Under cover of a war on drugs:

Clinton pushes Colombia to attack guerrillas

by Pete Brown
(from Communist Voice #24, June 14, 2000)

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Subheads:
War against the masses on behalf of neo-liberalism
The neo-liberal onslaught in Colombia's neighbors
1. Army coup in Ecuador cuts short Indian rebellion
2. Privatized workers restive in Peru
3. The harsh face of neo-liberalism in Bolivia
"Big brother" or imperialist bully?
Pinochet -- a classic example
Native people go up against the imperialist machine
Battle against imperialism requires fighting on two fronts

Text:

. President Bill Clinton is planning a military push into southern Colombia to attack leftist insurgents there. This attack will be carried out by the Colombian military under close supervision by American military advisors, who will train special new "counternarcotics" battalions of Colombian army troops. A front-page article in the New York Times of February 6 detailed Clinton's arguments for the program and some of the objections being raised against it in U.S. ruling circles. But despite official objections the plan enjoys bipartisan support from Republicans and Democrats in Congress and is almost certain to be approved soon. In fact one new battalion has already been trained and is already in action in the jungles of Colombia.

. Clinton's plan calls for $1.6 billion in new aid for Colombia for the next two years. But U.S. officials acknowledge that this is only the beginning, that stabilizing the Colombian government will take many years and lots of money. Some liberal groups such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International have raised objections about the Colombian government's atrocious record of human rights abuses. But these voices are drowned out by the "moderate" Democrats and Republicans in Congress; the latter are demanding that Clinton act quickly before he ends up losing Colombia to rebel groups that are becoming increasingly successful in their long war against the government. Even Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.), one of the most liberal members of Congress, is toeing the imperialist line and supporting Clinton's plan.

. U.S. and Colombian officials say the counternarcotics battalions will not be used to fight leftist guerrillas except for those who hire themselves out to drug traffickers. Since Vietnam the U.S. military has supposedly developed a deadly fear of the "i" word ("insurgency") and would never dream of taking military action against a popular, mass political force. Supposedly Clinton is only interested in shutting down coca-growing farms and some coca-processing labs. But this is just a cover story to protect what is in fact a large-scale effort to prop up a teetering capitalist regime. The Colombian government is riven by contradictions between its own ruling parties, between the government and the drug traffickers (who have extensive influence among the ruling parties), and between the ruling bourgeois parties and the working masses, many of whom support the leftist guerrillas. Under cover of the ever-expanding "war on drugs", Clinton is actually helping the Colombian government in its latest counterinsurgency effort. Even Gen. Fred Woerner, former commander of U.S. military forces in Latin America, says, "How do you push into an area dominated by these guys [the guerrillas] without having anything to do with them? Anyone who believes that these counternarcotics battalions will not be involved in counterinsurgency is naive." (New York Times, Feb. 6, p. 4)

War against the masses on behalf of neo-liberalism

. Only a small part of the war against the Colombian masses is waged by official government forces attacking openly. Much of it is carried out by paramilitary forces directly associated with the military and police but acting anonymously. During the day, soldiers will carry out raids against peasant villages. By night, the same soldiers will dress in civilian clothes and carry out "disappearances" of anyone they think sympathizes with leftist guerrillas. The death toll from this dirty war is enormous, amounting to thousands of people every year.

. The level of violence in Colombia is also driving thousands of people to flee the country. The Colombian government says some 800,000 Colombians have emigrated in the last four years, many of them ending up in the U.S. (See the article "Driven by fear, Colombians leave in droves," New York Times, March 5, Section 1, p. 8)

. Just as the latest offensive in Colombia's open war against the guerrillas is funded by Washington, the U.S. is also a major backer of the dirty war of the paramilitaries. Many of the army officers involved in political murders have been trained by the U.S. armed forces and CIA. The U.S. has been doing this for decades to protect and enhance its imperialist sphere of interest in Latin America.

. Connections between Colombian paramilitaries and the official army and police are decades old. Paramilitary units were first set up in the 1960s and 70s as "self-defense units" similar to the ones organized in South Vietnam. When their abuses were documented and publicized, however, in the 1980s, the government decided to cut official ties to the paramilitaries. In 1989 the government decreed that it would no longer maintain the paramilitaries. But the result was simply that the paramilitaries went underground, and their ties to the military became secret. Meanwhile the dirty war continued worse than ever. In the early to mid 1990s at least five thousand people a year were assassinated or disappeared by paramilitary death squads. (For details see Colombia: The Genocidal Democracy by Javier Giraldo, S.J. Common Courage Press, Monroe, Maine, 1996.) This includes many victims of "social cleansing", urban youths murdered by police and local death squads just for being "social undesirables" and a possible breeding ground for guerrilla sympathizers.

