From: "Carlos A. Rivera" <[EMAIL PROTECTED]>

Subject: [Peoples War] Fw: Colombia: On the brink of all-out war

Australia's Socialist Newspaper
- Number 478, 30 January 2002 -




Colombia reached the brink of all-out war as the government threatened to
end three-year-old peace negotiations with the left-wing guerilla
organisation, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

Buoyed by increased US weaponry and funds, Colombia's President Andres
Pastrana suddenly announced on January 9 that the peace negotiations had
ended. He gave the FARC two days to withdraw its forces from the
demilitarised zone that was established in 1998 to foster the peace

Just minutes after Pastrana's deadline expired, FARC negotiators offered a
proposal aimed at defusing the threat. While Pastrana responded almost
immediately, saying the proposal was "unsatisfactory", he gave the FARC two
more days, until January 14, to come back with an alternative proposal that
would promise "concrete" results towards a cease-fire.

Meanwhile, some 13,000 army troops, supported by the navy and air force,
amassed on the borders of what the FARC call the "liberated zone", an area
two-thirds the size of Tasmania (42,000 sq kms), with a population of some
100,000. Top Colombian general, Fernando Tapias, announced that the army
was ready for all-out war.

FARC combatant Mauricio, who lives in San Vicente del Caguan, the principal
town in the liberated zone, said that the FARC was pulling back from the
towns, but warned that, "If the government wants the rural areas, even a
place five minutes from here, they'll have to fight for it."

With some 35,000 lives already lost in the war over the last decade, the
scene was set for a bloodbath. The situation was so serious that Ecuador's
President Gustavo Noboa, fearing a massive escalation of the conflict,
announced that his troops were reinforcing Ecuador's northern border with

'War on drugs'

On January 8, the day before Pastrana's announcement, US ambassador to
Colombia Anne Patterson handed 14 Black Hawk combat helicopters to the
Colombian military. She pledged "unfailing support for the country's war
against drug producers". Valued at US$14 million each, Colombia now has a
fleet of 29 Black Hawk choppers, which can be mounted with machine guns and
modified to launch rockets and mortars.

For more than a year the US has been funding Plan Colombia, a US$7.5
billion military aid package, which includes the supply of military
hardware and more than 1000 US military trainers and pilots.

Amnesty International has described Washington's massive military backing
for Bogota as "the same policy that backed death squads in El Salvador in
the 1980s".

With 90% of cocaine and some 70% of heroin sold in the US originating in
Colombia, Plan Colombia is painted as part of a global "war on drugs".

On the ground, it is Colombian peasants who are the victims of this war. It
devastates their fields with herbicides, poisons their water and drives
them into deeper poverty. There is a continual threat of massacres from
government-backed paramilitary forces. There are more than 1.5 million
internal refugees. Trade union activists face murder, relentless repression
and subversion charges. All this is on the rise because of the growing US
interference via Plan Colombia.

As the BBC News noted, "Washington is calling on the Colombian government
to take tougher action against the insurgents, yet it is America's own
policies that are generating recruits for these movements".

'War on terrorism'

Now, on top of this "war on drugs" comes the "war on terrorism". In
mid-October, Colombia's General Tapias attended the Inter-American
Conference Against Terrorism, at which Washington proclaimed the Latin
American chapter of its international "war against terrorism".

At this conference on October 15, Francis Taylor, the US State Department's
anti-terrorism coordinator, stressed that "all the resources available"
will be used in the anti-terrorism campaign in Latin America, including,
"as we have done in Afghanistan, the use of military force".

Taylor stated that the FARC and Colombia's second largest armed insurgent
group, the National Liberation Army (ELN), were on Washington's "terror
list". Taylor declined, however, to differentiate between anti-terrorist
and anti-insurgency operations in Colombia, in which Washington has vowed
not to become involved.

In spite of this promise, the real face of Plan Colombia -- a scheme
devised to destroy the left -- has been quickly unmasked since September
11. During the Christmas recess, US President Bush managed, against
congressional opposition, to nominate arch right winger Otto Reich to the
position of assistant secretary of state (western hemisphere), the US
administration's top advisor on Latin America.

Reich, a devout, anti-Castro Cuban was in charge of anti-Sandinista
propaganda during President Ronald Reagan's attacks on Nicaragua in the
1980s, and helped draft laws to tighten the economic blockade of Cuba. On
his first day, he openly stressed that US military aid to Colombia should
not only be used to fight drugs, but also to defeat the left. Many US
politicians support increasing US military aid to Colombia -- already at
US$2 million a day -- and agree that it should be used to combat the
Colombian opposition forces.

The FARC is the largest of the armed movements in Latin America, growing in
recent years to between 15,000 and 20,000 troops. It has governed the
liberated zone currently under threat for the past three years, and, along
with other smaller groups, controls 40% of the country.

FARC leaders are ready for peace. They were optimistic when Pastrana was
elected on a peace platform in 1998. Since then, FARC leaders have devoted
enormous time and effort into negotiating a "Table of Dialogues", the basis
for a cease-fire.

However, they argue that they will not agree to peace without justice. They
have learned from the history of failed peace processes in Central America
and in Colombia at the beginning of the 1990s, which only led to new
killings and social injustice.

"Peace in Latin America and the Caribbean begins with resolving the
profound economic, political and social crisis; with accepting that the
democracy as experienced today by the majority of peoples is not the unique
and valid expression of their will", FARC states.

After 37 years of war, the Colombian government knows it cannot militarily
defeat this large, disciplined, well-armed and popular force alone.

When the January 14 deadline arrived, under enormous international pressure
and facing a resolute FARC leadership, Pastrana agreed to a further six-day
extension of negotiations, until January 20. By then, the world was
watching, international solidarity protests highlighted the government's
warmongering and an agreement was finally reached to extend negotiations by
three months, to April 20.

After days of talks facilitated by 10 foreign envoys in Los Pozos, within
the liberated zone, government representative Camilo Gomez and FARC leader
Raul Reyes read out a 12-point communique in which both sides agreed to
"immediately" launch talks aimed at signing a cease-fire deal by April 7,
three days before a new deadline for the Colombian army to move into the
safe haven. A massacre has, at least for now, been avoided.

Nevertheless, Washington's plans for Colombia are clear. With growing
opposition to corporate globalisation throughout Latin America, the threat
to US capital and its crony governments in the region is very real. Yet,
using the cloak of drugs and terrorism, there has rarely been a more
opportune time to attempt to destroy the left in Colombia. A US-backed
incursion into the liberated zone, and a massive loss of innocent lives,
appears only to be a question of time.

All rights reserved, Green Left Weekly. Redistribution permitted with this
notice attached. Redistribution for profit prohibited.

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