. This is one of four articles from the April 29th leaflet of Seattle Anti-Imperialist Alliance, It is here as reprinted in Communist Voice, vol. 8, #2, issue #29, June 20, 2002,
. In the aftermath of Sept. 11th U. S. intervention in Colombia is being stepped up. This
intervention is in support of the Colombian government as it wages war against several insurgent
forces, as well as against workers and poor peasants struggling independent of these forces. The
civil war has been going on for years, and to try to justify stepping up intervention on the
reactionary side of it on the basis of the 9/11 terrorist attacks in N. Y. and Washington is absurd.
(But this hasn't stopped Bush from labeling the insurgent forces as "dangerous terrorists" as he
got the O. K. from the Democrats to send more money and arms. ) As a matter of fact, the
increasing U. S. intervention in Colombia starkly reveals that the U. S. ruling class has used the
9/11 terrorist atrocities as a pretext for militarily resolving several political contradictions in the
world which undermine its ability to increase the export of U. S. capital, maximize profits of the
U. S. multinational corporations, monopolize sources of raw materials, and fatten the
stockholders in the war industry.
. Colombia is a rich prize for the monopoly capitalists. It has 40 million people who are quite literate by world standards--a large pool of candidates for exploitation as sweat-shop laborers. Its gross domestic product is $88 billion, with almost 14% of this coming from manufacturing: textiles and garments, chemicals, metal products, cement, cardboard containers. This, along with the service sector, is already a lucrative field for the export of capital, and the imperialist bankers want to export more. It's rich in raw materials: petroleum (the U. S. imports 10% of its oil from there), coal, ferronickel, gems, gold, logs. It's also rich agriculturally: coca, coffee, bananas, cut-flowers, cotton, sugarcane, livestock, rice, corn, tobacco, potatoes, soybeans, sorghum. And its yearly imports are about $11 billion: machinery and equipment, grain, chemicals, transportation equipment. The U. S. , Venezuela, Germany, Japan and Holland are its main trading partners.
. The country is ruled by a capitalist oligarchy which works in alliance with U. S. imperialism to violently crush anything getting in the way of maximizing profits--from efforts of the working class to organize resistance to their exploitation, to indigenous peoples defending their ability to live from the land, to environmental activism, to the domination of areas of the country by guerilla armies. Human rights workers reporting on the atrocities being carried out are also subject to being murdered. In fact Colombia is the most dangerous place in the world for working-class organizing. Just last year 170 trade union organizers were murdered--sometimes in front of plant gates on the way to work, at other times after being taken from company vehicles at gun-point, and often their bodies have been mutilated and put on display as a "warning". 79 others were "disappeared". And since these figures come from mainstream sources, they no doubt leave out many murdered rank-and-file activists with no connection to one of the big trade union centers. This has been going on for many years. As has the killing of 3000 people per year in the civil war. According to almost all human rights groups 80% of the class political murders in the country are carried out by right-wing paramilitaries connected to the capitalist establishment being supported by the U. S. government.
. This gruesome reality didn't prevent "friend of labor" Bill Clinton from waiving requirements
that the Colombian government adhere to basic human rights standards when he pushed through
his "Plan Colombia" in early 2000, however. This is because the Democrats, like the
Republicans, follow the same imperialist agenda. The $1. 3 billion in U. S. military aid
authorized by Clinton made Colombia the third largest recipient of U. S. military aid in the
world. Clinton's bill had some essentially phony restrictions in it which Bush now wants
removed. (For example, military assistance was only supposed to be for counter-narcotics
operations. But if you're building up one part of a military you're inevitably building up all of it. )
Bush also wants to remove the restriction on the number of U. S. troops allowed in Colombia.
From a "war on drugs" . . .
. Of course U. S. officials have no moral compunctions about the drug trade. In Southeast Asia the C. I. A. 's Air America ran drugs in the 60s and 70s. Under Reagan the same planes which secretly flew arms to the Contra armies in Central America carried drugs back to the United States on return trips. Etc. But at the same time the U. S. and Colombian ruling classes don't like various aspects of the drug trade. Perhaps part of this is because the capitalists involved in it don't pay their "fair share" of taxes (government officials, army and police officers collecting bribe money is not quite the same thing). Further, with coca said to be Colombia's largest export (estimated $3. 5 billion annually) another problem arises: Colombian society is wracked by uncontrollable drug rivalries and murders right up to the highest ruling circles. This no doubt creates an unease in the ruling class, especially among those members not dependent on the drug trade for revenues. Meanwhile the masses of people in both the U. S. and Colombia hate to see so many of their compatriots' lives destroyed by drug usage, hate to see them involved in the gun-slinging trade rivalries which inevitably develop in an illegal and lucrative business like this, and they want something done. The U. S. politicians played to the latter to line up support for their hypocritical "war on drugs". And it was under this banner that they stepped up military intervention in several Andean countries in the 90's.
