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)
On 2nd September 2020, a Paraguayan military operation took place in the north of the country which resulted in the deaths of two Argentinian girls of 11 years of age. Later three men were killed and the aunt of those girls was captured by Paraguayan military and is currently in jail. Those are the only elements upon which everyone is agreed; the rest is a matter of hot dispute, not only between the Paraguayan authorities and relatives of the dead girls and the detained woman, but also between those authorities and human rights organisations in Argentina, a feminist collective in Paraguay (currently subject to repression) and the appropriate organisation of the United Nations. There is also the question of a missing 14-year old girl.
Some of the human rights organisations, such as the Gremial de Abogados de Argentina (Association of Argentinian Lawyers) and feminist collectives in Paraguay itself have said the girls were captured alive and subsequently murdered. Some others, such as Human Rights Watch have cast heavy doubts on the version (actually, a number of different versions) of the Paraguayan authorities, also pointing out a number of actions taken which raise suspicions of murder and of attempts to cover up the events.
ACCORDING TO THE FAMILY AND SUPPORTERS
Last year Laura Villalba Ayala – sister of Carmen Villalba, one of the former top leaders of the EPP guerrilla organisation who has been in prison for 17 years – travelled from Argentina to Paraguay with three girls who were going to visit their relatives. According to some sources, to visit their fathers, whom they had never met in person, having been born in Argentina to where their mothers had fled and been brought up there.
Paraguayan intelligence detected the group and they were ambushed on 2nd September in the El Paraíso ranch, located in the city of Yby Yaú, in the Department of Concepción of the Republic of Paraguay. The belief is that they took them alive as prisoners and then executed two of the 11-year-old girls, Lilian and Maria Carmen Villalba and wounded 14-year-old Carmen Elizabeth (Lichita) who managed to flee along with others. Or executed the girls after the others had successfully got away – after interrogating them.
A relentless hunt pursued the fugitives and on 20th November 2020, while passing through the forest the three men who accompanied them were executed in cold blood: Lucio Silva, Esteban Marín López and Rodrigo Arguello. Their executioners fired infrared targeted shots at a distance of 500 meters.
Alone and without knowing the area, the girl and woman fled the hunt into the forest but got lost and separated and on December 23rd when Laura was looking for Carmen Elizabeth, she was arrested. The girl is still missing, while Laura is prisoner in a military camp and, according to her family and supporters, probably being tortured.
ACCORDING TO THE PARAGUAYAN AUTHORITIES
The “raid on an EEP camp” was hailed by the President of Paraguay, Mario Abdo Benítez himself as a great victory against the EEP and mentioned that some young women guerrilleras had been killed. When giving more detail, the military said that the young women were around 14 or 15 and supplied photographs of their bodies in military-style fatigues/ uniform.
The authorities reported that the bodies had been found with weapons, that a paraffin test on one of them established that she had fired a weapon, that both had ammunition in their pockets, their clothes had been burned (“due to Covid19 precautions”) and both had been buried without autopsy.
Ferreira, a Government official who arrived at the site of the incident after it had occurred, said that he recorded bullet wounds which he said had been at a distance of between 10 and 20 metres and that the girls had been shot while running away.
After enquiries from anxious relatives, the Paraguayan authorities requested the Argentinian state to send copies of the birth certificates of the girls which, when supplied, confirmed that the girls had been 11 years of age. The Director of Forensic Science of the Paraguayan Prosecutor’s office then had the bodies exhumed and, carrying out tests on them, confirmed their ages at around 11 years of age. After that examination of the remains, the Forensic Science Director, Pablo Lemir said one girl was shot seven times – from the front, the back, and the side – while the other girl was shot twice, from the front and the side.
The Paraguayan State and its supporting media then began to talk of a “training camp for child soldiers” and accusing Laura Villalba Ayala of having accompanied them into Paraguay for that purpose.
DOUBTS AND SUSPICIOUS CIRCUMSTANCES
Numerous sources including Human Rights Watch, commenting on the available information, cast doubts or outright challenged the Paraguayan state account, pointing out the following:
no autopsy was carried out on the bodies prior to burial as is required in particular by the Minnesota Protocol in cases of death caused by government agents (the international standard for conducting autopsies and other forensic analysis in the United Nations Manual on the Effective Prevention of Extra-legal, Arbitrary, and Summary Executions).
neither family, Argentinian Consul or independent observers were permitted to attend the eventual autopsy
the clothes of the deceased, material of great forensic importance were not only not preserved but burned
the reason given for that burning, defence against Covid19 contagion, is not recommended in any of the Covid19 procedures and was not carried out with regard to other material in the camp (bedding, food sacks etc) and in any case makes no sense since the bodies were immediately buried, according to the military
despite videoing by Government forces of previous such operations, there was none of this one
there were no interviews of the military personnel to establish what weapons they had or who had fired or their account of the incident
the photos seen showed the uniforms clean and without bullet holes while the girls were by military admission killed by a number of bullets and relatives shown the photos contrasted the clean state of the uniforms with the girls’ faces and hands, which suggested to them that they had been dressed in the uniforms after torture and execution
Beyond 1.5 metres, it is not possible to determine the distance of firing since the entry wound will look the same at vastly different distances, according to two IFEG forensic analysts (Independent Forensic Expert Group of the International Rehabilitation Council for Torture Victims) giving Human Rights Watch their expert opinions in this case.
The paraffin test is not considered conclusive of having fired a gun, according to the IFEG experts, since there is a wide range of other substances that can give the same result.
According to Pablo Lemir, Director of Forensic Science of Paraguay’s Prosecutor’s Office, the failure to carry out an autopsy and burning of clothes violated standard procedures for such cases.
The Government expended some effort originally to claim that the girls were years older than their actual age. Now it is refusing to allow an experienced Argentinian team to exhume the girls and carry out a forensic examination.
REPRESSION AND RESISTANCE IN PARAGUAY ARISING FROM THIS CASE
A feminist collective responded spontaneously to the news of the killing with around 70 demonstrating with a samba band at the national building of the Pantheon of Heroes, carrying placards stating that the victims were only girls (“eran niñas” — which also became a hashtag about the case). The Pantheon building had been sprayed earlier with graffiti quoting from Paraguay’s child protection legislation and there was an attempt to burn a flag of the state’s colours.
The Attorney General’s Office immediately issued arrest warrants for three women on charges of “damage to national heritage”, which carries a maximum sentence of 10 years. Paloma Chaparro, who had been recorded carrying out the acts, later surrendered herself to authorities, while Marian Abdala and Giselle Ferrer fled to Argentina despite continued border closures due to Covid-19. Subsequently summonses were issued for at least six of the organisers of the protest to answer charges of violation of Covid19 regulations and extradition requests were made of Argentina for the two who fled the country.
Paraguayan politicians, who have nothing to say about the killing of 11-year-old girls by their military, have vied to express disgust and horror at the crimes on the national monument, with patriotic associations even laying floral tributes of thousands of dollars at the monument. The Paraguayan media, all very aligned with the regime, has made great issue of this “crime” (at worst mild vandalism) with the effect of drawing a veil over the case of executions of two 11-year-old girls and three adults, the continuing disappearance of a 14-year-old girl and the continuing detention of their adult relative in a male-only military compound.
Both women who fled to Argentina gave numerous death and rape threats as their reason, along with lack of faith in fair treatment by Paraguay’s judicial system.
Paloma Chaparro spent two weeks in jail before being bailed at $14,300 to house arrest.
During a press conference on Monday 11th, a member of the lawyers’ delegation who had entered the conflict zone in an effort to find and rescue Carmen Elizabeth Oviedo Villalba and also to investigate the incident, said they were accompanied throughout by five military vans and that the intimidation of the local people was such that they were unable to talk to any of them. However, some who separatedly had managed to speak to local people confirmed that the girls had been arrested alive during the raid.
Later the Paraguayan authorities claimed that one of the lawyers is the new leader of the EPP! Commenting on the accusation during the press conference a representative of the organisation clearly found it amusing but then became serious, pointing out that such accusations could put their lives in danger.
On 11 September 2020 the Paraguayan government stated that former Vice President Óscar Denis and one of his employees were kidnapped by members of the EPP not far from the site of the guerrilla camp assaulted by the army on 2nd September. The pick-up vehicle in which the two men were riding was found abandoned with propaganda leaflets scattered around, the statement said. The EPP appears to have made no statement in that regard.
Both men are reported still missing.
The Ejército del Pueblo Paraguayo (Paraguayan People’s Army) is a very small guerrilla army of communist ideology, which sees itself as a liberation organisation but which the regime classifies as a terrorist organisation. Estimates of its numbers vary from 50-100 and it operates mostly in the Concepción department (administrative area) in northern Paraguay and also in the neighbouring departments of Caníndeyu and San Pedro.
Wikipedia and other websites describing such organisations regularly list the alleged killings, kidnappings etc by the guerrilla organisations without listing the corresponding arrests, killings and other actions by the police and army forces or other arms of the State or proxy forces. In those circumstances quoting statistics of armed actions by the guerrilla organisation can amount to propaganda in favour of the state in question.
The origins of the organisation are in the taking apart of the Partido Patria Libre (Free Homeland Party) by Paraguayan police in 2005.
Whatever others may say about them it does appear that the guerrilleros are well-regarded in the EPP operational area and the chairperson of the press conference in Argentina on Monday commented in passing that the funerals of the three fighters executed by the Paraguayan military were attended by large crowds of local people paying their respects.
A coalition of Argentinian human rights organisations have written an Open Letter (see Appendix 2) to Alberto Fernandez, the President of Argentina, calling on him to suspend commercial relations with Paraguay until the regime responds satisfactorily to the following
“Demand the Paraguayan government authorize the immediate entry of the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team to carry out an autopsy within the framework of an impartial investigation that can guarantee justice for the girls María Carmen and Lilian Mariana Villalba.
“Demand of the Paraguayan government the appearance alive of Carmen Elizabeth Oviedo Villalba, aged 14, who has been missing since November 30, 2020.
“Demand of the Paraguayan government the immediate release of Laura Villalba, who is being held illegally in a military prison, probably subjected to torture.
“Grant political refuge in Argentina for the Villalba family, which is constantly harassed and criminalized by the Paraguayan government.”
Supporters of the family and human rights organisations in Argentina are asking for details of the case to be widely disseminated and for people internationally to add their voices to the campaign (should you wish to add your name or organisation in support of the letter, please notify email@example.com and name which category you come under from the list on the open letter).
At an on-line press conference on Monday last week it seemed that the only media present from outside Latin America were from the Italian and Spanish states. A member of the family, Myrian, thanked all for their efforts and vowed to continue the campaign while an elderly Nor Cortiñas, a member of the famous Mothers of May Square, who in the 1970s and 80s demonstrated in Buenos Aire’s city centre demanding justice regarding those “disappeared” by the military dictatorship then, spoke words of encouragement and said “Venceremos!” (“We shall win`!”) with upraised clenched fist.
Both the United Nations and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights have demanded an investigation into the killings.
Under a feeling of some urgency I have done best I have been able to assist in a small way the application of international pressure upon firstly the Paraguayan state to admit a proper investigation, along with the return to Argentina of Laura Villalbaand the currently disappeared 14-year-oldCarmen Elizabeth Oviedo Villalba and, in the second place, that the Argentinian Government take all action possible to achieve those aims. It was just a few days ago that I received the first knowledge I had of this case through a comrade abroad forwarding me the press release of the Argentinian Lawyers’ Association, since when I have tried to find more details and also some press coverage (see Sources). It is possible therefore that I have omitted some relevant matters or erred in some detail and if so, I can only apologise and hope that will not be the cause of anyone failing to disseminate information about this atrocity and the present and continuing danger to a woman in jail and a 14 year-old girl missing in Paraguay.
APPENDED DOCUMENTS (total 2)
THE ARGENTINIAN LAWYERS’ ASSOCIATION REPORTS THE ARRIVAL OF A DELEGATION OF INTERNATIONAL LAWYERS IN THE CONFLICT ZONE IN SEARCH OF INFORMATION ABOUT THE WHEREABOUTS OF CARMEN ELIZABETH OVIEDO VILLALBA (English translation from original by DB)
It was public knowledge in the past that more than ten years ago several members of the Villalba family, mostly boys and girls, had to settle in our country (Argentina) fleeing the persecution unleashed by the Paraguayan Government against the families of the combatants of the EPP (Ejercito del Pueblo Paraguayo- Paraguayan People’s Army), who are not part of the organization.
