The trial of the Colombia 3 has produced a frenzy of speculation in the Irish media about whether they are guilty or not, and how this might effect the 'peace process'. What is all too lacking, however, is any background to Colombia itself. This is not too surprising. Andrew Flood looks at the situation there and argues that it is the Colombian state that should be in the dock.
According to the US based NGO Global Exchange "In 2001, nine out of every ten trade unionists who were killed worldwide were Colombian, making Colombia the most dangerous country on the planet in which to be associated with a union." Since 1984 around 4,000 have been killed. According to the International Labor Organization (ILO), the vast majority of trade union murders are the committed by either the Colombian state itself - e.g. army, police and DAS (security department) - or its indirect agents, the right-wing paramilitaries.
By September of 2002 over 4.1 million US trade unionists had voted to end U.S. military aid to Colombia. The Communication Workers of America (CWA), for instance stated that unions' fight for peace and against corporate power in Colombia make them, "targets for assassination, torture and dismemberment by the rightwing paramilitary AUC (Colombian United Self Defense) often acting in league with transnational corporations and official government forces and with almost absolute impunity from prosecution or court action."
US funding for the Colombian military and police make it the 3rd largest recipient of U.S. military aid in the world. In addition the U.S. government has trained over 10,000 of Colombia's military troops at the School of the Americas (SOA) in Fort Benning, Georgia. SOA training manuals show that the SOA encouraged troops to torture and murder those who do "union organizing and recruiting," pass out "propaganda in favor of the interests of the workers," and "sympathize with demonstrators or strikes."
Amnesty International cites the example of "the attempted murder of trade union leader Wilson Borja Díaz in December 2000, in which several active and retired military and police officers were found to be implicated. Immediately after the attack, national paramilitary leader Carlos Castaño admitted responsibility for it". Castaño has been quoted elsewhere as saying "In the case of trade unionists, we kill them because they prevent others from working."
The right wing paramilitaries are closely connected not only with the Colombian state but also with western corporations. On July 20, 2001, the United Steelworkers of America and the International Labor Rights Fund (ILRF) filed a lawsuit in U.S. district court against the Coca-Cola Company and its locally-owned bottling company in Colombia, the Panamerican Beverage Company (Panamco) alleging that management at Coca-Cola plants in Colombia have used paramilitaries to crush unions with a campaign of threats, kidnap and murder. The suit was filed on behalf of a Coca-Cola union in Colombia, SINALTRAINAL (Sindicato Nacional de Trabajadores de la Alimentacion).
The case was taken after Mr. Munera Lopez was gunned down in the doorway of his mother's home in Barranquilla during a short visit to his family. He was murdered just days after a favourable ruling by the Colombian Constitutional Court in his human rights case Mr. Lopez., was the eighth trade union leader working for Coca-Cola bottlers to have been murdered in recent years, according to the United Steelworkers of America President Leo W. Gerar.
Of course all this also goes some way to explaining why political activists visiting Colombia might feel the need to travel on false documents. But in any case it's quite clear that it's the Colombian state and not the Colombian three should be in the dock. They are accused of aiding the largest of the armed groups that oppose the Colombian state, the FARC. Below a Colombian anarchist active in Antimilitarismo Sonoro' writes about the roots of the armed struggle in their country and its effect today.
"At the beginning of the 1960s several communist experiments were born, among them the commune which became known as 'Marquetalia'. This commune was bombed and destroyed by the army in alliance with the US army.The very few survivors of this massacre funded what was later to be known as the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). The destruction of the commune led to the formation of several other guerrilla groups. Among the ones that can be mentioned are: ELN (National Liberation Army), M19 (April 19th Movement), EPL (Popular Liberation Army), a co-ordination they tried to form in the 1980s called CGSB (Simon Bolivar Guerrilla Co-ordinator), and Quintin Lame (named after an indigenous outlaw, this was an indigenous guerrilla group).
The 'Dirty war' was crude, seriously weakening several of these groups, which would enter peace talks and return into civilian life, ending up as political parties. Later, 'paramilitary' groups would massacre many of the militants of these groups, including Carlos Pizarro Leon-Gomez, Bernardo Jaramillo Ossa and Jaime Pardo Leal, all of them running for president in 1990s elections. This massacre included over 3,000 militants of UP (political party formed from M19) during the following decade, as well as hundreds of different labour unionists, students, teachers human rights, left-wing and social activists etc.
This situation, which blocked alternative routes to power for these groups intensified the war and took it to the point it is at today, where what is being discussed is the share of power each group is going to have. There are two sides in struggle. Both are extremely militarist, both are convinced that they are capable of winning the war and both lack wide political support among the civil population. For both, their expectation is instead a political leadership based on economic and military strength.
Recently, peace talks with FARC have been taking place in the southern 'demilitarised' area of San Vicente Del Caguan. The reality is that the so-called demilitarisation of this area is more of a smoke screen because FARC has traditionally had complete control over this area (which is the size of Switzerland but very poorly populated as it in the middle of the jungle), and the state and its military has never had a very active presence.
The current situation of war in Colombia and the everyday decreasing credibility of the guerrillas and their political programme have helped feed alternative movements of resistance. These come from the idea of civil unarmed resistance, and preach positions such as 'Civil Disobedience' as alternative strategies. Although they are generally reformist in nature, they have looked for creative ways to oppose official policies.
Another example is that of the NGO's who have been targeted by paramilitaries and who lost many of their militants over the last decade, resulting in their development of incredible networks of 'contra-information' that can now be used by radical activists.
On the other hand, the indigenous movements have a huge tradition of resistance. Quintin Lame, an indigenous person from Colombia, bears the record for the most times in prison in Colombia, due to his different activities of resistance, and an indigenous guerrilla group in the 1980s was named after him, as mentioned earlier."
The interview in this article is an edited version of one from the
British anarchist magazine Organise No. 54. Read the full interview
This edition is No74 published in Feb 2003