. After $billions have been spent for military hardware, training, and operations supposedly to wipe out drug trafficking, what has been the result? Well in Colombia, while U. S. military aid has increased ten fold since the mid-90s, coca production has doubled! This is not to say that the U. S. imperialists and their Colombian allies have done nothing to affect the drug business. They've carried out some bloody raids, and sprayed scores of thousands of acres of fields and forests with dangerous poisons. This has not only destroyed coca crops, but also maize and yucca fields which the farmers depend on for food. The U. S. Congress has budgeted money for developing alternative crops, but it's little more than one fourth that budgeted for chemical spraying. (And both taken together are dwarfed by the military expenditures. ) In departments like Putumayo only 8% is being spent for the development of alternative crops.
. This exposes the sham nature of the alleged "concern" of Washington and the Pentagon for the
peasantry. Their means of livelihood is destroyed. Their environment and they themselves are
poisoned. So some pennies are tossed their way as "compensation". Moreover, Colombian
agriculture is in crisis, with prices for farm products languishing. This agricultural crisis is rooted
in the fundamental laws of the capitalist system of production itself as they're being played out in
the conditions of giant agribusinesses of the imperialist countries driving small farmers to the
wall the world over. The peasants have no control over this, and if a peasant can only make $300
a year growing legal crops s/he is almost forced to grow coca and perhaps make $2,500 per year
just in order to survive. The other alternative is to migrate to the cities, which many do. But with
a 20% unemployment rate this is a desperate move. In fact the masses of people in cities and
countryside alike live under desperate conditions. Capitalism doesn't have within itself the ability
to alleviate these. So for show its political representatives can budget a very small amount for
alternative crop development in the countryside, but it budgets $billions to build up a military
force whose main purpose is to crush resistance to its naked rule.
. . . to a "war on terror" . . .
. While the Colombian civil war is several decades old, the main rebel forces gained broader support in the latter 90s. The government's hold on power was also somewhat shaky as a mass movement against neo-liberal capitalist policies spread among the masses in Colombia and neighboring countries. This movement continues, with strikes against privatizations, and other actions. President Andres Pastrana was elected based on promises to recognize the guerillas and negotiate peace with them. The guerillas were not losing the war, politically or militarily, but they were not winning it either. Moreover, according to interviews reported in the world press, many of their leaders were exhausted and yearned for a "normal" life. In these conditions they took up Pastrana's offer, and the main group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), settled for a partial control of the southern Caqueta department, where it financed itself through taxation, was allowed to run the local elections, etc.
. But the government kept the military pressure on, including through murderous expeditions by
its extra-curricular paramilitaries, and further negotiations broke down. Then, in the aftermath of
9/11, it used the assassination of a Colombian senator as pretext for launching its own "war
against terror" to wipe out FARC and other rebel forces, even though FARC hotly denies having
anything to do with this murder. (Meanwhile Bush had added FARC and the National Liberation
Army, ELN, to his list of world "terrorist" organizations. ) In February this year the U. S. -trained
and supplied military launched well over 200 bombing raids into the FARC-held area
"Farclandia" (a zone with a civilian population of over 100,000), and then conducted major
ground operations. Of course both the Colombian government and Bush knew they would not
crush the insurgency with one blow, and they haven't. However they've now shown their real
hand, and committed themselves to an even crueler war, and not just against FARC or the ELN,
but against all Colombians resisting their neo-liberal agenda: a capitalist class war against the
masses. What this war is going to look like may be indicated by the fact that while the insurgent
forces have grown in recent years, the murderous paramilitaries have grown five times faster. It's
illegal for civilians to own guns in Colombia, yet the paramilitaries have lots of them, and lots of
money. Part of the latter comes from the drug trade, but another part (along with guns) comes
from payments for "services provided" to the capitalists. Meanwhile the "clean" fighting will be
carried out by the legal military.
