Monday, 3 March 2008

Colombia – the Israel of the Americas

Bush and Uribe implement "Plan Colombia"
  1. Cluster bombs used as Colombia invades Ecuadorian terriory-
  2. Ecuador and Venezuela scramble troops and tanks to defend their borders
  3. Both close their embassies in Bogata
Colombia Assassinates Raul Reyes of FARC

The second-in-command of FARC (Colombia's guerrilla group), and perhaps its most visible spokesperson, Luis Édgar Devia Silva, or "Raul Reyes" (the nom de guerre), was killed by the Colombian military in bombings yesterday. The Colombian military killed some 15 guerrillas in the operation, according to their own reports, including Raul Reyes. The reports suggest that it was basically an assassination, of the type the Israelis have committed in recent decades and are most recently accused of committing against Hizbollah commander Imad Mughniyeh (indeed, Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez noted the similarity, asking if Colombia was going to be converted into the Israel of the Americas). From El Tiempo (Colombia's national newspaper): "Reyes was killed in an intelligence operation that included the Army and Air Force, which intercepted a satellite phone call from the guerrilla chief, in recent hours that made it possible to find his exact location."

Raul Reyes was assassinated on Ecuadorian territory. The Ecuadorian army took some of the bodies, but the Colombian army took Raul Reyes's and those of other FARC officers.

Ecuador has retired its ambassador from Colombia.

Venezuela has also closed its embassy.

Ecuador and Venezuela are both moving troops to their borders with Colombia.

The Ecuadorian President, Rafael Correa, called Uribe a "criminal, mafioso, paramilitary" leading a "narco-government".

"We do not want war, but we will not permit the Empire or its puppy, President Uribe, to weaken us." Those were Chavez's words on the Venezuelan radio program, Alo Presidente on March 2. Chavez called Raul Reyes a "good revolutionary" and his killing a "cowardly assassination". Further, he said "It is very serious that a country arrogates to itself the right to bomb the territory of a neighbour and commit an incursion to take bodies, violating many international laws. Think of the consequences, not just for Colombia, but for your neighbours."

The Venezuelan government's official communication noted that the assassination was "a very hard blow against the humanitarian accord and the possibility of negotiations, revealing the irresponsibility of those who privilege the military option and escalate the armed conflict, making more difficult political and negotiated solutions, without regard for the consequences."

The assassination was, literally, the answer to FARC's second unilateral release of four kidnap victims, former Congresspeople, an operation coordinated with help from Venezuela. There are, therefore, numerous parallels with Israel. First, the tactic of high-tech, long-distance assassination of high-profile leaders. Second, the killing of dozens of others around as 'collateral damage'. Third, the use of such assassinations to undermine the possibilities for dialogue and negotiated solutions.

In this case, as with so much else in the region, the target is Venezuela and the objective is to escalate to a regional conflict - or, rather, an intensification and internationalization of the military conflict that is happening in Colombia. Such a conflict would be incredibly destructive for everyone involved, for Colombia and Colombians, for Uribe and his regime, and of course for Venezuela's revolution. The US, however, would benefit. When US allies use the same tactics in the same sorts of political situations against US enemies, there is reason to suspect a US role.

The US/Israeli approach in the Middle East, from the invasion of Iraq in 2003 to the invasion of Lebanon in 2006 and the ongoing massacres in Gaza, has been to commit atrocities and acts of violence and, using their superior militaries, exploit the political and military opportunities that arise (this is a military counterpart of what Naomi Klein calls "the shock doctrine"). Even when they have backfired politically or strained military resources, these violent approaches have cost their victims much more than their authors, who continue to have reason to believe that more violence can work.

One of the political opportunities that Israel counts on after it commits an assassination is some random act of violence by the Palestinian armed groups, which it can then exploit, calling the Palestinians terrorists. The FARC have been told that if they unilaterally release kidnap victims, the response will be the assassination of their commanders. What should those who believe the only solution to the conflict is a political solution say to them?

It would be a major improvement in world affairs, especially in the Middle East but increasingly, perhaps, in the Americas as well, if assassination was not viewed as an acceptable instrument of policy. As it is, the best short-term hope for the region is if there is an outpouring of official and popular disgust at Uribe's regime (and those who call the shots for that regime) for what it has done, throughout the Americas.

