Narco News '02
Solutions to Social
a Recipe for Failure
Tuesday, August 6th, a new president took over in Colombia. Like the president who took over in the US in
2001, Colombia's new president Álvaro Uribe Velez is a
right-winger who supports military solutions to social problems
and, also like the president here, he was elected by less than
30 percent of the voting eligible population. Another parallel
to Mr. Bush is found in Mr. Uribe's distaste for democracy. Indeed,
Uribe has announced plans to eliminate the current two houses
of congress and replace them with a single house.
Governmental action that currently requires
legislation, would simply require, under Uribe's proposal, presidential
decrees. Uribe justifies his plan as a means to make the government
leaner and meaner. Most observers agree however, that the underlying
motive is to free up more money for the military and police forces.
Uribe has already asked the U.S. to increase military aid to
Colombia. The U.S. has given Colombia over $2 billion in mostly
military aid since 2000. Since Colombia became the third largest
recipient of U.S. military aid, state repression and paramilitary
violence have only increased.
As many of you know, there is a war in
Colombia that has been going on for many years. This war is essentially
of the rich and their hired guns, against the poor, with a relatively
large middle-class in the middle. Some of these folks in the
middle support the army and the rich in the hopes that this support
will protect their already tenuous position in a fragile economic
and social situation. Others in the middle-class find themselves
supporting those who organize and work for the poor in the labor
unions, church organizations and other social service organizations.
They do so for a couple of reasons: because they believe that
the way to make their country a better, more stable place to
live is by improving the economic well-being of all of their
country men and women, and because they know that when push comes
to shove they are more likely to end up poor than rich.
Indeed, many members of Colombia's middle
class have already seen their economic situation worsen thanks
to US corporate pressure (through the World Bank and IMF loan
requirements) to privatize publicly owned utilities like the
phone company and the electrical power company. When these types
of agencies are privatized, they usually become more expensive
and also force thousands of workers out of their jobs. This is
done so that these newly privatized companies can show a quick
profit and make their new owners, like Citigroup and Chase Manhattan,
To prevent job loss and the accompanying
poverty and downward spiral of despair, organizations of workers
in these companies have held mass protests in the cities of Colombia.
The answer to these protests by the government has been one of
increased repression. The leaders of these protests have been
kidnapped and gunned down by death squads who are paid by the
same people who provided financial support to the new president-the
rightwing paramilitaries. These groups are involved in the drug
trade and are also intimately connected to the military and various
rightwing political parties and the folks these parties represent.
The paramilitaries are responsible for over 2/3 of the deaths
in Colombia's 30-year civil war. In what can only be construed
as a cynical public relations move designed to fool the Colombian
public and the US Congress, the new president and Carlos Castaño,
the leader of the largest paramilitary group (AUC), recently
announced that the AUC would soon cease to exist.
What they did not make clear, however, was that, instead of functioning
illegally as they have in the past, this group's structure, along
with most of its members, will be legalized, either by being
incorporated into the military and national police force or by
the creation of a parallel structure whose role will be to neutralize
popular opposition. So, instead of the paramilitary soldiers
illegally conducting their murder and repression of those opposed
to the pro-big business policies of the Colombian government,
they will now be able to kill and beat labor leaders, social
workers, priests and nuns legally. A lesser role of this organization
will be to isolate other rightwing paramilitaries if they refuse
to join Castaño's organization.
Meanwhile, many of those leaders and organizers
who don't get killed or kidnapped have decided that peaceful
protest and direct action can not change anything in Colombia
and have joined the left-wing guerrilla, who have their own problems
thanks to their growing involvement in the drug trade. These
problems stem from the general criminality of the drug enterprise.
A reasonable historical analogy can be drawn to the fate of the
Black Panther Party of the United States and the difficulties
it had once some of its leaders began abusing cocaine and the
local chapters began recruiting large numbers of street criminals
who were in the movement for prestige and money, and had little
interest in politics. The guerrillas' involvement in the drug
trade is the pretext that the United States government has used
to send over 1.5 billion dollars in military aid to Colombia.
Even though the war on drugs has consistently
proven to be a failed exercise except to those who profit from
it on both sides of the law, we here in the US continue to act
as if military action against some drug producers will end the
use of drugs in our country. It won't. Nor is it the reason there
are close to 2000 US troops in country in Colombia.
Nonetheless, the United States is deeply
involved in this struggle. Why? Is it because it cares about
the rights of the Colombia people? Is it because the US cares
about the poverty of over fifty percent of the Colombian people?
Is it because it abhors the violence the Colombian people are
subjected to daily? No! The history of US involvement in Colombia
and the surrounding region has never been on the side of democracy
and justice. In fact, more often than not, the US has supported,
directly and otherwise, the greatest purveyors of the violence
in that country. And it continues to do so, now under the guise
of supporting the government of President Uribe - a man whose
financial support came from the paramilitaries' coffers.
The United States government is involved
in the civil war in Colombia for one reason. That reason is profits
for the people and companies that keep politicians like the Bushes
and Clintons in power. The folks in Washington want to protect
and expand the profits from the oil business. In addition, Washington's
financiers want greater access to cheap labor, cheap resources
and more markets to sell its goods. Plan Colombia-the plan under
which the United States sends hundreds of millions of dollars
to Colombia every year, mostly in the form of weapons and ammunition-is
designed to facilitate the expansion of the FTAA free trade agreement.
A new funding cycle is about to begin that will include 98 million
dollars for the creation of a special battalion under US command
whose only job will be to protect the pipeline owned by the US
oil company Occidental. If the US considers this endeavor successful,
than the program will likely be expanded to include other pipelines
in the country.
Is this protecting democracy? Many men
and women in the United States believe that it is an honorable
thing to serve one's country. But defending an oil pipeline is
not the same thing. 98 million dollars could build a lot of schools,
provide for a lot of jobs, here and in Colombia.
If the US government truly cared about
the people of Colombia, it would spend its money on these types
of projects, not on gunships and pipeline protection.
Economic and social justice will go a
lot further in making Colombia a secure and democratic place
to live than helicopter gunships and special forces: Much further.
Ron Jacobs lives in Burlington,
Vermont and has been involved in antiwar activism since Vietnam.
He is the author of The
Way the Wind Blew: A History of the Weather Underground (Verso 1997).
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