News from Colombia is more sombre by the day. The country’s corrupt elite has taken advantage of the international situation, marked by Bush’s prevailing war psychology that those who are not for us are against us, to launch a concerted drive to destroy all their political opponents. Every activist is labelled a subversive.
The ruling powers’ campaign employs official and unofficial actors, legal and illegal methods. The popular social movement is fighting for its very existence against a wave of state and para-state terror. By every index the human rights violations perpetrated against the trade unions and social movements, and against the civilian population at large, have increased to the point of genocide.
The Colombian state justifies its own criminality by the war against terrorism. This assertion needs to be challenged. Colombia’s own neighbours reject the mindset that the FARC and the ELN are terrorist organisations. These two main guerrilla movements have demonstrably deep roots amongst sections of the population who have for decades been murdered whenever they employ democratic methods. There is no peace process, only a charade. Pastrana has extended recognition of the FARC’s main liberated zone, but this is a tactical move. In the meantime the counter insurgency war has been intensified through Plan Colombia. The fumigations have spread to wherever they are a useful weapon in softening up a peasant population suspected of supporting the guerrillas.
It is important to recognise the economic imperatives driving Colombia’s elite to attack its own people, not least to grasp why they are so resistant to humanitarian appeal. For all its special characteristics, Colombia is a laboratory for the neo-liberal project, an example of globalisation in practice. The ruling class and the multinationals alike need to break all significant resistance if they are to turn the country into an export processing zone. And the pacification of Colombia is a vital link in implementing the Free Trade Area of the Americas. Yet neo-liberal policies, average incomes collapsing 30% in four years, are bound to generate class response. The state’s project is to identify and snuff out any focus of protest, and to do it in a way that terrorises by example. Trade unions, peasant organisations, all social movements are on the list. Globalisation has led to state sponsored fascism.
Enter the paramilitaries. Colombians look to Cordoba and the Atlantic coast, to many small towns in Antioquia, and now to South Bolívar and to Barrancabermeja, and they can see what it is like to live under paramilitary control. They can see that unless they struggle now, unless the people are mobilised to resist, they will fall. Colombians with a social conscience are working under extremely dangerous and difficult circumstances of state repression. No popular, democratic, let alone leftwing political movement has ever been tolerated in Colombia. There are fewer and fewer formal democratic opportunities. The Social and Political Front that is standing in next year’s presidential elections is extremely concerned for the life of its candidate, Lucho Garzon, former President of the CUT trade union federation.
Many international NGOs have declared they are leaving, Colombia is too dangerous for them to operate. But how more dangerous is it for Colombians? Now more than ever the Colombian people need humanitarian aid. More positively there have been at least four international delegations recently – the US Steelworkers, social organisations from Canada, our own delegation and the International Caravan – based on the idea of direct contact with people involved in trade unions and social movements. This marks an important change, enriching the concept of humanitarian support. The two common themes emerging strongly from these delegations have been: commitment to accompaniment, keeping close and real links with our Colombian brothers and sisters on the front line; and the need to mobilise public opinion to create active solidarity movements in our home countries.
This is our challenge as a Campaign, and the challenge we present to every reader. Once you have read this bulletin, make the decision to get involved. Help organise protests on 10th December. Come to our February conference. Your efforts will make a difference.