2006. The euphoria created among large sectors of Colombia by Operation Jaque, calling for a possible third presidential run for Uribe—despite the unconstitutionality of a third term—is bound to be short-lived. The country’s inescapable economic and social crisis will not be. Proclaiming victory over the guerrilla forces after a series of recent setbacks for the FARC will not resolve Colombia’s crisis for the vast majority of the people. Nor will it end the inextinguishable need to organize, mobilize and fight back with the means necessary for the people’s victory. The FARC, like any workers’ or peasants’ organization that is involved in a protracted conflict, may seek to fight at the same time as it engages in negotiations and diplomacy. Only the revolutionary organization can determine the usefulness of negotiations with a state that seeks to exterminate them. Ultimately, an estimate of the relationship of forces is required, which is dictated not only by the internal domestic situation but by an approximation of complex international factors as well. Any movement for change in Latin America has arrayed against it not only the forces of domestic counterrevolution, but also the vast interventionist instrument of U.S. imperialism. The Pentagon, CIA and the complex of transnational media corporations are working day and night to discredit and destroy the revolutionary forces. For people outside of Colombia, and especially for those of us living in the United States, our work must intensify to expose the macabre role of our own ruling class. Exposing Plan Colombia and extending real solidarity with the workers and farmers who are being viciously attacked because they dare to stand up for a better world are the top priorities. Castigating and lecturing those who are being hunted down by imperialism and by its legal and extra-legal death squads is no solution at all to the enduring crisis in Colombia.

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