. . . to a very partial admission of the truth
. Meanwhile, also in February, Bush asked Congress for $98 million in new Pentagon training
and equipment for the Colombian military. This was over and above the $731 million requested
for continuing the Andean "war on drugs". The stated aim was to protect the California-based
Occidental Petroleum Corporation's pipeline which was blown up several times last year by
insurgent forces. So here we have it: open admission that tax-dollars looted from the masses of
American working people not only go to the big stockholders of the military contractors, but to
build proxy armies to protect the interests of the U. S. multinationals as they rip off the world's
resources for profit. But of course it's not just Occidental, nor just the oil companies, nor just the
multinationals involved in resource extraction, nor even just the multinational corporations
themselves. Behind these stand the interests of a financial oligarchy which is based on mergers of
industrial and banking capital which took place long ago.
Support the struggles of the Colombian toilers!
. That Clinton and Bush had to turn Colombia into the third largest recipient of U. S. military aid says something of power of the forces U. S. imperialism wants to crush (or contain in the case of the drug industry). More than a hundred trade union activists are murdered year after year, yet new organizers keep appearing. The indigenous peoples are driven from their lands by lumbering, mining, and other capitalists, but they mount new struggles, form international alliances, etc. There have been massive privatizations, yet new movements against privatization and the IMF/WB continue to plague the regime. Moreover, the U. S. also looks at it from a strategic angle: if it doesn't severely deal with FARC and the ELN, it risks dangers of similar movements being emboldened in neighboring countries.
. FARC and the ELN both say they have something to do with Marxism-Leninism, but they're not working-class parties fighting to overthrow capitalism at all. Programmatically, they fight for a reformed capitalism, where "foreign monopolies and investment will be limited and controlledThey will be subjected to the parameters of national development, favoring entrepreneurial and industrial competitiveness but without detriment to small and medium enterprises" (the ELN). Following the Cuban state-capitalist model, the ELN favors a mixed economy of state-owned and private enterprises. But with Cuba today increasingly going over to private capitalism and opening the door to foreign investment, the amount of nationalization of enterprises (to be run on a capitalist basis) the ELN envisions is unclear. It fosters the illusion that the laws of capitalist production (renamed "socialism") can be overcome if good people working in the national interest dominate the government. Although FARC doesn't promote Cuba and Che Guevara in the same way as the ELN, its programmatic views are very similar. Both deny that no amount of fine-tuned state intervention can do more than slow or shift around the negative effects of capitalist production. The rich will get richer, and the poor poorer. Competition will force the capitalists to rape the environment. The working people will be exploited. (And the very word exploitation disappears from their vocabulary whenever they begin to elaborate on their national-reformist visions of the future. )
. Of course the imperialists and their Colombian junior-partners aren't willing to give the reforms
for which the guerillas are fighting. And the social welfare measures, land reform, right for the
masses to organize without being gunned down by the forces of the state, etc. , for which they
fight are supported by every progressive person. The problem however is that such reforms can
only be brought about through an intensification of the class struggles of the workers and
peasants. Yet the guerilla organizations downplay the class struggle. For example, when FARC
was engaged in peace negotiations with the government it politically pacified the masses with
ideas of a "national reconciliation". The intense class contradictions in society were just slurred
over. ELN did the same thing with its campaign for a National Convention at almost the same
time. This is misleading the masses. To defeat the increasing U. S. -supported campaign of class
suppression and murder, to wrest concessions from the capitalist government, and to achieve its
ultimate liberation, the Colombian working class needs to continue to develop its class struggles.
To do this requires it seeing sharply the role of every class in society, rather than slurring over the
class contradictions a la FARC and the ELN. It needs to develop its own independent politics and
fighting organizations. We should support its every effort in this direction.
. The basic laws of the capitalist imperialist system are what is driving the U. S. to intervene in
Colombia. Our main support for the Colombian toilers must therefore be to build the movement
against U. S. intervention on an anti-imperialist basis. Fundamentally this must be based on
working to build a revolutionary movement to overthrow imperialism here at home. This raises
that in the U. S. , just as in Colombia, we too need to develop independent working-class politics
and organization to accomplish this historic necessity.
Last modified: June 26, 2002.