Colombia: Drugs, Gold And Revolution
Colombia is one of the last places in Latin America where the US continues to maintain a heavy-handed foothold and influence. That means four things: 1) selling the government all kinds of guns and killing equipment so it can continue its war on its own people, funneling billions of dollars into US weapon makers’ pockets; 2) exploiting their cheap labor, while making sure it stays cheap; 3)imposing austerity measures on the people which means eliminating social programs for the poor and raising taxes on them so the government can afford its payments to US bankers and arms manufacturers; 4) working against democracy and workers’ rights to prevent higher wages that could cut into corporate profits.
Since the 1960’s, the US has been arming, training and funding the Colombian military to prevent an ongoing revolution which has resulted in the death of tens of thousands of people, mostly from the poor. Unlike in Syria, where US backed “rebels” have been getting heavy arms, money, training, communication gear and intelligence from the CIA, as well as from Gulf kingdoms, especially Saudi Arabia and Qatar, and who have been given refuge in Turkey near the Syrian border where they can easily slip out and slip back in with arms and ammunition, and whom the Turkish government calls “guests” and prevents journalists from visiting their camps, the revolutionary forces in Colombia have had no one to turn to or get help from and had to carry on their revolution against US supplied Apache helicopters, which can obliterate an entire area in a single attack, such that when they leave, there is not even a cat or dog left alive. But, despite all that, at one time, the rebels controlled almost 40% of the country, and despite the billions of dollars spent each year by the US to try to eliminate the revolutionary forces, using all the weapons and missiles and helicopter gunship they can throw at them, they have achieved a stalemate, at best. Oh yeah, I almost forgot: UN tried to create a no-fly zone to protect the peasants from government’s aerial attacks and the European Union called off their ambassadors in protest and Obama and Clinton called for regime change and CNN kept telling us how the government was killing its own people! Yes sure! Not only did they not do any of that, the US, under both Republican and Democratic administrations, has continued to give aid and weapons to the government, as they do in Yemen, Bahrain and elsewhere.
The roots of the revolutionary movement goes back to 1948 when a populist political leader, Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, was assassinated with the help of the CIA. It took off in the aftermath of US-backed military attacks on peasant communities in rural areas in the 1960s that led Liberal and Communist militants to re-organize into FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia). As the US held back the revolution by their direct and indirect military intervention, the few wealthy families who, like in so many other Central and South American countries, own the vast majority of the wealth (the number of such families would be in the order of a dozen or so, such as 14 in El Salvador), were able to organize and finance paramilitary forces – mercenary death squads who cooperate with the national army – which like the ones in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, were tasked with targeting and assassinating anyone who identified with or supported the revolutionary movement, including trade unionists, journalists, writers and other intellectuals and workers – all with direct and indirect help and support from the CIA.
Colombia happens to have the highest rate of assassination of trade unionists in the world. When they learn about a union meeting, the right wing paramilitaries and CIA organized death squads raid the meeting and shower them with bullets. The vast majority of such killings go “unsolved”. Officially, these death squads are not directed or supported by the Colombian military, but they’re as unrelated to the country’s army as US private security forces in Iraq and Afghanistan are to US military. Not surprisingly, the weapons for all these mercenaries come from the US! Now, that’s what I call: “Exhibit A”.
The high number of assassinations of trade unionists in Colombia is so embarrassing for the US which considers the regime a close friend and ally in the “war on terror”, I mean “war on drugs” – whatever – that during the presidency of George W. Bush, some Democrats in Congress tried to condition US trade with Colombia which is done under the infamous neoliberal “Free Trade Agreements”, on the government taking steps to lower such embarrassing statistics – yes, just lowering somewhat. Apparently, eliminating them was too much to ask of an ally. Well, they didn’t succeed and their hope (more like pretense of a hope?) was that they would under Obama, especially when the Democrats controlled not only the White House, but both houses of Congress. Well, if you’ve been paying attention, you’d know that Obama agreed with (or as his supporters would say, was “pressured” into) ignoring that demand and signing the latest FTA agreement with Colombia which he did two years ago and again last year, without such a condition, just as he was “pressured” into signing the infamous National Defense Authorization Act which authorizes the military (that’s what the word “Authorization” refers to) to detain anyone indefinitely and without a charge or trial or legal representation and without visitation rights for the family or even admitting to holding him or her. Yes, Obama can never sign a bad law. If he does, he must have been pressured into it, just as he is pressured into escalating the military aid to Israel and vetoing even a criticism of their illegal settlements and land grabs. Stealing land to US policy makers not only is not illegal, it’s worthy of a reward in the form of increasing aid!
