Gustavo Petro and the Civic – Military Campaigns

Gearóid Ó Loingsigh looks at the new government in Colombia and how it talks of peace while increasing militarisation. English language version first published in Redline, 24th November, reprinted with kind permission of author.

(Reading time: 8 mins.)

The Petro–Márquez government is one which proposes to bring us to what they term Total Peace.

The term and the proposal as such have been subjected to justifiable criticism, not least because it places the insurgency of the ELN on the same footing as armed drug trafficking groups. 

But there is another aspect of their government that calls upon us to reflect on what Petro – Márquez understand as peace and a demilitarized society that breaks with the past and the present of a repressive state where the answer to everything is a military response. 

A first step would be to remove the military from civilian settings. But Petro has already made statements that indicate that neither he nor Márquez think that. 

Shortly after taking on the presidency, he declared that the answer to deforestation of the Amazon was not only military, but Yankee. 

In their electoral campaign their proposal was different, they did not talk about the military anywhere, but rather of democracy, autonomy, measures against drug trafficking and money laundering.

We will stop the deforestation and the burning of the jungle.  We will dismantle the engines of deforestation, amongst them: displacement of the unemployed and landless peasants from the interior of the country towards the Amazon; land grabbers and promoters of extensive cattle ranching and other monocultures; corruption in public bodies; laundering of foreign currency through the purchase of deforested land, a by-product of drug trafficking and corruption; the uncontrolled extraction of wood etc.[1]

And he also said that the pacts to protect the jungle would be with the communities and not national or foreign militaries.

We will build a broad national pact of regional and global importance for the environmental defence of the Amazon, Orinoco and the biogeographic corridor of the Pacific.  We will set up community agreements for the regeneration and ecological restoration of these eco-systems based on organisational processes, proposing to increase the size of collective territories, registry of plots and the strengthening of traditional and ancestral authorities.  We will recognise the rural communities’ own lifestyle in strategic eco-systems and their own ecological and economic forms of production in these habitats, as well as their own environmental management.[2]

It all sounds very nice, but it goes hand in hand with militarisation.  He proposed a sort of military alliance with the USA to avoid the burning of the jungle, copying the already existing model in Brazil where the USA has a base from which to put out fires. 

Of course, in Brazil the mining and logging companies, etc. invade the territory with the approval of the government.  The presence of north American troops never prevented any of the extractionist policies and less still poverty under the governments of Lula, Dilma and Bolsonaro.

As others have pointed out, it is nothing more than the militarisation of environmentalism and it is an old slogan of the imperialists that they should be in charge wherever they want and that includes the Amazon.

They used to brandish the anti-narcotics struggle as an excuse and now it is global warming.  Al Gore once said that “The Amazon is not their property, it belongs to us all”.  Of course, by us, this miscreant means Yankee imperialism: the USA. 

It is the same discourse they have in relation to oil; it does not belong to the countries that have it but rather to all of us i.e. the US and European companies.  Al Gore’s fame as an environmentalist is undeserved but his reputation as an old imperialist is completely justified. 

Other governments have come out with similar feelings, Gore’s was not an individual outburst.  Macron, NATO as such and the influential magazine Foreign Policy have argued for a military intervention in the region with the aim of protecting the planet.[3]

For the moment, Petro is not in favour of Colombia becoming a member of NATO, rather he proposes a regional military alliance.[4]  Against whom would this alliance fight is not at all clear, or whether it would simply be an unofficial appendage to NATO. 

We should be concerned and not just a little bit.  In November he met with representatives of the US Embassy and the Subsecretary of Political Affairs, Victoria Nuland.  Following the meeting Nuland tweeted.

Thank you, Gustavo Petro President of Colombia for our productive meeting reaffirming the importance of our continued partnership on security, peace, progress for Venezuela and protecting our planet.[5]

Bearing in mind the murky past of Nuland in Ukraine in 2014, we should be very careful with her, but there are those who believe that Petro is charge.

It is not the only issue where he proposes military rather than civilian solutions.  Faced with the lack of access to healthcare in the territories of the Pacific, he also proposed to militarise the response.  The Pacific is one of the regions with the worst indicators in the area of healthcare. 

Nobody doubts about the need for an urgent and comprehensive response for the region.  The military boat USNS Comfort visited Colombia to provide medical assistance. 

It was not the first time, the said boat has visited the country four times as part of the Continuing Promise[6] mission, a medical and public relations initiative of the US, deploying its Soft Power.

This boat also took part in the two wars in Iraq as a military hospital, and in the invasion of Haití in 1994.  Petro’s response on Twitter was:

I am grateful for this support in healthcare from the US government to the people of the Caribbean.  It is important that we think about the Pacific.  A mission for the National Navy, along with the building of the first frigate “made in Colombia” will be the building of a hospital ship.[7]

In a non-militarised state healthcare should be under the remit of the Ministry of Health and not the Ministry of Defence, but Petro – Márquez want to bring healthcare to the Pacific through military rather than civilian institutions.

Such incoherence with his public discourse!

In previous governments the military has used its economic power and civic-military days as part of its military and armed operations. 

The mobilisation of troops and the demand for collaboration from the civilian population is justified on the basis of access to medical services that are provided for by civilians in Bogotá and other parts of the country without the need to explain themselves to military institution in the midst of a war.

The Petro – Márquez government is also going to continue with the proposal of the Santos government to build a military base on the Gorgona Island. It is worth remembering that Santos was one of these other men of peace that are in abundance in Colombia: hawks dressed as doves. 

The Gorgona Island was, for many years, a penal colony, the Colombian version of the infamous Devil’s Island immortalised in Papillon film with Steve McQueen.  In 1982 it was declared a world heritage site by UNESCO due to it high ecological value. 

A deserted beach in Gorgona National Park, an island 21 miles off Colombia’s Pacific coast and a UNESCO World Heritage ecological site — Petro plans to put a military base there. (Image sourced: Internet)

Now they want to go ahead with the plan to place a military base there.  What is new in the Petro – Márquez government is that there is a rumour that the USA will have access to the base. 

It is not an absurd idea, as the project has anti-narcotic aims and is financed by the US Embassy in the country.[8]  With absolute certainty, the DEA will at least have access to it. 

There are alternatives, such as a warship as a centre of operations.  Petro wants the Navy to build a hospital ship but is not up to telling them to build a ship for what does fall within its remit.

He says he wants peace but he wants to promote the military at every turn, even turning up every time he can wearing military caps. 

So far, he hasn’t acted ridiculous like Iván Duque dressing up as a police officer in the midst of the National Strike of 2021, but as his supporters point out he has only been president for a little more than 100 days and we have to give him time. 

In every circus you have to wait for the clowns to come in.  We can’t always see the lion-tamer but clowns and clownish antics are always there.

Some social climbers from social and human rights organisations ran to take up posts in the ministries of Defence and also the Interior. 

They used to be critics of the armed forces and police of the state, now they look out for its good name in the area of human rights and international humanitarian law.  They also promote the military at each turn. 

The recently appointed Alexandra González, a former functionary of the Committee for Solidarity with Political Prisoners, who is now the Cabinet Secretary of the Ministry of National Defence published an effusive tweet full of praise of the Ministry of Defence that stated “Military engineers will build tertiary road to benefit the peasant population.”[9] 

She doesn’t understand that the armed forces are never for anything other than war, even in peace time they are preparing for war.  It is their only function.  In any case, no one can explain why the military have to the ones that are building those roads. 

But as a good political opportunist she claims as her own that which does not belong to her.  On twitter they replied to her, pointing out that those projects were old ones. 

A retired military officer and former advisor to the High Commissioner for Peace pointed her in the direction of an article in the regional newspaper El Quindiano written by himself, speaking of the beginning of these civic – military projects in the 1960s.[10]

All governments have carried out infrastructural projects through the Ministry of Defence and in all governments, they were referred to as peace projects.

Perhaps the fugitives from the human rights organisations feel the need to say that it is new in order not to make evident that there is a continuity between this government and all of the previous ones. 

I don’t understand why they signed up to the non-binding declaration on safe schools, if they are promoting the military presence in all other aspects of civilian life. 

The ideal situation would be to not permit the military to use schools as bases or human shields in the midst of fighting nor use the military to build infrastructural projects.

If the government was really progressive (an imprecise term) it would remove the civilian contracts from the military, healthcare would be the exclusive responsibility of health bodies and not the military, it would not propose a military alliance in a world with an excess of them.

And the symbols that Peto would put on a pedestal would be civilian ones, from the people, the communities, even from some trade union, even if it were just out of pure nostalgia, as when he was Mayor of Bogotá he didn’t think much of unions.

