U'Wa tragedy does not justify rightwing attacks on the FARC

Louis Proyect lnp3 at SPAMpanix.com
Wed Dec 15 08:56:25 MST 1999

[Today's Salon.com has a disturbing article about growing attempts to use
the tragic slaying of 3 indigenous activists in Colombia in a
counter-revolutionary manner by some American Indian activists. The Salon
article was written by one Ana Arana, who is associated with NYU's Center
for War, Peace and the News Media, an outfit launched by Robert Manoff.
Manoff has a shadowy past. In 1990 he helped to launch a Russian
pro-capitalist newspaper called Commersant that took its name from a
pre-Revolutionary Russian business journal "to show that the history of a
private economy here is much longer than the history of a socialist
economy," according to one of Manoff's collaborators. A review of the
Center's website will reveal all sorts of connections to mainstream
publications, including US News and World Report, but none to the
grassroots progressive movement. I urge people to read the full Salon
article, but will only comment on relevant sections below.]


Murder in Colombia  American Indians seek to avenge the murder of one of
their leaders by leftist rebels.

- - - - - - - - - - - -

By Ana Arana

Dec. 14, 1999 | The same day that guerrillas of the Colombian Revolutionary
Armed Forces (FARC) executed three American Indian rights activists on the
Venezuelan border, the FARC also sent an electronic message to American
Indian leaders in New York promising their prompt release. The message was
received with jubilation at the American Indian Community House in New
York, where a crowd had gathered. The festive mood suddenly turned dark
when American Express called to say two credit cards had been found on the
body of a dead woman in Venezuela. The cards led to the identification of
Ingrid Washinowatok of New York, Lahe'ena'e Gay of Hawaii and Terence
Freitas of California, the very activists the Indians thought were on their
way to safety.

Almost nine months later, little progress has been made in apprehending
those responsible for the March murders. The Colombian government is eager
to revive faltering peace talks with the guerrillas and the Clinton
administration has not tied further aid to the resolution of the case,
although it has refused any contact with the rebels until the suspects are
handed over. But the American Indian movement, angered by the loss of
Washinowatok, a key leader, is mounting a campaign to push for justice. A
three-month investigation uncovered the brutal nature of the killings and
the murky mix of motives and tragic misunderstandings behind the crime.

COMMENT: Perhaps the most in-depth investigative reporting on this tragedy
comes from Houston Chronicle John Otis's Oct. 3, 1999 article:

>>I'm on my way to interview Raul Reyes, a FARC spokesman and a member of
the organization's ruling junta. Why, I want to ask him, did the rebels
execute the Americans? Who gave the order? What could they have been

We meet behind a farmhouse and are immediately surrounded by a flock of
squawking geese. I'm nervous, but Reyes is hardly an imposing figure.

Barely 5 feet tall, he wears glasses and a baggy camouflage uniform. I
start grilling him about the case, and now he's the one who tenses up.

"The FARC does not have a policy to do this type of thing. Never. We don't
justify it in any way," says Reyes, as he cradles a U.S.-made M-16
automatic rifle in his lap.

Then, Reyes serves up the rebels' standard riposte. The crime, he says, was
committed by low-ranking guerrillas who thought the Americans were secret
agents. Acting on their own, he says, the guerrillas shot the trio down in
a single instant of insanity.

"People didn't know that they were with the U'wa," Reyes says. "There is a
lot of tension about the presence of any North American in the country,
because everyone thinks they are with the CIA or the DEA. Many people go
around saying that they are studying flowers or butterflies, when they are
really gathering information."

Close observers of the FARC admit that part of Reyes' explanation seems

FARC fighters are notoriously paranoid about foreigners, because Washington
supplies a huge amount of military aid to Colombia. At any given time,
there are 200 to 300 U.S. military advisers on the ground assisting the
army and police.

Also, interceptions of FARC radio messages by Colombian intelligence
agencies indicate that the kidnappers were suspicious of the Americans.

"Surely these SOBs are from the CIA," Rafael, a member of the FARC's 45th
Front, says on a tape-recorded intercept the day after the kidnapping.<<

Whatever else you want to say about the FARC, it is clear that they were
not out to eliminate supporters of indigenous rights. Whether they have
learned something from this terrible mishap is another story altogether.