Last year Laura Villalba Ayala – Carmen Villalba’s sister, one of the top leaders of the EPP who has been in prison for 17 years – travelled to Paraguay with three girls who were going to visit their relatives.
Paraguayan intelligence detected the group and the persecution against them was unleashed immediately, managing to ambush them on 2nd September in the El Paraíso ranch, located in the city of Yby Yaú, in the Department of Concepción of the Republic of Paraguay. They took them alive as prisoners and then executed two of the 11-year-old girls, Lilian and Maria Carmen Villalba and wounded 14-year-old Carmen Elizabeth (Lichita) who managed to flee along with the others.
From there, the chase after them was relentless. In this context, on 20th November 2020, the three people who accompanied them: Lucio Silva, Esteban Marín López and Rodrigo Arguello were executed in cold blood while passing through the forest. The executioners fired shots at 500 meters distance with weapons equipped with caloric and infrared mechanisms that detect human heat and direct the shot.
Alone and without knowing the area, they went into the forest trying to flee the persecution. They got lost and on December 23rd when Laura was looking for Carmen Elizabeth, she was arrested.
From the testimonies of local people collected by Laura before her arrest, some said that the army had captured Carmen Elizabeth and others said that a group of civilians captured her.
Throughout these days the Government of Paraguay has launched an intense campaign against the EPP, in particular against the Villalba family. To justify the executions of the girls and now the disappearance of Carmen Elizabeth “Lichita”, they are spreading false news about the recruitment of minors in the EPP, obscenely conducting a cover-up for their crimes and their need to use the persecution of girls as spoils of war in their fight against the EPP.
For that reason, several colleagues offered to organize a search group with the participation of our colleague Gustavo Franquet, along with the lawyer Daysi Irala from Paraguay, the lawyer Sabrina Diniz Bittencourt Nepomuceno from Brazil and the comrade Germán from Aníbal Verón’s CTD, who also volunteered to accompany and assist.
On the 4th of January 2021 this delegation arrived at Yby Yaú, North of Paraguay after 6 hours by the bus. From there, they will have to walk into the conflict zone, in an area with a lot of forest to try to reach the area where aboriginal communities have reported that they saw Lichita alive.
They will try to confirm the information gathered so far and look for more information about the 14-year-old girl (twin) daughter of Carmen Villalba.
We publicise the presence of our colleagues in the area, aware of the danger that the delegation has assumed when entering the conflict zone.
The Government and the Paraguayan military forces are informed of the entry into the area of a non-belligerent foreign group of which none carry any weapons.
We hold the Government and the Joint Task Forces of Paraguay responsible for the physical integrity, life, and liberty of our comrades, since the official Paraguayan organizations and the Argentine consul in Asunción have been formally notified of their presence.
Finally, and with all our heart, we want to show our immense gratitude to so many colleagues, as well as to very diverse organizations of different political positions that assisted with money (in some cases a lot of money, which was unexpected by us) to pay for the trip, tickets and the huge expenses that this mission entails for us.
Know that we will never ever forget such a gesture and that without this assistance this trip would have been impossible.
We will continue to provide all the information that we receive.
Open letter to President Alberto Fernández: You cannot do “business” with an infanticidal state.
We the undersigned, social organizations, intellectuals, academics, trade unionists, activists, defenders of human rights, feminists, professionals, members of civil society, political organizations, ask the Argentina Government presided over by Alberto Fernández to suspend commercial relations with the Paraguayan State until the clarification of the crime perpetrated by the Joint Task Forces (FTC) against the Argentinian girls María Carmen and Lilian Mariana Villalba, who were only 11 years old, in Yby Yaú, Concepción, Paraguay, on September 2, 2020, and thatCarmen Elizabeth Oviedo Villalba, 14 years old, disappeared since November 30, appears alive.
Along the same lines, the immediate cessation of the persecution of the Villalba family is required, which currently has Laura Villalba, mother of one of the massacred girls, illegally detained in the Viñas Cué military prison. Both Carmen Elizabeth and Laura witnessed the capture of the girls at Yby Yau on September 2nd. Therefore, the arrest of one and the disappearance of the other are intimately related to the intention of the terrorist state of Paraguay,faced with a fact that is internationally known, to erase the evidence and viciously punish the next of kin.
Laura, María Carmen, Lilian Mariana and Carmen Elizabeth resided in the missionary town of Puerto Rico (Argentina) and were stranded in Paraguay by the COVID 19 pandemic. The Paraguayan State had a duty to protect them and return them in good health. On the contrary, the repressive forces of that country violated their lives, with the operation celebrated as a success by the President of the country himself, Mario Abdo Benítez.
The bodies of the girls were not subjected to an autopsy and were quickly buried, with false information from official sources about the age and condition of the girls at the time of being killed. The alleged clothes that the girls were wearing were cremated as a preventive operation against COVID 19, a fact that lacks substance and reason. The second autopsy that was carried out under pressure from civil society determined the age of the girls and added more confusion to the way in which they were executed, so we understand that an impartial investigation is still necessary to determine what happened and to allow progress in a process of reparation and justice.
Although the Paraguayan Government has supposedly responded affirmatively to the request for an investigation made by the Argentinian State, it has done nothing in that direction and, on the contrary, has withdrawn its support for the UN in the face of its pronouncement in this case; it has persecuted the protesters who demand justice, has criminalized children, adolescents and indigenous communities in the region, has held the families of the victims responsible as well as relatives who suffer persistent persecution, has fostered wild hypotheses about Argentina, as some kind of “guerrilla nursery” place, has wished to prohibit the dissemination of information about the murdered girls, thereby trying to hide the fact that they were girls and push the case into oblivion, has continued with its policy of militarization of the northern region of the country. As if all this were not enough, we also observe an intention – reinforced by the hegemonic media and social networks – to deny the Argentinian nationality of the girls María Carmen and Lilian Mariana, to remove relevance of the incident from the Argentinian State, which worries us doubly: first, because it is intended to strip us of the tool of international law; second, because in this way the Paraguayan State demonstrates that it assumes the power to murder girls if it so wishes.
The Paraguayan State has a history of abuses that are recorded with six judgments of the IACHR, of which it has only partially complied with one of them, so we are talking about a serial violator of human rights. Under no point of view can we entrust the clarification of the massacre of our girls to whoever murdered them. Such is the impunity that no person is charged, investigated or detained for such an outrage, unlike the case of the people who participated in the protests demanding justice for the girls, for which there are summons, detentions and requests for international arrest. These recent verified events reveal not only disproportionate cruelty but also the direction taken by the Paraguayan judiciary.
If the Argentinian State is committed to the defense of human rights, in no way can it ignore such an outrage that physically assaults the bodies of girls, women and social activists. That is why through this letter we urge the Argentinian government to:
Demand the Paraguayan government authorize the immediate entry of the Argentine Forensic Anthropology Team to carry out an autopsy within the framework of an impartial investigation that can guarantee justice for the girls María Carmen and Lilian Mariana Villalba.
Demand of the Paraguayan government the appearance alive of Carmen Elizabeth Oviedo Villalba, aged 14, who has been missing since November 30, 2020.
Demand of the Paraguayan government the immediate release of Laura Villalba, who is being held illegally in a military prison, probably subjected to torture.
Grant political refuge in Argentina for the Villalba family, constantly harassed and criminalized by the Paraguayan government.
We are convinced that you cannot do business with the infanticidal state led by Mario Abdo Benítez, direct heir to the Stroessner dictatorship.
Without further ado and awaiting a favorable response, sincerely:
HUMAN RIGHT ORGANIZATIONS (original endorsements but many more since then: 10)
TRADE UNIONS (original endorsements but many more since then: 7)
POLITICAL ORGANIZATIONS (original endorsements but many more since then: 33)
SOCIAL AND PROFESSIONAL MOVEMENTS AND ORGANIZATIONS (original endorsements but many more since then: 119)
INTERNATIONAL SOLIDARITY ORGANISATIONS (original endorsements but many more since then: 33)
INDIVIDUAL ACTIVISTS (original endorsements but many more since then: 200+)
(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.
Basques marked the 50th anniversary of the Burgos military trials by the Franco dictatorship of 16 members of ETA, the armed Basque socialist independentist organisation. A few days ago a group went to the town of Burgos itself and posted slogans on the wall of the Spanish Ministry of Defence building there declaring that the Spanish State had not succeeded in its repression in 1970 and would not do so in future. In the Basque Country itself events were also held in commemoration.
The military trials of 16 members of ETA took place between 3rd and 9th December 1970 in the Spanish city of Burgos in Castille (north-central Spain). The trial concluded on the 28th with sentences of death on six and sentences up to 70 years on the remaining ten. Intended to be a mortal blow to ETA and to Basque resistance the trials instead inspired greater and more united resistance in the Basque Country and became an international publicity debacle for the Franco dictatorship.
Within the Basque Country, demonstrations and pickets took place and a general strike saw 100,000 workers there out on strike. ETA distributed pamphlets and leaflets among the people and in its repressive measures the Spanish police beat many workers and killed a number, as in Etxarri in Nafarroa (Navarra) province.
Internationally, protest demonstrations took place across Europe and other parts of the world, particularly outside Spanish Embassies, often leading to battles with the police of the host country. Pope Paul VI appealed for the death sentences to be commuted and Jean-Paul Sartre, a leading intellectual of the French Left and with an international literary reputation congratulated the defendants on having brought the situation of the Basque Country under Franco to international attention.
ETA hired prominent lawyers of Left and Human Rights reputation to defend the sixteen. The organisation also kidnapped the German honorary Consul as a hostage (and later released him unharmed). The defendants themselves used the trial politically, turning it into an exposure of the Franco regime and its repression. A number described the tortures to which they had been subjected, all of them declared their commitment to socialist freedom and some even stated that they were fighting for the rights of all working people.
The military judges, aware that the publicity of the trial was going against the Dictatorship, began to clamp down and restrict the defendants from saying anything that was not directly, as they saw it, pertinent to the charges, after which the defendants refused to speak at all. At one point during the trial the defendants all stood and sang the battle-song and national anthem of the Basque nation, Eusko Gudariak1. An even greater sensation occurred in a brief incident when the final defendant to speak, Mario Onaindia, attempted to attack the judges with an axe.2
A military-fascist uprising against the elected Popular Front government of Spain took place in 1936 and in the Spanish Antifascist War that followed, the Spanish Republic was defeated by the military with substantial assistance from Nazi Germany and Fascist Italy, while the UK and France blockaded the Republican forces.
A military-fascist dictatorship with the strong assistance of the Spanish Catholic Church followed amongst huge repression, making Spain the state with the most mass graves in Europe and second only to Cambodia in the world.
The Popular Front Government had granted autonomy to the Basque Nation (and to Catalonia) for the first time in centuries of the Spanish State, although Nafarroa province had sided with the military-fascist forces. Any notion of autonomy was withdrawn under the Dictatorship and even use of the Basque and Catalan languages in public or in education was forbidden.
Some guerrilla resistance continued for a period in the mountains of the Basque Country, Catalonia and other parts of the Spanish state territory but the fighters were hunted down or fled the Spanish state. The Communist Party and some socialist organisations continued an underground existence and built illegal trade unions but the CP of Spain did not support independence for the Basque Country or for Catalonia, on the theory that this would “break up the Spanish working class” (however later they all mobilised against the Franco Dictatorship and in solidarity with the Burgos defendants).
Euskadi3 Ta Asakatasuna (Basque Land and Freedom) was formed in 1959 out of a coalition between a left-wing Basque youth group and the youth wing of the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) who were discontented with the lack of action of their elders. In June 1968 ETA carried out its first armed action against Spanish police when killing a police officer asking for their identification papers at a checkpoint and shortly afterwards one of the ETA pair was gunned down by police. Two months later the organisation carried out its first planned attack when they killed Melitón Manzanas, Commander the Political Police Brigade in Alava Province. Manzanas was a notorious fascist and torturer who had hunted down Jewish refugees to turn them over to the Nazis during WWII.
The Burgos trials was intended to smash ETA completely but as outlined above, had an entirely opposite effect. The death sentences were commuted in an attempt to reduce the damage the trials had caused the international reputation of the Spanish State.4
AFTER BURGOS AND TODAY
ETA continued its armed and non-military actions and other revolutionary armed communist resistance began to take shape elsewhere in the Spanish territory.