End.

FOOTNOTES

[1] Véase https://gustavopetro.co/programa-de-gobierno/temas/propuestas-por-territorio/amazonia/

[2] Colombia Potencia Mundial de la Vida, Programa de Gobierno 2022 – 2024 pp 14 y 15 (disponible en https://gustavopetro.co

[3] Harris, R. (28/10/2022) NATO in the Amazon: Petro Plays with Fire https://www.counterpunch.org/2022/10/28/nato-in-the-amazon-petro-plays-with-fire/

[4] See https://twitter.com/mperelman/status/1592165003154853889?s=20&t=lUaSWKgD_-bO6wY-w4ELQA

[5] See https://twitter.com/USEmbassyBogota/status/1593757340737601544?t=bRqM8J-icRG6EKJuQMhCZA&s=35  

[6] See https://www.msc.usff.navy.mil/Ships/Comfort/History/

[7] See https://twitter.com/petrogustavo/status/1592199983943802880?s=20&t=nEMFaz_35YUU4LQXXZz0zA

[8] El Tiempo (26/10/2022) Pese a cuestionamientos, la Armada construirá muelle en Gorgona https://www.eltiempo.com/vida/medio-ambiente/gorgona-pese-a-cuestionamientos-la-armada-construira-muelle-712305

[9] See https://twitter.com/alexandraG_Z/status/1593927119352078336?s=20&t=wY2X-DPk17I-e4hnsLAJ3w

[10] Castaño, C. (24/03/2022) Un plan militar para la paz https://www.cronicadelquindio.com/opinion/opinion/un-plan-militar-para-la-paz

Colombia: Paramilitaries, Businesses and the “Truth”

Text by Gearóid Ó Loingsigh (images and video chosen by Rebel Breeze)

29 July 2022 (first published in English in Socialist Democracy)

The Colombian Truth Commission’s (CEV) report Findings and Recommendations aims to be a text that reveals a truth, that up to now was hidden or partially hidden from Colombian society.

It is true that in Colombia, after decades of a conflict that began before many of those actually alive were born, along with propaganda from the media, the churches and political parties, there are many aspects that are not well known to everyone.

That is not to say that it is a document that reveals or uncovers these truths. If we look at the issue of paramilitaries and how the CEV treats it, various problems with this commission are evident.

It comes out with some truths about the paramilitaries that initially give one hope about the content of the Report.

Paramilitarism is not just an armed actor – understood as private armies with terror strategies aimed at the civilian population – but rather a network of interests and alliances also associated with economic, social and political projects that managed to impose an armed territorial control through terror and violence and also through mechanisms to legitimate it, the establishment of rules and norms.(1)

It is true that the paramilitaries are about more than just massacres, but the CEV not only fails to explain what the interests at stake are, but it gets it back to front about who is in charge and who serves.

It inverts the roles many times and though it acknowledges the role the State played, or still plays, the State is presented almost as just another victim of the paramilitaries.

The CEV accepts that the USA played a role in the 1960s.

The recommendations of US missions that visited the country during the administration of Alberto Lleras Camargo (1958-1962) led to Decree 1381 of 1963, Decree 3398 of 1965 and National Defence Law 48 of 1968, through which the involvement of civilians in the armed conflict was institutionalised.(2)

But it doesn’t explore this role that much further, it would seem as if various north American governments played no further role than that, that they have not been the one constant factor in the history of the conflict, as if their support to all the Colombian governments, the training of the Colombian military in the School of the Americas did not count for anything, and of course there is Plan Colombia which is dealt with by the report.

Neither do they explore the role of the state that passed those laws. It would seem as if the laws appeared through magic. They accept that paramilitaries enjoyed legal status for a long time, but they put no names to the matter, nor who benefitted from those laws or what were the interests of the presidents and congresspeople involved in passing those laws and decrees.

We are told of how Virgilio Barco suspended the legality of the paramilitaries in 1989, but according to the CEV it was revived in practice through the rural security cooperatives known as the Convivir.(3)

It is dubious to say that the Convivir were the paramilitaries in practice and not paramilitaries de jure, as it is not the case that these cooperatives were corrupted.

It was always the intention to legalise the paramilitaries through this figure and in that, President Cesar Gaviria and his Minister for Defence, Rafael Pardo both of whom signed the degree that brought them to life, played an important role as did President Samper who implemented the decree during his government.

These people are not spoken of as promotors of paramilitaries.

To the CEV the paramilitaries are a type of loose cannon, independent of the State, with a life of their own. The ills of the country are the result of the actions of this loose cannon and how it infiltrates the state, the institutions, including the military and how it co-opts spaces.(4)

Thus, the institutionalisation – through various governments – of armed groups legally at the service of private interests, as well as their legitimation from the 1960s show not only the tolerance but also the promotion by state of the outsourcing of public security (bold not in the original). The legal cover and political legitimation have allowed for the maintenance and expansion of the paramilitaries, structures that were co-opted by paramilitary bosses.(5)

To the CEV, the paramilitaries were an outsourcing of security to private bodies that went wrong. Dr. Frankenstein thought he was creating life and his creation turned into a monster despite his wishes.

Paramilitaries are referred to in this manner throughout the document, they exist and act with the approval of named sectors, but the responsibility does not lie with any known person. They are incapable of saying that Samper and Gaviria legalised the paramilitaries.

Samper was fully aware of what the Convivir were and defended them tooth and nail during his government, and lashed out at those who denounced the Convivir as paramilitary structures.

Ernesto Samper, President of Colombia from 1994 to 1998, representing the Liberal Party. Secretary General of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR) 2014-2017. He defended the Convivir and later pretended the paramilitary terrorism had been done behind his back. (Photo sourced: Internet)

Samper never put an end to the Convivir, rather it was the Constitutional Court that declared that they couldn’t use arms reserved for the State’s military, so the paramilitaries had no need to use this cover any more if they couldn’t obtain arms legally.

The paramilitaries were a state policy as can be seen from the laws and decrees enacted, in the promotions of military officers involved in massacres and also in the persecution of social actors, human rights organisations and in a number of cases the systematic murder of witnesses.

The CEV talks about these things but does not connect them together as a state policy. It shamelessly accepts the excuses of Uribe that everyone lied to him, the face Santos put on of it wasn’t me, or the “it was all done behind my back” of Samper.

A real truth commission would try to tell us not only what happened but who did it (with full names) and also why.

The same complacent attitude it takes with the State is extended to the business people. It talks of interests but does not put a name to them. But thanks to the decades long work of social organisations we can put a name to many of the cases.

The CEV doesn’t do that and goes on with its tale of some sectors. But these same sectors have been more honest than the CEV. The CEV names the cattle rancher’s association in Puerto Boyacá, Acdegam, as a key player in the founding of the paramilitary groups.(6)

But it does not mention the role played by Texaco. Carlos Medina Gallego in his book Autodefensas, Paramilitares y Narcotráfico in Colombia describes the birth of this group.

The USA-based petroleum company was present in the meeting that set up the paramilitary murder group. (Image sourced: Internet)

The process in the region began with the creation of a private army or paramilitary group alongside the army to jointly combat the subversives.

This group was set up during the military mayorship of Captain Oscar Echandía, in a meeting which, in addition to the Mayor, was attended by representatives of the Texas Petroleum Company, members of the Cattle Ranchers Committee, political leaders, the Civil Defence, members of the armed forces and other special guests.(7)

Neither does it mention the National Federation of Cattle Ranchers, Fedegan. The president of Fedegan, however did acknowledge the role they played. In 2006, in an interview given to Cambio magazine, he said that they had paid paramilitaries, as had others such as flower and rice growers amongst others.(8)

National Federation of Cattle Ranchers in Colombia — part of the group that set up the paramilitary murder group — their president admitted in 2006 that they had paid paramilitaries, as had some large agricultural interests. (Image sourced: Internet)

Around the same time, 10,000 cattle ranchers, traders and industrialists signed a letter acknowledging and justifying their financing of the paramilitaries.(9)

The CEV describes paramilitarism as something unstable and changeable in nature and that “it has had diverse actors, motives and modus operandi, which leads to difficulties when it comes to trying to come up with a static definition.”(10)

Yes, it is true that the paramilitaries have changed over time, as has the army, the state, the political parties, the guerrillas and even society. Nothing stands still, but that doesn’t mean we can’t come up with an approximation of what it is, taking into account the variables.

That is what the study of history, politics and also any branch of knowledge is about. So, the CEV doesn’t describe the paramilitaries as a state policy, not because it is a changing phenomenon, but rather because it doesn’t want to.

