For the moment, and only for the moment the purchase of warplanes with which Petro and Márquez hoped to cuddle up to the military, leaving aside the basic needs of the Colombians has collapsed.
But Petro and Márquez have not given up the ghost. So, they bought the Barak MX air defence system.(1) It is a system for defence against aerial and missile attacks. We don’t know who the enemies that the country has are, nor who they hope to use this system against, but they bought it.
To cap it all, they manufacturer is Israel, as if the country hadn’t had enough of the Zionist state’s interference.
It is worth remembering that it was Israeli mercenaries at the request of the then Colombian government who trained paramilitary groups in the Magdalena Medio region in the 1980s.
Though really, if you wanted to buy death, there are no angels in the market. The main suppliers of weapons to Colombia are the USA and the European Union, i.e. the butchers of Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen and other recent wars.
Colombia’s military expenditure is significant, accounting for around 3.4% of GDP in 2021, i.e. 10.006 million dollars (constant prices of 2020).(2)
We have to go back as far as 1995 to find a year in which military expenditure was less than 3% of GDP, though in that year it represented 14.8% of the national budget. It was almost always above 10% of the total budget.
Israeli sales to Colombia are not new. All governments have bought arms from Israel, except Duque’s. The purchase by Petro and Márquez is another sign that they have no intention of breaking with the past, with the military or any sector the bourgeoisie.
A progressive government would not buy an air defence system to protect against an imaginary enemy. The country needs more pencils, stethoscopes and less missiles. But Petro and Márquez are determined to please the military.
In all their press conferences the military turn up, Petro and Márquez have not broken with that practice, more suited to a military dictatorship, that not even the Biden government does.
The military pose as statues or caricatures of The Simpsons in press conferences, regardless of the topic, but Petro and Márquez want them by their side.
They talk a lot about total peace, and a change, but a civil government feels the need to put the military besides them at every turn and never misses a chance to waste the health and education budget etc. on weapons.
Gearóid Ó Loingsigh looks at the new government in Colombia and how it talks of peace while increasing militarisation. English language version first published in Redline, 24th November, reprinted with kind permission of author.
(Reading time: 8 mins.)
The Petro–Márquez government is one which proposes to bring us to what they term Total Peace.
The term and the proposal as such have been subjected to justifiable criticism, not least because it places the insurgency of the ELN on the same footing as armed drug trafficking groups.
But there is another aspect of their government that calls upon us to reflect on what Petro – Márquez understand as peace and a demilitarized society that breaks with the past and the present of a repressive state where the answer to everything is a military response.
A first step would be to remove the military from civilian settings. But Petro has already made statements that indicate that neither he nor Márquez think that.
Shortly after taking on the presidency, he declared that the answer to deforestation of the Amazon was not only military, but Yankee.
In their electoral campaign their proposal was different, they did not talk about the military anywhere, but rather of democracy, autonomy, measures against drug trafficking and money laundering.
We will stop the deforestation and the burning of the jungle. We will dismantle the engines of deforestation, amongst them: displacement of the unemployed and landless peasants from the interior of the country towards the Amazon; land grabbers and promoters of extensive cattle ranching and other monocultures; corruption in public bodies; laundering of foreign currency through the purchase of deforested land, a by-product of drug trafficking and corruption; the uncontrolled extraction of wood etc.
And he also said that the pacts to protect the jungle would be with the communities and not national or foreign militaries.
We will build a broad national pact of regional and global importance for the environmental defence of the Amazon, Orinoco and the biogeographic corridor of the Pacific. We will set up community agreements for the regeneration and ecological restoration of these eco-systems based on organisational processes, proposing to increase the size of collective territories, registry of plots and the strengthening of traditional and ancestral authorities. We will recognise the rural communities’ own lifestyle in strategic eco-systems and their own ecological and economic forms of production in these habitats, as well as their own environmental management.
It all sounds very nice, but it goes hand in hand with militarisation. He proposed a sort of military alliance with the USA to avoid the burning of the jungle, copying the already existing model in Brazil where the USA has a base from which to put out fires.
Of course, in Brazil the mining and logging companies, etc. invade the territory with the approval of the government. The presence of north American troops never prevented any of the extractionist policies and less still poverty under the governments of Lula, Dilma and Bolsonaro.
As others have pointed out, it is nothing more than the militarisation of environmentalism and it is an old slogan of the imperialists that they should be in charge wherever they want and that includes the Amazon.
They used to brandish the anti-narcotics struggle as an excuse and now it is global warming. Al Gore once said that “The Amazon is not their property, it belongs to us all”. Of course, by us, this miscreant means Yankee imperialism: the USA.
It is the same discourse they have in relation to oil; it does not belong to the countries that have it but rather to all of us i.e. the US and European companies. Al Gore’s fame as an environmentalist is undeserved but his reputation as an old imperialist is completely justified.
Other governments have come out with similar feelings, Gore’s was not an individual outburst. Macron, NATO as such and the influential magazine Foreign Policy have argued for a military intervention in the region with the aim of protecting the planet.
For the moment, Petro is not in favour of Colombia becoming a member of NATO, rather he proposes a regional military alliance. Against whom would this alliance fight is not at all clear, or whether it would simply be an unofficial appendage to NATO.
We should be concerned and not just a little bit. In November he met with representatives of the US Embassy and the Subsecretary of Political Affairs, Victoria Nuland. Following the meeting Nuland tweeted.
Thank you, Gustavo Petro President of Colombia for our productive meeting reaffirming the importance of our continued partnership on security, peace, progress for Venezuela and protecting our planet.
Bearing in mind the murky past of Nuland in Ukraine in 2014, we should be very careful with her, but there are those who believe that Petro is charge.
It is not the only issue where he proposes military rather than civilian solutions. Faced with the lack of access to healthcare in the territories of the Pacific, he also proposed to militarise the response. The Pacific is one of the regions with the worst indicators in the area of healthcare.
Nobody doubts about the need for an urgent and comprehensive response for the region. The military boat USNS Comfort visited Colombia to provide medical assistance.
It was not the first time, the said boat has visited the country four times as part of the Continuing Promise mission, a medical and public relations initiative of the US, deploying its Soft Power.
This boat also took part in the two wars in Iraq as a military hospital, and in the invasion of Haití in 1994. Petro’s response on Twitter was:
I am grateful for this support in healthcare from the US government to the people of the Caribbean. It is important that we think about the Pacific. A mission for the National Navy, along with the building of the first frigate “made in Colombia” will be the building of a hospital ship.
In a non-militarised state healthcare should be under the remit of the Ministry of Health and not the Ministry of Defence, but Petro – Márquez want to bring healthcare to the Pacific through military rather than civilian institutions.
Such incoherence with his public discourse!
In previous governments the military has used its economic power and civic-military days as part of its military and armed operations.
The mobilisation of troops and the demand for collaboration from the civilian population is justified on the basis of access to medical services that are provided for by civilians in Bogotá and other parts of the country without the need to explain themselves to military institution in the midst of a war.
The Petro – Márquez government is also going to continue with the proposal of the Santos government to build a military base on the Gorgona Island. It is worth remembering that Santos was one of these other men of peace that are in abundance in Colombia: hawks dressed as doves.
The Gorgona Island was, for many years, a penal colony, the Colombian version of the infamous Devil’s Island immortalised in Papillon film with Steve McQueen. In 1982 it was declared a world heritage site by UNESCO due to it high ecological value.
Now they want to go ahead with the plan to place a military base there. What is new in the Petro – Márquez government is that there is a rumour that the USA will have access to the base.
It is not an absurd idea, as the project has anti-narcotic aims and is financed by the US Embassy in the country. With absolute certainty, the DEA will at least have access to it.
There are alternatives, such as a warship as a centre of operations. Petro wants the Navy to build a hospital ship but is not up to telling them to build a ship for what does fall within its remit.
He says he wants peace but he wants to promote the military at every turn, even turning up every time he can wearing military caps.
So far, he hasn’t acted ridiculous like Iván Duque dressing up as a police officer in the midst of the National Strike of 2021, but as his supporters point out he has only been president for a little more than 100 days and we have to give him time.
In every circus you have to wait for the clowns to come in. We can’t always see the lion-tamer but clowns and clownish antics are always there.
Some social climbers from social and human rights organisations ran to take up posts in the ministries of Defence and also the Interior.
They used to be critics of the armed forces and police of the state, now they look out for its good name in the area of human rights and international humanitarian law. They also promote the military at each turn.
The recently appointed Alexandra González, a former functionary of the Committee for Solidarity with Political Prisoners, who is now the Cabinet Secretary of the Ministry of National Defence published an effusive tweet full of praise of the Ministry of Defence that stated “Military engineers will build tertiary road to benefit the peasant population.”
She doesn’t understand that the armed forces are never for anything other than war, even in peace time they are preparing for war. It is their only function. In any case, no one can explain why the military have to the ones that are building those roads.
But as a good political opportunist she claims as her own that which does not belong to her. On twitter they replied to her, pointing out that those projects were old ones.
A retired military officer and former advisor to the High Commissioner for Peace pointed her in the direction of an article in the regional newspaper El Quindiano written by himself, speaking of the beginning of these civic – military projects in the 1960s.
All governments have carried out infrastructural projects through the Ministry of Defence and in all governments, they were referred to as peace projects.
Perhaps the fugitives from the human rights organisations feel the need to say that it is new in order not to make evident that there is a continuity between this government and all of the previous ones.
I don’t understand why they signed up to the non-binding declaration on safe schools, if they are promoting the military presence in all other aspects of civilian life.
The ideal situation would be to not permit the military to use schools as bases or human shields in the midst of fighting nor use the military to build infrastructural projects.
If the government was really progressive (an imprecise term) it would remove the civilian contracts from the military, healthcare would be the exclusive responsibility of health bodies and not the military, it would not propose a military alliance in a world with an excess of them.
And the symbols that Peto would put on a pedestal would be civilian ones, from the people, the communities, even from some trade union, even if it were just out of pure nostalgia, as when he was Mayor of Bogotá he didn’t think much of unions.
The Truth Commission (CEV) in Colombia has just published its report on the Colombian conflict. As was to be expected it is a very detailed report and deals with many aspects of the conflict and therefore it is impossible to carry out a detailed criticism in just one article.
This article aims to deal with the document entitled Call for Peace and in later articles I will deal with some points in greater detail such as the regions, the business class and drug trafficking.