SALON CONTINUES: U.S. and Colombian investigators believe that the orders
to kill the Americans came from the FARC's central headquarters, but U.S.
officials dispute Indian leaders' assertions that the three were targeted
because of U.S. policy in the region. "We believe they were targeted
because they were foreigners who went into an area where the FARC wants to
control access, not because they were Americans," said Ambassador Michael
Sheehan, the State Department's coordinator for counterterrorism, which
monitors FARC activities.

COMMENT: Notice how blandly Arana refers to "U.S. and Colombian
investigators" as if we were dealing with Sherlock Holmes investigating
with dispassionate deductive logic murders on the Scottish moors.

SALON CONTINUES: Soon after the three were kidnapped, they were marched
toward the Venezuelan border through virgin rain forest and harsh terrain.
When her body was found, Washinowatok had no shoes and her feet showed cuts
and abrasions suggesting she had been forced to walk barefoot. She had been
bitten by a poisonous spider, and the FARC refused to give her proper
medication after a quick visit to a guerrilla-friendly doctor, according to
Colombian intelligence documents. When the Venezuelan police recovered her
body, her face was destroyed with a gunshot, and her American Express cards
with her name and the name of her foundation were lodged in her panties.
"The way they killed them was torturous," said the Venezuelan captain who
found the bodies.

COMMENT: According to Colombian intelligence documents? Okay...

SALON CONTINUES: American Indians now admit that they made major
miscalculations in their analysis of the FARC during those eight days when
Washinowatok was held captive. "We operated from the point of view -- hey,
we're Indians. Ingrid had studied in Havana, she spoke Spanish and she had
worked with Indian people all over. We thought it should be OK," said Alex
Ewen of the Solidarity Foundation, a New York Indian philanthropic group.
"We didn't understand that this group was different."

Although the FARC is a self-declared Marxist-Leninist group that has been
fighting the Colombian government for the last 30 years, its tactics
reflect what one Colombian analyst has called a "Gen-X revolutionary"
style, a mixture of Marxism and outlaw capitalist practices they have
learned from drug traffickers, who pay them up to $500 million a year for
protecting cocaine plantations and drug shipping routes.

COMMENT: This is crap. According to the Washington Office on Latin America
[WOLA], the FARC initially banned coca growing, but was forced to allow it
since peasants told them that they could not survive economically without
doing so. Since the FARC functions like a state in areas under its control,
it taxes its "citizens" just like any other state. Coca growers are no

SALON CONTINUES: "These people have nothing in common with other
revolutionary movements in Central America. They are the same as drug
traffickers," said Cornell's [head of Native American studies department]
Barreiro. "But you have to understand, Indians have a hard time criticizing
revolutionary movements."

COMMENT: It is important to point out that Barreiro is the editor of
"Native Americas" which just published a lengthy article by Mario Murillo
that repeated lies he had made already in a NACLA article. Namely, that the
FARC had wantonly burned Indian villages and killed people in the Cauca
region. When I pointed out to him that the perpetrators were right-wing
death squads pretending to be FARC militants, he refused to acknowledge his

SALON CONTINUES: The American Indian community has been holding strategy
sessions along with Washinowatok's husband, Ali El Issa, a Palestinian she
met in Havana. "We have a lot of people in this country and other countries
who are eager to support a revolution, and the FARC gets some of their
support. Our interest is to get to those people and show them what the FARC
is capable of doing -- of murdering potential allies," explained Trudell,
who shies away from calling their efforts a war. "We have little resources,
but we will be heard." Options are to hack into the Web sites used by the
FARC for propaganda purposes and broadcast Washinowatok's picture and
biography, and to expose the names of people who work for the FARC in the
United States and in Europe. Indian leaders are not saying when they will
start their campaign, to keep the element of surprise.

COMMENT: Expose the names of people who work for the FARC? This is the work
of the FBI. It disgraces the memory of the 3 indigenous activists, who
fought injustice everywhere. Many FARC activists are undocumented
Colombians, who would face murder and torture if they are exposed in this
manner. The progressive movement has to disavow this kind of provocation.

Louis Proyect

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