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by Adam Rogers
Monday, Aug. 27, 2001 at 9:08 AM
I think it's time, that indymedia got their act together and supported the FARC-EP. If they don't know who James Petras is, or the FARC for that matter, then I suggest they find out ASAP. There's a bloody civil war in Colombia. The next Vietnam!
Latin American Perspectives; Riverside; Sep 2000; James Petras;
Start Page: 134-142
Subject Terms: Guerrilla forces
Geographic Names: Colombia
Personal Names: Samper Pizano, Ernesto
Companies: Revolutionary Armed Forces-ColombiaSic:813940
An analysis from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia--People's Army of the situation in Colombia during the Ernesto Samper administration, 1994 to 1998, is presented. The relative successes and strengths of the campesino, labor, and guerrilla movements as they confront a violent disintegrating neoliberal order are evaluated.
Copyright Sage Publications, Inc. Sep 2000
Introduction: The Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarios de Colombia-- Ej6rcito del Pueblo (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People's Army-FARC-EP) is the most powerful and successful guerrilla army in the world confronting neoliberal regimes and their U.S. backers. It is the dominant political force in over 50 percent of the country's municipalities, fielding a guerrilla army of approximately 18,000 mostly peasant fighters. In addition, it has urban militia units in most major cities and towns and hundreds of thousands of sympathizers throughout the country. Led by Manuel Marulanda, it has been battling the Colombian oligarchy and its authoritarian two-party political system for over three decades. The FARC emerged in 1964 from a peasant movement that had sought five years earlier to establish rural self-governing communities in Marquetalia. The military invaded the peasant communities, destroying their villages and razing their crops. The peasants regrouped and, under the leadership of Marulanda, formed the nucleus of what is today the FARO. The FARC, which retains fraternal relations with the Colombian Communist party, has built its support by supporting agrarian reform (redistribution of land), nationalism (opposition to foreign control of strategic sectors of the economy), democratization (the end of the Liberal-Conservative monopoly of political power), and human rights (the dismantling of the military-landlord-controlled paramilitary groups that terrorize the countryside and the cities). It has taken a principled position against the narco-capitalist politicians and military officials. It protects coca-- growing peasants and taxes the dealers who purchase the leaf in their zones of influence. Contrary to the U.S. State Department propaganda, however, the FARC neither produces nor sells coca or drugs, as the present president of Colombia, Andres Pastrana, admits.
From early 1998 to the end of 1999, the FARC has extended its field of operations and the size and scope of those operations: military confrontations take place in major cities (Medellin) and on the outskirts of the capital (Bogota). Its current position is to combine its offensive with negotiations with the Pastrana regime for a peaceful settlement. Unlike the Central American guerrillas, the FARC has put forth a series of fundamental socioeconomic reforms that run counter to the Pastrana-Washington neoliberal agenda.
The peace process is highly unlikely to progress, in the first instance because Washington is preparing for a high-intensity military commitment. Already in 1998 Washington tripled military aid to US9 million; after serious military setbacks, U.S. General Barry McCaffrey raise the figure to US0 million, ostensibly to fight the drug trade but clearly to bolster the Colombian military's counterinsurgency war. The political and military advance of the FARO in 1998-1999 has been aided by the deepening economic crisis in the country. President Pastrana's implementation of the IMFWorld-Bank structural adjustment program has increased official unemployment to 18 percent, while the economy is in a serious depression with an estimated -5 percent growth rate projected for 1999. As the FARC gains adherents among peasants and workers, the military has increased its support for the paramilitary forces, which have, over the past two years, assassinated thousands of trade-unionists, peasant activists, and human rights workers and any individuals who speak in favor of a negotiated peace settlement.