Of course, there are very positive aspects, such as the statistics compiled, some proposals that they make and also the stories of the victims that they included.
However, there are also some very problematic aspects on the ideological plane and how they present the conflict, the actors, motives and there is an underlying idea in the document that we should advance towards a new society — with changes — but a society that continues to be the same with regard the economy.
They discount any class struggle as not only as anachronistic but also as something which is undesirable, regardless of the methods used.
The document is full of adjectives, some of them emotive, something which is not a criticism as such, emotions have a place in this setting, but it is imbued with Christian references and the Catholic faith as such.
That is not that surprising given that the boss is a Jesuit priest, Francisco de Roux, s.j. But due to this, its starting point is based on suppositions not shared by everyone and that are very questionable.
They start off with the statement and question “We started off from the issue that has dogged humanity from the beginning: where is your brother?”
I don’t know whether this first part is true or not, but the question about the brother presumes we know and share this concept of brother. In the Catholic faith we are all theoretically brothers, though not in practice.
But the idea informs a concept taken from family therapy that the Colombian conflict is between siblings that love each other or at least can love each other, just as a woman can love the man who abuses her in their relationship or the man who can stop abusing her and love her as she deserves.
It is a deservedly highly questioned concept, but it is applied in many countries that have gone through peace processes and truth commissions. But it is not the case, this conflict is not between siblings, but rather between interests.
The conflict has names and surnames and moreover surnames of the great and good and its victims are everyone else. There are power relationships. There are also economic interests.
It is an insult to say that the powerful, such as Luís Carlos Sarmiento and the Santos family are the brothers of their employees, or that associations such as the cattle ranchers of FEDEGAN represent people that are the brothers of the displaced peasants.
Though the report does acknowledge the role of some business people in the conflict.
…what has been grievous for the pain and injustice for the victims is the finding that leading business initiatives paid paramilitary groups in order to displace and steal the land and territories from the communities and implant mining or agribusinesses, or within their enterprises they stigmatised the workers and are complicit in the murder of hundreds of trade unionists.1
Such people, responsible for the murder of hundreds of trade unionists are nobody’s brothers, other than their shareholders’. They killed them as part of a strategy to accumulate wealth, the most base reason for doing so.
The CEV’s position turns the businessman into our brother, though it does acknowledge that
… we did not carry out any specific study on the armed conflict and the economy, following four years of listening to the drama of the war, the Commission takes as given that if no major changes are made to the economic model of development in the country it will be impossible to prevent the repetition of the armed conflict which will reappear and evolve in an unpredictable manner.
But despite not carrying out any specific analysis of the conflict and the economy the CEV calls on businesses to avoid a resurgence in the armed conflict.
The state, society and in particular the business people behind the large industrial and financial projects should prioritise guaranteeing the welfare and dignified life of the people and communities without any exclusions, with a shared vision of the future to overcome the structural inequality that makes this country one of the most unequal countries in the world in terms of the concentration of income, wealth and land.2
It is part of the discourse that we are all brothers. Instead of criticising the call they make for a society where the welfare of the people is a priority for the businesses, we only have to ask a question. Where does this happen? In what countries does this occur?
They usually make clumsy references to Switzerland or Sweden, ignoring that it is not quite the case and the welfare programmes in Europe (those that are left) are the result of social struggles and are largely financed by the super-exploitation of the Global South.
It is an illusion and part of liberal mythology, that is usually sold during elections every four or more years depending on the country, but is not to be found anywhere in reality and couldn’t be — legally a company looks out for the welfare of its shareholders and nobody else.
The lack of an analysis of the economic model as a factor in the conflict is a serious weakness, something I will deal with in another article.
But in a conflict for land, where the landlords and business people murder peasants and trade unionists3, failing to analyse the context of the economic model is disingenuous.
AN OLD VERY BAD JOKE
The CEV, however, engages in another great act of untruthfulness when it repeats the old refrain of the business class and the state that paramilitaries are reactive i.e. they react to the presence of guerrillas.
It seems like a bad joke that at this stage a commission that supposedly seeks the truth repeats such a lie: a lie challenged at the time by many of the organisations that now praise the CEV, in the days when they didn’t receive as many cheques from USAID and the European Union.
It has also been shown that companies paid armed groups large amounts of money as indispensable operational costs to keep their projects active.
And the reality of economic actors that in despair at the guerrillas and in the face of insecurity, contributed to the creation of the Convivir [rural security cooperatives] and on other occasions sought out the paramilitaries to bring their security of terror.
Following that there were those who took advantage of the land abandoned in midst of the terror to buy land through frontmen and set up projects. And there were those who used money to place members of the armed forces at their disposal.4
When the bloodthirsty Carlos Castaño called his paramilitary organisation United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia, he did so for a reason: the need to present his barbarous acts as a necessary evil, that of self-defence.
Javier Giraldo, s.j. also a Jesuit has spent his entire life fighting against just such a lie. He has documented how the paramilitaries existed before the foundation of the guerrillas and they were not reactive, but rather they were a state policy.5
The problem with the focus that ignores the state and its role and says that we are brothers is that it asks for reconciliation on that basis, that we are brothers. De Roux in his presentation asked more than once “how did we do” and asked for reconciliation.
But this “We” doesn’t exist. As Javier Giraldo points out.
A similar effort must be made in order to translate the value of Christian reconciliation to the judicial/political arena. There must be a public clarification and admission of guilt, an explicit condemnation of the mechanisms, structures and doctrines which facilitate crimes, the implementation of corrective measures to stop them from being repeated and reparation to victims and society. These must all be dealt with head-on and unequivocally. The very nature of a political community makes this imperative: unless there is an explicit and profound social sanction of crimes, internalized by society’s members and engraved in society’s “collective memory,” such crimes are not truly delegitimated. Without these conditions, the Christian value of forgiveness becomes a perverse expression of its real essence: from a fraternal and creative act to an act which covers up the institutionalization of crime(bold not in original) and destroys the barriers which protect human dignity.6
THE GERMAN EXAMPLE – AN OLD ILLUSION
The CEV points to the case of Germany following the Second World War as an example to follow. It is usually a sign of the poverty of the arguments when someone refers to the Nazis in order speak ill of someone, like saying some such a leader is the new Hitler.
But it is also a sign of argument povery to a degree when they refer to the topic to speak of reconciliation and so forth in post-War Germany. However, that is what the CEV did.
Our German friends who accompany us in the Commission’s process have shown us how its people recovered its dignity and pride when, even decades after the genocide of Jews and the war crimes committed, took on board the suffering of the victims, the wound as part of the national psyche and accepted its collective responsibility.7
What they claim just isn’t true. First of all, the post-Nazi Germany was not a denazified country.
Various later personalities from that period held high positions of responsibility, amongst them Kurt Waldheim, an officer in the Nazi army who became Secretary General of the United Nations and also President of Austria; war criminal Adolf Heusinger who became President of the Military Committee of NATO8 and Johannes Steinhoff who was in charge of the Luftwaffe after the War.
Kurt Georg Kiesinger was a member of the Nazi party, and worked side by side with Nazi propagandist Goebbels and later between 1966 and 1969 he was the German Chancellor.
Another Nazi, Wernher von Braun, who designed the Nazis’ bombs and rockets earned a good wage in the USA in order to put one of the rockets on the Moon. None of them confessed or accepted their responsibility.
And let’s not forget that young member of the Hitler Youth, one Joseph Ratzinger who became head of the Catholic Church. Of course, being a young man, he bore a lesser responsibility than the others.
The Nazis’ anti-gay legislation was applied up to 1969 and between 1946 and 1969 50,000 people were tried under that law. And whilst the Nazis had high-ranking posts the Communists were banned from working in the public administration and they and other dissidents, such as pacifists, were pursued.
Even under the “Communist Clause” victims of the Nazis who were Communists were not compensated.9 They chose a very bad example — or perhaps De Roux is conscious of the example he chose.
However, what it is about is blending one myth with another. It is surprising that they don’t mention South Africa, maybe because it is easier to see the reality of its Truth Commission and it is a more realistic comparison than Germany after the War.
What they aim to say is that if the Germans could accept their collective guilt, why can’t Colombia do so? But such collective guilt does not exist, or at least not in the way De Roux and company mean.
Many Germans lost their lives in the struggle against the Nazis, it has been calculated that the Nazis murdered 288,000 members of the opposition, including before Hitler came to power.
It wasn’t all Germans who did it but amongst those who did, there are familiar household names, Siemens and Krupps, just to name two companies — both used slave labour in their factories and had close relations with the Nazi Party.
Or there is Hugo Boss, the Nazi Party member who made his fortune manufacturing the uniforms of the Nazi Party, later of the Wehrmacht and of course of the SS, which is why they looked so good.
And of course, Bayer, the company that made Zkylon-B, the gas they used, still exists and is still rich. Following the war, 13 directors from the company were convicted of war crimes but were freed without serving their full sentences and took up their posts in the company.
The murderers continued in power with the tale of “collective guilt”. The Nazis were a political project of a sector of the German bourgeoisie to stop the rise of the Communists, any similarity to cattle ranchers declaring Puerto Boyacá the anti-capitalist capital10 is a mere coincidence, I suppose.
The reference to Germany as an example of reconciliation is a cheap tale. If Colombia goes down the same road, the surnames Mancuso, Uribe, Santo Domingo, Samper and Santos and the others will be the dominant surnames in the future, with their economic and social power intact.
THE “FALSE POSITIVES”
The CEV also deals with the issue of the “False Positives” and states something about the issue which is absolutely true that “If there had been ten, it would be very serious. If there had been one hundred, it would enough to demand a change of army. But there were thousands and it was monstrous.”11
But almost immediately it states that:
There was no law or written instructions that ordered it, but the soldiers who fired felt that they were doing what the institution wanted, due to the incentives and pressure that demanded immediate results with corpses, the publicity that they gave to those “killed in combat” and the protection given to the perpetrators.12
Yes, it is true that there was no law or written order that instructed them to do so. But we can’t expect criminals to leave us easy proof. There was no law, but there were incentives as they pointed out.
There were directives and a system for bonuses that encouraged the murder of civilians. Who authorised the payments? The then minister of Defence, Juan Manuel Santos. What does the document say about Santos?