It deals with various paramilitary forms and leaves out one very clear telling example: the AAA (American Anti-Communist Alliance).

One of the founders of the Triple A (American Anti-communist Alliance) paramilitary terrorists, at the time Lt-Col. Harold Bedoya of the Charry Solano Battalion, later Commander of the Colombian Armed Forces. (Photo sourced: Internet)

The AAA was a paramilitary structure founded by the commanders of the Charry Solano Battalion, amongst them Lieutenant Colonel Harold Bedoya, who would later become the Commander of the armed forces.

The existence of such a paramilitary structure operating within the battalion was public knowledge as five soldiers reported it to the presidency, the Procurator, the Organisation of American States and the news was even published in the Mexican press. This structure is not mentioned in the CEV report.

Another paramilitary structure that is dealt with partially in the Report is the 07 Naval Intelligence Network. However, it does not delve into the reality of the Network and the significance of its activity as a state policy.

2017 video

The case of the 07 Naval Intelligence Network based in Barrancabermeja that operated in part of Bolívar and Cesar stands out due to the seriousness of it. According to the ordinary criminal justice system, the network functioned as a powerful “death squad” with logistical means, personnel trained to kill and was responsible for dozens of murders, forced disappearances and massacres whose victims were mainly trade unionists, politicians, community leaders and activists.  The network financed paramilitaries using secret funds.(11)

But the network was the paramilitary structure par excellence. Despite the CEV’s quote, they do not go into great detail as the issue cannot be dealt with and conclude that it was just some functionaries and not the military unit as such.

The Network murdered at least 68 people, though some estimates put the figure of 430. The soldiers implicated were exonerated by the commander in chief of the official armed forces of the state, General Fernando Tapias. To the CEV this is just another case of rotten apples.

But, can 60 years of violence be explained as the result of the actions of some soldiers, some politicians, some business people? We are talking about tens of thousands of dead, tortured, disappeared and the outcome follows from the actions of some… and not from a state policy?

the paramilitary phenomenon has maintained a role in components of the state such as the armed forces, security and intelligence agencies, collegiate state bodies (Congress, assemblies and councils), judicial institutions and oversight bodies, as well as economic sectors such agri-industrial, extractive industries, public servants and candidates in elections. It has also permeated sectors of the church and the media. Without the close link between this body of sectors and the armed paramilitaries, this phenomenon would not have unleashed the deep wounds that it inflicted nor would it have lasted as long.(12)

Colombian paramilitaries working with the army and paid by big growers, these in “the Banana Bloc” in Colombia (Photo: Huffington Post)

There are no policies here, no state-backed dirty war but rather a compendium of massacres carried out by blood thirsty types that co-opted everyone else, i.e. Colombia is an open-air lunatic asylum.

Politicians and functionaries were another sector that was widely implicated in the paramilitary plan to “penetrate all political power: mayors, councillors, deputies, governors, congress people from the zones that we managed […] ultimately, regional powers that together guaranteed a national power for the self defence groups”. The relationship between politics and paramilitaries went in both directions as many politicians and functionaries in turn sought out the commanders of the paramilitary groups to benefit from their armed power.(13)

In this repugnant discourse, the paramilitaries are the ones who penetrate the state and some politicians seek them out, the paramilitaries are not a counter-insurgency strategy of the state nor a policy to implement “development” projects they want, but rather the excuse is “the paramilitaries made us do it”.

It comes across like crying children trying to blame the other for breaking the window, but they are not broken windows, rather tens of thousands of broken bodies. And the CEV does not want to blame who it should. It accepts that the State played a role, but limits it to individual behaviour and private interests but not part of a strategy.

Not even the genocide committed against the Patriotic Union (UP) is seen as a state policy, once again the State is a victim of the paramilitaries. The CEV describes it in the following terms.

It was during the attempts at a democratic aperture and the peace policies of the government of Belisario Betancur (1982-1986). It is in this context the paramilitary network from Puerto Boyacá sought to contain the democratic and peace initiatives through systematic violence (persecution, extermination and displacement) against members of left wing political groups such as the Patriotic Union and the Communist Party, trade unionists and social leaders.(14)

The reality is that no one expected the UP to be successful and the oligarchy took fright and responded as it always does: with violence. The extermination of the UP was not an attempt to contain supposed democratic measures from President Betancur, but rather an attempt to suppress a left-wing political group.

The CEV forgets that Betancur allowed the military to attack and burn the Palace of Justice in 1985, which was only a few metres from the Presidential Palace. He was not a just man whose peace initiatives were undermined by the unjust.

Lastly, we should look at how they describe the business people.

The economic agents were a key part of the paramilitary web. Some national and international business people, local and regional economic powers and productive sectors supported them in different ways because they had interests in the war.(15)

We shouldn’t be surprised that the CEV, led by the favourite child of the bourgeoisie reaches such conclusions. De Roux wrote an executive summary of the report before he even formally took up the job of President of the CEV.

In March 2017, shortly before he began working for the CEV he wrote a column in the El Tiempo newspaper with a simple headline I ask for forgiveness.(16) The column makes various assertions, amongst which the following stand out:

I incur in a generalisation when I write that the paramilitaries were financed by businesspeople. When, in truth, some paramilitary groups were financed by businesses, whilst the majority of women and men to whom we owe the production of goods and services in this country did not finance the paramilitaries.(17)

That is to say, as the CEV report does, that it was only some of them.  He continues with another assertion that some of them did it as a response to guerrilla violence, repeating one of the great lies of the business associations and the State about the nature of paramilitarism.

Gustavo Petro, newly-elected President of Colombia (R) shaking hands with Francisco de Roux (L), who outlined the executive summary of the Truth Commission’s Report in his column before the latter was even published. (Image sourced: Internet)

Others out of rage, following the kidnapping and payment of the ransom, supported the AUC to attack the kidnappers. Others did so because they didn’t trust the state’s security forces.(18)

And lastly, this little gem which reduces the dirty war to the behaviour of just some.

I must also acknowledge that I have been unfair when I have generalised about soldiers and police officers in Colombia. I admit that I have an intellectual and emotive abhorrence of weapons on all sides. I am a follower of Jesus who once and for all separated God from all wars and preached efficient non-violence. But I know there have been many and increasing numbers of men and women in the Armed Forces who see service to the homeland as a service to the dignity and rights of every human being and the collective good of peace.(19)

A question arises. Given that De Roux through his column outlined an executive summary of the future report of the CEV, why did he not save us time, money and the effort by writing, on his own, a report 100% to his liking? It would have had the advantage of not selling false hopes to the victims of the conflict.

End.

Notes

(1) CEV (2022) Hallazgos y Propuestas. CEV p.296

(2) Ibíd., p.303

(3) Ibíd., pp 304 y 305

(4) Ibíd., p.299

(5) Ibíd., p.305

(6) Ibíd., p.310

(7) Medina Gallego, C. (1990) Autodefensas, Paramilitares y Narcotráfico en Colombia. Editorial Documentos Periodisticos. Bogotá p.173

(8) El Cambio No 704 diciembre 2006/enero 2007 Diez Preguntas (Entrevista con José Félix Lafaurie) p.48

(9) El Espectador (17/12/2006) La hora de los ganaderos, p. 2A

(10) CEV (2022) Op. Cit. P.296

(11) Ibíd., p.502

(12) Ibíd., p.299

(13) Ibíd., pp. 345 & 346

(14) Ibíd., p.310

(15) Ibíd., p. 350

(16) Francisco de Roux (01/03/2017) Pido perdón https://www.eltiempo.com/archivo/documento/CMS-16832051

(17) Ibíd.,

(18) Ibíd.,

(19) Ibíd.,

The Colombian Truth Commission and its Truths

Gearóid Ó Loingsigh

(01/07/2022)

(Reading time: 11 mins.)

The Truth Commission (CEV) in Colombia has just published its report on the Colombian conflict. As was to be expected it is a very detailed report and deals with many aspects of the conflict and therefore it is impossible to carry out a detailed criticism in just one article.

This article aims to deal with the document entitled Call for Peace and in later articles I will deal with some points in greater detail such as the regions, the business class and drug trafficking.

Of course, there are very positive aspects, such as the statistics compiled, some proposals that they make and also the stories of the victims that they included.

However, there are also some very problematic aspects on the ideological plane and how they present the conflict, the actors, motives and there is an underlying idea in the document that we should advance towards a new society — with changes — but a society that continues to be the same with regard the economy.

They discount any class struggle as not only as anachronistic but also as something which is undesirable, regardless of the methods used.