The FARC is a "people's army" in the sense that it has long-standing and profound roots in the countryside. Powerful ties link sons and daughters with parents and grandparents in the prolonged struggle. The United States is attempting to organize a joint military command with Ecuadorean, Brazilian, Peruvian, and Argentine armed forces to intervene in Colombia. Any largescale invasion will become a second Vietnam with high U.S. casualties. President Clinton's definition of the Colombian people's struggle as a "threat to U.S. national security" does not augur well. The presence of 200 U.S. military advisers and 100 DEA agents could be the prelude to deeper U.S. engagement and ultimately a major invasion as the civil war turns against Washington and its clients. Colombia is not Iraq or Yugoslavia: the FARC has the leadership and the organization to engage in a successful prolonged war that could precipitate a major crisis in U.S. politics. With its powerful peasant army and experienced military commanders, it represents the most formidable challenge to Washington's neoliberal agenda in Latin America. Its objective is to take power and govern in coalition with other progressive parties and movements in a multiparty system in which the centerpiece of socioeconomic policy will be the equitable redistribution of wealth and resources.
The social crisis facing Colombia under the administration of President Ernesto Samper (1994-1998) reflects the depth of the structural inequalities of the system linked to such factors as underdevelopment of the countryside, unequal and unproductive ownership of land, the increase in violence, the development of state terrorism, corruption and impunity, entrenched social inequality and a skewed distribution of power, and the wealth and privileges of the two traditional parties (Liberal and Conservative). The latter tolerates neither the presence nor the participation of alternative political views and is responsible for the class conflict that is increasingly marked by the contradictions of the operation of capital. The governing elite of Colombia has pushed aside solutions to these secular problems.
By and large, President Samper continued the policies of previous administrations, particularly in his support of the neoliberal model, imposed by the World Bank and by nature violent-an economic strategy designed to generate a new phase of much more intense capital accumulation. His administration was distinguished from others by prolonged political crisis, a product of drug money in the presidential campaign. The growing abuse of human rights, deference to the military with regard to proposed legislation, and a conciliatory attitude toward the White House's overt interference in the domestic affairs of the country were just a few of its characteristics. In this context, the Colombian struggle for fundamental rights continued, and the opposition covered a wide spectrum that extended from protest against neoliberal measures, especially privatization, to armed opposition to the regime. This political and military action, which amounted to a guerrilla movement, became the primary form of opposition despite the prohibition of social protest, an increase in state terrorism, and the waging of a dirty war against the few, fractured legal organizations of the left. The government attempted to delegitimate these expressions of popular struggle by linking them to terrorism and/or drug trafficking.
NEOLIBERALISM AND THE CIVIC TRADE-UNION STRUGGLE
The administration of Cesar Gaviria (1990-1994) implemented the neoliberal model in various ways. It oversaw the rapid elimination of the social gains made by workers during their 50 years of struggle, thus weakening the labor unions and the civic movement to the point of physical and political strangulation, especially by exterminating or imprisoning the leadership on fabricated charges. Other methods included the criminalization of social protest, the removal of unionists from privatized state companies, and the militarization of strikes. President Samper adopted these same strategies. Thousands of workers were laid off, and in the private sector several large companies, among them Croydon, Quintex, and Valher, shut down production. The crisis also affected small and medium-sized companies such as the brickwork, construction, clothing, and shoe industries. Moreover, the Samper administration, business leaders, the government sector, and nonunion workers reached agreement on a so-called social pact to regulate the economy in such a way as to foster production and control inflation when the established limit of prices and salaries exceeded 18 percent of the consumer-price index. As anticipated, the pact was a dismal failure. The ambivalent participation of the Central Unitaria de Trabajadores (Central Labor Office-CUT), headed by Luis Orlando Obrego6n from 1996 until he left the organization to assume leadership of the Ministry of Labor and Social Security, contributed to the agreement's lack of credibility.
