Forwarded from Anthony (Colombia update)
lnp3 at panix.com
Mon Mar 17 17:37:35 MST 2003
Whats Happening in Colombia
The FARC, The Club El Nogal, terrorism, Transmilenio, the Andean region,
March 16, 2003
Regime change by way of military conquest by US imperialism in Iraq is not
the only regime change underway these days - even if it is the one
deservedly getting the most attention.
Arguably all of the relatively stable cold war political regimes are crumbling.
In Latin America the old, and corrupt, parliamentary parties have collapsed
are or collapsing - from the PRI in Mexico to the Liberal and Conservative
parties of Colombia.
Out of this process has emerged a new leftism in Venezuela, Brazil, and
Ecuador. In Colombia, on the other hand, the collapse of the old electoral
parties has produced Uribismo. Now Uribismo appears to be entering its own
crisis - probably opening a new chapter in the Latin American process.
Uribes project has been to modernize Colombia. Publicly this boils down
to the neo-liberal dream of ending the civil war by forcing the FARC and
ELN to accept a deal on the governments terms, ending clientelismo and
nepotism in government contracting, streamlining the government and all of
its agencies by workforce reductions and reorganizations, ending corruption
in the military, making the countrys economy grow by becoming competitive
in world markets in legitimate exports, and making the countrys economy
grow by creating a climate favorable to foreign investment.
Uribes neo-liberal dream is failing on virtually every point. And as a
consequence, his government, and the Colombian regime, are headed toward
even deeper crisis.
The FARC and the ELN versus the paramilitaries
Exactly what has happened to the FARC since the peace process between them
and the government failed at the end of the term of the last President,
Andres Pastrana, is hard to say. It is a little clearer what has happened
to the ELN.
Two things can be said for certain: the government has failed to defeat
either group militarily; and the FARC has become completely marginalized
politically, despite its military survival.
Understanding the struggle between the guerrilla groups and the government
and the paramilitaries requires looking at the military, financial, and
political dynamic of this conflict.
The biggest question regarding this struggle is whether or not the FARC has
adopted a strategy of terrorism against the urban population of Colombia.
Last week the Secretariat of the FARC issued a statement denying
responsibility for the bombing of the Club el Nogal on February 7. I have
forwarded that statement separately. The top ministers of the government
immediately issued statements saying the FARC was lying, and that the
government has proof the FARC planned and carried out the bombing. So far
they have not supplied convincing proof to the newsmedia.
The issue of the Club is far reaching. If the FARC did indeed bomb the club
there can be no doubt that it is fully committed to a terrorist strategy.
Many, many opponents of the government here think this is the case.
If the FARC is in fact embarked on a strategy of terrorism it would give
the governments of Colombia and the United States a powerful tool to
pressure the legalistic left wing governments of Brazil, Ecuador, and
Venezuela to repudiate the FARC publicly (which they have refused to do
until his moment) and to move against FARC representatives and bank
accounts in those countries.
Colombias government is applying the same type of pressure in Central
America and Europe. The Central American governments have already issued a
joint statement with the Colombian government condemning the FARC as
terrorist. Governments in Europe, which have yet to make the blanket
condemnation of the FARC desired by the Colombian government, have moved
much further in that direction than have Colombias close neighbors.
Domestically, the government has used the argument that the FARC are
terrorists to justify a wave of raids on the homes and offices of leftists,
especially supporters of the Communist party and union leaders.
Whether or not the FARC has adopted a strategy of terrorism is still in
doubt. The FARC says that it has not, and it has denied responsibility for
attacks against reservoirs, Transmilenio buses, and against the Club El Nogal.
But the FARC has little credibility even among people who are aware of
those denials (most people have no direct knowledge of FARC communiqués,
and must take the mass media account as the only source of information).
The FARC has defended its policy of blowing up infrastructure - including
power lines, roads, and bridges. The FARC defends its policy of attacking
police stations in the middle of towns, attacks which have resulted in
hundreds of civilian casualties, and the FARC has taken credit for attacks
on neighborhood police stations in citys including Bogotá, which have
resulted in many more civilian casualties. The FARC defends its policy of
arresting members of families which do not pay taxes to it.
The common perception of the FARC is that they are at war not just against
the ruling class, the military, and the paramilitaries - but against the
Last week four fire bombs were left on Transmilineo buses. One blew up,
burning the bus to the ground. The passengers on the bus, and those waiting
on the platform to get on the bus were not injured.
A young woman was arrested by the transit police after being chased by
other passengers. She apparently has confessed to her role, and implicated
others in the attacks. The police say she was a member of one of the FARCs
urban militias, and that they have evidence of this in the form of FARC
literature and the hard disc of her computer. (Apparently, she has not
confessed to being a militant of the FARC). She, and another person
implicated by her, were medical students at the National University. (The
National University is the Columbia University in NYC and UC Berkeley
combined of Colombia.)
