a clip of bourgeois news on Colombia

Louis Proyect lnp3 at SPAMpanix.com
Thu Aug 17 12:42:39 MDT 2000

Owen Jones:
> None of these armies will have the ability to seize power unless they have
>the active support of the urban proletariat. Unfortunately, much of the
>urban proletariat are not only not actively behind the insurrections, but
>often are in fact hostile to them.

The Houston Chronicle, July 08, 1998, Wednesday 3 STAR EDITION

City's rebel reputation carries price;  Bloody attack by paramilitaries
leaves mark on Colombian port

BYLINE: JOHN OTIS; John Otis is a free-lance journalist based in Bogota.


BARRANCABERMEJA, Colombia - This steamy port city on the Magdalena River is
so identified with revolution that even the garbage trucks have been
spray-painted with guerrilla graffiti.

Barrancabermeja is the birthplace of Colombia's second-largest rebel army.
The shantytowns that ring the city are controlled by guerrilla-linked
militias. At the oil workers union, a portrait of leftist hero Che Guevara
hangs on the wall.

"It's not like everyone here is a guerrilla. But Colombians think of the
town as a rebel stronghold," said Roman Catholic Bishop Jaime Prieto.

The stigma has cost the city dearly.

Determined to hit the rebels in their back yard, right-wing paramilitaries
descended on Barrancabermeja, 170 miles north of Bogota, on the night of
May 16. They killed seven people on the spot. When a teen-ager resisted,
they slit his throat with a machete. The gunmen kidnapped 25 other people,
accused them of collaborating with the rebels and killed them.

The bloodletting was the first assault on a major Colombian city by
paramilitaries, private death squads that are financed by landowners and
drug traffickers and 'It's a dilemma. The government views these people as
the enemy, but they never chose to have the guerrillas.'Francisco Campos,
human rights activistthat at times have received support from the Colombian

The paramilitaries have vowed to strike again. In a recent communique, they
declared that anyone on the streets of rebel-controlled neighborhoods after
sundown would be considered a military target. One rumor making the rounds
is that the gunmen called a Barrancabermeja funeral home to order 100
coffins for the next attack.

Today, white flags symbolizing peace hang from the houses in the El Campin
barrio where the May massacre occurred. Residents still seem to be in a
state of shock. They blame both the paramilitaries and the guerrillas for
the violence.

"If we didn't have the guerrillas in our neighborhood, this would not have
happened. Why are we to blame?" asked Elva Torres, whose brother, a
vegetable salesman, was kidnapped and killed by the paramilitaries.

"It's a dilemma," added Francisco Campos, a human rights activist in
Barrancabermeja. "The government views these people as the enemy, but they
never chose to have the guerrillas."

El Campin was formed in the 1970s by part-time workers at Barrancabermeja's
oil refinery, Colombia's largest. The workers moved onto vacant lots on the
outskirts of the city and later were joined by refugees fleeing Colombia's
long-running civil war.

At first, there were no city services, health clinics or schools. The
squatter communities raised funds to pave the streets. They marched at City
Hall to demand electricity and water.

The May 16 attack took place at a street fair organized to raise money for
instruments and uniforms for a youth music group.

"We have had to protest for everything," said Livardo Sanchez, 40, who
lives in a tiny shack with a dirt floor.

Such conditions have allowed Colombia's two main rebel groups - the
National Liberation Army, or ELN, and the larger Revolutionary Armed Forces
of Colombia, or FARC - to gain a foothold.

A member of a local feminist group said poverty has led legions of young
men to join the guerrillas. She said many families have relatives in the
rebel ranks.

"The guerrillas are not viewed as the enemy of the people," she said. "It's
not like they come from another planet."

The rebels' urban militias serve as an intelligence network, and supply
food and medicine to guerrilla units in the countryside, Prieto said. The
militias also act as neighborhood enforcers.

In El Campin, rebel slogan are painted on houses, stores and walls. Though
police avoid such areas, crime is rare, because the militias track down
suspected perpetrators. Sanchez said his neighborhood is so safe that he
can sleep outdoors on a park bench without being bothered.

With such tight security, it remains a mystery how three trucks filled with
paramilitaries were able to enter El Campin unnoticed. Besides the rebel
militias, there are three army bases here to protect the oil refinery as
well as military checkpoints along the roads.

Campos and others claim that the army played a role in the May attack, a
charge that an army spokesman has denied. A government commission is
investigating the accusation.

Analysts say that a few of the 32 victims may, in fact, have been rebel
collaborators. However, Carlos Castano, the leader of Colombia's largest
paramilitary organization, told Bogota's El Tiempo newspaper that the
slaughter was unwarranted.

"It doesn't bother me when the guilty die. What bothers me is when the
innocent die, and, as far as I know, there were innocent (victims) in
Barrancabermeja," Castano said.

"They were just innocent kids," said Norma Amador Rodriguez, the mother of
a 25-year-old man who was executed.

Luz Marina Lopez, 44, lost a son and a daughter in the attack and now must
raise three grandchildren.

The Colombian government has offered Lopez about $ 15,000 in compensation,
but that has brought new complications. Her daughter's ex-husband has
suddenly appeared to demand a cut of the money.

Meanwhile, Lopez isn't sure how to break the news to her grandchildren that
they are orphans.

"Every time a car or taxi drives by, they run to the door crying: 'Mama is
home,' " Lopez said. "I tell them that she went out for a walk and will be
back soon."

Louis Proyect

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