The document is full of adjectives, some of them emotive, something which is not a criticism as such, emotions have a place in this setting, but it is imbued with Christian references and the Catholic faith as such.

That is not that surprising given that the boss is a Jesuit priest, Francisco de Roux, s.j. But due to this, its starting point is based on suppositions not shared by everyone and that are very questionable.

President-elect of Colombia Gustavo Petro shakes hands with Francisco de Roux at the launch of the Report.

OH BROTHER!

They start off with the statement and question “We started off from the issue that has dogged humanity from the beginning: where is your brother?”

I don’t know whether this first part is true or not, but the question about the brother presumes we know and share this concept of brother. In the Catholic faith we are all theoretically brothers, though not in practice.

But the idea informs a concept taken from family therapy that the Colombian conflict is between siblings that love each other or at least can love each other, just as a woman can love the man who abuses her in their relationship or the man who can stop abusing her and love her as she deserves.

It is a deservedly highly questioned concept, but it is applied in many countries that have gone through peace processes and truth commissions. But it is not the case, this conflict is not between siblings, but rather between interests.

The conflict has names and surnames and moreover surnames of the great and good and its victims are everyone else. There are power relationships. There are also economic interests.

It is an insult to say that the powerful, such as Luís Carlos Sarmiento and the Santos family are the brothers of their employees, or that associations such as the cattle ranchers of FEDEGAN represent people that are the brothers of the displaced peasants.

Though the report does acknowledge the role of some business people in the conflict.

…what has been grievous for the pain and injustice for the victims is the finding that leading business initiatives paid paramilitary groups in order to displace and steal the land and territories from the communities and implant mining or agribusinesses, or within their enterprises they stigmatised the workers and are complicit in the murder of hundreds of trade unionists.1

Such people, responsible for the murder of hundreds of trade unionists are nobody’s brothers, other than their shareholders’. They killed them as part of a strategy to accumulate wealth, the most base reason for doing so.

The CEV’s position turns the businessman into our brother, though it does acknowledge that

we did not carry out any specific study on the armed conflict and the economy, following four years of listening to the drama of the war, the Commission takes as given that if no major changes are made to the economic model of development in the country it will be impossible to prevent the repetition of the armed conflict which will reappear and evolve in an unpredictable manner.

But despite not carrying out any specific analysis of the conflict and the economy the CEV calls on businesses to avoid a resurgence in the armed conflict.

The state, society and in particular the business people behind the large industrial and financial projects should prioritise guaranteeing the welfare and dignified life of the people and communities without any exclusions, with a shared vision of the future to overcome the structural inequality that makes this country one of the most unequal countries in the world in terms of the concentration of income, wealth and land.2

It is part of the discourse that we are all brothers. Instead of criticising the call they make for a society where the welfare of the people is a priority for the businesses, we only have to ask a question. Where does this happen? In what countries does this occur?

They usually make clumsy references to Switzerland or Sweden, ignoring that it is not quite the case and the welfare programmes in Europe (those that are left) are the result of social struggles and are largely financed by the super-exploitation of the Global South.

It is an illusion and part of liberal mythology, that is usually sold during elections every four or more years depending on the country, but is not to be found anywhere in reality and couldn’t be — legally a company looks out for the welfare of its shareholders and nobody else.

The lack of an analysis of the economic model as a factor in the conflict is a serious weakness, something I will deal with in another article.

But in a conflict for land, where the landlords and business people murder peasants and trade unionists3, failing to analyse the context of the economic model is disingenuous.

AN OLD VERY BAD JOKE

The CEV, however, engages in another great act of untruthfulness when it repeats the old refrain of the business class and the state that paramilitaries are reactive i.e. they react to the presence of guerrillas.

It seems like a bad joke that at this stage a commission that supposedly seeks the truth repeats such a lie: a lie challenged at the time by many of the organisations that now praise the CEV, in the days when they didn’t receive as many cheques from USAID and the European Union.

It has also been shown that companies paid armed groups large amounts of money as indispensable operational costs to keep their projects active.

And the reality of economic actors that in despair at the guerrillas and in the face of insecurity, contributed to the creation of the Convivir [rural security cooperatives] and on other occasions sought out the paramilitaries to bring their security of terror.

Following that there were those who took advantage of the land abandoned in midst of the terror to buy land through frontmen and set up projects. And there were those who used money to place members of the armed forces at their disposal.4

When the bloodthirsty Carlos Castaño called his paramilitary organisation United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia, he did so for a reason: the need to present his barbarous acts as a necessary evil, that of self-defence.

Javier Giraldo, s.j. also a Jesuit has spent his entire life fighting against just such a lie. He has documented how the paramilitaries existed before the foundation of the guerrillas and they were not reactive, but rather they were a state policy.5

The problem with the focus that ignores the state and its role and says that we are brothers is that it asks for reconciliation on that basis, that we are brothers. De Roux in his presentation asked more than once “how did we do” and asked for reconciliation.

But this “We” doesn’t exist. As Javier Giraldo points out.

A similar effort must be made in order to translate the value of Christian reconciliation to the judicial/political arena. There must be a public clarification and admission of guilt, an explicit condemnation of the mechanisms, structures and doctrines which facilitate crimes, the implementation of corrective measures to stop them from being repeated and reparation to victims and society. These must all be dealt with head-on and unequivocally. The very nature of a political community makes this imperative: unless there is an explicit and profound social sanction of crimes, internalized by society’s members and engraved in society’s “collective memory,” such crimes are not truly delegitimated. Without these conditions, the Christian value of forgiveness becomes a perverse expression of its real essence: from a fraternal and creative act to an act which covers up the institutionalization of crime (bold not in original) and destroys the barriers which protect human dignity.6

THE GERMAN EXAMPLE – AN OLD ILLUSION

The CEV points to the case of Germany following the Second World War as an example to follow. It is usually a sign of the poverty of the arguments when someone refers to the Nazis in order speak ill of someone, like saying some such a leader is the new Hitler.

But it is also a sign of argument povery to a degree when they refer to the topic to speak of reconciliation and so forth in post-War Germany. However, that is what the CEV did.

Our German friends who accompany us in the Commission’s process have shown us how its people recovered its dignity and pride when, even decades after the genocide of Jews and the war crimes committed, took on board the suffering of the victims, the wound as part of the national psyche and accepted its collective responsibility.7

What they claim just isn’t true. First of all, the post-Nazi Germany was not a denazified country.

Various later personalities from that period held high positions of responsibility, amongst them Kurt Waldheim, an officer in the Nazi army who became Secretary General of the United Nations and also President of Austria; war criminal Adolf Heusinger who became President of the Military Committee of NATO8 and Johannes Steinhoff who was in charge of the Luftwaffe after the War.

Kurt Georg Kiesinger was a member of the Nazi party, and worked side by side with Nazi propagandist Goebbels and later between 1966 and 1969 he was the German Chancellor.

Another Nazi, Wernher von Braun, who designed the Nazis’ bombs and rockets earned a good wage in the USA in order to put one of the rockets on the Moon. None of them confessed or accepted their responsibility.

And let’s not forget that young member of the Hitler Youth, one Joseph Ratzinger who became head of the Catholic Church. Of course, being a young man, he bore a lesser responsibility than the others.

The Nazis’ anti-gay legislation was applied up to 1969 and between 1946 and 1969 50,000 people were tried under that law. And whilst the Nazis had high-ranking posts the Communists were banned from working in the public administration and they and other dissidents, such as pacifists, were pursued.

Even under the “Communist Clause” victims of the Nazis who were Communists were not compensated.9 They chose a very bad example — or perhaps De Roux is conscious of the example he chose.

However, what it is about is blending one myth with another. It is surprising that they don’t mention South Africa, maybe because it is easier to see the reality of its Truth Commission and it is a more realistic comparison than Germany after the War.

What they aim to say is that if the Germans could accept their collective guilt, why can’t Colombia do so? But such collective guilt does not exist, or at least not in the way De Roux and company mean.

Many Germans lost their lives in the struggle against the Nazis, it has been calculated that the Nazis murdered 288,000 members of the opposition, including before Hitler came to power.

It wasn’t all Germans who did it but amongst those who did, there are familiar household names, Siemens and Krupps, just to name two companies — both used slave labour in their factories and had close relations with the Nazi Party.

Or there is Hugo Boss, the Nazi Party member who made his fortune manufacturing the uniforms of the Nazi Party, later of the Wehrmacht and of course of the SS, which is why they looked so good.

