Colombia’s Killing Fields: Peace is War
By James Petras
August 31, 2015 "Information
Clearing House" -
Colombia has received more US military aid —
over $6 billion dollars in the past decade — than any country in the
Western Hemisphere. For its part, Colombia allowed the Pentagon to
build seven military bases, more than all the other countries in the
region combined. There are over 2,000 US military officers and
private US ‘mercenary’ contractors engaged in military activities in
Colombia – more than any other country in Latin America.
During the decade-long (2001-2010) regime of
President Alvaro Uribe, (a drug trafficker and death squad jefe
in his own right), more than one-thousand trade union leaders and
activists were murdered — over one hundred a year.
Nevertheless, the ‘Colombian killing field’ regime
under Uribe was described in glowing terms by all the major
respectable Anglo-American newspapers, including the Financial
Times, New York Times, Wall Street Journal,
and Washington Post for having brought “stability and
peace” (of the graveyard) to the country and making Colombia “safe
Eventually Uribe’s excesses, his policy of ‘peace
through terror’ policies frightened and appalled many Colombians and
(most important for the oligarchs) he failed to defeat the armed
insurgency When the regime’s new extractive export growth strategy
called for massive expansion of foreign investment in
guerrilla-controlled mineral and oil-rich regions tactics and key
political leaders had to change.
After two terms in office, President Uribe’s
former Defense Minister Juan Santos was elected on the promise of
renewed peace negotiations with the principal guerrilla group, the
Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC.
President Santos’ Peace Negotiations and
the Killing Fields
Under President Santos, Colombia still retains the
title as the most dangerous country in the world for trade union
leaders and human rights activists. During his first 5 years in
office, from 2011 to April 2015, more than 105 trade unionists have
been murdered; 596 have been injured in attacks and 1,337 received
death threats. Over half of the killings, which are officially
labeled ‘unattributed’, have clearly been committed by the
paramilitary hitmen — ‘sicarios’, and others are
categorized as ‘false positives’, where the military claims civilian
deaths result from the ‘cross-fire of combat operations’. Few
arrests have ever been made in a country where assassins enjoy
immunity. Over 80% of trade union leader assassinations are
attributed to paramilitary-military-police while 6% are blamed on
the guerrillas. In the case of the guerrillas, most of the ‘victims’
are not popularly elected trade unionists but agents, appointed by
the employers and government, with links to the paramilitary gangs,
who identify and purge militant workers and have nothing to do with
the defense of workers rights.
There are a minority of cases of guerrilla units
committing human rights violations. These are investigated and the
guilty are punished by the national leaders — a far cry from
Bogota’s policy. A recent case, which took place in early August,
led to severe internal sanctioning of a FARC unit.
The drop in the ‘number’ of labor leaders
murdered, from an average of 100 a year under Uribe to 25 a year
under Santos, is due to the precipitous decline in the number of
trade unionists overall — thanks to a decade of slaughter under
Uribe. In other words, there may be fewer union leaders murdered
under President Santos, but overall the proportion of leaders
assassinated remains essentially the same — and the life expectancy
for a Colombian labor leader is the lowest in the hemisphere!
What has changed under Santos is the shift away
from slaughtering a dwindling number of union leaders, to killing
and jailing human rights and social movement activists.
In 2014, 35 activists were murdered. During the
first half of 2015, the death toll has almost doubled with 69 social
movement and human rights activists killed.
The Patriotic March is the major Colombian
umbrella movement, bringing together over 100 social organizations,
including the country’s major indigenous groups, Afro-Colombians,
regional peasant and human rights groups. More than 9,000 Patriotic
March activists have been arrested and 40 have been killed during
Santos reign of terror.
Peace Negotiations and Cross Border
Santos’ peace negotiations with the main guerrilla
groups, as well as the FARC’s unilateral ceasefire, has allowed the
Colombian military and its paramilitary allies to step up their
cross-border drug and contraband smuggling and terrorist incursions
In mid-August, a Colombian paramilitary squad
entered Venezuela and wounded 3 Venezuelan soldiers who had been
part of a team combating large-scale contraband and arms smuggling
across the Colombian border. Cross-border smuggling has a double
purpose: It creates insecurity and shortages in Venezuela inciting
opposition to the government while earning huge profits for
paramilitary leaders who re-sell the subsidized Venezuelan goods
(food, medicine and gasoline) at a huge mark-up in Colombia.