. Government responsibility for the thousands of deaths has been documented by many groups such as Human Rights Watch, which recently came out with another report condemning the Colombian government. ("Colombia's aid to paramilitary reported to persist", New York Times, Feb. 24, p. A10) There is actually a law in the U.S. which prohibits giving aid to governments with human rights abuses. And the U.S. State Dept. even admits that the Colombian government is involved in massive abuses. But President Clinton's drug policy czar, Gen. Barry McCaffrey, shrugged off the accusations and said aid would escalate anyway. ("U.S. drug czar reassures Colombia on aid," New York Times, Feb. 25, p. A8.)

. Clinton justifies the massive increase in military aid by saying it is necessary to carry through the war on drugs. But as noted above, much of this argument is just a bogus ruse to carry out a civil war against the masses. But even when the Colombian military really does launch a campaign against drug dealers, that doesn't mean the operation is free of human rights abuses. The government's war against Pablo Escobar in the early 1990s involved murdering hundreds of young men in the crime-ridden poor sections of Medellin. They were targeted by police for the crime of being "social undesirables", possible recruits by Escobar in his army of drug-runners and hitmen. (For background on this see News of a Kidnapping by Gabriel Garcia Marquez.) Meanwhile Escobar himself was financing right-wing death squads to assassinate young working class and peasant youths suspected of sympathy for leftist guerrillas.

. While there is widespread support for the leftist guerrillas, the struggle has taken a heavy toll. Thus the new president of Colombia, Andres Pastrana, garnered some support when he said that bringing about peace with the guerrillas would be his top priority. Many people, including some of the guerrillas' supporters, looked to some respite from the thousands of murders as a step forward. But at the same time Pastrana is pursuing support for neo-liberal economic policies such as the privatization of Colombia's electric-power industry. These policies are impoverishing more and more of the workers and peasants. His "war on drugs" is wiping out the income of many poor farmers, with nothing to replace coca-growing. Pastrana's attitude is simply to drive these peasants off their land. And while Pastrana organizes new open military offensives with the help of the U.S., the dirty war by right-wing paramilitaries against the masses continues.

The neo-liberal onslaught in Colombia's neighbors

. Today Washington is promoting neo-liberal policies in Latin America. The U.S. and international agencies influenced by it such as the IMF, World Bank, etc. push Colombia to privatize state-funded enterprises such as the national electric company. Any opposition to these policies is treated as treason by the Colombian government. The same fight over free trade and neo-liberalism is being waged in Colombia's neighboring countries.

1. Army coup in Ecuador cuts short Indian rebellion

. Clinton's planned intervention in Colombia comes right after a rebellion by Indians in Ecuador overthrew the president of that country. The Indians were protesting economic policies of the president that opened up the country to IMF policies. The president wanted to tie the value of Ecuador's currency directly to the U.S. dollar. This would have meant a severe devaluation of Ecuadoran currency, with the result that savings held by the Ecuadoran masses would be practically worthless. The Indians rose up in January, blocked roads, invaded the capital of Quito and surrounded the presidential palace. The Indians were working in alliance with the Ecuadoran army, which also opposed the president. But after the president fled the country, the army took over and installed the vice-president in his place. And the vice-president promptly announced that he would carry out the same "dollarization" plans as his predecessor. With the army and the U.S. backing the new president, the Indians were stymied and had to call off their protests. They returned to their rural homes but promised to make things more difficult for the government next time around.

. This is the second time in less than three years that a president of Ecuador has been driven out of office through a popular insurgency. In 1997 populist demagogue Abdala Bucaram was overthrown by a general strike. Bucaram had promised to stand up to foreign creditors and help the poor working masses in Ecuador. But those promises evaporated once he was in office.

. This instability in Ecuador shows that all is not well in South America. American financiers are bragging about their nine years of prosperity, but in fact this has been nine years of growing class differentiation in the U.S. And this process occurs in an exaggerated way in Latin America. There the class divisions are growing in an excruciatingly painful manner. This is producing an increasingly unstable situation.

2. Privatized workers restive in Peru

. In Peru, President Fujimori has cemented his hold on power by leaning more and more on the arm of the military while suppressing popular expressions of discontent. In their fierce war against leftist guerrillas the military is committing human rights abuses similar to Colombia. News organizations that try to expose the army's abuses find themselves shut down or censored, and leaders of human rights organizations wind up dead. Fujimori excuses the military for these actions. Meanwhile Fujimori has in effect pulled off a coup against his own government, running for a third term when this is expressly forbidden by Peru's constitution. Fujimori forced a bill through the Congress giving an "interpretation" of the constitution which allows him to run for another consecutive term.