Despite the huge success of the Basque solidarity mobilisations to prevent the executions in 1970, five years later a similar wave failed to prevent the executions of another two ETA members and three FRAP (Revolutionary Anti-Fascist Patriotic Front) members: Ángel Otaegui Etxeberria; Juan “Txiki” Paredes Manot; José Humberto Baena; Ramón García Sanz; and José Luis Sánchez Bravo.
ETA counted some actions notable for the harmful effect on them but also some spectacular successes in its armed campaign. Included in the latter were the assassination in Madrid in 1973 of Admiral Carrillo Blanco, Franco’s appointed successor and the abandonment of the nuclear reactor project in Lemoiz5 in Bizkaia in 1983. Blanco’s assassination and the death of the Dictator Franco in 1975 hastened the Transition of the Spanish State to an alleged democracy and a monarchical and unitary state constitution in 1978.
The Basque resistance constructed a network which beyond the armed group consisted of trade unions, youth organisation, social centres, daily bilingual newspaper and political parties. The Spanish State waged war against that movement with repressive laws, arrests, torture, jailings, closure of organisations and media, along with armed action against ETA. In addition, it organised and funded a terror and assassination campaign over a period of 26 years6.
In the late 1990s the Basque Left-Independentist movement began a process of unilateral disarmament and change in political direction which led first to an indefinite ETA truce in 2010, then to decommissioning of arms and finally to the dissolution of ETA in 2018. However around 250 Basque political prisoners remain in jail, a tiny group of which have declared their dissidence from the leadership’s path and are supported outside the jails by a growing movement which has a very different line to that of the “official” leadership.
The Spanish State insists that the only possible relaxation of prison conditions, end of dispersal7 or granting of parole for the prisoners is “if they recant their beliefs and apologise to the victims.”
Political repression continues at some level within the Basque Country. There is no indication that there is any intention in Spanish ruling circles to grant independence to the southern Basque Country – quite the contrary (as seen also in Catalonia).
THE 50th ANNIVERSARY
A group of activists from the official Abertzale Left carried out a publicity commando raid in Burgos recently (see video below) and attached a banner poster to the Spanish Ministry of Defence building which read: “NEITHER WERE YOU ABLE to repress the struggle of the people NOR WILL YOU BE ABLE” and LONG LIVE THE REPUBLIC!
A number of public meeting and on-line events were also held this month, including the commemoration in Etxarri of two Basques who were killed by Spanish police during the Burgos Trials protests.
In Eibar city in Gipuzkoa province around 100 people assembled despite Covid19 restrictions in the open air to mark the anniversary and included one of the Burgos trial defendants who, along with another woman, read out a manifesto which has been signed by many in the Basque independentist movement.
“The Franco regime wanted to prosecute, punish and subdue again a people that in the darkness of the dictatorship had dared to rise from the ashes of war,” they read, introducing the manifesto.
Recalling the moment when the defendants rose in court and with upraised clenched fists sang the Eusko Gudariak, the manifesto commented: “With their courage, that handful of young militants taught us to stand up even when it seems impossible, and their example lives on today in us and in the future in the actions and dreams of the new generations.”8
The manifesto also states that the Burgos Trials were “a milestone” for the survival of Euskal Herria. However today, 50 years later, the substantive process has not concluded, since “they continue to take Basque youth to court, thinking that by disciplining them they will quench the desire for freedom of this people, and the states that surround us have not abandoned their strategy against the independence movement.”
The anniversaries of milestones in the struggle, of successes and failures, of martyrs, continue to be marked. And the journey is far from finished.
1“Soldiers of the Basque Country”, very similar in title and theme to the Irish national anthem, Amhrán na bhFiann/ The Soldiers’ Song.
2How Onaindia managed to get his hands on an axe in court is one question but the significance of the axe cannot be underestimated – it was a traditional tool of foresters but also of ancient Basques in war and formed one part of ETA’s emblem, the other being the snake, representing wisdom.
3Formerly used to describe the whole Basque nation, “Euskadi” nowadays mainly describes the Basque Autonomous Region of the provinces of Bizkaia, Alaba and Gipuzkoa. “Euskal Herria” (The Country of Basque Language”) is more commonly used today to describe the whole seven provinces of the Basque nation, four currently within the Spanish and three within the French states.
4It also increased the pressure on the Spanish ruling class from the USA and European states to become more moderate politically and less vulnerable to revolution.
5This was in addition to frequent large protest mobilisations.
7The vast majority of the prisoners are in jails dispersed throughout the Spanish and French states, between hundreds and even a thousand kilometres from their homes, placing a huge burden on their families and friends in visiting them.
8Comment: One wonders whether they felt any sense of irony in reading that out, considering that only in September last year 47 Basque prisoner solidarity activists pleaded guilty in a plea deal that ended their trial in 25 minutes with suspended sentences for all except for a few months’ jail for a couple of them. The deal came as a total shock to the estimated 50,000 people who had, only two days earlier, marched in solidarity with the accused, defending their right to do solidarity work without being persecuted or prosecuted.
Last Saturday (November 28th) saw the centenary of the Kilmichael Ambush, when a column of the West Cork IRA commanded by Tom Barry ambushed two lorry-loads of Auxiliaries and fought them to a finish, losing three of their own in the fight. It was a battle of tremendous importance in rural Ireland during the War of Independence, when the forces of British occupation of the nation turned to undisguised terrorism and employed the Auxiliaries as the knife edge of that terror. Despite the Covid19 pandemic restrictions, the 100th centenary was marked by physical commemorations in addition to on-line talks and articles. However, it appears that the “patriots” of the Far Right and fascists1 in Ireland failed to commemorate this important event – why might this be?
The Auxiliary Division were all ex-British Army officers but were recruited in July 1920 as a mobile strike force to bolster the British colonial police, the paramilitary Royal Irish Constabulary. This was in addition to another police support group which became known as the “Black and Tans”. The massive swelling of the ranks of the police was because the British rulers wanted to deny that they were fighting a liberation war and instead to present it as a policing problem (though they were obliged to use 20,000 British Army nevertheless)2. Both the ‘Tans and the Auxies gained a reputation for rough and arrogant treatment of civilians, torture of captives, theft, drunkenness and general indiscipline. However, a fear of the the “Auxies” had also grown, a feeling that they could not be beaten. The Kilmichael Ambush smashed that myth and was as important in the rural areas as the wiping out of much of the British intelligence network in Dublin was for the city.
However although they have been posing as Irish patriots, we saw no sign of the commemorative celebration of the Kilmichael Ambush from the Irish Far-Right and fascists. They have played patriotic ballads and anthems often at events and strutted around under — and sometimes wrapped in — Irish flags. They have tried to appropriate Irish patriot heroes and martyrs including Wolfe Tone, James Connolly and Terence MacSwiney. But they left Tom Barry untouched.
Niall McConnell, head of the fascist organisation (registered as a business) Síol na hÉireann, posted about James Connolly as though Connolly would have supported McConnell’s type of people and claimed Connolly was born in Ireland. Laughable though it may be to think that revolutionary socialist and anti-sectarian, anti-imperialist Connolly would ever have supported a little Ireland religious sectarian and fascist like McConnell, the latter did try to appropriate him. And although Connolly was born to Irish parents in Edinburgh, where he grew up, that was not enough for McConnell, who had to claim he’d been born in Ireland.
Wolfe Tone, a revolutionary patriotic democrat who strove to unite the mass of people in Ireland of different religions and who fought for a secular independent state, would have crossed the street to avoid the likes of McConnell – but that didn’t prevent McConnell from trying to appropriate him.
Recently we passed through the 100th anniversary of the death on hunger strike of Terence MacSwiney – and they tried to appropriate him too. MacSwiney was a devout Catholic but the IRA, of which he was a prominent officer in Cork, was a non-sectarian body. Presumably MacSwiney, like his IRA comrades, fought under the principles of the 1916 Proclamation, part of which read: “The Republic guarantees civil and religious liberty to all ….” Nevertheless, got up somewhat reminiscently of the Ku Klux Klan, McConnell led a small torchlit group allegedly to MacSwiney’s grave and had himself videoed making a speech there.
Dee Wall (real name Dolores Webster), whose Saturday afternoon screeching on behalf of the QAnon negationists and conspiracy theorists assails the ears of people passing the GPO in Dublin and whose social media tries to reach those who avoided that experience, tried to claim MacSwiney too, only she pronounced the surname as rhyming with “tiny” instead of like “sweeney” (as one who had never heard the name before might from the spelling alone).
Jim Dowson, a British fascist and sectarian Loyalist, who has shared a platform with fascists Rowan Croft (aka “Tan” Torino) and Herman Kelly of the Irish Freedom Party (but formerly of UKIP), has cheered the armed fascists of the National Party in attacking unarmed counter-protesters, calling them “my Fenians”. Yes, bizarre to call his fascist comrades anything to do with the revolutionary Irish Republican Brotherhood but even more so when “Fenians” is one of the hate-names of Dowson’s Loyalist brethren for Irish Republicans.
Another centenary we passed by very recently with a number of commemorations held outside the stadium was that of the Bloody Sunday Massacre in Croke Park by Auxiliaries, ‘Tans and RIC. Apparently the fascist National Party sneaked in an early videoed commemoration of their own before anyone else on the day and left a wreath among other floral tributes there.
Yet, despite this focus on recent centenaries in the Irish struggle for independence, the “patriots” of the Far Right and fascists in Ireland seem to have let that great event of the Kilmichael Ambush slip them by without a commemoration of any kind. Not a murmur, not a video, not a post, not a photo, not even a tweet from these publicity-obsessed types.
THEIR PROBLEM WITH KILMICHAEL AND TOM BARRY
What possible reason could there be for this omission by the fascists and Far Right?
Was it because Tom Barry, who led that ambush was anti-sectarian and proved it by publicly punishing two men who had robbed from a Protestant chapel in West Cork? Doubtful, because that did not stop the fascists trying to appropriate Wolfe Tone, whose main effort was precisely to end sectarianism.
Or was it because following the Kilmichael Ambush, the IRA were condemned by the Bishop of Cork, Daniel Colohan? We might be on to something there. “Demented” Dee Wall, Niall McConnell and National Party representatives all attended the anti-Muslim protest earlier this year, organised by Gemma O’Doherty, who unfurled a banner bearing the slogan “Make Ireland Catholic Again”, where they prayed the rosary through amplification. The new fascist parties, far-right organisations and the anti-mask people are building on the remaining fundamentalist hard-right reactionary core of the Catholic Church in Ireland who have seen its grip on the social and political life of society slipping over the years, due to its scandals and people’s democratic desire for equality.
By the way, Barry commented in his memoir that, although practicing Catholics, the threat of excommunication deterred the patriots of West Cork not in the least, as they were able to separate their religious from their patriotic views.
It may be that the false patriots have another problem with Barry: he fought against the Free State at least twice. Tom Barry, like the overwhelming majority of the military part of the resistance movement, rejected the terms of the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1921 and refused allegiance to the 26-County Free State. The latter, in 1922 under Michael Collins, opened artillery fire upon the Republicans, launching a civil war which persisted until 1923 and during which the State, apart from those killed in battle, killed at least another 120, either through shooting prisoners, martial court executions or covert assassinations. Barry was part of the IRA’s leadership in the Civil War.
Although because he felt the war could no longer be won and was narrowly outvoted on ending it, Barry had resigned his leadership position shortly before the end of the Civil War, he rejoined the IRA leadership in 1927 and was jailed by the DeValera Government in 1934 for seven months on a charge of illegal possession of firearms.
In March 1936 Barry was suspected — but never charged — of involvement in the assassination of retired Vice-Admiral Henry Somerville at his home in Cork, because he was attempting to recruit people into the British Naval forces3. In 1937 Tom Barry was elected Chief of Staff of the IRA after the resignation of Seán McBride but resigned the position himself in 1938 over a tactical dispute.
Yet another problem for the Far Right and the fascists is that from the 1970s onward, though he publicly disagreed with some of their actions, Tom Barry stated he supported the Provisionalsand later, Republican prisoners in the H-Blocks. At a commemoration at Crossbarry in 1980, the scene of another of Barry’s famous battles, shortly before his death, he was quoted as saying:
‘I don’t want you to fall out4 until the same prayers are said for men who are being crucified in H-block, Long Kesh. I want you to say prayers for them to show our unity with these men, many of whom are completely innocent and are railroaded by the same British that killed these men whom we are commemorating.’