Cross-border paramilitary-smuggling operations
have vastly increased under President Santos. While the regime
claims to be negotiating a peace accord with the FARC in Havana,
Venezuelan security is under threat.
Large-scale, widespread smuggling gangs from
Colombia enjoy impunity, intelligence and encouragement from the
Colombian government and its US Special Forces ‘advisers’ intent on
‘regime change’ in Caracas. And with the FARC honoring its
unilateral ceasefire, the paramilitaries no longer have to contend
with attacks from the guerrillas.
Peace Negotiations and Extractive Capital
President Santos’ economic policies are attracting
large flows of foreign investment into Colombia’s mining and energy
sector. The oil and mineral-rich regions are heavily influenced by
the armed guerrillas. Furthermore, there is a tradition of militant
trade unionism among miners and oil workers. In order to make these
regions safe and extremely profitable for multinational oil and
mining companies, Santos has adopted a ‘two-pronged’ approach. He
negotiates ceasefires and disarmament with the two insurgent
movements (the FARC and the ELN-the National Liberation Army) in
Havana, while stepping up repression and terror against union
leaders in the oil and mining sectors.
During the Santos’ regime the greatest number of
assassinated trade union leaders have come from the mining and
energy sector (25.4%), followed by the manufacturing (19.3%),
education (18%) and agriculture (12.7%). From 2014 to mid 2015, 90%
of paramilitary and military assaults against civilians have
targeted union leaders and activists (208 out of 229).
In other words, Santos’ strategy has been designed
to neutralize the guerrillas via bogus peace negotiations in Havana
in order to concentrate state repression against mass popular
movement activists and trade unionists, as they struggle to secure a
fairer share of Colombia’s immense natural wealth which is being
pillaged by the gigantic foreign mining and energy companies and
their local oligarch partners.
Under Santos, assassinations and attacks have
become more selective than the indiscriminate mass killings that
characterized his predecessor’s regime. The scorched earth policies
which drove 4 million peasants and small farmers from their lands
have been replaced by the targeted killing and assault of trade
unionists active in strategic economic sectors.
Cross border incursions by the Colombian military
harassing Venezuela border patrols have been replaced by proxy
criminal and paramilitary gangs of smugglers operating with the
blessing of Bogota and Washington.
Santos’ dual strategy allows him to pose as a
‘peacemaker’ in Havana and a ‘hatchet-man’ for foreign investors in
Colombia’s mineral-rich regions.
The assassinations of two dozen trade unionists
per year, the murders of six dozen human rights activists in the
first 6 months of 2015, and the 9,000 social movement activists
rotting in Colombia’s prisons is not reported in the international
mass media, or at international forums, and regional meetings.
Meanwhile, the press concentrates on the ‘peace negotiations’
between the FARC and President Santos in Havana — as if nothing were
happening on the ground in Colombia.
The new policies pursued by President Santos,
which combine peace negotiations with Colombian guerrilla movements
in Havana and violent repression against mass social movements and
labor leaders at home; friendly overtures to Cuba and cross-border
smuggling and destabilization campaigns against Venezuela, do not
bode well for future regional peace or stability.
President Santos’ two-faced policies mirror those
of the Obama regime. While Obama pursues negotiation with Iran, he
wages proxy wars against Iran’s allies in Yemen, Syria and Lebanon.
While, Obama celebrates the re-establishment of diplomatic relations
with Cuba, he intensifies a policy of sabotage and ‘regime change’
with Cuba’s close ally in Venezuela.
The parallels between Santos and Obama’s policies
reflect their common ideology and their political strategy of
talking peace while waging war.
This two track policy brings up the fundamental
strategic question: how durable and reliable are peace gestures in
the midst of proxy wars and mass killing.
With regard to Colombia one thing is certain: The
signing of a “peace agreement” between the Santos regime and the
FARC will not end the killing of trade unionists and human rights
activists; it will not free the thousands of social movement
activists in Colombian prisons. By the same token, Obama’s agreement
with Iran has not reduced US military intervention in the Middle
East and South Asia.
Imperial agreements are temporary expedients. They
represent a brief prelude to new and more virulent aggression
against independent nations and emerging national and class-based
James Petras is author of
Extractive Imperialism in the Americas: Capitalism's New Frontier
(with Henry Veltmeyer) and
The Politics of Empire: The US, Israel and the