Hugo Boss menswear shop in Dublin. The company founder was a close supporter of the Nazi regime and produced uniforms for the Nazi Party, Wermacht and SS. (Image sourced: Internet)

And of course, Bayer, the company that made Zkylon-B, the gas they used, still exists and is still rich. Following the war, 13 directors from the company were convicted of war crimes but were freed without serving their full sentences and took up their posts in the company.

The murderers continued in power with the tale of “collective guilt”. The Nazis were a political project of a sector of the German bourgeoisie to stop the rise of the Communists, any similarity to cattle ranchers declaring Puerto Boyacá the anti-capitalist capital10 is a mere coincidence, I suppose.

The reference to Germany as an example of reconciliation is a cheap tale. If Colombia goes down the same road, the surnames Mancuso, Uribe, Santo Domingo, Samper and Santos and the others will be the dominant surnames in the future, with their economic and social power intact.

Protest about the army murders of civilians claimed as “positive” FARC guerrillas by relatives portraying the victims, Bogotá in 2009

THE “FALSE POSITIVES”

The CEV also deals with the issue of the “False Positives” and states something about the issue which is absolutely true that “If there had been ten, it would be very serious. If there had been one hundred, it would enough to demand a change of army. But there were thousands and it was monstrous.”11

But almost immediately it states that:

There was no law or written instructions that ordered it, but the soldiers who fired felt that they were doing what the institution wanted, due to the incentives and pressure that demanded immediate results with corpses, the publicity that they gave to those “killed in combat” and the protection given to the perpetrators.12

Yes, it is true that there was no law or written order that instructed them to do so. But we can’t expect criminals to leave us easy proof. There was no law, but there were incentives as they pointed out.

There were directives and a system for bonuses that encouraged the murder of civilians. Who authorised the payments? The then minister of Defence, Juan Manuel Santos. What does the document say about Santos?

The former president Santos – who was Minister for Defence from the end of 2006 to the end of 2008 – came to the Commission to contribute to the truth with his testimony, as ex-President and public servant, and he centred his intervention on the rigorous analysis of the False Positives to conclude asking for forgiveness from all the families and Colombia and invited the Armed Forces to ask the national and international community for forgiveness.13

It is not true, his intervention was not very rigorous and he ended by asking for forgiveness, as the CEV says, but at the same time he said he wasn’t to blame.

He took up Samper’s excuse regarding drug trafficking and said that it all happened behind his back and he lied on various occasions in his declaration to the CEV.14

Juan Manuel Santos, them President of Colombia shaking hands with Donald Trump, then President of the USA, in the White House 18 May 2017 (Image sourced: Internet).

IN CONCLUSION

Without a doubt the CEV will contribute to the knowledge of the conflict with its data, interviews and in some parts, its analysis. But the report as a whole will not be the truth about the conflict.

The CEV stated that “we don’t share the position, according to which, there are many truths that are equally valid regarding the same matter.”15

Yes, not all “truths” are equal, you have to analyse them, discuss them, contrast them with the facts and even look at who is enunciating them to see which perspective is closer to the truth, but in this case, it is not the “truth” of the CEV that is true.

Neither do I share the idea that any truth is of equal value no matter how powerful or well thought-of those who write that truth are.

End.

FOOTNOTES

1 CEV (2022) Convocatoria a la PAZ GRANDE p. 39 https://www.comisiondelaverdad.co/hay-futuro-si-hay-verdad

2 Ibíd., p.56

3 “The Human Rights Information System of the National Trade Union School (ENS) recorded 15,430 violations of trade unionists’ rights to life, freedom and integrity in Colombia between 1 January 1971 and 29 September 2021. Around a fifth of the cases reported were murders: 3,288 trade unionists have been assassinated over the last five decades in Colombia.” https://www.equaltimes.org/colombia-has-signed-a-peace?lang=en#.YtXwJuzMI6E

4 Ibíd., p.39

5 Giraldo, J. (2004) Cronología de hechos reveladores del Paramilitarismo como política de Estado. http://www.javiergiraldo.org/spip.php?article75

6 Girald, J. (1996) Colombia, The Genocidal Democracy. Common Courage Press. Maine p.44 http://www.javiergiraldo.org/IMG/libros/Colombia_The_Genocidal_Democracy.pdf

7 CEV (2022) Op. Cit. P.45

8 Ayuso, M. (10/01/2016) Adolf Heusinger: la historia del general nazi que acabó dirigiendo la OTAN https://www.elconfidencial.com/alma-corazon-vida/2016-01-10/adolf-heusinger-la-historia-del-general-nazi-que-acabo-dirigiendo-la-otan_1132337/

9 Creuzberger, S. ‘Make life for communists as difficult as possible’ State-run anticommunism and ‘psychological warfare’ in the early years of the Federal Republic of Germany. Asian j. Ger. Eur. stud. 2, 9 (2017). https://doi.org/10.1186/s40856-017-0020-7

10 The location was the birth place of the paramilitary model that arose in the 1980s and was avowedly right wing. There was a sign on the way in to it, that said “Welcome to Puerto Boyacá, Anti-Communist Capital of Colombia.”

11 CEV (2022) Op. Cit. P.26

12 Ibid

13 Ibid., p.28

14 Ó Loingisgh, G. (12/06/2021) Santos Whitewashing His Image, Washing His Hands http://www.socialistdemocracy.org/RecentArticles/RecentColombiaSantosWhitewashingHisImageWashingHisHands.html

15 CEV (2022) Op. Cit. P.42

COLOMBIAN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTIONS — ANY CHANGE?

Gearóid Ó Loingsigh, political activist and analyst for many years in Colombia, was interviewed by Dimitris Givisis about the current presidential elections there and a candidate presenting as Left; published in https://www.rednblack.gr/arthra/kolomvia-o-petro-oikodomei-mia-eklogiki-symmachia-kai-ochi-mia-koinoniki-dynami/

1) What do you think the elections of May 29th will mean for the future of Colombia? What are the stakes of these elections?

The elections are not as key as some commentators would like to make out in terms of profound changes in Colombia. Though, the reaction in some sectors and fears about the transparency of the elections are well founded and even some fears of a violent reaction from some sectors of the bourgeoisie and the army. So, on one level the elections are about the degree to which the bourgeoisie, including the narco-bourgeoisie are willing to accept electoral defeat. This election is likely to bring about a long period of uncertainty in the country as Petro tries to manage the expectations and demands of the bourgeoisie and contain the hopes of his own supporters.

People displaced in the north of Santander by ongoing violence try to get by as best they can (Photo cred: GÓ Loingsigh)

2) What is the political scenery like, one week before the elections? These elections take place midst what kind of atmosphere?

The atmosphere oscillates between one of hope that Petro will be elected and bring an end to a long conflict that has been going on for almost 60 years and one of fear. No one knows what the far right are capable of doing and thinking at the moment. General Zapateiro intervened in the election campaign, which is unconstitutional as the military don’t even have the right to vote in Colombia. There are other fears about electoral fraud, a portal has been set up to report electoral fraud. Already it has tallied 3,500 incidents and no one has cast a vote yet. Leading businesses have stated they will sack any workers who vote for Petro and have demanded that their employees take photos of the electoral card that they mark and send it to them. It is expected that Petro has the ability to win in the first round, sufficient electoral fraud to force a second round run off with any candidate other than Fico would make matters more complicated for Petro as people may vote against him out of fear were it to come to a second round against one of the other candidates other than the reincarnation of Uribe that is Fico.

The Colombian military are not permitted to vote but there is always the possibility that they will intervene militarily (Photo cred: GÓ Loingsigh)

3) In the surveys, we see that Gustavo Petrois is ahead. How do you interpret this? What are the social alliances he has created? What are people’s expectations from him?

Petro has been around for a long time and this is not his first but third outing as a presidential candidate. After 20 years of Uribe as the leading figure in Colombian politics, there is a growing tiredness coupled with really serious levels of poverty, whilst kleptocrats openly steal the resources of the state. However, he hasn’t built social alliances as such. There has been a confluence of various social organisations and sectors more out of a hope that there might be some change. Petro for example opposed the wave of protests that erupted in the country last year. At a moment when Duque looked very weak, Petro came out to say that he didn’t want Duque to fall through the protests and demanded that the protests be called off. He more than anyone was responsible for the defeat. Petro is building an electoral alliance not a social force and his electoral alliance includes the bourgeoisie. He has long called for a programmatic agreement with the bourgeoisie and his alliance includes people from various previous governments, including Uribe’s governments. Leading functionaries from the Santos government play lead roles in his campaign, such as Alfonso Prada, who is also a close friend of Santos. Former president Samper, the man who implemented the decree that gave us the Convivir, the legal façade for the paramilitaries in the 1990s is also involved in his campaign. This is not a minor point, Samper managed to reinvent himself as a man of peace, even though he more than any president bears responsibility for the blood bath of the mid 1990s to the early years of the 21st century. He also tried to include the former president Cesar Gaviria, the man who gave us the economic aperture of the neoliberal period. It was opposition from his electoral base which forced him to rethink that one. These people play a greater role than any social movement.