The former president Santos – who was Minister for Defence from the end of 2006 to the end of 2008 – came to the Commission to contribute to the truth with his testimony, as ex-President and public servant, and he centred his intervention on the rigorous analysis of the False Positives to conclude asking for forgiveness from all the families and Colombia and invited the Armed Forces to ask the national and international community for forgiveness.13
It is not true, his intervention was not very rigorous and he ended by asking for forgiveness, as the CEV says, but at the same time he said he wasn’t to blame.
He took up Samper’s excuse regarding drug trafficking and said that it all happened behind his back and he lied on various occasions in his declaration to the CEV.14
Without a doubt the CEV will contribute to the knowledge of the conflict with its data, interviews and in some parts, its analysis. But the report as a whole will not be the truth about the conflict.
The CEV stated that “we don’t share the position, according to which, there are many truths that are equally valid regarding the same matter.”15
Yes, not all “truths” are equal, you have to analyse them, discuss them, contrast them with the facts and even look at who is enunciating them to see which perspective is closer to the truth, but in this case, it is not the “truth” of the CEV that is true.
Neither do I share the idea that any truth is of equal value no matter how powerful or well thought-of those who write that truth are.
3 “The Human Rights Information System of the National Trade Union School (ENS) recorded 15,430 violations of trade unionists’ rights to life, freedom and integrity in Colombia between 1 January 1971 and 29 September 2021. Around a fifth of the cases reported were murders: 3,288 trade unionists have been assassinated over the last five decades in Colombia.” https://www.equaltimes.org/colombia-has-signed-a-peace?lang=en#.YtXwJuzMI6E
9 Creuzberger, S. ‘Make life for communists as difficult as possible’ State-run anticommunism and ‘psychological warfare’ in the early years of the Federal Republic of Germany. Asian j. Ger. Eur. stud.2, 9 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40856-017-0020-7
10 The location was the birth place of the paramilitary model that arose in the 1980s and was avowedly right wing. There was a sign on the way in to it, that said “Welcome to Puerto Boyacá, Anti-Communist Capital of Colombia.”
1) What do you think the elections of May 29th will mean for the future of Colombia? What are the stakes of these elections?
The elections are not as key as some commentators would like to make out in terms of profound changes in Colombia. Though, the reaction in some sectors and fears about the transparency of the elections are well founded and even some fears of a violent reaction from some sectors of the bourgeoisie and the army. So, on one level the elections are about the degree to which the bourgeoisie, including the narco-bourgeoisie are willing to accept electoral defeat. This election is likely to bring about a long period of uncertainty in the country as Petro tries to manage the expectations and demands of the bourgeoisie and contain the hopes of his own supporters.
2) What is the political scenery like, one week before the elections? These elections take place midst what kind of atmosphere?
The atmosphere oscillates between one of hope that Petro will be elected and bring an end to a long conflict that has been going on for almost 60 years and one of fear. No one knows what the far right are capable of doing and thinking at the moment. General Zapateiro intervened in the election campaign, which is unconstitutional as the military don’t even have the right to vote in Colombia. There are other fears about electoral fraud, a portal has been set up to report electoral fraud. Already it has tallied 3,500 incidents and no one has cast a vote yet. Leading businesses have stated they will sack any workers who vote for Petro and have demanded that their employees take photos of the electoral card that they mark and send it to them. It is expected that Petro has the ability to win in the first round, sufficient electoral fraud to force a second round run off with any candidate other than Fico would make matters more complicated for Petro as people may vote against him out of fear were it to come to a second round against one of the other candidates other than the reincarnation of Uribe that is Fico.
3) In the surveys, we see that Gustavo Petrois is ahead. How do you interpret this? What are the social alliances he has created? What are people’s expectations from him?
Petro has been around for a long time and this is not his first but third outing as a presidential candidate. After 20 years of Uribe as the leading figure in Colombian politics, there is a growing tiredness coupled with really serious levels of poverty, whilst kleptocrats openly steal the resources of the state. However, he hasn’t built social alliances as such. There has been a confluence of various social organisations and sectors more out of a hope that there might be some change. Petro for example opposed the wave of protests that erupted in the country last year. At a moment when Duque looked very weak, Petro came out to say that he didn’t want Duque to fall through the protests and demanded that the protests be called off. He more than anyone was responsible for the defeat. Petro is building an electoral alliance not a social force and his electoral alliance includes the bourgeoisie. He has long called for a programmatic agreement with the bourgeoisie and his alliance includes people from various previous governments, including Uribe’s governments. Leading functionaries from the Santos government play lead roles in his campaign, such as Alfonso Prada, who is also a close friend of Santos. Former president Samper, the man who implemented the decree that gave us the Convivir, the legal façade for the paramilitaries in the 1990s is also involved in his campaign. This is not a minor point, Samper managed to reinvent himself as a man of peace, even though he more than any president bears responsibility for the blood bath of the mid 1990s to the early years of the 21st century. He also tried to include the former president Cesar Gaviria, the man who gave us the economic aperture of the neoliberal period. It was opposition from his electoral base which forced him to rethink that one. These people play a greater role than any social movement.
4) If Gustavo Petro wins the elections, what possibilities/room does he have to implement a progressive/social democratic policy for the people΄s classes, the workers, the poor, the precarious, etc?
This goes back to the last question and his programmatic alliance with the bourgeoisie. So, there are two elements, to what degree does he actually want to implement a progressive policy? He has spoken about reforms in health and education, some of which sound almost Keynesian, but Petro is not Keynesian. His programme does not contemplate a break with neoliberalism but to work within it, controlling deficits etc, subsidies for industry etc.. His economic policies are a continuation of the last 30 years, with one difference, he wants to move away from mining and oil exploitation, the former coming to an end in any case with various coal mining companies announcing their withdrawal from the country, though some gold mining companies are staying and these companies have legal guarantees on continuing with mining prospecting and exploitation that Petro will not and cannot legally bring to an end. He has however, said that he will promote agribusiness and continue with the policies that are in place, again with some minor tweaking.
5) How do you see the next day, after the disaster that the four years of Duque’s neoliberal policy has brought? What are the most important problems that the new government will face? What are the difficulties?
The next day, the one problem Petro will have is how the right will react to destabilise his government. A situation similar to that of Allende of a long drawn-out phase of destabilisation from some sectors is a possibility, though unlike Allende, Petro’s campaign is electoral, he does not believe in organising people and is in fact opposed to it. Part of his base has been bought off with the promise of jobs for the leaders of organisations and access to the public purse, which is normal for Colombian elections. Offers of jobs and government contracts in communities is the normal way elections are bought in Colombia.
Petro also does not have a majority in Congress, in fact he is very far from it. And will have to negotiate many things, which will push his programme further to the right as he will not use popular mobilisation to counter any blocking of policies by Congress. In the long term, this presents a problem for him and we will almost certainly see another wave of protests like those of last year, but this time against the Petro government. I also predict that his Vice President, Francia Márquez will not complete her term of office and will resign at some point in the face of the reality of Petro’s government as opposed to the expectations.
He has proposed renegotiating the free trade agreements, a task that is just not possible. He will also face problems in reforming the health sector as many international health companies have invested heavily in the sector and will most like sue the government for any changes that affect their profits, something he will be forced to back down on. In fact, within his campaign there have already been retreats on this point, as he no longer proposes to abolish the role of these companies, just to change how much of the public purse they have access to.
In the midst the protests in Colombia the press can be heard denouncing the vandals and various politicians from the left and right have echoed these criticisms in one way or another. The headlines speak of the destruction of private property and in some cases they try to mark a distinction between what they say is legitimate protest and vandalism.
The word “vandal”, means someone who commits acts pertaining to savage and destructive people and is who destroys a public asset or installation. Other definitions speak of destroying or damaging what is beautiful. It should be said that the Transmilenio mass transport system stations are not one bit beautiful. But should the youths be ashamed or proud of being called vandals?
We should look at the origin of the word. The first vandals were Germanic tribes that in 455 A.D. attacked and sacked Rome carrying away great riches and also destroying buildings, amongst them the Temple of Jupiter, though there is some dispute about the severity of the destruction of the city. However, they went down in history as the vandals who destroyed that city. The more modern use of the person who destroys public assets or private property or damages what is beautiful dates from the middle ages and its use is widespread nowadays.
Of course when Vicky Dávila and other right wing journalists speak of vandals they are not talking about Germanic tribes, or at least that is what we believe, though with Vicky even drug traffickers, paramilitaries and corrupt politicians are decent folk, so one is never sure about the meaning of the words that fall from her lips like the Police stun grenades.
But words and their meanings are not set in stone. Some words enter a language and in short time fall into disuse, others last for centuries and some come back to life when least we expect like when Kim Jong-un’s translator used the word “Dotard” to describe Trump. That word hadn’t seen the light of day since the US Civil War in the 19th Century. Other words simply change their meaning, sometimes slowly and on other occasions they do so more abruptly.
The press has used this word so often to describe and disparage the social protests that we may be witnesses to another change in meaning. The bourgeois press has emptied the word of any meaning and now in the marches people can be seen with placards that say Vandal’s Honour and in social media there are memes doing the rounds on the subject. One of them says “The country turned upside down and this one says, what are you and I? Well, vandals my love.” They used the word so often to describe any act of rebellion, nonconformity or to and try and shut down and discredit the demonstrators that it has lost its power, its meaning. Now it is a badge of honour for many. Vandal no longer means a savage destructive person but rather a person who fights to be heard, for justice. A vandal is whoever fights against Duque, neoliberalism and poverty.
The word is changing its connotation and once again it is closer to its original meaning, a tribe that defied an Empire, although in this case the Colombian emperor seems more like the Emperor Nero (54-68 A.D.) who played on his Lyre whilst Rome burned than the poor Petronius Maximus who only lasted a few weeks in power. Duque doesn’t play the Lyre but rather the Guitar, but there he is and Nero’s regime was one of extravagance, waste and tyranny and Nero in the middle of it all playing on his Lyre.
The sacking of Rome in 455 A.D. was the third sacking that the city suffered. There were a further five sackings after the Vandals. It should be remembered that the Vandals sacked the capital of a decadent Empire that deserved to be extinguished.
So as the meme puts it, ask the question, what are you and I? And answer:
We are Vandals my love, we damage the hated system of mass transport built with public funds legally stolen to set up a private transport business which to top it all takes 94% of the profits of a business and barely contributes a penny to its own maintenance.