Daily accounts of these events, and the investigation which is continuing
share front page space with the investigation into the bombing of the Club
El Nogal. Two men who died in the blast were, according to the police,
press, and powers that be, responsible for the bombing. One was a young man
who taught squash (a relative of handball), and was a partner in a company
that builds large greenhouses. The other was his uncle. Both lived all of
their lives in a working class neighborhood in the south of Bogotá.
According to the press the young man - Jhon Freddy Arellano- had recently
purchased a membership in the club - paying in cash, and had also recently
purchased several expensive cars and tried to join several other exclusive
clubs. The car bomb which destroyed the building was one of those cars. Its
driver, who died in the explosion, was his uncle.
Another uncle is missing. Police say he is a militant of the FARC. They
also say that they have other evidence linking the young man to the FARC,
including records of cell phone calls to a FARC leader who is now under
arrest, and interviews with neighbors and relatives.
The political effect of all of these events - no matter whether any of the
acts of urban terrorism were actually carried out by the FARC - has been to
further isolate the FARC from the working class, from the student movement,
and from the legal left.
While the legal left has not joined the government and mass medias
demonization of the FARC, it HAS called for investigations to find out
exactly what happened at the Club El Nogal - and no one has categorically
ruled out the possibility of the FARC being responsible.
Nevertheless, despite its almost total political isolation, the FARC seems
to be intact militarily.
The FARC evacuated the towns of the old despeje in good order - losing
infrastructure but with almost no casualties. However, since that time
publicly recognized left-wing political leaders in the area have been
systematically assassinated, and threatened.
Since the end of the peace process the only major military engagements -
and there have been very few - have been between the FARC and the
paramilitaries. In every case that I am aware of, the FARC has decisively
won these battles. (and when I say major, that does not mean very large -
less than 1,000 soldiers on each side in the largest engagement, and
usually only 100 or 200 in the other major engagements.)
The government has established zones of rehabilitation - martial law
zones, in areas around major oil pipelines. Exactly what has happened in
these zones is hard to document, a lot of roadblocks and house to house
searches in the towns, arrests of as many as of several hundred people
suspected of being sympathetic to the FARC and ELN (the government has not
published the numbers of those arrested.)
But the military officials of these areas have one after another resigned
for fear of their lives. And even the major newsmedia report that the FARC
and ELN operate freely outside of the towns in those sparsely populated
It seems that the FARC has, militarily at least, held its own in the
The other issue in the countryside is that of the FARCs finances. The FARC
reportedly finances itself from four important sources of income: drug
sales; taxes - popularly called the vaccine or vaccine (If a person
does not pay his/her taxes he or she, or their child or grandmother, might
be arrested and held until the tax is paid. These arrests are referred to
by everyone not in the FARC as kidnapping.) car robberies and resale, and
profits from legitimate businesses owned by the FARC.
Whether or not FARC income from drug sales has been seriously impacted by
the governments offensive is hard to say, but it may have been. Arrests in
Mexico may have broken up one key route of the FARC to the US market, while
crop dusting of glysophate has clearly been directed at FARC controlled
areas, and not at drug production not controlled by the FARC. The
government claims it has reduced cocaine production by 30% - although the
claim is in dispute.
FARC income from taxes has almost certainly has declined, as the government
has made a concerted effort to force the army to give chase when someone is
kidnapped (arrested), and has also put strong pressure on the families of
those taken not to pay ransom. Partly as a result kidnappings have been
reduced by about 20%, and many people from wealthy families have not been
ransomed and remain in the hands of the FARC.
FARC income from car robberies was probably severely impacted when the
demilitarized zone was remilitarized. Car robberies in Bogota have
plummeted. By many accounts the old despeje served (for among other things)
as the entrepot for cars stolen in Bogota, and then moved to other parts of
Colombia for sale or shipment out of the country.
So far the government has not confiscated any large legitimate businesses
owned by the FARC, but it has confiscated a number of medium sized
manufacturers used to produce uniforms and arms, and sundry other
businesses ranging from hotels to gas stations.
Whatever the exact impact the government offensive has had on the FARCs
finances, it seems very unlikely that the FARC is in financial crisis, and
not even the government claims this.
During the same period of time, the ELN seems to have stabilized. During
the peace process between the Pastrana government and the FARC, the ELN
became the key target of the paramilitaries. In important centers like the
oil town of Barancabermja the ELN militias were assassinated and driven out
of town or underground by paramilitaries working with the army and police.
The same thing happened in the towns of Magdelena Medio around Baranca.
But the ELN was able to maintain its forces in the countryside, and
expanded to other parts of the country.
When Uribe Velez came to office, his main target became the FARC. To an
important extent the paramilitaries redirected their efforts against the
FARC - which to date has kicked the paramilitaries ass (something the ELN
could not do.) This seems to have taken some of the pressure off of the
ELN. In addition, partly due to their military losses, partly due to
pressures on their cocaine business from the US, the paramilitaries seem to
have been in an internal crisis since Uribe came to power, also lessening
the pressure on the ELN.