Marchers on the annual Victims’ Day in March with placards of murdered trade union and human rights activists (Photo cred: GO’Loingsigh)

4) If Gustavo Petro wins the elections, what possibilities/room does he have to implement a progressive/social democratic policy for the people΄s classes, the workers, the poor, the precarious, etc?

This goes back to the last question and his programmatic alliance with the bourgeoisie. So, there are two elements, to what degree does he actually want to implement a progressive policy? He has spoken about reforms in health and education, some of which sound almost Keynesian, but Petro is not Keynesian. His programme does not contemplate a break with neoliberalism but to work within it, controlling deficits etc, subsidies for industry etc.. His economic policies are a continuation of the last 30 years, with one difference, he wants to move away from mining and oil exploitation, the former coming to an end in any case with various coal mining companies announcing their withdrawal from the country, though some gold mining companies are staying and these companies have legal guarantees on continuing with mining prospecting and exploitation that Petro will not and cannot legally bring to an end. He has however, said that he will promote agribusiness and continue with the policies that are in place, again with some minor tweaking.

Gustavos Petro campaigning (Photo cred: Financial Times)

5) How do you see the next day, after the disaster that the four years of Duque’s neoliberal policy has brought? What are the most important problems that the new government will face? What are the difficulties?

The next day, the one problem Petro will have is how the right will react to destabilise his government. A situation similar to that of Allende of a long drawn-out phase of destabilisation from some sectors is a possibility, though unlike Allende, Petro’s campaign is electoral, he does not believe in organising people and is in fact opposed to it. Part of his base has been bought off with the promise of jobs for the leaders of organisations and access to the public purse, which is normal for Colombian elections. Offers of jobs and government contracts in communities is the normal way elections are bought in Colombia.

Colombian military looks towards a protest demonstration (Photo cred: GO’Loingsigh)

Petro also does not have a majority in Congress, in fact he is very far from it. And will have to negotiate many things, which will push his programme further to the right as he will not use popular mobilisation to counter any blocking of policies by Congress. In the long term, this presents a problem for him and we will almost certainly see another wave of protests like those of last year, but this time against the Petro government. I also predict that his Vice President, Francia Márquez will not complete her term of office and will resign at some point in the face of the reality of Petro’s government as opposed to the expectations.

He has proposed renegotiating the free trade agreements, a task that is just not possible. He will also face problems in reforming the health sector as many international health companies have invested heavily in the sector and will most like sue the government for any changes that affect their profits, something he will be forced to back down on. In fact, within his campaign there have already been retreats on this point, as he no longer proposes to abolish the role of these companies, just to change how much of the public purse they have access to.

end.

People fishing in Cesar Department, Colombia (Photo cred: G.Ó Loingsigh)
Coal miner in Colombia (Photo cred: G.Ó Loingsigh)

The International Criminal Court Has Gone — Who Will Save Us Now?

Gearóid Ó Loingsigh

(Reading time: 3 mins.)

There is a long tradition amongst NGOs, sectors of the reformist left, trade unionists and others in Colombia that someone outside the country will save us. The saviours are the North Americans (despite their role in the conflict), the European Union (despite their role as well and that of their companies), and international institutions such as the International Criminal Court, or the mechanisms set up in the peace accord (national ones but financed internationally). So, the decision by the ICC to shut down its preliminary investigation of Colombia was like a bucket of cold water to them. But it was to be expected.

Banner carrying faces and names of youth from Soacha and Bogotá murdered by the Colombian National Army. The banner was displayed in a march in Bogatá on the 6th March, the Day of Victims of State Violence. (Photo credit: GOL)

When Obama was elected as US president, various journalists and representatives of the left and NGOs announced that he would solve Colombia’s problems and now they have come back to say the same about Biden. A constant feature of this discourse of seeking a foreign saviour is the possibility of taking Uribe (not his Defence Minister, Juan Manuel Santos) to the ICC. They sold a false hope to the victims of the state that there they could obtain justice. They knew it was unlikely, as they knew what the ICC was like and its not very encouraging record in the matter.

To date the ICC has only convicted African leaders. It is not the case that these African leaders are saints or innocent, but rather that the ICC does not go after other criminals. It has procrastinated for many years on its case against Israel and has no authority to investigate the USA. The Court’s website currently indicates that it has 15 ongoing preliminary investigations, ten of them in African countries and five others in Georgia, Afghanistan, the Philippines, Bangladesh and the State of Palestine. This last case will not succeed, of that we can be certain. It has pursued a total of 30 individuals, resulting in 4 convictions.1 The ICC is the opium of the people, it has a soporific effect on people in the midst of their struggles and the NGOs promise Heaven and Divine Justice in a coming future.

A boy carries photos of victims in a march in Bogatá on the 6th March, the Day of Victims of State Violence. (Photo credit: GOL)

There were diverse reactions to the decision to shut down the preliminary investigation. Whilst the victims of the False Positives2 criticised the decision, others such as Senator Iván Cepeda and Eamon Gilmore, the EU envoy to the peace process celebrated it. The Movement of Victims of State Crimes (MOVICE) lamented the decision, though in a very confusing manner. It continued to praise the Special Jurisdiction for Peace (JEP), when it is precisely the existence of the JEP that the ICC used as an excuse to shut down the case.3

Iván Cepeda stated that:

A direct consequence of the agreement signed by Duque’s government with the International Criminal Court’s prosecutor is that once and for all the possibility of reforming the JEP has been discarded. It puts an end to that obsessive aim of the Uribistas. A victory for the peace process.4

A few years ago, he would have denounced the closure of the case as an act of impunity and now he claims it is a victory. As the Greek philosopher Plutarch put it, Another victory like this and all will be lost. Many of us denounced the impunity of the JEP, little did we think that not only would it guarantee impunity in the trials it deals with or excludes from its remit, but that its very existence would be the perfect excuse to shut down international cases against the regime. But the peace acolytes are determined to announce their defeat as a victory.

Protestors holding aloft photos of those murdered and disappeared in a march in Bogatá on the 6th March, the Day of Victims of State Violence. (Photo credit: GOL).

It seems that Senator Gustavo Petro didn’t have much to say about the matter and neither did Senator Alexander López. Piedad Córdoba, however, echoed the statements of Iván Cepeda and said:

They took issue with the JEP and tried to cut its budget, discredit it, dirty propaganda and all in order to cover their own backs. Today the ICC forced the government to strengthen it.5

A young woman carries photos of victims in a march in Bogatá on the 6th March, the Day of Victims of State Violence. (Photo credit: GOL)

It is clear that there are those who in the name of peace would justify any defeat, including a defeat of a proposal they themselves promoted. So, the ICC will not proceed against Colombia, but relax, we have the JEP where the military who, unlike the guerrillas, do not have to tell the whole truth about their crimes and where the businesspeople are excluded.

Of course, the president of the JEP, who once upon a time was the NGOs’ favourite said that he was very pleased with the ICC decision. According to Cifuentes the closure of the investigation against Colombia is a victory won by the JEP,6 i.e. those who for many years talked about how the ICC was going to put the Colombian State in its place, now tell us that the fact the ICC will not proceed against Colombia is a victory.

I really find it difficult to understand their logic, or better still I can’t understand their shamelessness. In the name of their pathetic peace accord, they justify everything and describe it as a victory. Poor Plutarch. If he had to deal with the leaders of the supposed left in Colombia today he would have been more vulgar, but he died many centuries ago, so allow me Plutarch: Another victory like this and the turncoats will be making money like never before.

So, to answer the question posed by this article, who will save us? The answer is no one, or rather, the Colombian people will save themselves, there are no international institutions, nor presidents in other countries who are going to fix the crisis that country has suffered for decades. The only ones who will put Uribe, Santos, Pastrana, Samper and the others in jail are the Colombian people.

“Forget them? That would be a crime against conscience” with images and names of the “disappeared” since 1998. The banner was carried on a march in Bogatá on the 6th March, the Day of Victims of State Violence. (Photo credit: GOL)

Next year is an electoral one and some of those who told us the ICC would do miracles and now celebrate the slap in the face it gave to the victims, will be candidates. They will promise a thousand miracles and when some foreign institution or president says no, they will celebrate it and try to convince us that the defeat was a victory. Changing the saying by Mao, they go from victory to victory to final defeat. Plutarch is as relevant today as ever.