The Far Right and fascist “patriots” have a big problem with the Provisionals5 and others who were, during the recent war of three decades, at the time fighting against British occupation for a united, independent Ireland.
Of course, given their flexibility with history, logic and integrity6, there is no guarantee that at some time in the future the Far Right and fascists will not try to appropriate the Kilmichael Ambush. However, their present difficulty with commemorating the event and celebrating the memory of a true patriot, Tom Barry, exposed the false patriotism of the Far Right and fascists in Ireland. But it did more: it gave a clear indication of what they do support.
The Far Right and fascists in Ireland support:
the 26-County neo-colonial State
the continuation of British colonial occupation and division of Ireland
a Catholic Church dictating in political and social affairs to the population within the Irish state
The Far Right and fascists, for all their slogans about “freedom”, “free speech” and posturing as “patriots”, are in oppositionto freedom, both national, social and individual. There is nothing patriotic about them.
1 Though the dividing line in Ireland between most of of the Far Right and committed fascists is a thin one, it nevertheless exists but it is important to note their past cooperation in staging public events and the continued presence of fascists within the Far Right.
2 Wikipedia gives the following figures: British Army 20,000; Royal Irish Constabulary 9,700; Black and Tans 7,000; Auxiliary Division 1,400; Ulster Special Constabulary 4,000 (i.e a total of 42,000 combatants). These were opposed in fighting by little more than 15,000 IRA and about 250 ICA (although those were supported by a large network of formal and informal non-combatants).
3 With the signing of the Anglo-Irish Agreement of 1921, the British had retained the three deepwater “Treaty Ports” of Lough Swilly in Donegal, Berehaven and “Queenstown” (Cóbh) in Cork. The Irish State took these ports over with British agreement in 1938. De Valera’s refusal to allow the UK to use these ports during WW2 led to a threat of invasion by Churchill and the resultant declaration of an “Emergency” by the Irish Government and recruitment into its armed forces; the threat was unfulfilled and the Irish State remained neutral through the war though generally friendly to the Allies.
4 A military parade command: “Fall out” indicates that the parade is formally over and soldiers may disperse for recreation or take up other duties.
5 However the history-illiterate Dee Wall of the QAnon group, protesting outside Maghaberry Jail in solidarity with an anti-masker jailed for a few days in Maghaberry for refusing to give his name, stated that Bobby Sands had died there. Bobby Sands, the first of ten hunger strikers of the Provisional IRA and of the INLA, died on hunger strike in the H-Blocks of the Maze prison, which was closed 20 years ago.
6 Along with their willingness to libel with the most vile and outlandish personal accusations individuals who oppose them
In Irish history, which arquably is full of such wars, what is generally termed “The War of Independence” began with the Soloheadbeg Ambush on 21st January 1919 and ended with the Anglo-Irish Treaty on 11th July 1921 (which however, because of its limited measure of Irish independence led shortly afterwards to the Civil War 1922-1923). That ambush was one of many during the war by Irish guerrillas on the Royal Irish Constabulary, the British colonial police force and these attacks continued with a three-fold aim: to capture arms for the guerrillas, to eliminate much of the intelligence source for the Crown from rural districts and to open up areas of relative safety in the Irish countryside for the forces of independence.
In 1920 two different constabulary forces were recruited in Britain to bolster the Royal Irish Constabulary: the “normal” recruits in January and the Auxiliary Division RIC in July1. There were insufficient police uniforms for the “normal” constable recruits at first, leading to their being issued a mix of dark green RIC and khaki Army uniforms (usually Army trousers and RIC tunics) and Christopher O’Sullivan wrote in the Limerick Echo that they reminded him of the “Black and Tans”, from a well-known pack of Kerry beagles in the Scarteen Hunt. The nickname spread quickly and soon they were almost universally known (and thereafter in Irish history and folklore) by that name or shortened to “the ‘Tans”. The Irish translation is “na Dubhchrónaí” but it is likely that even in the Gaeltachtaí, the Irish-speaking areas, they were also known as “na ‘Tans”.
WW1 had ended in November 1918 and many of the ‘Tans were ex-British Army soldiers. Some were perhaps even demobbed (discharged) specifically in order to enlist in the new force. At the time there was ongoing agitation for discharge from the armed forces and even riots among thousands of British soldiers, many of whom had been conscripted but whom the British High Command was reluctant to allow to leave, knowing that many would be needed to suppress resistance to British colonial rule across the Empire, on the Indian sub-continent, in the Middle East, Africa and China.
The Tans quickly gained a reputation for brutality towards prisoners and the general civilian populace when conducting personal and home searches. They were also considered generally indisciplined, liable to intoxication on duty and to carrying out theft and harassment of women. Their behaviour towards civilians was so bad that even some British Army officers and loyalists in Ireland complained of it. The fighters of the Irish Republican Army, the new name for the reorganised Irish Volunteers, though they might fear being captured by the Tans, quickly enough gained their measure and were soon engaging them with arms.
The Auxiliaries, or “Auxies” as they became known, were a different matter. Their role was a rapid response motorised strike force and every single member was a War veteran and ex-officer, some indeed having been awarded battle decorations. Just as inclined to brutality and indiscipline in some respects, they gained a fearful reputation for their counter-guerrilla aptitude; though their commanding officer, Frank Crozier, sacked 21 of them in January 1921 because of their brutal raids in Trim, Co. Meath and murder of two Republicans in Drumcondra, Dublin, Chief of Police Henry Hugh Tudor reinstated them, so that Crozier resigned. One IRA officer commented that if the Tans were ambushed they would hide behind cover to return fire, whereas the Auxies would quickly be seeking to outflank their opposition and counter-attack.
The Auxies could carry out operations against the IRA and the civilian population with impunity, it seemed. The Kilmichael Ambush was planned specifically to take on the Auxiliaries and smash the myth of their invincibility.
THE LEADER AND THE COLUMN
The operation was led by a 23 year-old ex-British soldier: Tom Barry, Commandant of the West Cork Flying Brigade was at the time only 23 years of age and only a little over three months active in the IRA. When news of the 1916 Easter Rising reached him and other British troops fighting the Ottoman Empire in Mesopotamia (now Iraq), he “had not a nationalist thought in my head”, he confessed in his book Guerrilla Days in Ireland (1949). Barry was discharged at the end of the War but did not join the IRA until the capture and torture of Republicans Tom Hales and Pat Harte by Arthur Percival of the Essex Rifles in July 19202 so appalled him that he joined the IRA’s 3rd Cork Brigade, operating in the West Cork area. Barry’s highest rank in the British Army had been Corporal, in which role the limit of his command would usually have been of seven to 14 men. By the end of 1920, Barry had quickly risen to command 310 men in the IRA, operating over large areas of West Cork and occasionally further afield.
One of the many innovations of the IRA at that time was the flying column, designed to maximise the effective striking force of a guerrilla army in rural Ireland. This had been advocated by Seán McLoughlin while organising in South Tipperary. McLoughlin had been a member of the Irish Volunteers during the 1916 Rising, employed on reconnaisance and communication work by Commandant James Connolly in Dublin. He was only 20 years of age when, impressed by his conduct up to that point and during the evacuation from the GPO to Moore Street, James Connolly3 promoted him to Dublin Commander. Later, McLoughlin had proposed the flying column tactic in discussion with guerrilla leaders from Tipperary, Limerick and North Cork4 and recommended it to IRA HQ in Dublin, where the idea found favour and was soon disseminated. In West Cork the flying column organisation reached perhaps its apogee.
Younger and mature men in a rural community are likely to be engaged in agriculture or servicing that economy. In the first they are needed intensively at particular times of the year and families may depend on their work. Servicing work is usually more evened out throughout the year but is also less likely to have long periods when those employed in it are not needed. This is one reason why maintaining a medium-sized permanent guerrilla force in the field was difficult.
Another restricting factor was the shortage of armament – the guerrilla movement was dependent on firearms and ammunition captured from the opposing armed forces, confiscated from loyalists or purchased in small amounts at home or abroad. Some explosive material could be home-made but was sometimes of unreliable effectiveness, especially so in the case of hand-grenades.
Supposing sufficient armament could be found, a force of around 50 fit men could be maintained in a flying column, trained in the field, flexible, able to travel fairly long distances, carry out an attack and then travel far enough out of the area to avoid enemy encirclement. They had to carry their equipment and their own food or be fed by civilians in the localities through which they passed.
But this arrangement left a larger potential force of men mostly untrained and inactive. Barry solved that problem by the rotation of men to the flying column in his brigade area. For a period of a number of weeks, a force of perhaps up to 100, fully armed, would be engaged in a training program in the field, in the course of which at least one attack operation would be planned and carried out. A small core of permanent officers and guards would be maintained to ensure continuity of command, intelligence, armament supply and security. After their training period, the majority of the column would be demobilised, leaving the command core and at some point a new batch taken on. The arms carried by the previous trainees would be distributed to the next batch. Smaller groups could be rotated in and out of the column too.
The highest number fielded by Barry at any one time was a little over 100 when, on the 19th March 1921, four motorised columns totaling 1,200 British Army and Auxiliaries, supported by spotter planes, set out to encircle the column at Crossbarry5, Co.Cork. In a fighting retreat, the column killed at least ten of the enemy but lost only two men (a third, senior officer Charlie Hurley, had been surprised by the encircling British just prior to the engagement at a local house some distance from the main body and shot dead).
This development of the flying column proved effective and made the West Cork area a particular problem to the British occupation forces and it was not long before Cork was declared a “martial law area”, along with Limerick, Kerry and Tipperary (December 6th 1920). The military in these areas were empowered to execute anyone found carrying arms or ammunition and intern people without trial, also to carry hostages on their trucks to discourage attacks.
In November 1920 local IRA intelligence had noted the regular travelling on Sundays of two British Army lorries, Crossley Tenders, from the Auxies’ base at Macroom Castle to Dunmanway and it was decided to attack them. The Crossleys normally carried up to three men in front and eight in the rear so the maximum force with which the IRA would need to contend would be 22, well-trained and armed. The flying column had only recently been given permanent status and three days’ training with only three rounds for firing practice (due to shortage of ammunition). Barry mobilised a force of 37 for the operation, barely sufficient to take on two lorries, no more.
On the 28th Day of November,the Auxies came out of Macroom;
They were seated in two Crossley Tendersthat were taking them straight to their doom.They were on the road to Kilmichael and never intending to stop .....
The spot chosen for the ambush was at Dus a’Bharraigh, on a stretch of the road between the village of Kilmichael and Gleann but it was remarkable in IRA ambush sites in having no obvious escape route for the attackers to use in case the operation were unsuccessful or only partially so.
The start of the ambush is fairly well represented in a scene from the Ken Loach-directed film The Wind That Shakes the Barley (2006). Barry, dressed in Irish Volunteer uniform on the assumption that most British soldiers had never seen one and would take it as being of an officer in some branch of their own armed services, flagged down the leading lorry, threw one of two Mills grenades at the driver, fired a pistol and the attack began (Loach has the ambush organiser in British officer uniform, standing by an apparently malfunctioning motorbike and shooting the driver when he slowed down).
The earliest full account of the ambush is Tom Barry’s (in Guerrilla Days etc) and that should be read but Conor Kostik put together an even fuller account, drawing on material that would not have been available to Barry in 1949.6
Those Auxies not killed outright quickly took cover and fought back. They were pinned down and surrounded and their position was hopeless without reinforcements, of which there was no reason to expect any soon. The Auxies called out they wanted to surrender and two IRA men stood up, whereupon the Auxies immediately shot them dead. Barry had signalled to cease firing but had also issued orders that none of the ambushing party were to reveal themselves until he gave the order to do so but the two Volunteers, flushed with the battle and success, had forgotten the order and left their cover.
Raging at the treachery of the Auxies and at the unnecessary loss of two of his men, Barry ordered the battle to continue, ignoring all further cries of “we surrender” until every single Auxie appeared dead or seriously injured. The ambush party then, with the exception of the lookouts, came down into the road, collected the enemy’s arms and, removing the bodies from the vicinity of the Crossley tenders, set fire to the vehicles. Two men of the Flying Column were dead and a third was seriously wounded: Vice-Commandant Michael McCarthy in the fighting and Volunteer James O’Sullivan and 15-years-old Signals Lieutenant Pat Deasy7 by the false surrender, the former dead and the teenager dying.
