Whether it is a war against drugs, whether civilian or military, declared or undeclared, regular or irregular, urban or rural, whatever form it takes, the war in Colombia is a class war. And one of the biggest problems that prevents this war’s solution is the refusal of the upper class to accept that they are engaged in class war.
Two years ago the Colombian humorist and comedian Jaime Garzón addressed
communication students at the university in Cali. He spoke of a ‘dominant layer’ that is running the country in its own interests, and in which Colombians must find the explanation of their conflict. Two months later GarzÛn was assassinated. He had the same fate as the liberal leader Jorge EliÈcer Gaitan who was assassinated on 9th April l948 for his struggle against the liberal and conservative oligarchy who caused the misery of the majority of Colombians.
Historically Colombia has been administered as if it were the private estate of the upper class. This class was formed out of the families descended from the foreign immigrants who, with the help of the governments or the economic groups of their mother countries, had acquired positions of privilege from which to better serve their mentors. The Spanish colonists came first. Then it was the English and the French. And then came immigrants from the USA, Italy, Lebanon, Israel, Germany, Syria and many other countries. Through several generations this layer has concentrated political and economic power. This concentration is to the detriment of the majority of Colombians who are the mixed race descendants of the indigenous people, black slaves brought from Africa, and other immigrants from poor countries, or from countries with less social status than the capitalist countries.
Given the innumerable resources that they possess in Colombia, the voracity of the rich does not seem to have any limits. They have mounted civil wars amongst themselves many times, where the poor have carried out the worst part and suffered the greatest number of victims. There have also been wars when the rich have wanted to eliminate the poor so as to impose their hegemony, so that the poor have been obliged to rise up in arms with such a fury that the rich had to resort to a dirty war to crush the uprising. At other times the international bourgeoisie and imperialism have come to their aid to defeat the poor.
Contrary to what is argued in propaganda, it is clear then that the Colombian guerillas are a consequence of social injustice and they are not the cause of the current conflict.
Even though they do not have the backing of the entire population, it is true that the guerillas encapsulate the aspirations of many sectors that have been marginalised and victimised throughout history.
The Masters Of Power
The British weekly "The Economist", in a special report published on 2l April demonstrates that since l930 Colombian governments have been led by one or other of a handful of families. The LÛpez, LLeras and Pastrana families have each had two governments. These families act like dynasties sharing between themselves the principal means of power.
The daily "El Tiempo", which has the biggest circulation and national influence, is the property of the family of the current Finance Minister, Juan Manuel Santos. Santos has presidential aspirations and is a descendant of the former president Eduardo Santos. "El Espectador", the second most important newspaper, is the property of the Santodomingo group, but it is led by Carlos Lleras de la Fuente, son of ex-president Carlos Lleras Restrepo. And then there is the most prominent case which is current President Andres Pastrana A, who is the son of ex-president Misael Pastrana B, brother of the editor of "La Prensa" newspaper and is the owner of a private television channel that has been awarded the state franchise by the government.
In spite of the permanent state of violence, the Colombian people have an unshakeable vocation for peace, a desire which the minority who controls power have always manipulated. The elite has diverted attention away from the true origins of the conflict, proposing partial solutions such as ‘Peace Processes’, elections, a Constituent Assembly, referenda etc. From Belisario Betancourt onwards, Colombian presidents have agitated the words of peace, they have drawn doves, they have waved white handkerchiefs, held marches, proposed plans like "Plan Colombia". Meanwhile the rivers of blood have increased in volume, and the chasm that separates the rich and the poor has grown ever deeper. So it is interesting to hear the words of philosophy professor Ernest Tugendhat from Berlin University who, in his visit to Medellin at the beginning of April, said that "the solution of the conflict in Colombia does not lie in the search for peace at any price".
Drugs, the Rich and the Poor
The drug bonanza has strengthened the upper class. Even though in public they wash their hands and criticise narco trafficking, in private they facilitate the whole infrastructure such as the banks, businesses in the export trade, transport, ranches, properties, friendships, influence etc so that the business prospers while they are able their status as the dominant class.
The paramilitary phenomenon which Colombia is enduring is the result of a strategy of the Colombian state oriented by the USA. But it is also the development of the phenomenon of expansion and control by the dominant class fed by the drugs trade, which now has all the economic, political and military power to assert its own hegemonic project. That is why it is unleashing its class struggle against the peasants, workers and poor of Colombia. And that is why drug dealers like Pablo Escobar who came from common stock are dead, while other drug dealers are alive and free such as the Ochoa from Medellin and Carlos CastaÒo whose families are amongst the big landowners of Antioquia and Uraba.
The Military Command
Even though the majority of Colombian troops are drawn from the peasantry and working class, the commanders of the armed forces are always of bourgeois extraction and that is why they so obsessively defend the privileges of their masters, for they are also their own. The officers of the army, the navy, the air force and the police are not in the front line where they might suffer injuries or die. They lead the war from their barracks. Colombian officers have been trained in the 700 courses that they attend in the USA and Europe every year. They receive a dividend from the business of buying and selling arms and military equipment, they get commissions from the domestic economic groups and the multinationals, they have numerous properties and private security companies, they come into pensions at an early age. Even though they enjoy immunity from being judged for their crimes in the civilian justice system, there are cases when they have to leave their posts at which point they dedicate themselves full time to the paramilitaries, or they become military attaches in a Colombian embassy somewhere around the world.
The Key to the Conflict
A little while ago the journalist Mauricio Gomez, son of assassinated presidential candidate Alvaro Gomez and grandson of ex-president Laureano Gomez, said that "the most extraordinary thing about Colombia is that it is a civil war where the factions are not defined". This is a typical explanation given by Colombian ‘experts’ and international analysts friendly with the government, or those who speak to the people on its behalf.
But the reality is that the two factions are well defined. On the one side are the rich with a clear strategy of power, held up by the hand of the USA. And on the other side are the poor who, it must be recognised, are confused between the necessity to live in dignity and their aspirations for an immediate peace. These two aspirations, peace and dignity, are perfectly compatible, but the enemies of the poor want to represent them as being antagonistic.
The importance of what happens in Colombia is that it is the reflection of the same problems in which the whole of Latin America lives; and for that reason whose struggle is also against North American imperialism which is not disposed to abandon the national bourgeoisies to their fate, nor even less to let the poor of the south raise themselves up in dignity and rage against the rich of the north.