We are Vandals my love, we destroy banks that receive more subsidies from the state than the poor who are denied loans by these banks, which don’t hesitate for a single moment to confiscate the houses of the poor.
We are Vandals my love, who in the face of the lives and censorship of the bourgeois press make our smothered voices reverberate on the walls of the city. Who needs Twitter when you even the poorest can see the walls?
We are Vandals my love, who in the face of the attacks by the Police throw rocks at them that are found all about the place in the poorly built public infrastructural projects, in a country where the thieves don’t know how to build a pavement and where half the bricks are badly placed.
We are Vandals my love, we fight against a decadent government and system.
We are Vandals my love, and our favourite letter is V:
V for Vengeance on the rich that kill us, rob us and lie to us.
Iván Ramírez was the last of those arrested for the Andino Case to be freed by the Colombian authorities after spending almost four years arrested as part of the legal frame up. I spoke to him a number of weeks after his release.
Iván graduated from the National University as a sociologist and before his arrest he worked for the National Centre for Historical Memory (CNMH) as part of an accord with the official German international aid agency GIZ. His work consisted of carrying out workshops to collate information on the murders and massacres committed against members of the Unión Patriótica in the department (administrative area) of Meta in order to build a Memory Centre in the city of Villavicencio. This centre was never built and when his house was raided the Police took various files collected as part of his work. He also worked on the issue of the infamous Massacre of Trujillo, carried out by the Third Division of the Army whose boss, not to say capo, Manuel Bonnet Locarno would become the highest commander of the State’s armed forces. There was a chance of continuing to work with this body, but his arrest put paid to any hope of a new job with them and he went on to be part of another nefarious chapter in the Colombian State’s war on its own people.
“At that time, I didn’t think about it, but neither was I unaware that the activity I was engaged in — e.g. academic or professional life — could have certain consequences. Well, looking at our national history and context, you realise no one is immune from ending up in prison or being murdered for political reasons. So I never thought I would end up being part of a judicial frame up. Obviously in the context that one looks at the background and cases of other people that were also sociologists who had been victims of frame ups, well it was always possible, but it wasn’t on my mind.“
Prior to his arrest, two of the people he had known in Meta in the context of his work with the CNMH were murdered. Little did he know that in a short time he would go on to be part of the sad story of the dirty war against social fighters and the judicial frame ups. Neither did he know that documents related to his legal work with a state body would be presented in court as evidence against him. Almost every researcher of the Colombian conflict has a copy of the report ¡Basta Ya! (Enough!) published by the CNMH.
It was not the only document that they took from his house as evidence.
“There were also texts on the history of the insurgencies that are also academic works in Colombia and in the hearing they were introduced, as propaganda texts when when they were really academic documents and there was one on the Quintin Lame armed movement which was also published by the National Centre for Historic Memory. They are publicly available documents and as a professional you have to study them.“
A prosecutor has to be really stupid or desperate in the face of the weakness of his case to introduce such documents in a trial. Amongst the credits for these documents are the name of ministers and high-ranking politicians such as Germán Vargas Lleras, Angelino Garzón the former Vice-President of the country and the publication was financed by the European Union, the Spanish Embassy and the official wing of the US government USAID. It would seem that the Prosecutor saw subversives everywhere. Though it should be pointed out that this type of manoeuvre is common and there are many cases where the prosecutors introduced widely published books as evidence. It would seem, on occasions that the prosecutors have not even read the Penal Code, less still would they read literature or sociological texts.
The evidence against him was not the only farce, his arrest seemed like an episode of Key Stone Cops.
“I was arrested four times. The first time was in Bogotá on public transport. I was going to meet my partner at some workshops she was doing to start working at Compensar. I was in a public transport bus at about four in the evening, I was going towards the centre. I was in the bus and some motorised cops stopped the bus. They took three people off it. They asked for our I.D. and they gave the I.D. back to the two others and let them go. They detained me under the pretext that I was supposedly a burglar. There was a white van behind the bus and one of the cops told me to get into it and that my accomplice was in it. When they opened the van, there was a very suspicious looking guy inside and the first thought that went through my head, was that they are going to do something to me, kill me or disappear me.“
He didn’t want to get in the van and told the police that he didn’t trust them, but even so, they took him to the Police Station as a suspected burglar and moved him from one place to another at all times as a suspected burglar. At last they took him in handcuffs to his apartment, whilst they interrogated him about his family. When he got there two secret police officers turned up to search his home.
“They went into the house and went through absolutely everything. It began at 7.30 P.M. and lasted till 2 A.M. It was an irregular procedure, when house searches are carried out after 7 P.M. there must be a representative of a supervisory body present and there wasn’t. In the preliminary hearings, I was freed due to the illegal nature of my arrest.“
He went to Sasaima, a county in Cundinamarca, near Bogotá, seeking some peace and quiet, but the nightmare followed him there and he noticed the presence of plain clothes police following him and hanging around the town, which made him anxious as the difference between a plain clothes police officer and a paramilitary is one of opportunity and convenience. In this second arrest he was presented to the media as the worst terrorist. He was called alias The Taliban (1), perhaps a reference to his physical appearance or a play on words with his name, but as they later acknowledged this nickname was invented by the police themselves, but it was not the only stupidity in the case. When he shaved, this was presented as evidence of his presumed guilt by trying to change his appearance. The process against him is a complete farce from start to finish. But as a result of it he spent almost four years in prison and during his imprisonment his daughter was born and he could only see her during normal visits, once a fortnight. The searches and treatment were the usual ones, a Colombian prisoner receives no special treatment for being the father of a newly born child, “to them, even if the person is blind or is paralysed in 90% of their body, they are just another prisoner”.
As a sociologist Iván well understands the problems of the country and the rampant inequality. His experience in the prison confirmed that. He saw the luxuries enjoyed by some and the poverty of others depending on the wing they were held on. When he was in the Modelo Prison, for reasons unknown to him, he was transferred to Wing 3. There he saw another prison world.
“You see how people with money live inside the prison with lots of privileges whilst there were other prisoners who had nowhere to sleep, they had to make do with cardboard, no food. On Wing 3 there was a lot more space and a library, it was impressive, a very good coffee shop and very good workshops. There was a good gym, it was big with gym machines, not just free weights and ovens to cook with.“
CAPITALISM WITHIN THE JAIL
Of course, on Wing 3 there were various high level prisoners, from the Odebrecht case (2) and also from Interbolsa (3). It could also be seen in that some of the cells cost up to 12 million pesos (3000 euros), in addition to the monthly rent. Property speculation takes place inside the walls, especially where there are prisoners of that ilk. Capitalism doesn’t stop at the gate, but rather it reproduces itself within the prison system.
Iván was the last one to be freed. As happened with the others the Prosecutors sought out judges in their pockets to justify the unjustifiable, and between those manoeuvres and the lethargy of the prison service in obeying orders, he was imprisoned over and again without ever really stepping out into freedom. In one of his rearrests a Prosecutor from Popayán legalised his arrest in a court in Medellín when the criminal case is in Bogotá and then they applied a law passed after his first arrest and the events. Although he did hold on to some hope, he knew that in Colombia many judges are not objective and don’t always make findings in law, causing him to despair, as happens with many prisoners in the country, who are unjustly imprisoned, at the mercy of the whim of the judge on duty, or as happens with many, they lack the money to hire a good lawyer.
After his last rearrest Iván did not go back to prison, instead he was held for various months in a Police Station, a place of detention which is supposedly temporary, although there are people held in them for up to a year or more, in places like that where the conditions of imprisonment are worse than in the jails, if that were possible.
“In that Station, overcrowding was at 100%. For example, in the cell I was in, it was very small, about 3 x 8 metres, or something like that and there were more than 100 people held in difficult sanitary conditions, you had sleep on top of each other and you couldn’t stretch. You spent the day sitting down, there was no way to walk or exercise. The food was also rancid and you had to eat it.“
His view of a certain class of prisoner changed having seen how some of them also fought for their dignity. “The kid who sells drugs, the bloke who robs buses and others, are sometimes classed as worthless people, but it is simply the circumstances that bring people along a different path and that shouldn’t be judged but rather understood in all its complexity.”
Iván, the sociologist lived through a field work on the injustices of the legal system, the dirty war in Colombia, poverty, inequality that no one wants to go through. His passage through the halls of injustice have not quenched his thirst for knowledge and like his fellow accused in the Andino Case he continues to be committed to a better future for this country.
In Colombian Spanish, “that guy Ivan”, el tal Ivan, pronounced the same as “the Taliban”.
Interview of framed ex-prisoner awaiting trial by Gearóid Ó Loingsigh
(Reading time: 8 mins.)
In June 2017 a bomb exploded in the Centro Andino shopping centre in the north of Bogotá, Colombia, cutting down three people. A few days later the police arrested ten youths for their supposed participation in the attack, amongst them Lina Jiménez, an arts student, whose photo went viral. These youths all had something in common and it wasn’t their participation in the attack but rather that they were all friends.
We all met in the university, as we studied together. Some of us studied Law, Politics and others Sociology. I met some of them in optional classes were we coincided. We had a common position on the defence of human rights and the student movement, we met in one or other coffee shops, assemblies that took place in various parts of the university.
Friends to the point that six of them were arrested together a few days after the attack whilst on holidays in the El Espinal area. The precise moment she was arrested was the first time that Lina became aware that the Prosecutor had issued an arrest warrant for her.
I was on holiday in El Espinal and we were going to meet up in a spa resort. In El Espinal there are some festivals for Saint John’s and Saint Peter’s day and that is why we were there and I was in a taxi when various cars surrounded us and stopped us. Then they took me out of the car and officers from the Special Operations Group (GOES) and the Judicial Investigative Police (SIJIN) read out the arrest warrant. They never showed it to me or read me my rights.
It wasn’t just any order. The weaker the State’s case the more need it has to make it appear solid and to show the dangerousness of the detainees.
We were taken to the main police station in El Espinal. There were loads of them, all those that took part in the operation. Later on, one of the police officers who was guarding us said that they had around 1,200 officers involved in our capture in El Espinal. It was basically full of police officers.