End.

“NOT FORGOTTEN” banner carried on a march in Bogatá on the 6th March, the Day of Victims of State Violence. (Photo credit: GOL)

FOOTNOTES:

1 Information on cases can be consulted at https://www.icc-cpi.int/Pages/Home.aspx

2 People shot dead by Colombian state forces who were untruthfully claimed as “positives”, i.e guerrilla fighters.

3 RCN (29/10/2021) Falsos positivos: víctimas rechazan cierre del caso contra Colombia en Corte Penal Internacional https://www.rcnradio.com/judicial/falsos-positivos-victimas-rechazan-cierre-del-caso-contra-colombia-en-corte-penal

4 https://twitter.com/IvanCepedaCast/status/1453792170855604235?s=20

5 https://twitter.com/piedadcordoba/status/1454135519194005504?s=20

6 Wradrio (29/10/2021) Gracias la JEP cierran el examen preliminar de la CPI: Eduardo Cifuentes https://www.wradio.com.co/noticias/actualidad/justicia-de-la-jep-esta-dando-resultados-dice-su-presidente/20211029/nota/4174696.aspx

FURTHER INFORMATION:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/International_Criminal_Court

LONG LIVE THE VANDALS!

Gearóid Ó Loingsigh

(Reading time: 2 mins.)

In the midst the protests in Colombia the press can be heard denouncing the vandals and various politicians from the left and right have echoed these criticisms in one way or another.  The headlines speak of the destruction of private property and in some cases they try to mark a distinction between what they say is legitimate protest and vandalism.

The word “vandal”, means someone who commits acts pertaining to savage and destructive people and is who destroys a public asset or installation.  Other definitions speak of destroying or damaging what is beautiful.  It should be said that the Transmilenio mass transport system stations are not one bit beautiful.  But should the youths be ashamed or proud of being called vandals?

Resisters in Colombian city of Madrid shelter behind makeshift shields as they are bombarded with water canon in May 2021 (Photo crdt. Juan Pablo Pino, AFP/Getty)

We should look at the origin of the word.  The first vandals were Germanic tribes that in 455 A.D. attacked and sacked Rome carrying away great riches and also destroying buildings, amongst them the Temple of Jupiter, though there is some dispute about the severity of the destruction of the city.  However, they went down in history as the vandals who destroyed that city.  The more modern use of the person who destroys public assets or private property or damages what is beautiful dates from the middle ages and its use is widespread nowadays.

Of course when Vicky Dávila and other right wing journalists speak of vandals they are not talking about Germanic tribes, or at least that is what we believe, though with Vicky even drug traffickers, paramilitaries and corrupt politicians are decent folk, so one is never sure about the meaning of the words that fall from her lips like the Police stun grenades.

“The Police rape and murder” (Photo: G.O.L)

But words and their meanings are not set in stone.  Some words enter a language and in short time fall into disuse, others last for centuries and some come back to life when least we expect like when Kim Jong-un’s translator used the word “Dotard” to describe Trump.  That word hadn’t seen the light of day since the US Civil War in the 19th Century.  Other words simply change their meaning, sometimes slowly and on other occasions they do so more abruptly.

The press has used this word so often to describe and disparage the social protests that we may be witnesses to another change in meaning.  The bourgeois press has emptied the word of any meaning and now in the marches people can be seen with placards that say Vandal’s Honour and in social media there are memes doing the rounds on the subject.  One of them says “The country turned upside down and this one says, what are you and I?  Well, vandals my love.”  They used the word so often to describe any act of rebellion, nonconformity or to and try and shut down and discredit the demonstrators that it has lost its power, its meaning.  Now it is a badge of honour for many.  Vandal no longer means a savage destructive person but rather a person who fights to be heard, for justice.  A vandal is whoever fights against Duque, neoliberalism and poverty.

The word is changing its connotation and once again it is closer to its original meaning, a tribe that defied an Empire, although in this case the Colombian emperor seems more like the Emperor Nero (54-68 A.D.) who played on his Lyre whilst Rome burned than the poor Petronius Maximus who only lasted a few weeks in power.  Duque doesn’t play the Lyre but rather the Guitar, but there he is and Nero’s regime was one of extravagance, waste and tyranny and Nero in the middle of it all playing on his Lyre.

The sacking of Rome in 455 A.D. was the third sacking that the city suffered.  There were a further five sackings after the Vandals.  It should be remembered that the Vandals sacked the capital of a decadent Empire that deserved to be extinguished.

Burnt out bank from 2006 (G.O.L)

So as the meme puts it, ask the question, what are you and I?  And answer:

We are Vandals my love, we damage the hated system of mass transport built with public funds legally stolen to set up a private transport business which to top it all takes 94% of the profits of a business and barely contributes a penny to its own maintenance.

We are Vandals my love, we destroy banks that receive more subsidies from the state than the poor who are denied loans by these banks, which don’t hesitate for a single moment to confiscate the houses of the poor.

We are Vandals my love, who in the face of the lives and censorship of the bourgeois press make our smothered voices reverberate on the walls of the city.  Who needs Twitter when you even the poorest can see the walls?

We are Vandals my love, who in the face of the attacks by the Police throw rocks at them that are found all about the place in the poorly built public infrastructural projects, in a country where the thieves don’t know how to build a pavement and where half the bricks are badly placed.

We are Vandals my love, we fight against a decadent government and system.

We are Vandals my love, and our favourite letter is V:

V for Vengeance on the rich that kill us, rob us and lie to us.

V for Victory against the neoliberal regime.

V for Vandals my love.

Long Live The Vandals!

End.

Iván Ramírez: The Last in the Andino Case to be Freed (after nearly four years in jail)

Gearóid Ó Loingsigh

(Reading time: 6 mins.)

(16/04/2021)

Iván Ramírez was the last of those arrested for the Andino Case to be freed by the Colombian authorities after spending almost four years arrested as part of the legal frame up.  I spoke to him a number of weeks after his release.

Ivan Ramirez, managing to smile after his ordeal (Photo: G.Ó.Loingsigh).

Iván graduated from the National University as a sociologist and before his arrest he worked for the National Centre for Historical Memory (CNMH) as part of an accord with the official German international aid agency GIZ.  His work consisted of carrying out workshops to collate information on the murders and massacres committed against members of the Unión Patriótica in the department (administrative area) of Meta in order to build a Memory Centre in the city of Villavicencio.  This centre was never built and when his house was raided the Police took various files collected as part of his work.  He also worked on the issue of the infamous Massacre of Trujillo, carried out by the Third Division of the Army whose boss, not to say capo, Manuel Bonnet Locarno would become the highest commander of the State’s armed forces.  There was a chance of continuing to work with this body, but his arrest put paid to any hope of a new job with them and he went on to be part of another nefarious chapter in the Colombian State’s war on its own people.

At that time, I didn’t think about it, but neither was I unaware that the activity I was engaged in — e.g. academic or professional life — could have certain consequences.  Well, looking at our national history and context, you realise no one is immune from ending up in prison or being murdered for political reasons.  So I never thought I would end up being part of a judicial frame up.  Obviously in the context that one looks at the background and cases of other people that were also sociologists who had been victims of frame ups, well it was always possible, but it wasn’t on my mind.

Prior to his arrest, two of the people he had known in Meta in the context of his work with the CNMH were murdered.  Little did he know that in a short time he would go on to be part of the sad story of the dirty war against social fighters and the judicial frame ups.  Neither did he know that documents related to his legal work with a state body would be presented in court as evidence against him.  Almost every researcher of the Colombian conflict has a copy of the report ¡Basta Ya! (Enough!) published by the CNMH.

It was not the only document that they took from his house as evidence.

There were also texts on the history of the insurgencies that are also academic works in Colombia and in the hearing they were introduced, as propaganda texts when when they were really academic documents and there was one on the Quintin Lame armed movement which was also published by the National Centre for Historic Memory.  They are publicly available documents and as a professional you have to study them.

A prosecutor has to be really stupid or desperate in the face of the weakness of his case to introduce such documents in a trial.  Amongst the credits for these documents are the name of ministers and high-ranking politicians such as Germán Vargas Lleras, Angelino Garzón the former Vice-President of the country and the publication was financed by the European Union, the Spanish Embassy and the official wing of the US government USAID.  It would seem that the Prosecutor saw subversives everywhere.  Though it should be pointed out that this type of manoeuvre is common and there are many cases where the prosecutors introduced widely published books as evidence.  It would seem, on occasions that the prosecutors have not even read the Penal Code, less still would they read literature or sociological texts.

