Forwarded from Anthony (Colombia update)

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Mon Mar 17 17:37:35 MST 2003

What’s Happening in Colombia

The FARC, The Club El Nogal, terrorism, Transmilenio, the Andean region, 
oil ...

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.

Uribe’s 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 government’s 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 country’s economy grow by becoming competitive 
in world markets in legitimate exports, and making the country’s economy 
grow by creating a climate favorable to foreign investment.

Uribe’s 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 it’s 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.

Colombia’s 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 Colombia’s 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 city’s including Bogotá, which have 
resulted in many more civilian casualties. The FARC defends it’s 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 
whole country.

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 FARC’s 
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 media’s 
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 FARC’s 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 government’s 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 FARC’s 
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. 
Uribe’s Minister of Defense, Marta Lucia Ramirez, and the head of the 
country’s Air Force General Fabio Velazquez, have publicly traded insults 
widely reported in the press. Ramirez has reportedly asked Uribe Velez to 
fire the country’s 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 Colombia’s 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 Uribe’s 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 Uribe’s 
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, 
Colombia’s 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. Uribe’s 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 Uribe’s 
crisis. His only known poject, is to centralize all of the country’s 
security and intelligence agencies into one agency, with himself as its head.

Needless to say, most of Uribe’s other Ministers and advisers appear to 
fear Moreno - and have banded together against him to prevent him achieving 
his aim.

The Economy

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 Uribe’s 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.

What’s Next?

Uribe’s 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 Party’s 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 
electoral politics.

If Uribismo fails - as it seems to be doing, than the tiny electoral 
opposition could become the only alternative. What this might mean for 
Colombia’s future is anyone’s 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:

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