THE facts first. Colombia has about 3 million refugees, the highest murder rate in the world, and Colombian trade unionists constitute four out of every five trade unionists murdered in the world! This in a country that has a yearly production of 200 million barrels of oil, 24 million tons of coal and 6 million carats of emeralds, which is half the world’s production! In a country of 40 million people, annually for every person, Colombia grows 130 pounds of potatoes, 180 pounds of plantains, and 90 pounds of rice. There are 26 million head of cattle and abundant chicken and fish. The literacy rate is 91 %, higher than the functional literacy of US. It has produced famous writers like the radical Nobel laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Yet the half the country’s population lives on less than $ 500. The richest 1% control 45% of the wealth and 17 interests own half the farmland. Unemployment is close to 25% and malnutrition is widespread.
As the imperial war machine devastates peoples’ lives in Iraq, it becomes imperative that plunder in the backyard of USA, i.e. Latin America, is highlighted. Specifically the recent focus of the imperial attack in Latin America, in various forms, has been on Colombia, Cuba, and Venezuela. The people of these countries, through their glorious struggles, have defied the dictates of the imperial power. The people have valiantly struggled and risen in one part of Latin America or the other, creating constant problems for US imperialism.
This timely book has been published by the US based International Action Centre (IAC), which has played a key role in the peace and anti-imperialist movement over the last decade in the US. It is also a key constituent of Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (ANSWER), an umbrella organization of groups fighting for social and economic justice. The book is a collection of articles by leading activists, intellectuals, elected representatives and heads of state, integrated in coherent fashion discussing the history, political economy, geo-politics, and resistance in Colombia and Latin America. Ramsey Clark and Teresa Gutierrez, co-directors of IAC, Fidel Castro, James Petras, Mumia Abu-Jamal and others have contributed to this book.
The first section of the book discusses the "US intervention in Colombia". Ramsey Clark, the former attorney general of the US and now a famous human rights advocate, describes the genesis of abominable living conditions created by past and present imperialist interventions in Colombia. The imperialist interventions started in the 1500s with the arrival of the Spanish colonialists, who perpetrated genocides killing the indigenous Indian population for centuries such that presently pure indigenous people consist of only 1% of the population and most of the population is of mixed race. Forces led by Bolivar gained independence from the Spaniards and that led to the formation of the state of New Granada, which consisted of present day Colombia, Venezuela, and Peru. Slowly but surely the balkanisation of New Granada led to the formation of all these countries with the active assistance of foreign powers. In 1903, under US President T. Roosevelt, Panama met the same fate after a treaty was agreed on the Panama Canal. Central and South America could be controlled better after it had been chopped up into pieces.
In other articles on the origins, evolution, and geo-politics of Plan Colombia, the authors detail how the plan is a continuation of Kennedy’s 1960s counter insurgency program and the five year $ 2.2 billion Andean initiative announced in 1990 by Bush Sr. as a "war on drugs". It actually was targeted at the Shining Path movement, who were leading the struggles of the indigenous people and peasantry in Peru. In 1992, after the leader of the movement, Abimael Guzman, was captured with the aid of the CIA the focus shifted to Colombia. After North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) was passed and groundwork for FTAA (Free Trade Area of the Americas) began, popular left movements in Latin America started to renew their struggles. In Colombia, after 1996 there was a dramatic shift of power balance towards the progressive forces, especially Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – People’s Army (FARC – EP) and National Liberation Army (ELN). The same year hundreds of thousands of peasants protesting the deofoliating campaign blockaded across Colombia and tens of thousands of workers protesting the utility price hikes shut down towns. This happened despite of right wing militias killing tens of thousands of activists of progressive parties in the preceding ten years.
Clinton signed plan Colombia and 80 % of the $ 2 billion US "aid" was military aid, a big part of which went to US military contractors. Now as part of the "war on terror" Colombia is receiving military aid under Bush Jr. and the popular and progressive movements of FARC – EP and ELN have been termed as terrorist organisations. Technically, the framework of Clinton’s Plan Colombia has been retained in the new Andean regional initiative.
In the 1980s, when the FARC – EP and ELN put aside their arms to participate in the electoral process, military and right wing paramilitaries responded by killing more than 4000 activists, including the elected representatives. From October 1999 to 2000, according to the Colombian Commission of Jurists, there have been 160 separate massacres in which more than a 1000 people have been killed. 82 % of these have been carried out just by the paramilitaries, which operate in collusion with the military. Unions in Colombia are suffering severe repression at the hand of multinationals like Coca Cola, which has been terrorising and assassinating union organisers. While this severe repression was going on, between 1997 and 2000, the percentage of Colombians living under poverty rose from 50.3 % to 60 %.
The FARC – EP and ELN have been termed as narco-guerrillas but the former President Pastrana of Colombia himself has admitted that there is no evidence to prove this. As James Petras has written in his article "Geo-Politics of Plan Colombia", in the FARC – EP controlled areas drugs are neither sold nor consumed while the US political and military allies and banks commercialise drugs and launder the profits.
The aerial eradication programs being carried out as part of the "war on drugs" is targeted at regions where the peasants’ movement is strong i.e. the FARC – EP and ELN controlled areas. The dangerous fumigation kills all subsistence crops of farmers and results in the displacement of hundreds of thousands of peasants. It is illegal to spray this chemical "Roundup" in the US. This campaign is similar to the spraying of Agent Orange in Vietnam that killed 400, 000 people, while 500, 000 children were born with birth defects and tens of thousands of people still suffer from rare cancers and other diseases.
This brutal military and economic oppression has bred resistance. Despite all odds the movements continue to grow with the active participation and support of the peasants in the countryside where the FARC – EP and ELN control around 50 percent of the Colombian territory. The FARC – EP has grown through championing land reform and peasant rights. The labour and social movements also continue to grow. Recently workers and students participated in a massive mass mobilization of 800, 000 people throughout the country. The people continue to fight the imperial powers and their collaborators in Colombia.
One of the misconceptions in several progressive circles especially since the imperial attack on the people of Iraq, is that the present US policy is promoted and executed mainly by the cabal in power in Washington. This is not the case. Although there are differences between the various sections of the ruling class in the US, they all promote the imperial interest. There has been a continuation of the imperialist intervention in Colombia from Kennedy to Bush Sr. to Clinton to Bush Jr. Thus this book is a must read for all.