Then Barry did a truly remarkable thing. Amidst the bodies of the Auxies, near the burning lorries, he took his men suffering from reaction through parade drill, then in front of the rock where the bodies of Michael McCarthy and Jim O’Sullivan lay, they presented arms as a tribute to the dead Volunteers. It was half an hour after the opening of the ambush when Barry called down the lookouts and the column moved away southwards, intending to cross the Bandon River upstream from the British-held Manch Bridge. Eighteen men carried the captured enemy rifles8 slung across their backs. It started to rain again and the men were soon drenched. The rain continued as the IRA marched through Shanacashel, Coolnagow, Balteenbrack and arrived in the vicinity of dangerous Manch Bridge. The Bandon River was crossed without incident and Granure, eight miles south of Kilmichael, was reached by 11pm.
One severely wounded Auxie had survived and was rescued when the British arrived at the scene. The driver of the second lorry somehow got away and made it to a house when two local IRA sympathisers took him prisoner — he was executed the next day and his corpse hidden.
The lorries were ours before twilightAnd high over Dunmanway town
Our banner in triumph was waving
For the Auxies were beaten right down.So we gathered our rifles and bayonets
And soon left the glen so secure
And we never drew rein till we halted
At the faraway camp at Granure
In the first planned attack on the Auxiliaries, the IRA had defeated a platoon of 18 (the lorries were not travelling full to capacity), of which they had killed 16. The guerrillas’ casualties were two dead, one of whom had been victim of the false surrender and the second victim severely wounded; these were removed to safe houses by horse and cart. The column had all the weapons and remaining ammunition of the Auxies and had burned the two lorries. It was a hard slog after the battle and carrying all that equipment to their billet in an empty house at Granure, eight miles away, which they reached at eleven. There the wounded were treated, they were fed by local people and the Column’s support structure, with men and Cumann na mBan standing guard over them while they slept.
Pat Deasy died during the night and temporary graves had to be found for his and the other two bodies until the area had calmed down.and high over Dunmanway town
Pat Deasy died during the night and temporary graves had to be found for his and the other two bodies until the area had calmed down.
The topography along the Auxies’ route had made the choice of a good ambush site far enough away from quick enemy reinforcements impossible, which was what dictated the eventual choice of the site by Barry and Vice-Commandant McCarthy. Available cover for the ambush was in short supply and even more so along any possible route of evacuation; which would mean heavy casualties for the guerrillas in any retreat from an undefeated enemy at that site. This in turn meant that the battle had to be fought to a successful conclusion – the complete defeat of the Auxie column. In this respect the planning of the engagement violated the general practice of the IRA at that time as well as the general rules of guerrilla warfare, which are of heavily outnumbering the enemy at the point of attack9 and at least being able to withdraw quickly and safely from enemy reaction. Barry and McCarthy no doubt knew this and were opting for daring rather than caution, taking a calculated risk (which is not the same as being reckless).
For a maximum enemy number of 22, Barry had mobilised a force of 37 but three of those and perhaps more would have to be scouts, to alert of the approaching Auxie lorries and to guard against being surprised by British reinforcements. Eventually, 34 including Barry were appointed to the actual fighting, his command post with three riflemen, another two sections of ten and a third section of twelve — but six of those would have to be prepared to hold off a third lorry if one appeared. The ratio of attackers to the target force was therefore just under two to one, which is far from ideal for an attacking force and less so when taking the topography into account. It would indeed have been wonderful for the Column had they the 100 in the ambush party group later claimed by the British!
The enemy could be expected to have the latest in Lee Enfield rifles, firing two clips of five bullets before needing to reload and also quickly re-loadable. In addition, they carried holstered revolvers. They would probably have some grenades and might well have at least one Lewis machine gun. Against that impressive potential and even certain firepower, the IRA column had a mix of rifles, shotguns, a few revolvers and two grenades10.
These considerations dictated the order of battle for the guerrilla force and plan of action: the battle could not be a long one and many of the enemy had to be eliminated at short range and in the first few minutes of the battle. This meant that after throwing one of their two British Army-issue Mills grenades, to disable the first lorry and front occupants, the attack on those in the rear of the lorry would have to be savage and almost hand-to-hand after discharge of shotguns at close range, followed by bayonet and rifle-butt.
Apart from Barry who had experience of combat in the British Army, few of the guerrillas had any military experience other than guerrilla training periods during earlier months and most had no combat experience whatsoever. The force they were intending to attack however were all ex-military, probably every single one with combat experience at least in WW1, which had ended only two years previously.
In terms of leadership, all of the Auxies had held officer rank and, if in the field, had commanded a minimum of 30 soldiers if at the rank of lieutenant and 120 if a captain. Barry would hardly have commanded more than 14 at a stretch and no more than seven normally. All the British officers other than those who had been appointed in the field during wartime perhaps, would have received training in officer school whereas Barry had had to train himself while also training their fighting force.
One hundred years ago this force of guerrillas in West Cork carried out a courageous and successful attack on a merciless enemy, in conditions both physically and emotionally difficult. The result was a huge boost in morale for the forces of Irish resistance at a time when it was needed, in particular in rural Ireland, while other responses were being developed to meet the changing tactics of the enemy in the cities, for example seven days earlier in Dublin with the wiping out of the “Cairo Gang” of British Intelligence. Both events shook the British occupation authorities but did not deter them and the war thereafter intensified further.
As was becoming standard behaviour of the British armed forces after an attack on them, they retaliated against the civilian population. All the houses near the ambush site were burned but they also went on to burn houses, shops and barns in Kilmichael, Johnstown and Inchigeelagh. And four days later, on 3rd December, three IRA Volunteers were arrested in Bandon, Cork County by soldiers of the Essex Rifles; after beating them, their dead bodies were dumped on the roadside.11
Barry wrote that some of the British media printed lies about the Kilmichael ambush, claiming that the dead Auxies had been mutilated but of course that could have been on the basis of information supplied by the British occupation forces; certainly there had been close quarter fighting which included bayonets and rifle-butts. He also recorded that after that War, the British State had written to him asking him to confirm details of the Auxies’ deaths for the sake of pensions to relatives and that he had declined to reply. However the body of Gutteridge, the driver of the second lorry, who had been killed after escaping the ambush site, was disinterred in 1926 by the IRA at the request of relations and buried in the Church of Ireland graveyard in Macroom.
The false surrender of the Auxies was an important issue to explain the wiping out of the column which otherwise might have been seen as execution of prisoners after the battle. The incident was described in a number of recorded accounts, of which the earliest was in 1937 by participant Stephen O’Neill. Tom Barry’s, although years later (1949), remains the fullest published account of the battle by a participant. The false surrender was mentioned in a number of British sources, including by the Auxies’ former commander, Crozier, who quoted an unnamed source in the area in his Ireland Forever (1932).
In The IRA And Its Enemies Professor Peter Hart (1963–22 July 2010) took issue with the false surrender account, focussing on Tom Barry’s recall in his book. Mistakenly believing Crozier’s to have been the first published account (and a concoction), Hart asserted that the false surrender claim was invented to conceal the killing of surviving Auxiliary officers after surrendering.
Most of Hart’s claimed sources in interviews in 1988 have been disproved in research by a number of historians, including Meda Ryan, Brian Murphy and Niall Meehan, among others (including by some of his supporters): one participant was already dead when supposedly interviewed by Hart, another was considered by his son incapable due to ravages of age and a stroke (he would have been 97 years of age) and some utterances quoted were matched to recorded interviews, including Fr. John Chisholm’s in 1970, taken long before Hart’s alleged interviews (and to which only Hart had been given access for over a decade).
It would seem that the issue has been long settled but the controversy continues albeit without any real substance. Hart was one of those people active around Irish history who have been called “revisionists” which, in the Irish context, means historians who wish to present an alternative discourse to the popular one of anti-colonialist Irish forces fighting a courageous war of resistance against a powerful and ruthless military occupying power.12 History is not just about the past but also about the present and the future, in which we all have a stake, which no doubt influences what some historians would like to believe (and to make others believe). Understandable though all that may be, to plagiarise and to falsify in order to achieve the desired result is inexcusable.
After the 28th of November 1920 the myth of Auxiliary invincibility had been well and truly shattered and there would be many further engagements between the IRA and the Auxies, with varying results. A figure of 12,500 British Army troops stationed in County Cork during the conflict has been quoted but it is not clear whether this includes the ‘Tans, Auxies and the regular RIC. The war would continue with assassinations by both sides, ambushes and attacks on barracks by the guerrillas, burning of homesteads and towns by Crown forces along with raids including murders, detentions, torture and executions. Barry stated that the West Cork Flying Column had suffered 34 fatalities but that his 310 men had killed over 100 enemy combatants and wounded another 93 during that conflict.
The Truce of 11th July 1921 was followed by the Anglo-Irish Agreement, signed in London by Michael Collins and the Irish negotiating party against the advice of their English adviser Erskine Childers13 and ratifed by a slim enough majority in the First Dáil, the separatist Irish Parliament. Its limited provisions would lead to a vicious Civil War in which the majority of the guerrilla fighters and their close support structures were opposed to the new Free State Government; the latter however had the support of British armament and transport and a hastily-recruited regular army of native personnel.
During the Truce, Tom Barry married Lesley Mary Price, a 1916 Rising veteran (and later Director of Cumann na mBan, the Republican women’s auxiliary military organisation) and survived the War of Independence. He took the Anti-Treaty side and was appointed to the IRA Executive (although he later wrote that the considered the struggle unwinnable once Dublin was lost to the Free State forces – he believed a decisive blow should have been struck at the outset against the Free State and to challenge the British). Barry was taken prisoner with most of the Republican garrison of the Four Courts in the Battle for Dublin in July 1922 and imprisoned in Mountjoy Jail, later transferred to the internment concentration camp at Gormanstown in Co. Meath.
In September Barry escaped from the concentration camp and headed south, where he was appointed to command the Southern Division of the Republican forces, which eventually defeated, ended their resistance in May 1923. However, Republicans continued to be liable to arrest (and murder) by Free State forces and had to remain on the run (or emigrate) at least until the Amnesty of November 1924.
Narrowly outnumbered in a leadership vote on whether to end the Civil War, Barry had resigned from the IRA leadership as the Republican resistance limped on for a short period before the order to cease hostilities. However he returned to the leadership in 1927 and during the 1930s, like Republicans elsewhere in the territory of the State and the Republican Congress in Dublin, he was engaged in fighting the “Blueshirts”, the Irish fascist movement led by former IRA officer and comrade Eoin O’Duffy.14 And in May 1934, under the De Valera government, Barry was convicted of arms possession and jailed until December of that year. In March 1936 Vice-Admiral Henry Somerville was shot dead in his home in Castletownshend, Cork for attempting to recruit men to join the Royal Navy and Barry, though not tried for the act was believed to have been involved. When Sean McBride resigned as IRA Chief of Staff, Barry was elected to the position but resigned in 1938 over a tactical dispute.
Otherwise Barry settled down to a civilian post as Superintendent of Cork Harbour Commission from 1927-1965, during which he published his book but was much in demand for interviews and led Cork Republicans in commemorations of the War of Independence and of the Civil War. In the 1970s he publicly declared his support for the Provisional IRA (while disagreeing with some of their actions).
Tom Barry died on 2nd July 1980 — despite a number of questions regarding his political trajectory,15 perhaps Ireland’s foremost guerrilla leader, certainly in modern times. He had led many engagements against the British enemy and had lost not one; although in those engagements his force suffered some casualties they were always relatively very low. There are monuments to two of those battles at the site of the initial engagements, the Kilmichael Ambush and the Crossbarry Retreat, and to him personally at Fitzgerald Park in Cork City, near the bank of the river Lee (which also holds a monument to fellow Corkman and Barry’s opponent during the Civil War, Michael Collins).
In admittedly light research, I have been unable to find the date of the composition or publication of the Boys of Kilmichael ballad (which I presume to have been around the mid-1960s) and only a little about the author? (listed on a couple of sites), Declan Hunt himself, who played with groups Battering Ram and Marks Men. The musicians received enthusiastic reviews for the quality of their singing and playing, as well as for commitment impact of their lyrics.
From a historical point of view the Kilmichael song contained a surprisingly inaccurate theme in its depiction of the ‘Tans as being the targets of the ambush and perhaps this is a reflection of the also inaccurate description of that conflict as “the Tan War”. I amended the lyrics to figure the Auxies instead of the Tans and, in order to maintain the rhythm, had to change one line completely (see footnotes to lyrics).
