Forwarded from Anthony (Colombia update--May 2003)

Louis Proyect lnp3 at
Wed May 7 15:50:44 MDT 2003

A. The 'big news'

1. The killings of ten prisoners of the FARC, including the Governor of
Antioquia and the former Minister of Defense, during a failed rescue
attempt by the Colombian armed forces on Monday May 5 has taken the wind
out of the sails of the movement for a humanitarian exchange of prisoners
between the FARC and the Colombian government.(Sever of the other eight
killed were non-commissioned military officers, one was a lieutenant. Three
other soldiers held prisoners survived, two with serious wounds.)

2. The FARC's political offensive for an exchange had gathered the support
and interest of other political forces, in part because the families of
some of the influential prisoners, were pressuring politicians in and out
of Colombia to make the exchange.

3. President Alvaro Uribe Velez's answer was to attempt a 'rescue mission'
which was almost certain to 'fail' and result in the deaths of the prisoners.

4. Many of the prisoners family's blame Uribe for the death's. None of the
prisoners' families were consulted about the rescue beforehand. Many had
begged the government NOT to attempt a rescue in the months preceding the
event, fearing that their loved ones would be killed.

5. The two political leaders killed had been captured by the FARC when they
led a 'peace' march into FARC controlled territory in Antioquia. The two
men were political opponents of Uribe who favored a negotiated settlement
of Colombia's civil war. Governor Guillermo Gaviria even styled himself a
pacifist and a follower of Ghandi and martin Luther King.

6. Whatever the true intentions of the government may have been, the
'failed rescue' has been a political victory for Uribe. Even those who view
Uribe and the military as being in part responsible - through a poorly
executed plan, or by way of a maliciously intentional plan to use the FARC
to assassinate establishment opponents - still see the FARC as murderers.
The deaths at one blow remove two establishment opponents of Uribe, destroy
the momentum for a prisoner exchange, and strengthen Uribe's hand for his
efforts to 'win the war'.

7. Whether or not the 'rescue attempt' aimed at causing the deaths of the
prisoners can not be known for sure, but circumstantial evidence points
strongly in that direction.

During the last year the government's specialized rescue squads have
rescued more than 600 people held prisoner by the FARC, ELN,
paramilitaries, or common criminals. Only one person died in those efforts.
That rescue team is trained to act only when it has full knowledge of the
situation, in stealth, and only when it has both the element of surprise
and superior numbers.

This team, the Gaula, was not used in this 'failed rescue' - despite the
fact that it was the most politically sensitive rescue ever attempted.

Instead army rapid deployment troops mobilized in helicopters were used.
According to the soldiers who survived, as reported in the Colombian press,
when the FARC soldiers heard the helicopters hovering near, they were
ordered to kill all of their prisoners.

Why Uribe Velez and his generals chose to by-pass the Gaula, and send in
the helicopter born troops is one unanswered question which is likely to
come up again and again.

The timing of the 'rescue' is also interesting. Support for a humanitarian
exchange had reached the 50% level in local polls, and had gained the
support of a large segment of the Colombian Congress, many local
politicians, and the United Nations.

Uribe Velez was at a ceremony honoring the formation of one of four new
high mountain battalions - designed to fight in the desolate high reaches
of the Andes often controlled by the FARC and ELN - when the news of the
rescue broke. The rescue attempt - symbolically linked to the new offensive
battalions - was clearly Uribe's answer to the movement for the prisoner
exchange. His speech to the new mountain battalion rejected any prisoner
exchange under conditions others than those dictated by Uribe.

B. The crisis in Uribe's government.

This incident has only bought time for Uribe.

His government has failed, or is failing, at every single one of its
initiatives. His planned anti-democratic referendum has never happened
because of opposition within t he ruling class - and probably will never be
put to a vote or implemented. His efforts to get Colombia signed on to the
Free Trade of the Americas Agreement - or alternatively to sign a bilateral
free trade agreement with the USA - have failed, the first because of the
opposition of big Colombian agriculture, the second because George Bush and
friends laughed the proposal out of the White House.

His military and police offensive against the FARC and ELN, despite causing
losses to guerrilla forces, have failed to defeat or even significantly
setback the guerrilla armies. FARC losses from all sources - killed,
captured, defected - may be as high as 2,000 but the FARC still fields
around 17,000 armed fighters according to the mass media.

His attempt to extend the state of emergency and extension of sweeping
anti-democratic police powers to the government was defeated when the
Supreme Court vetoed it.

Uribe Velez's popularity in the cities is beginning to fall, although it is
still high. However, his popularity in the highest reaches of the ruling
class of Colombia has fallen much faster than it has among the petty
bourgeois, workers and common people. This is the crux of the growing
political crisis in Colombia. The ruling class is casting about for an
alternative to Uribe. Although he may make it to the next election, his
political strategy probably will not.

C. The FARC and ELN. The FARC, and to a lesser extent the ELN, have been
forced to retreat from efforts to organize in the city's, and to return to
the most difficult areas of the country. The still retain freedom of
movement in the high mountains, tropical savannas, and jungle regions which
make up as much as 60% of Colombia's land area.

Neither of them has significant popular support in the cities, though both
maintain popular support in some rural areas. How much is hard to say,
since the government has aggressively tried to gain information on
guerrilla sympathizers, and to arrest them.

Neither appears to have any strategy to change this situation. The FARC and
ELN maintain their armed forces and contniue to carry out miiltary actions.
Most of the FARCs actions are either offensive actions against the
paramilitaries - at which they are very effective, attacks against
infrastructure - which have decreased significantly in the last six months,
and actions aimed at maintaining the financial securrity of the FARC or
ELN- arrests/kidnappings, tax collection/extortion, tax
collection/robberies, and actions related to the drug business. Neither the
FARC nor the ELN have mounted major attacks directly ont he armed forces in
recent months.

The capture of high profile prisoners has become virtually the only visible
'political' strategy of the FARC. Those prisoners included the now dead
Governor of Antioquia and his adviser the former Minister of Defense, and
still include three US spooks, the former Green Presidential candidate
Ingrid Betancourt, 12 Departmental Deputies from Cali, assorted local
politicians and former Congress people, and hundreds of army officers and

The political aim of this effort is outwardly to achieve a new prisoner
exchange, with the FARC releasing their prisoners in return for the
government's release of FARC militants. But the FARC also seems to be
trying to find some avenue to revive wider peace negotiations, and to
obtain some new grant of a 'despeje' or demilitarized zone.

Tied to this are the very weak efforts of the FARC to conduct propaganda,
limited almost entirely to the internet. FARC proposals for new peace
talks, for a new despeje, etc. never reach even the minority of petty
bourgeois and wealthy Colombians who are online.

Time's up


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