Matt Siegfried, a socialist and trade unionist activist from Detroit, looks at the implications for the US government’s Plan Colombia

This article first appeared in Fourthwrite No. 10, Summer 2002.

The ruling class of the United States has long viewed everything south of the Rio Grande as its exclusive domain. The United States became a capitalist power based on the genocidal clearing of North America of its native inhabitants coupled with chattel slavery and culling of the huge natural resources existing between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. It became an imperialist power on the backs of Latin American workers and peasants as well as the wholesale theft of everything from the fruit that hung from the trees to the oil and metals that lay below them. Generations before the US became the global power it is today US marines were enforcing the rule of US corporations in Latin America and the Caribbean. The justifications have changed, but the relationship has remained the same.

Several recent events have brought the social crises now enveloping many parts of Latin America and the US’s role in them to the attention of the world. The orchestration of the, thankfully failed, coup in Venezuela to the US backed institutions, such as the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, impoverishing dictates to Argentina are examples of what living under the power of the Good Neighbour to the north means to the people of South America. Nowhere is that power more destructive in this hemisphere than currently in Colombia. The US government’s Plan Colombia provides for a massive infusion of money, weapons and training to a regime that presides over one of the most murderous places on earth.

Pax Americana

The target of this Plan is not simply the guerrillas of the ELN or the FARC. Its aim is nothing less than to pacify a continent reeling from global capitalism’s neo-liberal assault begun with the NAFTA and extended south through the machinations of the, as yet unfinished, FTAA. The reasoning for this intervention was first presented in the context of the US government’s War on Drugs begun in the 80’s. Never mind the fact that drug production in the Andean countries of South America is based on the unending appetite of the North American consumer. Never mind that US institutions like the CIA created drug markets, especially of crack cocaine, in impoverished American cities to fund right-wing paramilitaries and dictatorial juntas deemed essential to the Cold War struggle against popular movements in Latin America, bypassing restrictions implemented by Congress. From the Opium Wars of a hundred years ago to the Contra war against Nicaragua and the Prison Industrial Complex of the last decades, imperialism has always viewed the drug trade as a potential tool in its arsenal of subjugation whether as its purveyor or it opponent.

Now, with a new name, the unending war by the United States against the people of Latin America is heating up in Colombia. The FARC especially, but also the ELN, operate in large swathes of the Colombian countryside effectively putting those areas outside of the control of North America and the Colombian government. Whatever one can say about the politics of the FARC and the conduct of its war, they act as an obstacle to the regime of Pax Americana in Latin America, and indeed, the world. The United States will simply not allow a situation to continue where it’s rule is in question, all resistance must be confronted so as to make any resistance seem futile.

Let us briefly present what the US wishes to defend in Colombia through its $1.5 billion support to the Colombian government this year alone. [Sources on all statistics from the CIA Sourcebook and the Canada Colombia Solidarity Campaign] Unemployment was 20.5 percent officially in 2000 and has undoubtedly grown with the world wide economic recession. UNICEF reports that over 1 million abandoned children live rough on the streets of Colombian cities and that, as of 2000, 12 children are murdered every 24 hours by gangs contracted by local merchants who view these children as nothing but pests. The per capita income according to Colombian government statistics was just under US$2,000 a year in 2001. By 1999 22.7 million of Colombia’s 36 million people were living in dire poverty. 50% of all Colombian exports come to the United States and 35% of all imports into Colombia come from the United States for a trade of about US$28 billion annually. This combined with a debt of, in 2000, US$34 billion owed mainly to American banks and financial institutions as well as the private US investment of nearly US$6 billion in 2001 speaks volumes about American interests in Colombia.

Protecting huge profits

To protect the huge profits the US extracts from Colombia a reign of terror has been unleashed on the Colombian people. Nearly half of all trade unionists killed every year in the world are Colombian, 112 in 2000 alone. 2.1 million people are internally displaced, only Afghanistan and Palestine have larger refugee populations. The death squads of the AUC are responsible for the deaths of 76% of all those civilians killed in the last 3 years, amounting to over 14,000 noncombatants killed (10 times the number of combatants killed). Rape as a tool of repression by both the AUC and the Colombian military has been widely reported, and though no reliable statistics can be found it is estimated that the AUC has grown by 70% since 1999, the year US military support to the Colombian government began in earnest. The Colombian military and the AUC, far from being opponents, have an organic relationship – they both serve the same master. The Colombian ranchers and capitalists and the American ruling class need both the legal military and the extra-legal death squads. Any talk of separating the two is a shell game and the responsibility for the atrocities committed by the AUC lie squarely at the feet of the US and Colombian governments. Of course the FARC and ELN have committed, not just mistakes, but serious crimes and should be held accountable by the Colombian people for their actions, but to make a moral equivalent of the violence of the oppressed with that of the oppressor makes a mockery of justice. As the statistics above should make clear joining the guerrillas in many parts of Colombia is, regardless of the specific actions of the FARC and the ELN, seen by many as a decision based on the legitimate need of self defence.