The song has a number of slightly different versions both published and in the vernacular16 and has been recorded by a number of artists. The structure and even some of the lyrics are strongly based on an earlier song, Men of the West, by Michael Rooney (1873-1901)) and the air to which it is sung is the same as the other’s. Men of the West is about the 1798 United Irishmen rising in Mayo with some French military assistance and Conchúr Mag Uidhir won a prize for the translation of the lyrics into Irish as Fir and Iarthair at the 1903 Feis Ceoil (a traditional music convention held in different areas annually) in Mayo.
The video below (reproduced with kind permission of Anti-Imperialist Action) includes near the beginning a clip of the ballad being sung in Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin at the end of last month. There are of course better renditions musically but this is the only one publicly available to date in which the lyrics record that it was the Auxiliaries who were defeated there.
LYRICS OF THE BALLAD (amended by me for historical accuracy)
BOYS OF KILMICHAEL
By Declan Hunt?
While we honor in song and story The memory of Pearse and McBride17 Whose names are illumined in glory With martyrs who long have since died; Forget not the boys of Kilmichael Who feared not the might of the foe: The day that they marched into battle They laid the Auxilliaries low.
So here’s to the boys of Kilmichael Those brave lads so gallant and true — They fought ‘neath the green flag of Erin And conquered the red white and blue.18
On the 28th day of November The Auxies came out of Macroom; They were seated in two Crossley Tenders That were bringing them straight to their doom. They were all on the road to Kilmichael And never expecting to stop, They there met the boys from the Column Who made a clean sweep of the lot.
So here’s to the boys of Kilmichael …
The sun in the west it was sinking ‘Twas the eve of a cold winter’s day When the Auxies we were eagerly waiting Sailed into the spot where we lay And over the hill came the echo The peal of the rifle and gun And the flames from the lorries brought tidings That the boys of Kilmichael had won.
So here’s to the boys of Kilmichael …
The lorries were ours before twilight And high over Dunmanway town Our banners in triumph were waving For the Auxies were beaten right down19. So we gathered our rifles and bayonets And soon left the glen so secure And we never drew rein till we halted At the faraway camp at Granure.20
So here’s to the boys of Kilmichael …
1At its height the Auxiliary Division RIC numbered 1,900.
2For whose capture Percival was awarded the Order of the British Empire.
3James Connolly, born to Irish migrants and reared in Edinburgh, developed into a revolutionary socialist and was Dublin Commandant of the Easter Rising but could not have known that McLoughlin would later himself become a communist.
4McLoughlin proposed the formation of bands of around 40 in which those for whom there were not enough firearms would be employed in roles such as first aid and demolition (scouting would have been another obvious role). Of course, as arms were seized those men could be armed. Interestingly, Liam Lynch had proposed the inclusion of Cumann na mBan and McLoughin had agreed; given the attitudes of the time one assumes their role would have been in an auxiliary one to that of the fighters.
5The location’s name is not directly related to Tom Barry but rather to the Norman family De Barry or, in Irish, De Barra; or possibly in West Cork of Ó Báire, an ancient Irish family name.
6I came across that account while searching for images for this article which by then was nearly completely written; had I come across it much earlier I doubt I would have written on the event at all but I hope I have added an additional something to the account, even if no more than about the ballad and about Barry himself.
7He had not been enlisted for the ambush party but followed them at a distance, his presence being discovered when nearing the site. He had begged to be allowed to stay and, unfortunately for him, had convinced them to do so.
8The Auxie who ran away had left his rifle behind so the Column had gained 18 modern rifles.
9Obviously this does not include the sniper or bomb attack.
10A number of accounts state that each of the attacking party had a rifle with 35 rounds which, if accurate, since accounts agree that shotguns were used, must mean some men carried a rifle in addition to a shotgun, which hardly makes sense. It is more likely that there were insufficient rifles for all and that some had shotguns, those in particular being assigned close-quarter fighting.
11Barry wrote that apart from the Auxies and Tans, who soon gained no mercy from the IRA, generally those who surrendered to the IRA were deprived of their weapons, told not to take up arms against the Irish people again and set free. Because of their treatment of civilians on raids and prisoners, an exception was made of soldiers of the Essex Regiment – but not until a note from Barry to their Commanding Officer warning him to have his men – and in particular his Intelligence Officer Arthur Percival — desist from torture and murder, was ignored. During WW2, to the disgust of many British, Dominion and Empire troops under his command, and civilians on the island, Lieut-General Percival surrendered Singapore to the Japanese Imperial Army along with 80,000 of his command, most of whom had not fired a shot. More than half of those POWs never returned home.
12Peter Hart rejected the term “revisionist historian”, saying it was pejorative, which in terms of Irish history it generally has been. In some other historical contexts however, for example the USA, revisionist historians have gone against the historical canon and have been concerned to tell the stories of the working class, women, indigenous people, slaves and ethnic minorities. Something similar has occurred in Britain. In Europe some revisionist historians have questioned the dominance of the post-Nazi discourse of a generally resisting population and researched the degree of collaboration among the occupied populations.
13Erskine Childers was an English sailor and author of the best-seller The Riddle of the Sands. He had brought his yacht The Aud, crewed by his wife and others, to Howth in 1914 to deliver Mauser rifles for the Irish Volunteers; these were in particular use during the 1916 Rising. He enlisted in the British Army for the duration of WW1 but, returning to Ireland, joined the reorganised Volunteers/ IRA, where he directed the insurrectionary war’s publicity department. Siding with the majority of the resistance military against the Anglo-Irish Treaty, he was captured during the Civil War, condemned to death by Free State military tribunal and executed. His son became fourth President of the Irish State.
14These were later incorporated into the Fine Gael political party, for generations one of the two main political parties in Governmentwhich, at the time of writing, is in coalition government with the Fianna Fáil and Green parties.
15He had advocated joining forces with Fianna Fáil during the 1930s and had also opened relations with Nazi Germany which he maintained up to 1939 while during WW2 he worked for the Irish State’s Army intelligence for the Southern Command with the rank of Commander and even wrote for its publication An Cosantóir.
16As for example in the lines
"For the boys of the Column were waiting
With hand grenades primed on the spot
And the Irish Republican Army
Made shit of the whole bloody lot."
17Two of the 14 executed by the British in Dublin after the 1916 Rising; Patrick Pearse was Commander-in-Chief and stationed at HQ (GPO and Moore Street) while Major John McBride joined the garrison at Jacobs at the last minute (he had his rank from the Irish Transvaal Brigade, in which he had fought the British in the 2nd Boer War).
18The Tricolour, not the green flag was the generally-accepted national flag at this time. The “red, white and blue” are the colours of the “Union Jack” the flag of the United Kingdom. The name of Ireland is “Éire” and “Erin”, although often used, does not exist (probably originally taken in error from the Genitive “na h-Éireann” or the dative, “in Éirinn”).
19My substituted line for “to show that the Tans had gone down”.
20The song lyrics I saw list “Glenure”; there are two places listed as “Glenure” in Cork County, both a long distance from Kilmichael, even without having fought a battle and being loaded down with captured equipment. However, in the military pension statement of Stephen O’Neill, one of the participants, I found the place listed as Granure which, at just over 8 miles away from the ambush site, was more reasonable, though still a heavy slog. They reached it about an hour before midnight.
After a military invasion by the Moroccan Kingdom into the “buffer zone” in Western Sahara, the Polisario Front, liberation and resistance organisation of the Saharawi, gave the MINURSO (UN) mission in Western Sahara 12 hours to leave the territory. Meanwhile the Polisario also retaliated against the Moroccan occupation with an attack against the Wall, while young Saharawi confronted occupation forces in a number of localities.
According to sources close to Polisario, the Saharan People’s Liberation Army, in response to the Moroccan invasion, undertook artillery strikes against Moroccan military targets along the Moroccan military wall that cuts through Western Sahara. The targets of the attacks were the following Moroccan military bases and surveillance points along the wall: Moroccan military base No.23 (Mahbes), Moroccan military base No.4 (Hauza), Surveillance Point No.71, Moroccan military base No.17 (Oust), surveillance point No.172, Moroccan military base Nos. 17 and 18. A press release from the Saharan People’s Liberation Army added that its fire on Moroccan military positions led to human casualties and material losses for the Moroccan Army and that Moroccan soldiers fled some of their positions along the Moroccan Wall.
The Polisario also alleged that Moroccan forces had attacked Saharawi civilians who had gone to protest peacefully at the first breach of the buffer zone, at Guerguerat, civilians which subsequently the Polisario had evacuated safely. Subsequently Moroccan military had breached the zone at another three points, it alleged.
The General Secretary of the Polisario Front, Brahim Ghali, gave a press statement in which he announced the retaliatory attacks against what he called a violation of the 1991 ceasefire, “repeatedly violated by Morocco” but which, with the invasion of the buffer zone, “has now gone past the point of no return”.
“DIFFICULT TO RESTRAIN THE YOUTH”
Over the years since 1991, as no progress towards independence seemed to be made, the Polisario leadership has at times found it difficult to restrain its youth from returning to armed struggle. And Moroccan police have carried out much repression of peaceful protest demonstrations, plain-clothes officers beating even women and children in the street. At a conference in Dublin last year (see Rebel Breeze report link below) representatives of the Saharawi people spoke about the human rights abuses by the Moroccan authorities in Western Sahara and about the discrimination and deprivation of the Saharawi people in a number of important areas of life.
At the above conference, despite reference by a number of people to a “Western Saharan peace process”, in reply to a direct question from the floor, the European representative of the Polisario, Mr. Mohamed Belsat, tacitly admitted that no such process existed and talked about the Polisario’s difficulty in restraining the Saharawi youth.
A source close to Saharan activists from the city of El Aaiún confirmed that dozens of young Saharauis in the El Inach Matalaa and Tatan districts were confronting Moroccan gendarmerie and police patrols during the early hours of Friday evening. According to the sources, these protests against the occupation and support for the start of war against the regime have shifted and hardened in the Ghiyadet, Bucraa and Lahum districts. The source consulted stated that as of Friday night, the riots against the occupation administration in the city of El Aai ún were continuing.
The Spanish colony of Western Sahara (also known in the past as “Spanish Sahara”) was abandoned by the Spanish State in 1975; instead of decolonising it and facilitating a referendum on independence, the Spanish State’s evacuation cleared the stage for two neighbouring states to invade the country: the Kingdom of Morocco and Mauritania.
The Saharawi people formed the Polisario Front guerrilla organisation to resist the invasion and occupation of their land and also formed a government in exile, the Saharawi Arab Democratic Republic, in Tindouf in Algeria. Mauritania relinquished the territory it occupied and any claim to Western Sahara in 1979 but Morocco continues to pursue its annexation and its attendant repression of the Saharawi people.
“Western Sahara has been described as the last colony in Africa and has been illegally occupied by Morocco since 1975. Morocco is obliged under international law and as a member of the UN to allow a vote of self-determination for the people of the territory. Yet for 35 years 165,000 Saharawi people have lived in refugee camps in Southern Algeria, ethnically cleansed from their own country. Morocco built a 2,700km wall visible from Google earth to stop the Saharawi people returniing to their country.” (From press release at the launch of Western Sahara Ireland Action group in November 2010).
Formally the UN considers that the Saharawi people have the right to self-determination and recognises the Polisario Front as the legitimate representative of the Saharawi people. In 1991 the UN brokered a ceasefire and established a mission on the territory. However over the years the UN has failed to take any action and many people have wondered at the point of its mission there. Interestingly, it is the only UN permanent mission that does not have a human rights watch brief. At the same time, the Moroccan authorities put a media blanket over Western Sahara to prevent reports of repression, including torture, emerging or, if leaked out, being investigated by journalists.
In addition, the ceasefire agreement authorised Morocco to administer two-thirds of the country and most of the Atlantic coastline, which has facilitated its plunder of Western Sahara’s natural resources and by others, including by EU states. One of the big member states of the EU, France is a big supporter of its former colony, the Kingdom of Morocco and the US has also tacitly to date supported Morocco.
A referendum was supposed to be held after 1991 but it kept getting blocked as Morocco disputed the terms under which it would take place. About 85,000 voters were identified by the UN in 1991, nearly half of which were in the Moroccan-controlled parts of Western Sahara, with the others scattered between the Tindouf refugee camps, Mauritania and other places of exile. The Polisario accepted this voter list, as it had done with the previous list presented by the UN (both of them originally based on the Spanish census of 1974), but Morocco refused and, as rejected voter candidates began a mass-appeals procedure, insisted that each application be scrutinised individually. This brought the process to a halt once more.