We don’t know whether the figure of 1,200 officers is correct or not, but there is no doubt it was an enormous operation. I asked her jokingly whether such a disproportionate and unnecessary deployment made her feel important. She laughed and said no
That didn’t make me feel important, what made me feel important was the flight, as they brought us in a plane from El Espinal to Bogotá. They took us to the police station, searched us, took our prints and whatnot. They never said it was for terrorism. I was told it was for conspiracy, we were only told it was for terrorism when we got to Bogotá- They took us out of the station well guarded with motorbikes, cars, loads of officers and they took us from Flandes airport to Catam [Military Airport].
As Lina herself acknowledges such an operation was a bad omen for any detainee, even when innocent. When they took her to the airport she knew nothing good could come of it, that the State was going all out against her and would do everything possible to show results in the case and they charged her with terrorism, conspiracy, homicide and attempted homicide with a possible sentence of 60 years.
When we were being taken to the airport in Flandes, I said to myself, this thing is not so that they invalidate our arrest. If they are setting up such an operation to get some people on holidays, they are definitely not going to let us go. Regardless of whether we did it or not, these people are going to convict us. To see how they organised the truth, leaves you feeling powerless.
In fact, later she found out when she could read the press that they had already convicted her, that both state functionaries and the press had declared that the guilty ones had been captured. They published identikit pictures of some of those arrested that matched them so neatly they seemed to be photos, but they did not match the statements from the witnesses. The identikit photos had been prepared days before the attack.
Little did Lina know when she was arrested the legally doubtful manoeuvres the State would resort to, re-arresting her three times in contravention of court orders to free her. The State sought out judges in their pocket to legalise what was illegal and to justify her re-arrest and even open up another slightly different case against her. Amongst the manoeuvres of state was the harassment of the relatives and attempts made to force them to give information or testify against other detainees.
The strategy did not work when it came to the relatives, but one of the detainees, Natalia Trujillo, could not withstand captivity and the pressure on her and handed herself over to the State, reaching an agreement with the Prosecutor which consisted in her not serving any time in exchange for her false testimony against her friends and fellow students. It was a potentially serious blow in the legal case, but it was also a hard knock in personal terms. You could understand bitterness in a case like this, but when Lina speaks of her former cell mate, there is no trace in her voice, but rather of pain and also an understanding of how a person could break like that.
You feel enormous hurt, you just don’t expect that to happen, especially as we went through this process together, together we experienced what was happening, together we felt the same pressure from the State and what happened to her is sort of like that. We all have different ways of dealing psychologically with this type of severe pressure. It is no secret that the State seeks to weave its own truth and as part of doing so it resorts to these type of situations, to push people to their physical and psychological limits that they end up saying things that are not true. It was really hurtful.
Natalia suffered the legal process for more than two years, but in August 2019 she turned up testifying against Lina and other people linked to the case.
As I said, we don’t all have the same capacity and I can’t say that I didn’t feel pain nor exhaustion during all of this process, because it was really severe and there are days you just don’t want to move an inch. I believe in the power of love and I really believe that solidarity also picks you up and saves you from many things. When you are down the other person picks you up and you pick them up, there are series of bonds which are built and that pushes you forward, but we don’t all have the same capacity to say ‘right I can take a little more of this’.
Perhaps, Lina was stronger and she showed that in a photo that went viral. She is seen with her hands tied behind her back leaning in towards a journalist, seething and shouting. I asked her about that photo, as in person she is nothing like that, but an arrest is not a normal situation for anyone.
We were in the station in Puente Aranda and it has to be said that it is a horrible place. It was a complicated situation, we had nowhere to sleep. I hadn’t a clue about the hearing to legalise our arrest, that was explained to me the next day and we were heavily guarded. We left Puente Aranda in an armoured car with police vehicles surrounding it. We got there and the armoured car took a while in getting us out. When I got there I saw relatives and some friends crying, I could see their deep pain in the midst of all the rage and impotence and they were very quiet. I felt the need to say it wasn’t true, that this was about something else.
Of course, they had told me ‘You’re to keep your mouth shut’ and in that moment I felt I couldn’t let this go… You feel a rage for your own life, but also seeing your family subjected to such complex situations, that the police push them around. We were walking and there was a lot of press there and we were guarded by the police and they didn’t want us to talk. So as soon as I got down out of the armoured car I started shouting that this was a judicial false positive that this had got to do with electoral interests at the time, that is was part of the Uribista strategy. I started shouting that and that photo was taken when I was going up the stairs and a journalist from City TV came up to me and I was really upset as whilst I was shouting a policeman tried to push back the journalists and he shouted at me ‘shut up, shut up, don’t say anything!’ Obviously that was like winding me up more. Looking back on it, it would have been very different had we remained silent.
And that is certainly the case. In the entire process none of those arrested bowed their heads, they have even appeared in videos from the jail, some have written articles and others were even spokespersons for prisoners in prison protests. Unjustly detained, but not defeated.
All prisons try to crush the individual, to break them, to take away their dignity, their sense of being alive. Colombia’s prisons are no different in this matter and in fact various problems such as overcrowding and poor health and educational services make the situation worse still. Being a political prisoner can be dangerous, but when the numbers allow for it, being part of a prisoners’ collective has its advantages. Lina was taken to the Good Shepherd Prison (Buen Pastor) in Bogotá and following her processing she was placed in the political prisoners’ wing.
It is very interesting, because when we got there, the last political prisoners of the FARC were beginning to leave, we were eight days in the police station and they put the fear of God into us, that ‘you are just posh kids and in the Good Shepherd prison they are going to rob you and attack you.’
But when we go to Wing Six, the political prisoners really surprised us, they had cleaned our cells, clean sheets, everything was organised, they had hot soup, coffee, toilet paper and other things. There were around 34 prisoners from the FARC and the ELN. After a while the FARC prisoners were released and social prisoners began to arrive and it was very different. As it was a high security wing, people connected to the drugs trade began to be put in it. There was a complete change in the atmosphere as their money could be seen, they paid for whiskey to be brought in, which when the political prisoners where there, that didn’t happen. When the social prisoners came, it was different, a huge change.
Although states usually try to treat political prisoners as common criminals, they are not and it can be seen in how they organise in prison and how they relate to the prison authorities. And to form part of a collective had, as Lina saw when she arrived, certain advantages for own safety and well being.
The prisoners had outside support and they reported things, the guards called Wing Six the wing for the complaints as we were always reporting to the Procurator, the Public Defender’s Office etc. The Director consulted the prisoners about how to do certain things. Meetings were held with the Director. This didn’t happen on other wings; they didn’t take the prisoners’ views into account. The political prisoners won a space, these were not concessions from the prison authorities, but rather they were won through protests and even hunger strikes over the years.
But it is not just people like Lina who suffer the effects of judicial frame-ups, but also their families, especially when they are accused of a crime such as the attack on the Centro Andino. The State harasses the relatives and tries to put pressure on them as part of its legal strategy.
There is an enormous pressure put on our families as well as the social stigma. In my case, when I was captured, they were raiding my home at the same time and it was severe as I live on a main avenue and they closed the entire avenue off, there were armoured cars, and at least ten anti-explosives vehicles and a huge number of police officers and everyone was asking, what happened? And since my release, they haven’t stopped following me and taking photos and there is a permanent presence of plainclothes cops.
To her, the case and other processes against other students are state strategies to defeat the social movement and hand down exemplary sentences as a warning to all those who think differently and want to change the country. The legal cases try to break grassroots processes and the detainees themselves. In her case, it didn’t work that well.
To see the misery of this system in the flesh makes you understand and treat this space as another space for political struggle. In the legal process itself and the prison, you see the system so cruelly unmasked because this can only be done by people who have no respect for life, for humanity, for nothing. You feel you have to continue struggling for what you believe in, for life. This system has been in crisis for a long time and I left the prison and we are in a pandemic, we face a very complicated situation which is not far removed from the logic of the system. In this system there are humans who are in the top category and then there are those who are not in any category. And my position and that of my friends in the case, is the type of position that has to be hidden out of view and that is the role of the prison.
You see the State’s aim take shape, to continue suppressing and depleting the movement because, amongst other things that is one of the tools in creating the idea that there has to be an exemplary punishment that has to be handed down and it seeks out the tools to rob people of their humanity.
Although Lina and the others unjustly arrested for the Andino Case are at liberty, the legal case against them continues. It is to be hoped that the judges make a finding in law, as has already happened in the case of Mateo Gutiérrez who was also accused of belonging to the same organisation that supposedly carried out the attack and he managed to demonstrate and prove his innocence. But in Colombia justice limps along and sometimes never gets there.
Two soldiers, Jhony Andrés Castillo Ospino, and Jesús Alberto Muñoz Segovia, fell into the hands of the ELN (Army of National Liberation in Colombia — Translator). Their capture produced the same reactions as always, they were referred to as ‘kidnapped’ when in reality they were prisoners of war. When the ELN gave proof of the soldiers’ survival, the criticisms did not end. When they were released, one would have expected everyone to be happy. But it turns out not to be so, it seems that the worst act of the ELN is to release soldiers safe and sound and also with a friendly attitude.
In this case, the press was upset at the release. It seems that a tragic outcome was preferable, that two dead soldiers would have been a better option than two soldiers released alive. But of course, as in the case of witnesses and false positives, the living speak and what they say can be uncomfortable.
The survival video has elements that could seem like a setup, in the sense of the soldiers’ statements, since they say favourable things about the ELN regarding their treatment of prisoners, etc. Well, the captured soldiers are not used to speaking in front of a camera so formally, although the truth be told if we are honest, the most objectionable thing about that video is the music that the ELN plays in the background. It is well known that the quality of the ELN’s videos depends on the group that produces them and the producer in charge and, although there are good productions, they are not always the best, but in the end they are a guerrilla group, not an audiovisual production franchise.
But when the soldiers were released, they were able to speak freely, and production depended on those who earn their daily bread by producing news. However, it backfired. The soldier Jhony Andrés spoke to the media and said that he was happy to be able to see his family, something that incidentally is worth noting in that as a professional low-ranking soldier, that is something he does not do very often even when he is free, because they give them just a month to see their families. The other 11 months of the year are spent kidnapped by the death machine called the Colombian National Army.
But if they had stayed with his comments about his desire to see his relatives, everything would have been fine. But no, because Segovia said that “I feel happy about the time I spent with those people, when we talked, we chatted and also the good treatment that those people gave us”. 
