[Marxism] Democracy Now on FARC: was Petras's criticism of Fidel

Mike Friedman mikedf at amnh.org
Thu Jul 10 11:17:05 MDT 2008


As Freed US Contractors Speak Out, a Look at the FARC, Colombian
Paramilitary Groups and the Generals Being Feted for the Hostage Rescue

Three American military contractors freed from the Colombian jungle have
spoken out against their former captors, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of
Colombia, or FARC. Marc Gonsalves, Thomas Howes and Keith Stansell were
among the fifteen hostages, including the French Colombian politician
Ingrid Betancourt, rescued in an elaborate military operation last week in
a major blow to the FARC. We host a roundtable discussion with Mario
Murillo, author of Colombia and the United States; Michael Evans of the
Colombia Documentation Project; and Manuel Rozental, a Colombian physician
and human rights activist living in Canada following several threats on
his life.


AMY GOODMAN: We turn now to the three American military contractors freed
from the Colombian jungle, speaking out against their former captors, the
Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC—Marc Gonsalves, Thomas
Howes and Keith Stansell, among the fifteen hostages, including the French
Colombian politician Ingrid Betancourt, who was rescued in an elaborate
military operation last week. The Colombian government says it managed to
infiltrate FARC command and fool the rebels into thinking they were
transferring the hostages to another location.

On Monday, the three Americans spoke publicly for the first time since
their release. Marc Gonsalves called his former FARC captors “terrorists”
and urged them to release hundreds of remaining hostages.

The freed Americans are employees of the military firm Northrop Grumman.
They have been captured—they were captured in 2003 after their
surveillance plane crashed in the Colombian jungle.

The rescue operation was widely seen as a major blow to the FARC. The
fifteen freed prisoners were the most high-profile of hundreds the FARC
had held in hopes of securing the release of captured rebels and achieving
other political demands. The group has already been depleted by the deaths
of three senior leaders this year and a series of defections.

Criticism of FARC has come from all sides. Indigenous, peasant and human
rights groups have denounced FARC’s kidnappings and armed operations and
said they also deflect attention from government abuses.

I’m joined now by three guests. Here in the firehouse, Mario Murillo,
professor of communications at Hofstra University, a producer at Pacifica
radio station WBAI here in New York, author of the book Colombia and the
United States: War, Terrorism and Destabilization, currently finishing
another book on the indigenous movement in Colombia and its popular use of
the media in community organizing. Also, in Washington, D.C., I’m joined
by Michael Evans, director of the Colombia Documentation Project at the
National Security Archive. And on the line from New Brunswick, Canada,
Manuel Rozental. He’s a Colombian physician, human rights activist and
member of the Association of Indigenous Councils of Northern Cauca in
Colombia. He fled to Canada in 2005 following several threats on his life.

Mario, you have been writing about what happened, and now there’s serious
questions, Swiss reports of whether in fact this was staged, whether $20
million wasn’t paid in ransom for these prisoners by the Colombian


MARIO MURILLO: Right. There’s a lot of questions, actually, because
there’s three different versions. Unfortunately, the official version is
the one that’s getting the most play, and obviously Alvaro Uribe is
getting a lot of political mileage out of it. And that’s, of course, this
dramatic rescue operation that you described in the introduction.

There’s two other reports. The one that you just alluded to from the
French—Swiss radio—public radio service, that—based on high sources that
the reporters had, saying that one of the wives of one of the guards, one
of the FARC rebels who was involved in securing and maintaining security
around the hostages, was in constant contact and made this arrangement for
a $20 million ransom pay. And that’s from one report.

Another report, which probably is a lot more feasible if this—you know, I
haven’t gotten deeper in that one, but the other report is that the
Colombian government actually took advantage of a diplomatic effort that
was already underway for a long time by the former French consul in
Bogota, as well as a leading Swiss diplomat who was in Colombia, and they
were making arrangements, and they even got the green light from the
Colombian government. It was in the Spanish daily, El Pais, when the
president, Colombian president, actually announced that, yeah, this
interchange, this dialogue, was actually proceeding. And it turns out,
apparently, according to this report, that the Colombian government
intercepted the helicopters that were on their way, so it wasn’t really a
high infiltration operation that was in the highest levels of the FARC
commanders. The FARC were actually turning the folks over to specifically
this delegation led by these two diplomats, and apparently the Colombian
government kind of took, you know, a right turn and got a lot of political
mileage as a result.

A lot of questions are still around what happened, but unfortunately, as I
said, the official story is the one that’s getting out the most.


AMY GOODMAN: That is the quote of the man, the American contractor, who
was captured, Gonsalves, speaking yesterday—Marc Gonsalves—in San Antonio.
Let’s begin with you, Mario. Your thoughts?