. At the same time Fujimori's popularity is dreadfully low because of his neo-liberal economic policies. Fujimori's neo-liberalism has included massive privatization of government jobs. The workers are resisting, and Fujimori is losing popularity every day. On February 23 thousands of municipal workers in Lima rioted, angry about the loss of government jobs.

. But Fujimori used his close ties to the military and repressive tactics to ensure victory in the first round of elections in April. Fujimori's opponent in the presidential runoff election withdrew from the race, citing Fujimori's unfair electioneering and electoral fraud. The opponent, a bourgeois politician named Toledo, was popular among the indigenous population; so Fujimori has now managed to lose even more support among them. There was a mass boycott of the elections, but Fujimori claimed victory in the resulting electoral farce. The result, as in Colombia and Ecuador, is that the government, despite its democratic facade, is becoming more and more autocratic and isolated from the population.

3. The harsh face of neo-liberalism in Bolivia

. Neo-liberal policies are also in full swing in Bolivia, where the government is carrying out privatization of state assets, trade liberalization, encouragement of foreign investment, and strict monetary control. As in Ecuador people running for president promise to do something to slow down the neo-liberal policies, but then as soon as they are in office actually accelerate the policies. The big stick of military force is used against anyone who dares to protest these policies. Right-wing paramilitary forces kill off human rights crusaders in the cities, and in the country the army has killed a number of Indians involved in protests against destructive mining operations. In 1998 coca farmers carried out a number of organized protests against the government's drug war and the government's insufficient crop-alternative programs. In one demonstration the farmers clashed with army troops and ten farmers were killed.

"Big brother" or imperialist bully?

. The American government likes to portray itself as the "big brother" of Latin American countries. Thus Clinton visited Central America after the hurricanes decimated it, handing out a few pennies in aid and acting like he was oh-so concerned for the welfare of the poverty-stricken people there. But the truth is that the U.S. acts as an imperialist bully toward Latin America and regards the area as its own special sphere of interest.

. The imperialist powers have divided up the globe between themselves into spheres of interest which the other powers generally recognize. Within these spheres the Great Powers have freedom to bully the native inhabitants. Thus the U.S. recognizes Chechnya as belonging to Russia and only utters a few words of protest against the extreme brutality of Russian treatment of civilians there. Other powers recognized the right of France to invade African countries that used to be its colonies, and Portugal is still regarded as the official overlord of East Timor. Since before the Civil War the U.S. has regarded Latin America as its own sphere of interest which European powers had no right to intervene in. But the U.S. has readily intervened itself, sending troops into Latin American countries on numerous occasions.

. So when they rebel against exploitation and repression, the working masses in Latin America face not only their own local exploiters and governments, but also the wealth and military power of U.S. imperialism. The U.S. props up local capitalist regimes against the danger of revolutionary overthrow; at the same time, the U.S. insists that local governments take positions favoring U.S. trade interests and U.S.-based multinational corporations.

. The U.S. maintains extensive contacts with military services throughout Latin America in order to ensure that these militaries are U.S.-friendly. Tens of thousands of Latin American military officers have been trained at the U.S. Army's "School of the Americas." Much of the never-ending militarization of the region stems from U.S. arms merchants hawking their wares, supported by lobbyists in Congress. (The biggest disputes in Congress over Clinton's aid to Colombia have been competitive squabbles over which company will get the contract to sell helicopters to the government.)

Pinochet -- a classic example

. A classic example of the role of imperialist intervention backing up local capitalist reaction is provided by Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet. General Pinochet overthrew the government of Chile in 1973 because it was headed by a social-democrat, Salvador Allende, who was taking some steps against the Chilean rich and foreign (U.S.) corporations. It's been well documented that Pinochet's coup was coordinated with the movement of U.S. naval ships and diplomatic actions. Not only that, U.S. intelligence agents actually coordinated with the Chilean military in locating some pro-Allende American citizens who were residing in Chile, getting them picked up and ensuring they were killed. This was the subject of a popular movie in 1982 (Missing starring Jack Lemmon), but the full truth about it is only now beginning to be released from State Dept. files. The State Dept. stonewalled these Americans' relatives for years and refused to admit they knew anything about what happened to the victims. Even when documents about the case were finally released a few years ago because of Freedom of Information Act lawsuits, State Dept. censors went through the documents and blacked out any facts that were actually pertinent to the main questions. (New York Times, February 13)