Last summer three men were arrested in Colombia by the government and accused of being members of the IRA training the FARC in the use of mortars and explosives. The 3 men have been held for nearly a year in a prison where violence is notorious and in urgent need of protection from the AUC, which has stated its desireto kill the three, as well as any internationals coming to Colombia in order to show solidarity with those in struggle with the regime or those who suffer as a result of the war. This includes human rights delegations, trade unionists, environmental activists and aid agencies. No evidence has been presented that would pass muster in any legitimate court in America or Europe to prove the guilt of the three, but evidence is not needed to use them as a political tool. The Colombian government has paraded them before cameras to prove that the intentions of the FARC are warlike and opposed to negotiation. The Unionists (Peter King of the DUP was elicited by the Colombian government as an expert advisor) and some British officials are using the three’s capture to show that the IRA have broken their cease-fire, are still involved in terrorism, should be barred from Stormont and the Good Friday Agreement renegotiated without any but the most pliant nationalists. The Southern Irish ruling class has used their arrest in an attempt to stymie the electoral rise of Sinn Fein in the South. With howls about democracy prohibiting political parties from being connected to armed groups. Pretty rich when you consider the history of Fianna Fail and Fine Gael to say nothing of those same parties current connection to the Irish Army and the Gardai (as far as I know both of those groups are still armed) as well as the Irish government as a whole’s new relationship with NATO (another rather well armed group) with the Partnership for Peace.

Expanding the War on Terrorism

So what then was the agenda of the US Congress when they opened highly public hearings into the relationship between the IRA and the FARC? It is hard to imagine the reasoning of the US Congress in the context of the Peace Process in Ireland. Why, after the long road of bringing Sinn Fein into bourgeois legitimacy through a process where Sinn Fein and the Provisionals shed nearly every principle which put them in conflict with imperialism that the US government would want now to make them illegitimate? Sinn Fein’s acceptance of British rule and the Unionist veto in Ireland are the lynch pin upon which the Good Friday Agreement is predicated.

Since September 11th and the beginnings of the War on Terrorism the United States has been seeking to expand the targets of that war beyond that of Al Qaeda and Afghanistan. The US has long been looking down the barrel of the gun at the FARC and insurgency in general in Colombia and Latin America. They have known that, on its own, the Colombian government is incapable of re-conquering the country and that public opinion in the US has long been opposed to sending troops to Latin America. In the aftermath of Guatemala, El Salvador, Nicaragua and the Dirty Wars in Brazil, Argentina and Chile even the notoriously ill informed US public has turned against many of the most brutal policies employed by the US government south of the Rio Grande. It is in this context that the US seeks to make Colombia another front in its War on Terrorism, but clearly there is no tie organizationally or politically between Al Qaeda and the FARC. The United States is attempting to portray Colombia (at least where the FARC operate) as Afghanistan and the FARC as the Taliban to legitimize the continued and intensifying war on the Colombian people.

The three unlucky Irishmen are a convenient tool in this endeavour. Colombia is now as dangerous to world peace as Afghanistan and if you want proof we will concoct enough evidence to prove that not only the IRA, but ETA, Cuba, even Iranian and Zimbabwean terrorists are training there. From their bases in Colombia these internationals terrorists, who on the surface seem to have nothing in common, will return to their countries to fly planes into building just for the sake of it. Truly a Terrorist International to be frightened of! If the consequences of US threats weren’t so deadly real it would be laughable. The fact that the War on Terrorism is so consuming for some policy makers in the US that they would consciously undermine other foreign policy efforts (and in their terms successes like the Irish peace process) is an indicator where politics is currently at in the United States. After Afghanistan, Iraq. After Iraq, Colombia. After Colombia, another and another.

While this writer would find it difficult to call the IRA criminal, if they were in Colombia to assist in the fighting capacity of the FARC against the thugs of the AUC and Colombian military, we cannot assume that is what they were there for. What we do know is that fundamentally the War against Terrorism is not about terrorism at all. Colombians and the rest of Latin Americans have suffered through the early, and God ordained, Manifest Destiny of the North Americans. They have been cruelly exploited during the Good Neighbour Policy of Franklin Roosevelt that smiled as it stole. Acts of genocide were committed as the barbarous hand of the United States smashed the popular aspirations of the Latin American workers and farmers in the Cold War struggle against the Soviet Union. The War on Drugs reinforced and deepened US control over the continent as use by American consumers, and consequently production in the Andes, continued to prove that even in the heart of rich and democratic America millions sought escape from their own misery through drug use. And now the US is telling the people of the world, and of Colombia, that they are either with the US government or against it, with the ashes of Afghanistan as an example to fear.

The War against Terrorism is a continuation of a never ending war by the wealthy nations against those that have made them wealthy through their exploitation. What horror it will bring to Colombia, and the effect it will have on places like Ireland we are just beginning to see. Whatever they chose to call it, the Latin American masses call it by its right name – Yankee imperialism and they are against it.

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