The government has also tried to brand the ELN as terrorist, but with less
success than they have had in demonizing the FARC. Their failure has to do
with the fact that, while the ELN also arrests/kidnaps people (like the
FARC), and also blows up infrastructure, it has not launched attacks which
have caused large scale civilian casualties. And, when the ELN was accused
of blowing up a shopping center in Cucuta (a city on the Venezualan border)
the ELN immediately denied responsibility (whereas the FARC waited more
than one month to issue a statement on the Club el Nogal.)
On balance, the government has failed to inflict any military setbacks
against the FARC or ELN - but has achieved a major political victory
against the FARC by isolating it domestically, and internationally.
The Crisis of Uribismo
Ironically, the failure of the Colombian military against the FARC is one
of the key elements of the growing crisis of Uribe Velez government.
Uribes Minister of Defense, Marta Lucia Ramirez, and the head of the
countrys Air Force General Fabio Velazquez, have publicly traded insults
widely reported in the press. Ramirez has reportedly asked Uribe Velez to
fire the countrys top military commanders - a request Uribe reportedly denied.
Ramirez was chosen by Uribe against the opposition of the military, but
with the strong backing of Colombias business establishment. Her job was
to end corruption in the military, promote officers who would fight rather
than steal, and manage the financing of a much bigger military
establishment. So far she has been blocked by the officer corps at almost
every turn, even when she procured a gift of Mirage jet fighters from Spain.
Uribe Velez needs Ramirez, because she is the guarantee to the bourgeoisie
that Uribes government is actually going to try to win the war (rather
than just stealing the money from the budget as previous governments have
done). On the other hand Uribe Velez does not seem to have the political
will - or possiblly the political power - to remove the generals and
colonels who lead the military.
This conflict is closely related with another conflict in Uribes
government between the Minister of Agriculture and the Minister of
Commerce. The Minister of Commerce is a strong proponent of the Free Trade
Area of the Americas on the grounds that it will open the doors of the US
market to Colombian industrial exports. In this he is strongly supported by
ANDI, the federation of Colombian manufacturers. On the other hand,
Colombias big farmers, especially rice and cotton growers - but also
dairymen and cattle ranchers, are strongly opposed to the FTAA as long as
US agriculture remains subsidized. The Minister of Agriculture is their man.
He is also closely associated with the paramilitaries.
Both men have their connections in the US embassy, which - on the one hand
has close ties to the paramilitaries - and on the other has been ordered to
secure Colombian ratification of the FTAA.
These are only the most glaring contradictions in Uribismo. Uribes right
hand man - Pedro Juan Moreno - accused of being the most important importer
of precursors for manufacturing cocaine, caused of close ties to the
paramilitaries, and a self acknowledged admirer of Hitler and Carlos
Castano, seems to be at the center of virtually every element of Uribes
crisis. His only known poject, is to centralize all of the countrys
security and intelligence agencies into one agency, with himself as its head.
Needless to say, most of Uribes other Ministers and advisers appear to
fear Moreno - and have banded together against him to prevent him achieving
What has saved Uribe, so far, is that the economy of Colombia has recovered
- slightly - from the Pastrana recession. Businesses that were in the red,
made profits last year. In every sector from transportation to construction
to banking. Bankruptcies declined.
But Uribes neo-liberal budget has cut the ground out from consumer
spending and consumer confidence. Car, apartment and furniture sales are
going down again.
High oil and natural gas prices have helped the government balance its
budget (because of the nationalized oil company Ecopetrol, which thye of
course would like to privatize) without bigger cuts than have already been
made. But this is a double edged sword, with consumers - including big
businesses - paying more for energy costs adding to other recessionary
The petty bourgeoisie is turning against Uribe. According to the polls his
popularity has dropped five points since the beginning of the year.
And the national bourgeoisie follows the petty bourgeoisie. They sell cars,
soft drinks, and apartments.
Uribes great success was to unite the bourgeoisie. The conservative party,
defeated in virtually every congressional election, joined Uribe as its
salvation. The Liberal Party, triumphant electorally, split in two over
whether or not to take the bribes offered to it by the US embassy and the
big bourgeoisie of Colombia. Ultimately almost all of them caved in. Even
the Liberal Partys central leader, presidential candidate and strongest
war-horse, Horacio Serpa, eventually accepted appointment by Uribe as
ambassador to the OEA (in return for an end to his public pronouncements
against the government.
The only legal, parliamentary opposition to Uribismo now consists of the
Polo Democratico - the heir of the Union Patiotico and the M-19 in
If Uribismo fails - as it seems to be doing, than the tiny electoral
opposition could become the only alternative. What this might mean for
Colombias future is anyones guess. But if it were to happen, it would put
Colombia in line with the trend in Venezuela, Ecuador and Brazil.
All the best, Anthony
Louis Proyect, Marxism mailing list: http://www.marxmail.org
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