But as reported by the press, Jhony Andrés Castillo Ospino went beyond referring to simple good treatment.
“The truth is that they treated me well from the beginning, so that I felt like being close to them. The truth is that I have nothing to say, like something bad, that they treated me badly, “said the soldier.
Later, when asked how he felt about seeing his relatives again, he replied: “The truth is, happy, happy, but at the same time sad because I was already getting to like them,” he said (referring to his captors — Trans). 
And the cited article points out, “It is possible that the soldier was presenting Stockholm syndrome that generates affectivity with the captor in defenceless situations.”  Of course, the only explanation for his (Ospino’s) statements is that he fell into Stockholm syndrome, there could be nothing else. First of all, we must clarify that this syndrome is contested among mental health professionals. It doesn’t really exist, it is a fiction. The psychiatrist, Nils Bejerot, who invented the condition is a promoter of many reactionary theories of crime and jail such as zero tolerance for drug use, that is, the mass incarceration we have seen of poor blacks and Latinos in the US. He stresses the individual’s responsibility for any crime. When in 1973 three women and a man were taken hostage inside a bank, he went to work with the police in negotiations. As the hostages showed some sympathy towards the assailants, he explained it as a medical syndrome, the Stockholm Syndrome, as it cannot be explained otherwise. How could they understand the kidnappers at the bank!
Bejerot discards any concept of empathy, recognition of a shared humanity, and of course that even a person attacked by another, can recognise that his main real enemy is yet another and would not be in the situation in which he is if it were not for greed of capitalism and that a person, even suffering the violence of a criminal, can see in his aggressor his peer and not his enemy. Bejerot, more than a mental health professional, is an apologist for the reigning individualism of capitalism, where there is no society only individuals.
Now the young soldier is another sick person because he found that the ELN do not eat new-born babies, they do not torture captured soldiers and that he received better treatment as a prisoner of the ELN than in the Army where he participated “voluntarily”. He saw his fellow men, and received good treatment.
Where one received the worst treatment is when one is presented as a false positive by the Colombian National Army, or where they are tortured or disappear. But that did not happen to the two soldiers. That does not happen with the soldiers who fall into the hands of the ELN, that only happens with those who fall into the hands of the National Army. If there is the misnamed Stockholm Syndrome, it is with the millions who vote for Uribe, those who voluntarily enter the Colombian armed forces and not those soldiers who, after seeing the reality of the country, come out with statements in favour of the insurgency, the ELN, which does not propose to torture or disappear anyone.
Leave your dubious syndromes behind and recognize in that soldier the reality of those who fight on one side and on the other. But at the same time, we must say clearly that the future of that soldier is not good. Either they force him to recant, or they kill him themselves in “combat” to be able to tell the country “look what the ELN is doing.” In any case, the life of that soldier is already in danger, not because of those who captured him but because of his supposed friends from the Colombian armed forces and the press. If I were him I would looking at retirement and even exile in another country, perhaps among those other demons and monsters of Venezuela.
— BOGOTA — The recent election of Joe Biden as president of the U.S. has been met with a round of applause from left reformist currents in Colombia, some even eager to claim Biden as one of their own. Underlying such praise is the notion that the Democrats are more progressive and will treat Colombia fairly, or at least better than the Republicans. There is no evidence on which to base such a claim.
Historically, some of the greatest blows to Colombia have come from Democratic administrations, starting with the smiling, handsome, charismatic JFK, whose policies left few smiling in the country. It was under JFK that two U.S military delegations visited the country and made recommendations that the Colombian state set up armed civilian groups, which are now commonly referred to as paramilitaries. By 1965, Colombia introduced legislation to give effect to those proposals and thus began a long sordid history of the state setting up death squads and providing them with legal status.
Of course, JFK was a long time ago, some would argue, though obviously no Democrat would countenance publicly criticizing him on such matters. Many of those who rushed to endorse Biden are unaware of this aspect of their history, but not so, the leading politicians such as Senator Gustavo Petro, a former mayor of Bogotá and the most successful left-wing candidate for the presidency ever. They are only too aware of the history of paramilitary violence in the country, yet prefer to ignore it on the altar of realpolitik.
The most recent embodiments of charming, handsome U.S. presidents also get a free pass now, just as they did when they were in power. Bill Clinton is perhaps the most notorious of recent U.S. presidents whose policies can be measured in bodies, forced displacement, and the mass destruction of the environment through the aerial fumigation of coca crops. Clinton was the architect of Plan Colombia, a massive supposed anti-drugs policy, which strengthened the Colombian military and under the guise of a concern for public health helped the Colombian military gain the technical and logistical capacity to wage war, including the expansion of paramilitary units throughout the country.
Plan Colombia was of course, implemented by George W. Bush as Clinton finished his second term shortly after concluding the agreement, a sign that policy on Colombia has always been bipartisan. When Clinton announced the initiative he lied. He stated that the motives were public health ones and that cocaine was killing 50,000 people per year in the U.S., when at the time the CDC put the figure for all deaths from all drug abuse, excluding alcohol and tobacco, but including legal pharmaceuticals at just over 15,000. Alcohol alone doubled that figure. The ruse worked and Congress passed Plan Colombia, thanks in part to Biden, who fought for the plan in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Clinton finished his term with controversial presidential pardons, including Marc Rich, but in Colombia, he is remembered for his clemency deal with Harvey Weinig, a U.S. lawyer convicted of laundering $19 million for the Cali Cartel. Whilst attacking impoverished farmers, he indulged the wealthy individuals higher up the chain.
Thanks to the Plan, paramilitaries swept through the country taking over, not only rural areas, but some major urban centers. The Colombian military was in a position to aid them in that and also hold on to those areas, once the dirty work had been done. Their first targets were areas of military and economic strategic importance, with gold and oil deposits and also areas that were earmarked for major transformations in the rural economy. As part of this drugs initiative, peasants were “encouraged” to switch crops. Plan Colombia financed major agribusiness projects, particularly African Palm, and in preparation for the Free Trade Agreement that would be signed under Bush but come into effect under Obama, the country geared its agricultural production toward export markets and opted for importing basic food staples such as rice, beans, and cereals. For example, corn imports from the U.S. began to decline notably from 2008 onwards, but once the FTA came into force in 2012 under the Obama administration, the year of the lowest amount of corn imports in a long time, they quickly increased and by 2016 almost doubled the figure for 2008. By 2018, 80% of all corn consumed in Colombia was imported and barely 20% was produced nationally.
Thanks to Bill Clinton and Obama, Colombia is now one of the major recipients of military aid. Between 2001 and 2019, it received $9 billion in aid, just over 66% of it under the guise of anti-narcotics aid. All anti-narcotics operations in Colombia involve the deployment of ground troops following the strafing of farms by helicopters, displacement of peasant farmers, threats and not infrequently the murder of leaders in the areas. Furthermore, many of these soldiers involved in operations were trained by the U.S. In the same period, 107,486 Colombian military personnel received training from the U.S., making it the largest recipient of such training followed by Afghanistan.Both the aid and training reached their peak under Bush, as part of Clinton’s Plan Colombia, but continued steadily under Obama, though government to government and private arms sales peaked under Obama.
Nothing could stop Biden and Obama from backing their murderous ally to the south, not even the False Positive scandal. The so called False Positives entailed the luring of young men to rural areas with the promise of work, who were then dressed up in military uniform and executed and presented to the media as guerrillas killed in combat. Amongst the victims were impoverished working-class men, children with cognitive impairments, and even included the kidnapping and murder of professional soldiers recovering from wounds received in combat. The scandal broke in 2008, following the murder of 22 young men from the city of Soacha.
In his preliminary report the UN Special Rapporteur Phillip Alston stated: “But there are two problems with the narrative focused on falsos positivos and Soacha. The first is that the term provides a sort of technical aura to describe a practice which is better characterized as cold-blooded, premeditated murder of innocent civilians for profit. The second is that the focus on Soacha encourages the perception that the phenomenon was limited both geographically and temporally. But while the Soacha killings were undeniably blatant and obscene, my investigations show that they were but the tip of the iceberg.”
He did say they were widespread but not official state policy. However, every soldier who killed one of these young men was paid a bonus by the then Minister of Defense, Juan Manuel Santos, who would become president in 2010. Santos enjoyed the support of Biden and Obama during his tenure and although he began peace talks with the FARC guerrillas in 2012, his regime never stopped murdering social leaders. From 2012 to 2018, 606 social leaders were murdered; there were a further 3371 other acts committed against these leaders, including threats, displacements, and prosecutions. None of this caused Biden or Obama to express their concern. It was business as usual for them. The total number of False Positives is now calculated to be in the region of 10,000 youths, and despite Alston’s diplomatic statement that it was not official policy, no one buys that. We are not even sure whether Alston himself could stand by that statement, outside of his role as a UN diplomat.
It is true that the current regime in Colombia, under Duque, is but a mere remold of the Uribe governments (2002-2010), and the situation has deteriorated in the country. Duque openly backed Trump, and Colombian government officials illegally intervened in the U.S. elections, calling for votes for Trump in Florida. So brazen was their involvement, the U.S. ambassador to Colombia, Phillip S. Goldberg, publicly warned them against campaigning. There may well be a reckoning of some sort with Duque on this point, but it is unlikely that there will be any major change in policy towards the country.
Duque may well be publicly chastised by Biden and given a few well-placed mediatic slaps across the face. It will be mere window dressing. Prior to the implementation of Plan Colombia, Clinton sought and obtained the disbandment of the Colombia’s notorious XX Brigade; charged with intelligence and counterintelligence, it was an exercise in public relations. It did not affect intelligence agencies’ role in the murders, torture, forced displacement, and disappearances, nor the spying on left-wing politicians and human rights organizations, which continues unabated to the present day. On Colombia, the Democrats are very media friendly and good at dressing things up.
The war on drugs is likely to continue in one form or another, and though some left reformists hope that Biden will pressure Duque to restart the stalled peace process with the ELN guerrillas, it is unlikely. During the talks with the FARC, Biden and Obama wouldn’t release from a U.S. jail the FARC commander Simon Trinidad, in jail for his supposed role in the capture and imprisonment of three U.S. Dyncorp mercenaries. The ELN do not represent the same military threat that the FARC did. They are less militarist and much more political, and any threat they may represent is in the political arena. But they have long attacked U.S. companies and oil pipelines, and such attacks may be used as an excuse for further increases in military aid and greater involvement in the conflict. U.S. troops are already involved in the protection of the Caño Limón-Coveñas pipeline as it passes through the ELN stronghold of the department of Arauca. It will be very much business as usual under Biden.