. Today the Clinton administration is pretending to be cooperating with the attempt to find out the truth about these Americans' deaths -- 27 years after the event! -- but the U.S. government still refused to join the cases filed against Pinochet in Spain and some other countries demanding justice for the many murders carried out by him. Besides killing Americans in Chile, Pinochet's agents also carried out at least two murders in the U.S. -- the assassination of Chile's former defense minister, Orlando Letelier, and his American aide, Ronni Moffit. Letelier and Moffit were killed in a car-bomb explosion in Washington, D.C., in 1976. Murders in Chile, murders in the U.S. -- what does the U.S. government care about such peccadilloes? The important thing is that Pinochet safeguarded the property of ITT, Alcoa and Anaconda. So the CIA is still dragging its feet about releasing documents relating to its Latin American operations in those years. (See the article "There's still a lot to learn about the Pinochet years," New York Times, March 5, Section 4, p. 3)

Native people go up against the imperialist machine

. As in Ecuador recently, indigenous people in Colombia are also protesting against multinational corporate interests. Indians in northeast Colombia are protesting against Occidental Petroleum's plans to run a pipeline through their territory. (New York Times, February 14) The U'wa Indians organized a mass protest in December trying to halt construction of the pipeline, but Colombian army troops were sent in to clear them away, causing the death of one little girl. Al Gore, the so-called "environmental" candidate for president, has refused to utter a word against Occidental Petroleum's plans to rape the environment in the U'wa's' territory. This may be related to the fact that Gore's family owns a half-million dollars in Occidental stock. Or maybe Gore is just acting out of class (bourgeois) instinct.

Battle against imperialism requires fighting on two fronts

. The struggle against imperialist domination of Latin America requires that the people there fight. But it also requires the assistance and support of people resident in the U.S. to expose the atrocious record of U.S. imperialism in the area and to expose and denounce U.S. plans to carry out further wars in the area.

. Last November 21st some 12,000 people protested against the U.S. Army's School of the Americas at Fort Benning, Georgia. This was the biggest protest ever against the SOA, which has trained many Latin American officers in torture and mass atrocities. Notorious graduates of the SOA (which the protesters called "School of Assassins") include El Salvador's one-time chief fascist, the late Roberto D'Aubuisson, and the late Nicaraguan dictator Anastasio Somoza. The occasion for this latest demonstration against the SOA was the tenth anniversary of the murder of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter in El Salvador. A United Nations report on the incident implicated 26 Salvadoran army officers, of whom 19 were personally trained at the SOA. (Peoples Weekly World, Dec. 4, p. 4)

. In congressional debates this year over funding for the SOA, Army leaders maintained that their School has played a big role teaching about human rights, and that they will expand the teaching of human rights in the future. Clinton administration apologists even proposed to "close" the SOA and reopen it under a different, more humanitarian, name. But this is just a tissue of lies to cover up a brutal history. The SOA's history is littered with the bodies of tens of thousands of leftists, trade union activists, indigenous peoples organizers, human rights protesters and even priests and nuns. The fact that U.S. society is taken as the model for human rights at the SOA shows what kind of classes are taught there -- the U.S., with its notorious history of racist repression, stereotyping and profiling; the routine torture of police detainees, especially those of an "unfavored" race or class; the organization of secret vigilante groups inside police forces; imprisonment and legal executions carried out on a massive scale, again directed especially against "unfavored" racial and ethnic groups; the routine assassination of popular leaders who become threats to the status quo; and the routine denial of trade union rights, even those supposedly guaranteed by law. Just look at how the District of Columbia police swooped down on activists who had gathered in Washington recently to protest against the World Bank -- closing down their headquarters, confiscating their belongings, arresting thousands on the flimsiest excuses. This is how the police act toward unarmed, totally pacifist protesters. Workers in the U.S. are used to police repression of their strikes; it's simply accepted as "standard operating procedure." SOP at the SOA means schooling Latin American fascists in the latest hi-tech methods of fascist repression.

. Mass actions such as the demonstration at Fort Benning can play a role in building up a solidarity movement between workers in the U.S. and the oppressed masses of Latin America. And mass actions such as the "battle of Seattle" and the recent demos in Washington also help bring together activists from different countries to target international capitalism. To liberate the oppressed masses in Latin America, a struggle needs to be waged on two fronts -- against the local exploiters but also against imperialism. And to carry this through, the struggle needs to be waged here in the imperialist metropolis as well as in Latin America. In our fight against wage-slavery here in the U.S., we need to support the same fight by our brothers and sisters in Latin America, who face ruthless death squads every day of the week. Workers' international solidarity is the way to defeat the brutal two-headed monster of imperialism and capitalism.


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