MARIO MURILLO: Well, first of all, he said a lot of things, so we can
comment on a lot of things, obviously. One of the things being the fact of
the terrible conditions in which these hostages are held is something that
obviously nobody could really argue about. It’s unjust, and everybody from
Fidel Castro to Hugo Chavez to many other people around the world have
been demanding the FARC turn these folks over.

But he also says a lot of things that kind of whitewash the situation.
First of all, I think it’s very important, one of the tragedies of this
whole thing is that we will never get to the bottom of what Gonsalves and
his so-called contractors were doing in Colombia. We have to recall that
he was—first of all, the fact that his plane went down—the official record
says it was an accident and they went down in the jungles, although the
FARC had claimed initially that they shot it down.

We also have to point out that to use the term “hostages” in their
case—not to justify that they were held for five years, by no stretch of
the imagination—but to use the term “hostages” is very problematic in the
context in which they were operating in southern Colombia. They were there
in 2003, two years—a year and a half after President Bush already
authorized US servicemen and contractors to conduct counterinsurgency, not
counter-drug operations. That was in the heart of where the FARC were
operating, in Caqueta and in the southern part of the country. So we will
never get to the bottom of what exactly these folks were doing down
there—again, not to justify, but I think that’s one of the many questions
that are left unsaid.

And then, finally, his last comments there about what Uribe’s proposals
are really are optimistic, if not completely naive. He doesn’t seem to
understand that Uribe’s strategy is not to dialogue with the FARC. His
intention is to totally dismantle them. He does not recognize them as a
belligerent force. And the argument that they’re terrorists, which
Gonsalves here is arguing, is something that Uribe has embraced to the
detriment of any possibility of dialogue for long-lasting peace in

AMY GOODMAN: Let me turn to Manuel Rozental. Your response right now, as a
man who has fled Colombia, a physician, a human rights activist, now
living in Canada, hearing the description of the FARC and also talking
about the Uribe government? It’s interesting that Ingrid Betancourt,
perhaps the most well-known hostage, who has now returned to France—said
she may run for president again, in fact ran against Uribe—said Colombian
President Alvaro Uribe should soften his tone when dealing with FARC
guerrillas. She urged Uribe to break with the language of hatred. Manuel?

MANUEL ROZENTAL: Yes. Hi, Amy. Indeed, it’s very interesting. I, first of
all, have to say, like I think almost every Colombian, that we were
absolutely elated by the liberation of Ingrid and that her condition is
good, and one cannot downplay that. Regardless of how it was achieved, it
was fantastic that she was released unharmed and that all the other ones
were, as well.

Also, what Mario was saying, they were really fourteen prisoners of war
and one hostage released. The fourteen prisoners of war, mistreated,
abused, and I’m also glad, as everybody, that they’re free.

And in fact, I would say, knowing Ingrid before she was kidnapped, and
precisely two or three days before she was kidnapped by FARC, she actually
met with FARC commanders, including Raul Reyes, and said directly that she
demanded a gesture of goodwill from FARC in order for peace to be achieved
in Colombia. And her almost exact words were “Your gesture of goodwill has
to be no more kidnapping in Colombia, and then, otherwise, if you don’t do
that gesture, if you don’t carry it out, then Colombia will explode into a
spiral of disaster, and you will lose all credibility.” So I think that
background is essential, because just a couple of days after she says
that, she’s kidnapped by the very people she demands that gesture from.

But I think it’s very important to put the whole thing into context.
First, the Uribe government has peaked in popularity but also has reached
a bottom in terms of illegitimacy. It was condemned just a few days before
this operation of liberation was carried out because of buying out votes
from congress to achieve re-election in a fraudulent way. Uribe’s
administration is also linked to death squads, and so are the members of a
coalition that led him to win the elections twice and high officials in
government, including the secret police. So we’re talking about the regime
with the worst human rights record in the continent and the army with the
worst human rights record in the continent with the greatest US support,
including the contractors or mercenaries that Mario was talking about. So
the fact that this regime was involved in this liberation does not and
should not and cannot cover up the fact that it is a horrendous regime.

So, the main point I’d like to make here beyond the discussion as to
whether FARC or the government, which one is worse or which one is
legitimate, the main point here is an SOS for the popular movements and
organizations and the people of Colombia who right now, with the
validation of Uribe’s regime, are at the greatest risk of continuing to be
or even worsening the human rights records and abuses.

And to put this into perspective, there is a major plan in progress within
Colombia and from Colombia with US support and for corporate interests to
take over resources and wealth in territories in Colombia and, from there,
to launch a war or a major conflict in the Andean region. That agenda is
going to advance even further, after—if Uribe gets away with the
legitimization of his regime after the liberation of Ingrid.

So, to go back to where I started, if Ingrid was the same Ingrid that was
kidnapped by FARC, the one that denounced corruption of the government and
launched a presidential campaign, she would be saying what I’m saying now.
You cannot legitimate a corrupt regime for profit because you have
liberated somebody. In fact, the person they’ve liberated fought against
that corruption, and we hope she’ll do it again.


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