The ceasefire agreement of 1991 also provided for a buffer zone in Western Sahara which, in effect, protects the Moroccan wall from Saharawi attack but was supposed to protect the Saharawi also from further Moroccan incursion. This zone by Morocco’s Wall was to be patrolled by the UN but it was that same zone which the Moroccan Army has now invaded; the Polisario have obviously lost patience with the state of affairs, retaliated against Morocco’s troops on the Wall and ordered the UN Mission to leave the country.
Michael Quill forever changed labor relations in the USA. The founder of the powerful union representing New York City’s bus and subway workers, Quill’s numerous achievements helped transform the lives of millions of workers by his setting national standards for equal pay for women and minorities, health benefits and paid medical leave. However, it was his leadership of the 1966 Transit Strike that made “Red Mike Quill” a celebrity, famous for defying the Mayor and a jail sentence, when Quill shut down public transportation in the nation’s largest city.
Born in 1905 into a humble, Gaelic-speaking family in rural Kilgarvan, Co. Kerry, which was restive under British rule, Quill inherited his desire to fight for justice from his father. “My father,” recalled Quill, “knew where every fight against an eviction had taken place in all the parishes around.”
During the War of Independence, the fifteen-year-old Quill fought in the 3rd Battalion, Kerry No. 2 Brigade of the Irish Republican Army. On a solo scouting mission, Quill stumbled on a patrol of Black and Tans asleep in a ditch. Instead of fleeing, he quietly stole all their ammunition, gleefully returning home with his stolen loot.
During the war, Quill fought bravely and met almost all the top military leaders, providing him the rare opportunity of personally knowing many of Ireland’s most famous patriots. The war also started in Quill a lifelong animosity towards the Catholic Church. While on the run, Mike and his brother were gutted when their parish priest refused their request for temporary amnesty to attend their mother’s funeral.
Opposed to the Treaty creating the Free State with a partitioned British colony, Quill fought against Michael Collins’ National Army and in the conflict Kerry Republicans suffered greatly, especially at Ballyseedy, where 23 anti-Treaty fighters were murdered with dynamite by Free State soldiers. That fight’s unbelievable brutality and injustice never left Quill.
Being on the wrong side of the Treaty, Quill, unable to find work, left for America, arriving in New York the day before St. Patrick’s Day in 1926 with just $3.42 in his pocket. Through his uncle who was a subway conductor, Quill got a job on the Interborough Rapid Transit company (which ran the original subway system in New York), first as a night gateman, then as a clerk or “ticket chopper”. The IRT quickly employed many of Quill’s comrades who were also ex- anti-Treaty fighters. Moving from station to station, Quill got to know many IRT employees. He learned they craved dignity and wanted to be treated like human beings, but Quill knew this meant fighting. He said, “You will get only what you are strong enough to take. You will have to fight for your rights—they will never be given to you. And you cannot win if you fight alone.”
While working night shifts, Quill, who had only attended national school, used dead time to read labor history, especially the works of James Connolly. To fight the low pay, terrible working conditions and long hours of I.R.T workers, Quinn used Connolly, the leader of the Transport Workers Union in Dublin, executed by the British for his role in the 1916 Rising, as his inspiration, and Connolly’s ideas guided Quill throughout his life. Like Connolly, Quill believed that economic power precedes political power, and that the only effective means of satisfying the workers’ demands is the creation of an independent labor party, which creates and supports strong unions. He would honor Connolly by also calling his American union the Transportation Workers Union and years later, as president of the TWU, Quill only had two pictures on his office wall, Abraham Lincoln and James Connolly.
In his union-organizing activities, Quill got the cold shoulder from many established Irish-American organizations. “When we first started to organize the union, we asked for help from the Knight of Columbus and the Ancient Order of Hibernians”, he said. “We were booed and booted out. The Irish organizations did nothing for us, and the Church campaigned actively against us.”
Rejected by mainstream Irish Americans, Quill was embraced by the American Communist Party, which helped him obtain the money, the mimeograph machines and the manpower to launch the Transport Workers Union. Quill, though, merely used the Communists, while knowing he wanted no part of them. When they thought he should attend “Workers School” for indoctrination, Quill told them he needed no indoctrination and soon left the party.
Fearing anti-union informers, Quill organized the TWU, using the methods of the Irish Republican Brotherhood, a secret Fenian society dedicated to a violent rising against British rule. Employing cells of five so that no man knew the names of more than four other workers in the organization, messages were also sent in half-Gaelic and half-English to confuse company spies, known as “beakies.” One night, the “beakies” attacked Quill and five other activists in a tunnel as they were returning from picketing the IRT’s offices. Falsely arrested over the incident for incitement to riot, Quill gained huge notoriety amongst his fellow workers and the charges were eventually dismissed. On April 12, 1934, fighting back against 12 hour days, six days a week, at 66 cents an hour, Quill and six other men formed the T.W.U.
Quill soon became union President and succeeded in getting his union into the American Federation of Labor. He then began unionizing the other transportation companies of New York. In January 1937, the Brooklyn-Manhattan Transit Coorporation dismissed two boiler room engineers from their power plant in Brooklyn for their union activity. Quill immediately called a successful sit-down strike and the BMT had to reinstate the men, which further raised Quill’s standing amongst the rank and file.
At a time in American history when bigotry and discrimination were commonplace, Quill became famous for fighting prejudice. An ardent opponent of the pro-Fascist Fr. Coughlin, Quill said, “Anti-Semitism is not the problem of the Jewish people alone. It is an American problem, a number one American problem.” He also fought for African Americans against the prejudice of many in his own union. He explained, “The bosses hired you and the same bosses hired the blacks. You are on one payroll; you come to work and leave through the same gate; you punch the same time clock. Unless there is one union to protect all of you, the employer will train these men and use them to displace you—at half your wages.”
Quill became an early ally of Martin Luther King who referred to Quill as “a fighter for decent things all his life” who “spent his life ripping the chains of bondage off his fellow man.” Quill once asked, “Do you know what I’m most proud of? That in TWU we have eliminated racial discrimination in hiring and in promotions and within the union’s ranks. Blacks, Hispanics, Orientals, American Indians and women are holding appointive and elective office.”
STRIKE AND JAIL
Perhaps Quill’s finest hour was during the Transit Strike of 1966. Newly-elected patrician Mayor john Lindsay wanted to get tough with Quill and the TWU. Journalist Jimmy Breslin summarized the conflict succinctly: “…[Lindsay] was talking down to old Mike Quill, and when Quill looked up at John Lindsay he saw the Church of England. Within an hour, we had one hell of a transit strike.”
Quill attacked the Mayor just as if he were a British soldier, chiding Lindsay for his “abysmal lack of knowledge of the fundamentals of labor relations.” He castigated Lindsay as “a pipsqueak, a juvenile” and jested: “We explored his mind yesterday and found nothing there.” To add insult to injury Quill intentionally repeatedly mispronounced the mayor’s name as “Linsley,” proving that even in the heat of battle Quill never lost his sense of humor.
Then Lindsay made a fatal mistake, jailing Quill, who defiantly said, “The judge can drop dead in his black robes!” While in prison, Quill suffered another heart attack and was sent to the worst of city hospitals. The only person who called Mrs. Quill asking if he could help was Senator Robert F. Kennedy of New York. No other politician inquired about the stricken Quill. While Quill was in the hospital a deal was reached granting the TWU a 15% wage increase along with improvements in the health, welfare and pension systems. In all, it was a great victory. The strike over, he was released from police custody, but just three days later Quill died at age sixty with many claiming that the stress of the strike led to his premature passing.
Mike Quill left an enduring legacy. Today the Transport Workers Union is composed of an estimated 60 percent minorities and Quill is still revered within it. He had an inclusive vision of labor, which minority workers respected, strengthening the movement. Pete Seeger dedicated a ballad to Quill and producers Macdara Vallely and Paul Miller have made a biographical film about Quill entitled Which side are you on?
POSTSCRIPT: Mike Quill and Vice-Admiral Nelson
In the Dublin City Centre, in the middle of its main street, is a curious steel erection which most people call “The Spire”. But from 1809 until 1966, something else stood there: a granite column with the English naval hero Nelson atop it, very much in the style of the one that stands in London’s Trafalgar Square today.
About 50 metres away from what was colloquially called “The Pillar” stands the General Post Office building, which operated as the command HQ of the 1916 Easter Rising and is therefore a traditional gathering place for State and other commemorations of the Rising.
As the 50th Anniversary of the Rising drew near, Mike Quill contacted Dublin City Council and offered to have the statue removed for free and replaced with a more suitable monument. Quill’s first choice was a statue of Jim Larkin, who led his and Connolly’s Irish Transport and General Workers Union in resisting the 8-month Dublin Lockout – the tram crews had walked off their vehicles once they reached the Pillar and Dublin Metropolitan Police had run riot against the people in O’Connell Street shortly afterwards on Bloody Sunday 1913. But Quill offered the Council other options too. A private trust and not Dublin City Council owned Nelson’s Column, he was informed and there the matter rested. Until, on 8th March 1966, the Pillar was blown up by Saor Éire, a socialist split from the Irish Republican Movement, in advance of the 50th Anniversary commemorations.
The Basque pro-independence movement, the Abertzale Left, fought the Spanish State for over four decades. in 2012 its leadership renounced armed struggle without any reciprocal agreement with the Spanish State, declaring its faith in an imagined “Basque peace process”, sought alliances with social democratic and capitalist-nationalist parties and publicly apologised for its past actions of resistance. The movement sank into general inactivity except on the electoral front. But in recent weeks there have been signs of awakening, though under a different leadership – or is the giant merely muttering and twitching in its sleep?
How does the description “Giant” fit a resistance movement in a total population of less than three million people? A nation divided between the Spanish and French states? Part of the answer is precisely in those features, also in its history during the Spanish Civil / Anti-Fascist War and “French” Maquis and earlier. Also in its long struggle in defence of its native language Euskera, almost certainly the oldest in Europe and perhaps the first to reach it in neolithic times.
This is a movement that carried out general strikes against the Franco dictatorship, ensured that three of its provinces rejected the 1978 Constitution of the Spanish State which, in atmosphere of fear and murderous repression and with the collusion of the newly-legalised social-democratic (PSOE) and communist (CPE) political parties, was voted in by a majority in every other region of the Spanish State (population another 35 million people).
Inspired by the examples of the Algerian independence struggle and socialist Cuba, the Abertzale Left movement rose from the defeat of the nation in the Spanish Civil/ Anti-Fascist War and the terrible repression under the fascist dictator General Franco and in 1959, formed the ETA (Land and Freedom) organisation. The youth wing of the conservative Basque Nationalist Party conceded the Left-inclination in order to join with them. Enduring arrests and torture of its supporters, it was not until 1968 that ETA took an armed action; halted at a police checkpoint and determined not to be arrested, Txabi Etxebarrieta shot a policeman dead and was in turn killed himself by pursuing police.
The first planned armed action carried out was also that year when an ETA squad shot dead Meliton Manzanas, head of the political police in the Basque Country, a notorious torturer of prisoners and a Nazi sympathiser in the past.
A number of other actions were taken by ETA over the years, some of them spectacular but, like many armed resistance groups, some also questionable in value or even in justification from a revolutionary point of view. But in December 1973 an ETA squad in Madrid assassinated Admiral Carrero Blanco, General Franco’s nominated successor, an action which many credited with hastening the progress of the Transition of the Spanish State to nominal democracy. General Franco died without a strong agreed political replacement almost exactly two years later, in December 1975 and the Transition process ran from then until 1978.
The struggle continued after the Transition, since the new Constitution declared any breakaway from the unity of the Spanish State a crime unless a majority in the Spanish Parliament voted in favour. The military and police repression in the Basque Country was huge. In the 1980s the social-democratic (PSOE) Spanish Government was exposed as heavily implicated in a number of terrorist groups operating against Basques through kidnapping, torture, gun and bomb attacks (see GAL) and eventually the Minister of the Interior and a number of high-ranking officers were given jail sentences.
In 1983 mass demonstrations and armed actions by ETA brought about the abandonment of the Spanish State’s nuclear reactor at the picturesque coastal spot at Lemoiz, followed by a new Spanish government declaring a moratorium on all building of nuclear reactors.
Another aspect of the struggle was against compulsory military service, which the Spanish State only ended in 2002. People not only evaded it but also protested publicly against it.
