Horacio Serpa Uribe, the candidate for the Liberal Party in this year’s Colombian Presidential election, made a flying visit to London in November, ostensibly to meet those essential allies of potential Colombian Presidents – BP.
He spent a full day in meetings with the directors of BP’s Latin American operations, but found time for lunch and a brief speech at Canning House. Serpa, who the lead the polls at 40%, spoke on the theme of “New perspectives for Colombia in the new century.”
The speech itself contained no new perspectives, but relied on the repetition of the usual lies and half truths that characterise official explanations of the dire situation faced by Colombians. His speech started thus, “When foreign politicians and businessmen visit Colombia, they always ask two questions- ‘What are we doing to counter drug trafficking?’ and, ‘What are we doing to counter the guerrilla?’ ” He then spoke for about 20 minutes, focussing exclusively on the problems of drug trafficking and the guerrilla and of his plans to end the peace process with the FARC. He made not a single reference to the paramilitaries or to any of the human rights violations that they commit (which, according to the UN make up 80% of Colombia’s annual total).
The brief question and answer session that followed did field two questions on paramilitarism, firstly what plans Serpa has to dismantle paramilitary groups and secondly about links between the paras, the army and the police. Serpa looked suitably apologetic for not having mentioned them in the first place, but judging by his lack of plans to combat paramilitary violence, it is clearly not a topic anywhere near the top of his agenda. On the second question he conceded that certain individual soldiers and policeman have personal involvement with paramilitarism, but denied that there was any ‘institutional’ links between state forces and illegal armed groups.
Other questions sought assurances for the safety of foreign capital in Colombia, but the majority focussed on a single issue, that of the implications for armed opposition groups in Colombia, in the wake of the revenge attacks against the Pentagon and WTC on September 11th . This was indeed a new perspective, and a particularly worrying one for Colombians. After a recent anti war demonstration in Bogotá, the Colombian government ridiculed protesters who suggested that Colombia might be the next target after Afghanistan, but nonetheless, Serpa seemed keen to explore the possibilities. Jeremy Thorpe, ex ambassador to Colombia, asked what significance 11th September had for illegal groups in Colombia and what could the international alliance do to help? Other questions from Foreign Office and big business representatives included “what is the significance of Irish terrorists in Colombia?” and “Do other international terrorist groups operate in Colombia?”. He replied in the affirmative, claiming “The FARC are an international terrorist organisation”.
When asked however, if foreign troops were already fighting in Colombia, he worryingly replied that he did not know.
While everyone knows that the hawks in the White House are openly discussing expanding their “war on terrorism” to include not only Iraq, Yemen and Somalia, but also the Philippines and Colombia, it is particularly worrying to hear representatives of the multinationals and the Foreign Office, in private at least, sanctioning foreign military intervention against a popular insurgency that has never carried out a single action outside the borders of the country that it is trying to liberate from one of the most corrupt and brutal regimes in the world. How long before Bush abandons completely his flimsy rhetoric about the war on drugs, and we see a full scale and readily admitted counter insurgency war. The USA has long done exactly what it likes in what it arrogantly refers to as its “back yard”, and with BP (Angie Hunter and all) likely to support such a war, don’t expect Tony Blair to fulfil his promise not to send British troops to anywhere but Afghanistan. With Bush, BP and Serpa onside, most of the pieces of the puzzle are in place, and an international war against the Colombian people is a real possibility.