On the other side of the equation there was a revival of labor mobilization and working-class struggles, including mid-level and popular sectors, aimed at confronting neoliberalism in all its dimensions but also bearing the brunt of state terrorism and the dirty war. During the week of January 26, 1995, 7,000 workers from the Union Sindical Obrera (Workers Union-USO-an organization of petroleum workers-paralyzed production for 24 hours to protest both the assassination of a union leader from Magdalena Medio and the imminent collapse of labor negotiations. Moreover, in the Department of Antioquia, workers from 35 health clinics mobilized and engaged in a work stoppage for better salaries and improved regional service. In Soacha and Cazuca, south of the nation's capital, some 30 neighborhoods blocked the principal road in the western region of Colombia for 25 hours to protest the lack of potable water and public services, and this protest resulted in the death of one person. Despite an "exhaustive investigation," the facts surrounding the incident have never been determined. On March 6, 1996, the CUT and Confederacion General de Trabajadores Democraticos (General Confederation of Democratic Workers-CGTD) organized huge demonstrations in Bogota and other major cities to protest the economic and social policies of the Samper administration as well as U.S. interference in the internal affairs of Colombia. The participation of industrial sectors highlighted this day of national protest, including unions from Ecopetrol, the national electricians, the Agrarian Office, and the communications company (TELECOM), aqueduct workers in Santa Fe de Bogota, and representatives of the National Registry, which struggles against privatization and official corruption and for the improvement of working conditions made worse by the World Bank's imposition of neoliberalism and the Colombian oligarchy's embrace of its policies.
The peasant movement accompanied this mobilization of workers by blocking national roadways, although retired military officers closed off any possibility of a political end to the armed social conflict. The insurgency reflects advances made both on the battlefield and in the area of popular support. Complete harmony exists between the insurgency and other popular struggles, resulting from each side's recognition of the other's organizational autonomy as they fight for their demands. The Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-- FARC) and the Ejercito del Pueblo (People's Army-EP), with their 60 fronts, are present throughout the country, including an urban component in Colombia's major cities. These movements have initiated strong campaigns over the past few years, demonstrating their growing ascendancy among the Colombians most affected by the economic, political, and social situation.
The capture of Las Delicias, a military base in the Caqueta region, on August 30, 1996, when 60 soldiers were taken as prisoners of war, demonstrates other dimensions of the guerrilla movement. As the FARO-EP has repeatedly made clear, contrary to official declarations, both movements dif ferentiate between coca-producing peasants and drug traffickers. By now everyone recognizes the relationship between the great drug lords and the ruling classes, with their political organizations, particularly the traditionalists and right-wing liberal and conservative parties. They are the ones that receive drug money to finance their campaigns and control the government with impunity. During the Eighth National Guerrilla Conference, which took place in La Uribe in May 1993, the FARC-EP explicitly rejected and condemned terrorism, whatever its origins. In Colombia, however, it is the state and its respective presidential administrations that conduct terrorist acts; state-sponsored terrorism, including the activities of paramilitary groups, has killed more than 4,000 Colombians. And state tenor against an unarmed and defenseless population has not ended.
The FARC-EP has also reiterated its desire for peace and maintains a proposal to initiate the process, manifesting great interest in dialogue with all Colombians by demanding guarantees from the government to hold these talks. Some of these demands include a government withdrawal within 120 days from the municipalities of La Uribe, Mesetas, Vista Hermosa, and La Macarena (in the Department of Meta). The town of San Vicente del Caguan (in the Caqueta region) has been proposed as the site for these talks. San Vicente might also serve as the meeting place for talks with representatives of the three branches of public power. Finally, the FARC-EP urges that plans for a National Constituent Assembly be implemented.
The elections of October 26, 1998, were held by the so-called regional powers-departments and municipalities-during an insurgency campaign that was launched precisely to oppose the election. For the first time in 33 years, the FARO-EP protested elections and called on Colombians to refrain from voting. The movement denounced the corrupt use and handling of elections, demonstrating that the electoral process by itself does not guarantee the existence of a democracy. More than 50 percent abstained from voting; in municipalities where there was no vote, mayors were still elected, illustrating the antidemocratic and illegitimate nature of the Colombian regime.