The pretext in Colombia for the massive US intervention has two of the three words of the other infamous pretext we’ve come to know: “war on terror”. Yes, this one is called “war on drugs”. The US and its client regime have been accusing the FARC of being involved in drug trafficking in order to finance their operations.
Yes, there have been coca and marijuana farming and trades, but that is due to the high demand and price paid for it to the farmers in the supposedly illegal market which the government supported paramilitary forces – not FARC – have been involved in. Besides, US invasion of Afghanistan not only did not eliminate opium farming, it increased it, and as far as I know, there are no FARC fighters in Afghanistan.
Lately, however, there’s been a shift: the US must now rename its intervention in Colombia to “War on Gold”. You see, the Colombian government is now accusing FARC of being involved in unlicensed and illegal mining of gold to support their operations. Since the price of gold shot up recently, many unemployed workers flooded the mines where gold was known to exist and using low-tech methods and tools and a bulldozer they rent collectively, started mining gold, which though is not making any of them rich, is providing them enough to support their families. But, that wasn’t to be! Enter multinational corporations – yes, these giant “persons” (remember what Romney called them?) – have come in and bought from the state (not to be confused with the public) entire areas known to contain gold. And the government promptly, under the order of these corporations, most notably, Canada’s Gran Colombia Gold, has declared mining by villagers, who live on the very same hills where the mines are located, illegal! So far, they have raided hundreds of such mines, arresting the villagers. Gran Colombia Gold, according to villagers interviewed by National Geographic last year, pays the paramilitary mercenaries to assassinate villagers who get in the way of the company. In their interview with NatGeo, FARC leaders defended their involvement and said it was to help the villagers against “foreign multinational corporations”.
I think it’s worth repeating here, as I’ve often done in my writings, that no country has done as much to obstruct democracy in the name of democracy and prevented freedom in the name of freedom and destroyed lives in the name of protecting them as has the US – not the Roman Empire, not the Ottoman Empire, not the Mongols and not even the British, which must make 19th Century historians who thought no one could outdo the British, turn in their graves. When the CIA overthrew the democratically elected government of Dr. Mohammad Mossadegh (who had nationalized the oil industry), and subsequently put the Shah back on the throne, the operation went relatively easily and cheaply. Same in Guatemala the next year (1954) followed by others in Africa (1960’s), Chile (1973) and others in Asia. In other countries, smashing the revolution took tens of thousands of lives to accomplish. In El Salvador, for example, over 60,000 lost their lives, and a similar number in Guatemala and somewhat less in Honduras. In others, such as Viet Nam, Korea, Iraq and Afghanistan, the intervention for the long term interests of giant corporations has taken a large scale war, killing hundreds of thousands and even millions and leveling entire countries. In Colombia, the conflict has been one of stalemate, with equally devastating results.
There is a common thread through all these cases: US and its imperialist allies intervene in any way possible and with all means necessary on behalf of their multinational corporations in any country they can; and when they do, they invariably install a regime that takes its orders from the colonial bosses and protects not the interests of the local population, but those of the foreign corporations. We living in the belly of the beast must understand that these interventions and wars are not for us the 99% and in fact end up harming us as they do our oppressed and impoverished brothers and sisters overseas and must therefore stand in solidarity with them. We must understand that their struggle is ours and ours theirs. Only by building a strong solidarity across borders can we reach global justice and peace. And if you think this is all academic, think again; these wars and interventions have a direct affect on the lives of the people here.