Many people in the Spanish state opposed being part of NATO in the 1986 referendum but the Basque Country was highly represented in the vote against, around double the vote of those in favour and along with Catalonia being the only regions with a majority voting “no”.1
The ideology of the movement which found expression in ETA was national liberationist and socialist and this was reflected to a greater or lesser degree in all its parts, whether military or civilian. The Abertzale Left during the period organised itself into one political party after another after each in turn was banned by the Spanish State and forbidden to field candidates in elections.
But the movement had a huge social following too, in youth movements, punk and heavy metal bands, social-cultural centres, pirate radio stations and promoters of Euskera as a spoken language (all leaders of the Abertzale Left were required to be able to speak the language and all public meetings were addressed in Euskera and Spanish or even Euskera alone). There was even a popular Abertzale style of haircut and dress. The Abertzale Left also had a sizeable trade union, LAB which, along with ELA, a union founded by the Basque Nationalist party, recruited the majority of unionised Basque workers2. Feminist, LBGT, linguistic, eco-friendly, anti-animal cruelty sectors all contained many people broadly in support of the Abertzale Left or at least of its stated objectives.
The movement also had newspapers, radio stations and internet sites and many of these were closed down by the Spanish State, alleging that they were “collaborating with terrorism”. Currently the Spanish State is moving towards the closure of the movement’s social-cultural centres, the Herriko Tabernak (People’s Taverns). This arises from a judgement by the National Court in 2011, a judgement corresponding to an infamous statement by Baltazar Garcón, at the time a prominent Judge of that Court, that “Everything is ETA”. The closures are to be carried out now although ETA ceased armed activity permanently in 2012 and disbanded itself a little later.
Repression by the Spanish State has included executions and clandestine assassinations and led to relatively huge numbers of Basque political prisoners, not all by any means military fighters and conviction with “confessions” extracted through torture during the five-day incommunicado period ensured a problem-free conveyor belt for the Spanish State. That conveyor belt delivered its victims to jails dispersed all over the Spanish state, nearly every one hundreds of kilometres and sometimes over a thousand from the prisoners’ homes. The financial, physical and mental strains on friends and relatives, including elderly and children having to travel such distances to visit their loved ones are hard to imagine, often facing abuse or harassment on the way or at their destination, apart from serious accidents on motorways (including fatalities). Many pickets and demonstrations are held in the Basque Country throughout the year and each January a monster march clogs the streets of Bilbao.
The issue of the prisoners has always been a big one for the Abertzale Left and despite dispersal the prisoners built an organisation within the jails, responding to their situation in a disciplined manner.
During the first decade of this century it was clear that ETA was not doing well and the Abertzale Left in general was facing many more years of struggle against an unyielding state with repression everywhere and hundreds of political prisoners in jails.
The leadership was attracted to the much-advertised pacification/ peace processes of South Africa, Palestine and Ireland. By any estimation the Palestine process soon collapsed and its rejection by most of Palestinian society was clearly indicated first by the Intifada and secondly by the electoral gains of Hamas, pushing Al-Fatah into second place. To undiscerning eyes the Irish and South African3 processes seemed to be doing well and both the ANC and Sinn Féin lent strong support to the Abertzale Left’s imagined “peace process”. Despite that support and that of such prominent imperialist figures as Tony Blair and Kofi Annan, the Spanish ruling class was not interested in playing and eventually the Abertzale Left’s leadership was left with nowhere to go. However, they persisted in trying to build alliances with the majority Basque National Party and with smaller nationalist-social-democratic groups; they succeeded with the second sector but failed with the first and seem condemned to second-party status electorally in a Spanish colony, a nation divided by the French-Spanish border.
However, in their search for acceptance by the above-mentioned sectors, the Abertzale Left not only renounced armed struggle but apologised for past actions, ended street confrontations and called on the prisoners to negotiate their progress individually through prison system grades to eventual parole. Some of Abertzale Left public representatives even attended events commemorating Guardia Civil and Ertzaintza (Basque police) killed by ETA in the past.
When the struggle for independence broke out again recently in Catalonia with the 2017 Referendum and the Spanish State responded with a violent Guardia Civil invasion and jailing of politicians and social activists, the Abertzale Left leadership noticeably declined to open up a second front of struggle.
There were early but sporadic signs that not all movement was happy with the Abertzale Left’s new path. Askapena, an organisation set up within the Abertzale Left to work on internationalist solidarity, which at one time could list affiliated groups in Ireland, Germany, Italy4, Paris, Brittany, Barcelona, Madrid, Switzerland, Denmark, Sweden and a number of Latin American countries, broke quietly with with the Abertzale Left over its change of policies5. Notably also, when four members of Askapena were accused of “assisting terrorism” in 2010, they refused to apologise for their work and fought the case, being eventually cleared of all charges in 2016.6
In addition, many Basques were critical of the process, feeling that even if they were prepared to go down the new road, it had been handled badly by the leadership.
A leading Marxist theoretician of the movement, Inaki Gil, resigned from the national leadership years ago, though not from the movement; however he may well be persona non-grata in it now due to a published interview in which he criticised the decision of the 47 on trial in September last year to apologise for past actions of the Basque liberation movement, even after 50,000 had marched through Bilbao streets in their support two days earlier.
When Arnaldo Otegi — generally seen as the architect of the new road for the Abertzale Left7 – was arrested with others in 2009 and, while on pre-trial detention began a hunger strike only to end it soon afterwards, it did not reflect well on him. While he beat a charge of “glorifying terrorism”, he was convicted in 2011 for allegedly reorganising Batasuna, banned political party of the Abertzale Left and sentenced to ten years, reduced on appeal to six and walked free in 2016. In the meantime a Free Otegi campaign (2015) attracted some notable foreign support (including Desmond Tutu) but was criticised in the Basque liberation movement for highlighting the case of one political prisoner above many others8 (including those who were serving much longer sentences).
Some years ago a new Basque political prisoner solidarity organisation came into being, calling itself ATA (Amnistia Eta Askatasuna – Amnesty and Freedom9). They enjoyed a good showing at their first demonstration but came under public attack not only by the Abertzale Left leadership but by a number of ETA members on trial in France. They were accused of using the prisoners as a stalking horse when what they really wanted was to attack the new line of the movement’s leadership. Censorship and condemnation in the Abertzale Left’s daily newspaper GARA followed.
Although their public support waned for awhile, in 2018 a youth group of the Abertzale Left was expelled after they had publicly denounced their annual conference managers for refusing to put their position paper forward for discussion; this youth organisation now collaborates with ATA. Last year, a new Basque revolutionary group called Jarki was formed and drew a sizable crowd to their commemoration of the annual Gudari Eguna (Basque Soldier Day)10.
However the issue of development remained in doubt and no-one could predict with confidence that the movement would be rebuilt along revolutionary lines under a new leadership.
The week before last, Basque political prisoner Patxi Ruiz embarked upon a hunger and thirst strike and although he abandoned the thirst component after 11 days he continues on the hunger strike. He took this action in protest against harassment and beatings by the prison administration and jailers and highlighted the fact that prisoners
were being refused virus-protection clothing or testing and that the jailers were not being tested either. He also wanted visits from his family to be permitted and prisoners allowed to attend funerals of family members (he had been refused permission to attend his father’s funeral). More recently he has demanded that prisoners be relocated to jails near their homes, a long-standing demand of the movement and which is entirely in accordance with model rules for prisons in the EU and the UN. Despite the official leadership of the Abertzale Left firstly ignoring the situation and then condemning his supporters, Ruiz’s struggle galvanised the mostly dormant Abertzale movement.
Every day has seen small actions across the Basque Country, including protest pickets on bridges, beaches, town squares etc; solidarity fasts; slogans painted … Large solidarity marches have been held in Irunea/ Pamplona (Nafarroa province), Donosti/ San Sebastian (Guipuzkoa), Baiona (Bayonne), Bilbao and Durango (Bizkaia). ATA’s web page is full of developing news and the facebook page, which had fallen into silence, is active again. Last Sunday in Pamplona/ Irunea, police attacked demonstrators with batons and fired rubber bullets at close quarters.Patxi Ruiz solidarity demonstration 24 May 2020 attacked by police with batons and rubber bullets
Some of the Basque prisoners who are part of the “official list” have begun taking solidarity action, refusing food or to leave their cells for periods in Almería, Brevia-Ávila, Castelló I, Córdoba, Huelva, Murcia (where Patxi is), Puerto III, Rennes, Sevilla II, Topas-Salamanca …. refusal to leave one’s cell also means forgoing family phone calls. Patxi had been expelled from the Abertzale prisoners’ collective in 2017 for speaking out against the new line of the official leadership which another four prisoners have repudiated also11.
However the mass of Basque political prisoners have so far remained quiet, “concentrating on moving through their grades while Patxi lies dying”, in a quotation from an ATA commentary which blamed this new lack of unity on the fragmentation engendered by the official leadership.
A group of ex-prisoners has now also called for solidarity with Ruiz.
“COULD NOT SINK LOWER”
According to a public statement by ATA denouncing political parties Sortu and EH Bildu, the official Abertzale leadership made no comment until Patxi Ruiz was into his fifth day of hunger and thirst strike and then it was to mention him only in passing, while denouncing the spray-painting of political parties’ buildings by protesters and the burning of an ATM. On the 10th day the official leadership again released a statement, saying they were trying to organise one of their elected politicians to visit the prisoner but condemning the mobilisations across the Basque Country and accusing them of endangering Patxi Ruiz’s life. “They could not sink lower”, commented ATA, who also pointed out how late the official leadership had come to comment and that without the public-space protests, neither the media nor the official leadership would have taken any notice whatsoever.
What the future holds for Patxi Ruiz in the short-term is hard to predict, already weakened by ten days of thirst strike and now into his 16th day of hunger strike. What the near and medium-term future holds for the Basque movement is also an open question, depending to some extent on how ATA is able to capitalise on this upsurge and build an organisation or a network of coherence and unity, at least in action.
The official Abertzale leadership will do what they can to destroy any such movement but they have already yielded the streets, one of the main arenas of the movement in the past. Both groups are mutually exclusive and the advance of one in the wider Basque movement can only be at the expense of the other.
The Spanish State too will be watching developments and no doubt considering its own options of repression, although not so easily done as before, without even an ETA existence to justify their response to the public.
Meanwhile the Catalan independence struggle simmers on and if both should link up in mutual solidarity …..
2The main unions in the Spanish state, Unión General de Trabajadores and Comisiones Obreras were founded respectively by the PSOE and the CPE. Both are Spanish unionist and have the majority of unionised workers in every region of the Spanish state except the southern Basque Country and Galicia.
3While the people in South Africa have the vote and the ANC political party has done well out of the deal, going almost straight into Government, the mass of people struggle on low level income, high level violent crime, unemployment and badly-delivered services, while an ANC clique wallow in riches gained through corruption. Sinn Féin went first into the British colony’s government and now has the most elected parliamentary delegates from the February 2020 General Election in the Irish State; however over two decades after the Good Friday agreement the country is no nearer unification or nation-wide independence and is run by neo-liberal capitalist classes selling out the natural resources and services of the nation.
4Germany and Italy had a number of these; in Ireland the cities of Belfast, Dublin and Cork each had one.
5This organisation effectively ceased to exist due to the new line of the Abertzale Left. Although a number of foreign committee delegates did not disagree with the new line (some certainly did) nevertheless it began to fade away from then on.
6In marked contrast to the apology in September last year for previous actions of the movement by 47 members of a number of Abertzale Left organisations, including those against repression and in solidarity with prisoners, before they had even been tried by the court. This shameful action was taken two days after 50,000 had taken to the streets to support them and left deep hurt, bewilderment and shame throughout the movement. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/sep/16/mass-trial-of-basque-activists-in-spain-ends-with-plea-deal
7He had come into the political leadership with Joseba Permach of the Abertzale Left in 1997 after 23 members of the Batasuna leadership were jailed for seven years by the Spanish State. He was elected General Secretary of the political party Sortu in 2013.
8The Abertzale Left had never previously endorsed any campaign focusing on individual prisoners except in the case of terminally and seriously-ill prisoners, of which at one time there were as many as 15 who, even under Spain’s own prison regulations, should have been paroled home or to hospital.
9Though now it gives the translation as “Amnesty and Against Repression”. An Amnistia organisation had existed earlier but dissolved or reformed after banning by the Spanish State and one of the accusations of the Abertzale Left is that dissidents misappropriated the name.