Instead of reducing the causes of violence, official decrees have contributed to it by criminalizing popular protest. Prisons in Colombia are full of political prisoners. Many of them have been imprisoned on false charges or by witness tampering or staged activities, all within the framework of regional justice or "justice without a face." The regime categorizes everyone involved in the insurgency as a terrorist.
Under the pretense of a national crisis-the promulgation of Decree 1900 on November 2, 1995, for example, which was automatically extended on January 29, 1996, and again on April 24, 1996, without congressional approval-- various decrees were issued that curtailed civil liberties, prohibiting the broadcasting of communiques, interviews, or pronouncements from organizations that were characterized as criminal, among them the guerrilla movement. Under Decree 1901 of July 1995, the government withholds the identities of persons who report crimes and provides them with protection. The decree also authorizes the an est of accused persons without formally identifying them, as long as the charges contain enough of a description to permit an arrest. It establishes monetary rewards for persons who, although they have not participated in the commission of crimes, can provide concrete information and clarify facts that lead to the location and arrest of wanted persons. Decree 0871 of May 1996 created a special zone of public order, an area of 382,432 km2 that encompasses five departments (Guaviare, Vaupis, Meta, Vichada, and Caqueta), representing little more than a quarter of the national territory. And on July 20,1996, the congress announced a new war tax. Moreover, a bundle of reform measures-unconstitutional in nature and endorsed by the administration-was passed to strengthen presidential power and prolong the crisis. Such measures suppressed both constitutional checks and balances and the range of judicial protection afforded citizens. These decrees also revived the practice of detaining persons without a trial, subjected civilians to the military penal code, and prohibited the Office of the Attorney General from investigating the armed forces.
The legitimation of paramilitary groups in the guise of security agencies has expanded the territorial spread of groups involved in special operations against union and popular civilian leaders, deputies, and left-wing representatives of town councils. The dependence of these paramilitary groups on the government-by way of the armed forces-is evident. For example, the army kidnaps family members of guerrilla commanders (brothers, sisters, and mothers) and then delivers them to paramilitary groups. Such actions violate every aspect of law, ethics, and morality.
THE GUERRILLA MOVEMENT
The Samper government, like no other, manipulated the peace process, despite the popular desire for peace. The political violence dated back to 1948 and had evolved in various stages. The last stage started toward the end of 1992, when the current secretary-general of the Organization of American States (OAS), Cesar Gaviria, declared a so-called integral war at the precise time when a commitment existed to resume talks in Tlaxcala, Mexico, that had been interrupted in May. Amidst scandals linked to the financing of the presidential campaign, the Samper administration lost all legitimacy and legal standing and surrendered power to civil militarism. Many joined to protest low pensions and the official failure to maintain pension readjustments, among them leftist political movements such as the Uni6n Patriotica (Patriotic Union-UP) and the Partido Comunista Colombiano (Colombian Communist party-PCC). On May 1, 1996, more than 100,000 workers affiliated with CUT and CGTD marched through the streets of every major city in Colombia, protesting the administration's neoliberal politics. In particular, they rallied against the massive dismissal of workers from the public and private sectors, the privatization of state-run industries, the assassination of political leaders, the criminalization of social protest, the failure of the government to abide by signed agreements with the trade unions, the arbitrary arrest of the USO leadership, and the liberal trade policies that affected the most depressed sectors of society. On the same day, the Black Colombian and Cimarron movements also participated in marches throughout Popayan, Bogota, Barranquilla, and Cartagena. Thousands of belligerent workers in these cities, as well as others, protested the Samper government, neoliberalism, unemployment, and privatization.
On October 10, 1996, state workers mobilized to issue a series of petitions: they wanted the state to resume its social obligations to the community, preserve and strengthen state companies and agencies, offer guarantees of stability, collective bargaining, the right to strike, and the discipline that such actions require, and increase salaries by ten points above the consumer-price index.