Top photo: Protesters march against President Iván Duque’s policies, including police brutality and disappearances of political activists, in October 2020 in Bogotá. (Louisa Gonzalez / Reuters)
(Published elsewhere earlier in December, including Red Line; published here with author’s permission and section headings, photo choices (except one) and intro line are by Rebel Breeze editing)
The issue of drugs is one that is never far from public discourse on the Colombian conflict. Biased or just simply lazy journalists use the issue to ascribe motives for an endless list of events, massacre and murders. It is true that drug trafficking has permeated all of Colombian society and there is no sector that has not been impacted by it. But not everyone in Colombia is a drug trafficker. However, once again the King of Clubs is played to describe the conflict in terms of a drug problem.
Several Colombian newspapers have recently published articles on the supposed relationship of the guerrillas of the National Liberation Army (ELN) with drug trafficking and there are already eleven commanders who are under investigation for such crimes and are sought in extradition. They talk as if the ELN dominated the drugs trade, and talk of settling of accounts over drug money, as if they were a crime gang, instead of saying that the ELN takes drastic measures against its members who get involved in drug trafficking and that those internal executions are due to the indiscipline and betrayal of principles of some people and are not an internal dispute over money. Of course, the ELN in an open letter widely distributed on social networks and alternative press, denied any links to the drug trade. But, how true is this new tale? Before looking at the accusations levelled against the ELN it is worth going over the history of drug trafficking in Colombia and the reality of the business in international terms.
POLITICIANS, GUERRILLAS AND BANKS
Let’s start with the obvious. When the FARC and the ELN were founded in 1964 drug trafficking was not a problem in the country and there were no large plantations, i.e. the existence of the guerrillas predates the drugs trade. Later in the 1970s the country went through the marijuana bonanza on the Caribbean coast, but it is the emergence of the large drugs cartels in 1980s around the production of cocaine that would define forever the shape drug trafficking in the country would take. Up till the 1990s the country was not self sufficient in coca leaf, even though it was the main manufacturer of the final product: cocaine. Escobar was dead by the time Colombia achieved self sufficiency and it is in that context that the discourse of blaming the FARC for the drugs trade gained ground, completely ignoring that the main narcos were the founders of the paramilitary groups. One of the most notorious paramilitary groups in the 1980s was the MAS (Death to Kidnappers) founded by the Cali Cartel and other drug traffickers in response to the kidnapping by M-19 of Marta Nieves Ochoa a relative of the Ochoa drug barons.
That discourse, however, was useful in justifying Plan Colombia and there was an element of truth to it, but not that much back then. The FARC’s relationship with the drugs trade has not been static and has evolved over time. Almost everyone accepts that they began by imposing a tax on the production of coca leaf, coca base or cocaine in the territories they controlled. The initial relationship changed and the FARC went from just collecting a revolutionary tax to promoting the crop, protecting laboratories and even having laboratories of their own and in some cases, such as the deceased commander Negro Acacio, got directly involved in the drug trade. There is no doubt on the issue. But neither were they the big drug barons that they tried to have us believe, those barons are in the ranks not just of the Democratic Centre but also the Liberal and Conservative parties. It is forgotten that Samper’s (1994-1998) excuse regarding drug money entering his campaign’s coffers was and still is that it was done behind his back, but no one denies that drug trafficking has to some degree financed every electoral campaign in the country. Although companies like Odebrecht play a role at a national level, at a local and regional level drug trafficking decides who becomes mayor, governor, representative in the house and even senators. Even the brother of the current Vice-President Marta Lucía Ramírez was a drug trafficker and there are loads of photos of many politicians with Ñeñe Hernández and Uribe appears in photos with the son of the paramilitary drug trafficker Cuco Vanoy. It is a matter of public knowledge that several high ranking police officers close to Uribe such as his former head of security Mauricio Santoyo were extradited to the USA for drug related crimes and Uribe’s excuse was the same as Samper’s: it was all done behind his back.
NOT THE ELN
But when we look at the extent of illicit crops in Colombia, we can clearly see the reason why they are linked to the FARC for so long and not to the ELN. The reason is simple, the majority of the large plantations of coca and opium poppy were to be found in areas under the influence of the FARC. If we look at the crop monitoring carried out by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) we can see that in 2001 the main departments (administrative regions: Colombia has 32 — RB editing) where there were crops were almost exclusively FARC fiefdoms.
In 2001, coca was to be found in 22 departments of the country, compared to just 12 in 1999. However, despite the expansion, just two areas accounted for the majority of the crops: Putumayo-Caquetá had 45% of the total amount of coca (about 65,000 hectares) and Meta-Guaviare-Vaupés with 34% of the area (about 49,000 hectares) i.e. 79% of the total area under coca. They were areas that were completely dominated by the FARC, not a single eleno was to be found in those territories and if they did venture in, it was undercover at the risk of execution by the FARC were they discovered as the FARC did not tolerate political competition in their fiefdoms. When one looks at the map of crops back then, one can see not only the concentration in those areas but also almost all the other departments were dominated by the FARC and those where there were significant amounts of coca and also an ELN presence, one finds Cauca with 3,139 hectares, Nariño with 7,494 hectares and the Norte de Santander with 9,145 hectares. But in those areas there was a certain territorial balance between the different guerrillas and one of the few departments where the ELN was clearly the dominant force was Arauca with 2,749 hectares. But when we look at the counties we can see that it is not as clear cut, as in the Norte de Santander 83% of the coca crops were to be found in just one county: Tibú, FARC fiefdom for many years before the paramilitary takeover in 1999. In Arauca the county of Araquita accounted for 60% of the crops in the department and it was also a FARC fiefdom within an area dominated by the ELN. Thus it is obvious as to why they spoke almost exclusively about the role of the FARC in drug trafficking and not the ELN at that time.
Years later the situation had not changed much, the main producing departments were the FARC fiefdoms. The UNODC study on coca crops in the country in 2013 continues to show a concentration in FARC fiefdoms, with a displacement from Putumayo to Nariño due to aerial spraying and the persecution of the FARC by the State. In 2013, there were just 48,000 hectares of coca in the entire country, with significant reductions in some parts. Nariño, Putumayo, Guaviare and Caquetá accounted for 62% of the land under coca, with Norte de Santander representing 13% and Cauca with just 9%. There was a reduction and a displacement of the crops towards new areas with Nariño accounting for the most dramatic increase of all departments.
In 2019, there was 154,000 hectares of coca, a little over three times the amount grown in 2013, though it was slightly down on 2018 when there was 169,000 hectares. Coca production recovered after 2014 in the middle of the peace process with the FARC. It stands out that in 2019, Arauca, a department dominated by the ELN the UNODC did not report any coca crops. Once again Norte de Santander is a department with widespread coca leaf production almost quadrupling the amount reported in 2001. It had 41,749 hectares of coca but the county of Tibú alone had 20,000 hectares and the same UNODC report indicated that these are not new areas and show that the crop has deep roots in the area.
THE BANKS, THE BANKS!
However, despite the role of the FARC in the drugs trade, they weren’t the big drug barons we were led to believe. How can we be sure? Their demobilisation did not alter the flow of cocaine towards the USA and Europe. The big drugs capos in the companies, the Congress of the Republic, the international banks did not stop for a second. Neither did people such as Ñeñe Hernández and other associates of right wing political parties in Colombia stop for a single instant.
Neither the production nor consumption of cocaine halted. The UNODC’s World Drug Report says as much about both phenomena. According to the UNODC consumption of cocaine fell from 2.5% in 2002 to 1.5% in 2011 in the USA, but from that year it increased again reaching 2.0% in 2018 and also there are indications of an increase in the sale of cocaine of high purity at lower prices between 2013 and 2017. The price of a gram fell by 29% and the purity increased by 32%. The report also indicates that in Europe there was a significant increase in various places such as the Netherlands, Norway, Denmark, Estonia and Germany. Nevertheless, some of those countries had seen decreases in consumption in the first years of the century. All of this suggests that there is a greater supply of the drug. This can be seen not only in the previously mentioned figures of an increase in the production of coca leaf in Colombia (or in other countries such as Peru and Bolivia), but can also be seen in drug seizures. An increase in seizures may indicate greater efficiency by the police forces, but combined with stability or an increase in consumption and a reduction in price, rather indicate an increase in production and availability.
According to the UNODC cocaine seizures have increased dramatically since the commencement of Plan Colombia, indicating, although they do not acknowledge it, the failure of their anti-drugs strategy and the tactic of aerial spraying with glyphosate. In 1998 400 tonnes were seized globally and that figure remained relatively stable till 2003, reaching 750 tonnes in 2005 and surpassing the threshold of 900 tonnes in 2015 to finish off at 1,300 tonnes in 2018, i.e. there was no reduction in consumption or the production of cocaine. Throughout the years with or without the FARC there has been coca production and of course the main drug barons never demobilised, the heads of the banks remain in their posts.
The real drug traffickers wear a tie, own large estates, meet with President Duque, it is not the ELN that moves hundreds of tonnes of cocaine around the world. In 2012, the Swiss bank HSBC reached an agreement with the US authorities to pay a kind of fine of $1,920 million dollars for having laundered $881 million dollars from the Sinaloa Cartel and the Cartel of Northern Valle, Colombia. The bank had, despite everything, classified Mexico as a low risk country, thus excluding $670 billion dollars in transactions from monitoring systems and the bank was notified by the authorities but ignored them. Nobody went to jail, in fact no one was prosecuted. As Senator Warren in a session of the Senate Banking Commission pointed out, no one was going to go to jail for this massive crime. Moreover, the Sub Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, David S. Cohen refused to recommend a criminal investigation against the bank. There is no need to state that no ELN commander is on the board of this or other banks. The ELN is usually accused of infiltrating universities, but to date no one has accused them of having infiltrated the boards of banks.
