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Garry M. Leech From INOTA "Neutral" In Colombian Class War

by Miguel Garcia Bias Sunday, Mar. 24, 2002 at 7:12 AM

"Washing one's hands of the conflict between the powerful and the powerless means to side with the powerful, not to be neutral." - Paulo Freire

errorMarch 18, 2002
Information Network of the Americas (INOTA)

By Garry M. Leech

At midnight on February 20, 2002, Colombian President Andrs Pastrana ended the country's fledgling three-year peace process by ordering the Colombian military to retake the rebel safe-haven he had ceded to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). In reality, a temporary cease-fire or a binding peace agreement between the Colombian government and the FARC would have done little to end the nation's violence because disenchanted and marginalized Colombians, whose violent criminal actions are not committed as part of a broader political agenda, are the principal perpetrators of violence in Colombia.

President Pastrana claims that the Colombian military, which has received massive amounts of aid and training from the United States, is now stronger than it has ever been. But the FARC is also stronger than it has ever been. The intensity of the conflict will escalate into a sustained and violent stalemate with neither side capable of gaining victory. Peace will not be achieved on the battlefield. Nor will it be achieved through any cease-fire or peace agreement that fails to effectively address the root causes of the violence--Colombia's gross social and economic inequalities.

Every year, some 35,000 Colombians are murdered. However, only ten percent-- approximately 3,500 people--die as a result of the conflict being waged by the various armed groups. Rampant urban criminal violence resulting from the social and economic injustices that also lie at the root of Colombia's civil conflict accounts for a huge majority of the nation's murders.

Colombia has a legacy of violence perpetrated by the country's elites, and more recently by drug traffickers and urban criminals, that continues today. During the height of La Violencia from 1948 to 1958 there were some 200,000 violent deaths; the huge majority of them resulted from supporters of the country's two major political parties killing each other (see, Fifty Years of Violence). In the 1980s, the high level of urban violence stemmed mostly from political corruption and the criminal activities of drug traffickers, particularly the Medellin cartel.

Over the past decade, the desperate economic condition of Colombia's rapidly growing impoverished urban population has been exacerbated by neoliberal policies that have caused record high unemployment which, combined with the nation's drug violence, has resulted in the rampant criminal violence present in Colombian cities today (see, Colombians Protest IMF-imposed Austerity Measures).

Even if the government, the FARC, the rebel National Liberation Army (ELN), and the paramilitaries all agreed to a cease-fire, the perpetrators of 90 percent of the nation's violence would still be free to go about their business. Colombia's high level of unemployment would also make it extremely difficult for ex-combatants to find jobs. Consequently, any demobilization would likely result in many of the country's 30,000 former guerrillas and paramilitaries using their military skills for criminal purposes, especially in the country's poverty-ridden urban slums.

Such a scenario has been unfolding in El Salvador for the past decade, where the signing of peace accords in 1992 ended the civil war and demobilized the armed groups. With an economy ravaged by 12 years of conflict and another ten years of ongoing neoliberal reforms, many former Salvadoran guerrillas and soldiers have turned to violent criminal activities in order to survive.

In other words, the nature of the violence in El Salvador has shifted from organized armies with overt political agendas fighting a civil war to random criminal violence serving the economic needs of desperate individuals. Despite the civil conflict having ended ten years ago, the number of killings in present-day El Salvador is comparable to the worst years of the war. In fact, in 1998, more Salvadorans died as a result of violence than in any year during the war.

The current level of violence in El Salvador stems from the failure of the peace accords to effectively address the fundamental causes of the conflict, which, like those in Colombia, are deeply rooted in gross disparities in the distribution of wealth and land ownership. Furthermore, these social and economic injustices have been exacerbated by the post-civil war neoliberal economic agenda being imposed on El Salvador by the IMF.

The Salvadoran elite and Washington tolerate the current level of violence because it primarily consists of poor Salvadorans killing each other out of economic desperation. In this regard it is not dissimilar to the violence prevalent in U.S. cities--economically motivated killings of poor people by other poor people. It is only when poor and marginalized peoples organize and develop a political agenda targeting the establishment that the elites and political institutions become concerned about the violence.

Such was the case in El Salvador in the 1980s when the Reagan administration provided over $4 billion dollars in aid and military training to help the Salvadoran government combat the politically organized peasants who constituted the Farabundo Marti National Liberation Front (FMLN) guerrillas. More than 70,000 deaths later, the failure of the peace accords to implement any far-reaching structural changes in Salvadoran society left the country's oligarchy intact, while promising much and delivering little to the millions of desperately poor Salvadorans.

The signing of a cease-fire or peace agreement in Colombia that fails to address the root causes of a civil conflict that has raged for more than 40 years will likely replicate the current Salvadoran crisis. In fact, as mentioned earlier, the huge majority of Colombia's violence is already criminal rather than political in nature. Tragically, economically motivated criminal violence does not concern the Colombian elite and Washington nearly as much as the ten percent of the violence perpetrated by the armed groups, especially leftist guerrillas.

While a cease-fire or peace agreement would diminish the number of kidnappings in Colombia, most of the abductions would continue unabated. Criminal groups pursuing financial gain, not a political agenda, are responsible for at least half of Colombia's kidnappings. According to Pas Libre, a non-profit organization that monitors kidnapping, the FARC were only responsible for 840 of Colombia's 3,041 kidnappings in 2001, or some 27 percent.

Also, many of the two million rural Colombians forcibly displaced by violence were not driven from their homes because of their allegiance to one or another of the armed groups, but rather because they were guilty of owning mineral-rich land coveted by the Colombian oligarchy and multinational corporations. Any cease-fire or peace agreement that fails to effectively address the issue of displacement and the economic motives that drive the phenomenon will not halt the paramilitary terror campaign that is making valuable land available for exploitation under the neoliberal economic policies being imposed on Colombia by the IMF. It should also not be forgotten that most scenarios for a negotiated settlement to the conflict ignore the paramilitaries who are responsible for an estimated 75 percent of the massacres committed in Colombia yearly.

In light of recent events, there is little possibility of the government and the FARC reaching a cease-fire or peace agreement in the near future. The army has marched into the FARC's former safe-haven and the guerrillas have returned to the jungle. Meanwhile, the 100,000 Colombians who lived in the nation's most peaceful oasis for the past three years have once again become victims of the terror endured by their fellow countrymen.

To make matters even worse, the Washington-Bogot axis is now seeking to expand the U.S. war on terrorism to include the FARC because of the rebel group's recent attacks on bridges and other infrastructure--contradicting Washington's claims that the bridges and infrastructure bombed by U.S.-led NATO forces in Yugoslavia were legitimate military targets (see, Targeting Colombia's "Evil-doers). Such an escalation of Colombia's civil conflict will only increase the number of disenchanted and marginalized Colombians turning to violent criminal activities in order to survive.

It is evident that Colombia's political leaders and economic elite are intent on ending the political violence threatening their rule, if not through negotiations then on the battlefield. But the oligarchy is not nearly as concerned with the high level of criminal violence that kills some 31,500 Colombians annually. After all, the violence committed by these impoverished citizens is only motivated by micro-economics, not a political agenda.

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what are these liberals trying to prove? alex Sunday, Mar. 24, 2002 at 9:13 AM
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