Between 1996 and 1998 agrarian movements demonstrated a great capacity for mobilization and a strong commitment to confronting state violence with a clear vision of their social and regional demands. These movements also searched for alternative solutions to such problems as economic liberalization, which has discouraged domestic production by forcing the Colombian peasant to compete against farmers in countries that subsidize agriculture. New sectors of society that had never before taken the lead in such fat-reaching demonstrations launched protests. It should be noted that there was a death during one of the marches that remains neither solved nor adequately explained. On July 19, 1995, impoverished coffee producers captured towns and cities as a sign of protest against a government that had ruined them. In Antioquia, Quindio, Risaralda, Caldas, Valle, Cauca, Tolima, Huila, Cundinamarca, Narigo, and other regions, hundreds of women and men abandoned the coffee plantations to demand solutions, thus paralyzing 70 percent of production. Their demands were cancellation of debts, a domestic price of 250,000 pesos per 125 kilo load [of coffee beans], and the declaration of an emergency to control the broca (an insect that feeds on cof fee leaves) infestation. Since the United States and a pair of transnational food companies broke the global agreement on quotas, 500,000 families that earn their living from coffee production, as well as 150,000 grain harvesters, have fallen into poverty. Together with the broca infestation, debts to banks and coffee plantations and previous debts to other entities facilitate seizure and the auction of property. The accumulation of interest, the almost complete abandonment of the fincas, and the elimination of subsidies and technical assistance aggravate the situation.
In San Pablo, south of Bolivar, Yondo, Barrancabermeja, and Magdalena Medio groups mobilized to demand both an end to the armed conflict and the dismantling of paramilitary groups. Nevertheless, the predominant social force during this period was the peasantry, which, though deriving its subsistence and stability from illicit crops, proposed gradual crop substitution subsidized by the state and joint investment to foster regional economic and social development. It also advocated comprehensive domestic and agrarian reforms. Together with these demands, peasants called for a suspension of the bilateral efforts of the Samper administration and the U.S. government to fumigate illicit crops, an end to repression, and a demilitarization of the conflict. The latter implied a dismantling of the "zones of public order" that have served as an immediate cause of the peasant protest movement in Caqueta, Guaviare, and Meta.
The military's violent repression of citizen activism in the south eventually obliged the government to accept reality and negotiate, especially given that it had no viable alternative and that an escalation of guerrilla activities had reaffirmed the strength of the insurgent movement. Agreements between the peasants of Putumayo (50,000 hectares of illicit crops) and the government consisted of three parts. With regard to so-called illicit crops, the terms were changed to include voluntary eradication and crop substitution, and the agreements recognized peasants as legitimate interlocutors in the formulation and implementation of plans for crop substitution. The second part dealt with the development of infrastructure, especially roads, electrification, health, education, and territorial reorganization, and the third concerned agro-industrial processes and commercialization as basic elements of crop substitution.
In Uraba, however, the absence of such agreements allowed the old way of doing things to continue, initiating the displacement of thousands of peasants under threats of tenor by the armed forces and its paramilitary groups. The U.S. government was one of the major beneficiaries of this displacement of the left, especially since it controls the Gulf of Uraba and has shown interest both in constructing a transoceanic canal and in exploiting the natural wealth of the region.
MECHANISMS OF CONTROL
In order to bring the so-called governmental crisis to a satisfactory end, the administration resorted to important legal and violent mechanisms that became more sophisticated over time and were employed to subdue the struggles of the working and popular classes. In a violent way-state terrorism and the dirty war in particular-the regime succeeded in undermining the capacity of historical and traditional forms of popular organization, replacing them with organized methods of control due to the fractured character of these movements.
James Petras is a professor of sociology at Binghamton University and a participating editor of Latin American Perspectives. Michael M. Brescia is a doctoral candidate and instructor in the Department of History at the University of Arizona. He has translated for Oxford University Press and has had articles published in the Colonial Latin American Historical Review and the New Mexico Historical Review.
LATIN AMERICAN PERSPECTIVES, Issue 114, Vol. 27 No. 5, September 2000 134-142 (c) 2000 Latin American Perspectives
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