It is not the only bank implicated in money laundering, in 2015 London was described as one of the main centres for money laundering the proceeds of drug trafficking. A report by the UK National Crime Agency states, on the basis of a UN calculation that between 2% and 5% of global GDP are laundered funds “that there is a realistic possibility [defined as between 40-50%] that it is in the hundreds of billions of pounds annually” and the majority of it comes from crimes committed outside of the UK. There is no need to say that no ELN commander is a director of those companies, nor is there any need to state that these companies continue to operate and their directors are walking about free and according to the report they could only recover £132 million. The NCA cites favourably the reports of Transparency International. According to this organisation, 1,201 companies operating in the British Overseas Territories inflicted £250 billion in damage through corruption in recent decades. They analysed 237 cases of corruption in the last 30 years. The majority of the companies are registered in the British Virgin Islands (92%) and the majority (90%) of the cases happened there in the favourite headquarters of many companies that operate in Colombia, without mentioning those who finance election campaigns. Once again, the ELN does not operate in those territories, although many mining companies in Colombia are registered there. The report points out that due to legislative changes there are fewer reasons to buy property in the UK through those companies registered in the Overseas Territories, yet the number of properties has remained relatively stable at some 28,000. Of course not all them are the result of illicit funds, however… As far as we know the ELN’s Central Command is not the owner of any of these properties.
Transparency International continued with its investigations and its last report highlighted the number of British companies involved in money laundering or dubious transactions. It states that there are 86 banks and financial institutions, 81 legal firms and 62 accounting companies (including the big four that dominate the market). According to this NGO
Whether unwittingly or otherwise, these businesses helped acquire the following assets and entities used to obtain, move and defend corrupt or suspicious wealth: 2,225 Companies incorporated in the UK, its Overseas Territories and Crown Dependencies directly involved in making payments; 17,000 more companies incorporated in the UK that we have reasonable grounds to suspect have facilitated similar activity; 421 Properties in the UK worth more than £5 billion; 7 Luxury Jets 3 Luxury Yachts worth around £237 million worth around £170 million. 
Of course not all the laundered funds are drug related but they are all illicit in origin. However, the USA has not sought in extradition any of the banking capos, legal firms and less still the four big accountancy companies in the world. It would simply collapse the financial system were they to do so.
The extradition of criminals from Colombia has always been problematic in legal and political terms. Nowadays, the majority of those extradited are extradited for drug trafficking. The USA receives 73% of all those extradited from Colombia and 60% of them face charges of drug trafficking or money laundering. Though not all those extradited are guilty and there are various cases of people being returned to Colombia, after their extradition, or others more fortunate who managed to demonstrate their innocence before being extradited, such is the case of Ariel Josué, a carpenter from San Vicente del Caguán who didn’t even know how to use a computer and yet for
… the United States and then the Colombian justice system, Ariel Josué was the head of an electronic money laundering network, and had to pay for his crime in a north American prison.
In the absence of an independent investigation nor the verification of his identity, the Supreme Court issued a court order in favour of his extradition and even President Juan Manuel Santos signed the order for him to be taken.
OPEN LETTER FROM THE ELN
Despite those extradited, when not innocent, being poor people or those who have some relationship with right wing political parties or the economic elites of the country, the media and the Colombian and US governments’ focus on the problem is always the same: the guerrillas and not the banks or business leaders. In fact, one of the most famous people extradited is Simón Trinidad, a FARC commander and part of the negotiating team in the Caguán. Trinidad was extradited for drug trafficking and despite being a FARC commander they didn’t manage to prove any link to the drugs trade and thus resorted to the detention and captivity of three north American mercenaries hired by the Dyncorp company, a company denounced for crimes such as trafficking in minors, prostitution, sexual abuse amongst others. So we should be very careful when it comes to accepting these new allegations against the ELN.
The ELN in its open letter acknowledges that they collect taxes from the buyers of coca base and cocaine who come into their areas of influence, as they do with other economic activities. So if the ELN is not involved in drug trafficking, how can we explain the presence of illicit crops in their areas? The ELN commanders explain the presence of these crops in the same manner and the same dynamic they describe could be seen in all the regions where they had to deal with the FARC. There was a dispute between the two organisations as to what to do regarding the crops and drug trafficking itself. Initially the ELN opposed the planting of coca and opium poppy in the regions, but the FARC said yes and they authorised the peasants to grow it and moreover in some parts they were willing to buy base or cocaine itself, depending on the region. Faced with this reality the ELN felt that it had no choice but to allow the growing of the crop, as otherwise they would have to militarily face the FARC and the communities. That is why the ELN is to be found in areas with a coca tradition and as they acknowledge in their open letter they tax the buyers as they do with other economic activities. However, it is worth pointing out that the FARC also initially only charged taxes, but given the long ELN tradition on drugs it is unlikely, though not impossible that they do the same.
Its open letter not only refutes the allegations against it, but they also put forward proposals as to what to do regarding the problem of crops and drug consumption. It extends an invitation to various organisms to carry out in situ visits and inspections to see the reality of their relationship to the drugs trade, but they go further than clearing up the question of their links or otherwise to the drugs trade and they put forward proposals on the drugs problem as such.
PROPOSALS — SOLUTIONS?
To pick up the proposals made on various occasions by the ELN with the aim of reaching an Agreement that overcomes the phenomenon of drug trafficking that includes the participation of the international community, the communities in the regions that suffer this scourge and various sectors of Colombian society.
The issue of drug trafficking is not one that Colombia can solve on its own, it is an international issue in nature, not just in terms of the distribution and consumption of the final products, such as cocaine and heroine or ecstasy and other drugs generally produced in northern countries, but also because Colombia’s obligations on the issue are covered by various international UN treaties. The ELN makes various points.
Only the legalisation of psychotropic substances will put end to the extraordinary profits of drug trafficking and its raison d’être.
This position has been discussed thousands of times in various fora and international settings. It is partially true. No doubt the legalisation demanded by various social organisations, including health organisations, would put an end to the mafia’s profits, but not the profits as such. The medicinal uses of coca and opium have never been banned, rather the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) regulates and controls its production and end use. The UNODC calculates that in 2018 there just under 12 billion daily doses of opiates available in the legal market, double the amount available in 1998. Cocaine and medicinal opiates, including heroin, have always been used in a medical context and the use and regulation of cannabis is a growing market. The legalisation of recreational consumption is another matter, the state of Colorado in the USA and Uruguay are two places where they legalised the recreational consumption, with various benefits in terms of crime, health and taxes. The profits are lower in these legal markets but they are large, nonetheless, as are they for other legal drugs such as alcohol and tobacco, products that are controlled in terms of quality and their impact on the health of the consumer. The legal marijuana market in Colorado amounted to $1,750 millions in 2019 with 69,960,024 transactions with an average price per transaction of $51.89, but the price to the consumer continues to fall and quality is guaranteed. However, both Colorado and Uruguay have experienced legal problems with the banking system as their legalisation has no international recognition. The ELN’s proposal could only happen in the context of an international debate and a paradigm shift in the states and regulatory bodies at an international level such as the UNODC and the INCB, amongst others and the recent decision by the WHO on the medicinal use of cannabis is a good start.
A pact on shared responsibility between drug producer and consumer countries is required
This pact already exists. There are various UN pacts on the issue starting with the Single Convention of 1961, the Convention on Psychotropic Substances of 1981 and United Nations Convention Against Illicit Traffic in Narcotic Drugs and Psychotropic Substances. This last treaty deals with aspects related to organised crime, precursor chemicals etc. What is lacking is political will, not another pact. The factories where the acids used to make cocaine are not bombarded but they do attack and bombard the producer communities, neither do they bombard the factories of illegal drugs such as ecstasy in the Netherlands. It is not the case that there is a lack of pacts but rather as they say the law is for the ragged and in geopolitical terms, Colombia is very ragged
The drug addicts are sick and should be treated by the states and should not be pursued as criminals.
This is one point that is always overlooked in the discussions on illicit crops and despite the belligerent tone of the USA, both the north American health system and that of the majority of countries in Europe deal with it as such, some countries do not even pursue consumption as such, acknowledging its character as a health problem and only go after related crimes. The UN accepts the need for treatment for drug addicts and calculates in its World Drug Report that 35.6 million people in the world abuse drugs and just 12.5% of those who need treatment get it, i.e. about 4.45 million people.
The peasants who work with illicit use crops, should have alternative plans for food production or industrial raw materials, financed by the states in order to solve their sustenance without seeking recourse in illicit use crops.
Although this point is well intentioned it makes the same mistake as the FARC, the NGOs, international aid etc. Whilst it is true that the peasants should have alternative plans and receive economic support from the states, the problem is a core issue and cannot be solved through projects or credits: the economic aperture ruined the agricultural production of the country and the peasants can’t compete with the imports subsidised by the US and European governments. The underlying problem is not agricultural, nor economic but political and requires national and international changes. The free trade agreements, the monopoly in the agricultural and food sector exercised by multinationals such as Cargill, Nestlé, Barry Callebaut amongst others are not resolved by subsidies or projects.
As well as pursuing the Cartels in the narcotic producing countries they should also pursue the distribution Cartels in the industrialised consuming countries; as well as the Cartels for the precursor chemicals and money laundering of narco funds in the international financial system and the tax havens.
This is a key point. As long as drugs are illegal, they should go after the points in the production chain there, both the banks and the companies that engage in money laundering and the companies whose chemicals are used in the manufacture of cocaine. They don’t do this, one little bit or not much at least. Whilst the USA seek in extradition just about anyone in Colombia, they have never sought nor will they seek the directors of banks such as HSBC.
There are reasons to accept the ELN’s word on the issue of drugs, and there are more than sufficient reasons to accept the debate on drugs and what to do about them. It is a debate that never occurred in the context of the negotiations with the FARC. The FARC opted to negotiate benefits for themselves, their social base and they never touched the structure of the agricultural economy in the country nor the international law in force on drugs.
The allegations against the ELN lack any basis in fact, but the media does not ask us to treat it as truth, rather it serves as an excuse to delegitimise this organisation in the eyes of Colombian people and in the international area they are useful as excuse to continue to militarily support the Colombian state and in a given moment can be used as a pretext for more direct interventions against the ELN and perhaps Venezuela.
 Some NGOs prefer the expression illicit use crops, but it is misnomer. The international treaties on the matter leave us in no doubt on the issue, the crop itself is illicit. The Single Convention of 1961, the convention in force on the issue, in Article 22 No.1 demands the total eradication, the coca leaf and its derivatives are banned. The treaty demands that even the plants belonging to indigenous people be destroyed.