Justin Podur is a Toronto-based writer.

A FARC guerrilla

After marches against the Farc guerilla movement, Andy Brown looks at the roots of repression and the opportunism of the US-backed regime

“From above, they looked like a white river flowing through the streets of Colombia’s capital. They wore white T-shirts that read, ‘Yo soy Colombia (I am Colombia). Stop the kidnappings, the lies, the murders. No more Farc’.”

So gushed the Christian Science Monitor in the US, reporting mass demonstrations in Colombian cities last week against the leftist guerrilla force Farc, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia.

These were undoubtedly mass demonstrations, mobilising hundreds of thousands. Most were better off Colombians and supporters of president Alvaro Uribe’s government.

The president spoke at one of the rallies and they were heavily promoted by the private pro-Uribe media and by his backers in the US and elsewhere. Slogans were explicitly for Uribe and often against the Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez. State institutions backed the marches, with schools often shut to encourage participation.

Uribe is the US’s favourite Latin American leader and Colombia is its frontline of intervention in the continent. The US has provided a massive financial and military “assistance” programme, first under the cover of the “war on drugs”, then seamlessly converted into the “war on terror”. Colombia has become increasingly important to the US since the elections of Chavez in Venezuela and Evo Morales in Bolivia – both of whom speak out against US imperialism.

Uribe is currently trying to get favoured trading status with both the US and the European Union. The anti-Farc mobilisations are another attempt by him to emphasise his government’s legitimacy in the eyes of the West.

Uribe’s government has an appalling human rights record. It has systematically persecuted social movements and trade unions. Its supporters have engaged in large scale murder and intimidation. The army, the police and right wing paramilitary groups have organised a reign of terror, especially in the countryside.

The right wing paramilitary groups still operate freely, often with the support of the state. Colombia remains one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a trade unionist, with killings, death threats and disappearances still common.

By far the greatest violence in Colombia comes from the state and state sponsored death squads. Yet it is kidnappings by Farc which are the focus of the current marches. Farc holds about 40 political hostages. It is also alleged to hold several hundred others for ransom.

Chavez was recently involved in an operation to release two of Farc’s hostages. Chavez afterwards called for serious peace negotiations and the recognition of Farc as a legitimate political force, but Uribe and the US are desperate not to give credit to Chavez or make concessions with Farc.

Any serious peace process in Colombia must involve negotiations with both Farc and the other major rebel group, the ELN. Many ordinary Colombians want an end to the civil war which has brought appalling violence. Uribe seems set, however, on defeating the rebels. But there is no serious prospect of this – huge areas of the country are outside government control.

The US not only backs Uribe’s hardline stance, but is desperate that Chavez is not seen as instrumental in any peace process.

Farc has been fighting corrupt and elitist Colombian governments for decades. It is undoubtedly involved in drug production and trafficking, though we should not fall for the hypocrisy of the state’s denunciations of this. Establishment politicians, the armed forces and much of the ruling class are up to their eyes in drugs, corruption and organised crime.

Author Forrest Hylton describes a situation where “Colombia’s establishment political parties have become so addicted to drug profits that they have relegated their traditional allies in the church and the old-money establishment for the huge monetary resources that drugs bring.”

Farc emerged as a result of the establishment violence against the poor and any political organisation which sought to represent the excluded. They do offer some protection for the farmers in the areas they control who face chemical crop spraying and violence from US-backed “counter-insurgency” programmes. However, Farc is not based on a mass democratic movement, and social and economic conditions in their areas are not significantly better for the poor. Farc also taxes the peasants and sometimes enforces recruitment into its militia.

So Farc’s guerilla strategy will not offer the political progress ordinary Colombians badly need. But against all the odds and in a climate of fear, the Colombian trade union and social movements – including women’s groups, Afro-Colombians and indigenous people – are fighting for change. Among municipal workers, food processing unions, oil workers, miners and others there is a brave and well-organised resistance to neoliberalism. A progressive electoral voice for these movements is also beginning to emerge, despite the repression and a long tradition of abstention from electoral politics on the Colombian left.

These progressive forces generally have no links to the guerrilla fighters, though this has not stopped the right from using this as a pretext for bloody attacks on them. These movements offer the future for working people in the Colombian cities and countryside.

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