The evidence against him was not the only farce, his arrest seemed like an episode of Key Stone Cops.

I was arrested four times.  The first time was in Bogotá on public transport. I was going to meet my partner at some workshops she was doing to start working at Compensar.  I was in a public transport bus at about four in the evening, I was going towards the centre.  I was in the bus and some motorised cops stopped the bus.  They took three people off it.  They asked for our I.D. and they gave the I.D. back to the two others and let them go.  They detained me under the pretext that I was supposedly a burglar.  There was a white van behind the bus and one of the cops told me to get into it and that my accomplice was in it. When they opened the van, there was a very suspicious looking guy inside and the first thought that went through my head, was that they are going to do something to me, kill me or disappear me.

He didn’t want to get in the van and told the police that he didn’t trust them, but even so, they took him to the Police Station as a suspected burglar and moved him from one place to another at all times as a suspected burglar.  At last they took him in handcuffs to his apartment, whilst they interrogated him about his family.  When he got there two secret police officers turned up to search his home.

They went into the house and went through absolutely everything.  It began at 7.30 P.M. and lasted till 2 A.M.  It was an irregular procedure, when house searches are carried out after 7 P.M. there must be a representative of a supervisory body present and there wasn’t.  In the preliminary hearings, I was freed due to the illegal nature of my arrest.

THE “TALIBAN”

He went to Sasaima, a county in Cundinamarca, near Bogotá, seeking some peace and quiet, but the nightmare followed him there and he noticed the presence of plain clothes police following him and hanging around the town, which made him anxious as the difference between a plain clothes police officer and a paramilitary is one of opportunity and convenience.  In this second arrest he was presented to the media as the worst terrorist.  He was called alias The Taliban (1), perhaps a reference to his physical appearance or a play on words with his name, but as they later acknowledged this nickname was invented by the police themselves, but it was not the only stupidity in  the case.  When he shaved, this was presented as evidence of his presumed guilt by trying to change his appearance.  The process against him is a complete farce from start to finish.  But as a result of it he spent almost four years in prison and during his imprisonment his daughter was born and he could only see her during normal visits, once a fortnight.  The searches and treatment were the usual ones, a Colombian prisoner receives no special treatment for being the father of a newly born child, “to them, even if the person is blind or is paralysed in 90% of their body, they are just another prisoner”.

As a sociologist Iván well understands the problems of the country and the rampant inequality.  His experience in the prison confirmed that.  He saw the luxuries enjoyed by some and the poverty of others depending on the wing they were held on.  When he was in the Modelo Prison, for reasons unknown to him, he was transferred to Wing 3.  There he saw another prison world.

You see how people with money live inside the prison with lots of privileges whilst there were other prisoners who had nowhere to sleep, they had to make do with cardboard, no food.  On Wing 3 there was a lot more space and a library, it was impressive, a very good coffee shop and very good workshops.  There was a good gym, it was big with gym machines, not just free weights and ovens to cook with.

Ivan Ramirez in a serious moment (Photo: G.Ó.Loingsigh).

CAPITALISM WITHIN THE JAIL

Of course, on Wing 3 there were various high level prisoners, from the Odebrecht case (2) and also from Interbolsa (3).  It could also be seen in that some of the cells cost up to 12 million pesos (3000 euros), in addition to the monthly rent.  Property speculation takes place inside the walls, especially where there are prisoners of that ilk.  Capitalism doesn’t stop at the gate, but rather it reproduces itself within the prison system.

Iván was the last one to be freed.  As happened with the others the Prosecutors sought out judges in their pockets to justify the unjustifiable, and between those manoeuvres and the lethargy of the prison service in obeying orders, he was imprisoned over and again without ever really stepping out into freedom.  In one of his rearrests a Prosecutor from Popayán legalised his arrest in a court in Medellín when the criminal case is in Bogotá and then they applied a law passed after his first arrest and the events.  Although he did hold on to some hope, he knew that in Colombia many judges are not objective and don’t always make findings in law, causing him to despair, as happens with many prisoners in the country, who are unjustly imprisoned, at the mercy of the whim of the judge on duty, or as happens with many, they lack the money to hire a good lawyer.

After his last rearrest Iván did not go back to prison, instead he was held for various months in a Police Station, a place of detention which is supposedly temporary, although there are people held in them for up to a year or more, in places like that where the conditions of imprisonment are worse than in the jails, if that were possible.

In that Station, overcrowding was at 100%.  For example, in the cell I was in, it was very small, about 3 x 8 metres, or something like that and there were more than 100 people held in difficult sanitary conditions, you had sleep on top of each other and you couldn’t stretch. You spent the day sitting down, there was no way to walk or exercise.  The food was also rancid and you had to eat it.

His view of a certain class of prisoner changed having seen how some of them also fought for their dignity.  “The kid who sells drugs, the bloke who robs buses and others, are sometimes classed as worthless people, but it is simply the circumstances that bring people along a different path and that shouldn’t be judged but rather understood in all its complexity.”

Iván, the sociologist lived through a field work on the injustices of the legal system, the dirty war in Colombia, poverty, inequality that no one wants to go through.  His passage through the halls of injustice have not quenched his thirst for knowledge and like his fellow accused in the Andino Case he continues to be committed to a better future for this country.

end.

FOOTNOTES

  1. In Colombian Spanish, “that guy Ivan”, el tal Ivan, pronounced the same as “the Taliban”.

2. An international case of corruption involving a Brazilian company and construction projects throughout Latin America. On the Colombian case see (Spanish only): https://www.elespectador.com/noticias/judicial/los-hechos-claves-para-entender-el-escandalo-de-odebrecht/?fbclid=IwAR3CnKdgk1437318wa9quFgglqjpDq0j-8KJxjqm5j_p6rBcCVJ7pt7wT8I

3. Yet another financial scandal. https://noticias.caracoltv.com/informes-especiales/impunidad-la-otra-pandemia-que-paso-con-interbolsa-las-libranzas-y-otros-escandalos-de-corrupcion?fbclid=IwAR0TevfujBMdbWRUKsczbYrykP3J_bFf5aHH0xi5IWDP-5ACrfrv3dFqgwQ

Lina Jiménez Numpaque: Victim in the Andino Case Frame-up

Interview of framed ex-prisoner awaiting trial by Gearóid Ó Loingsigh

(Reading time: 8 mins.)

(28/02/2021)

In June 2017 a bomb exploded in the Centro Andino shopping centre in the north of Bogotá, Colombia, cutting down three people. A few days later the police arrested ten youths for their supposed participation in the attack, amongst them Lina Jiménez, an arts student, whose photo went viral. These youths all had something in common and it wasn’t their participation in the attack but rather that they were all friends.

We all met in the university, as we studied together. Some of us studied Law, Politics and others Sociology. I met some of them in optional classes were we coincided. We had a common position on the defence of human rights and the student movement, we met in one or other coffee shops, assemblies that took place in various parts of the university.

Friends to the point that six of them were arrested together a few days after the attack whilst on holidays in the El Espinal area. The precise moment she was arrested was the first time that Lina became aware that the Prosecutor had issued an arrest warrant for her.

I was on holiday in El Espinal and we were going to meet up in a spa resort. In El Espinal there are some festivals for Saint John’s and Saint Peter’s day and that is why we were there and I was in a taxi when various cars surrounded us and stopped us. Then they took me out of the car and officers from the Special Operations Group (GOES) and the Judicial Investigative Police (SIJIN) read out the arrest warrant. They never showed it to me or read me my rights.

It wasn’t just any order. The weaker the State’s case the more need it has to make it appear solid and to show the dangerousness of the detainees.

We were taken to the main police station in El Espinal. There were loads of them, all those that took part in the operation. Later on, one of the police officers who was guarding us said that they had around 1,200 officers involved in our capture in El Espinal. It was basically full of police officers.

Lina Jimenez during interview (Photo credit: Gearóid Ó Loingsigh)

We don’t know whether the figure of 1,200 officers is correct or not, but there is no doubt it was an enormous operation. I asked her jokingly whether such a disproportionate and unnecessary deployment made her feel important. She laughed and said no

That didn’t make me feel important, what made me feel important was the flight, as they brought us in a plane from El Espinal to Bogotá. They took us to the police station, searched us, took our prints and whatnot. They never said it was for terrorism. I was told it was for conspiracy, we were only told it was for terrorism when we got to Bogotá- They took us out of the station well guarded with motorbikes, cars, loads of officers and they took us from Flandes airport to Catam [Military Airport].

As Lina herself acknowledges such an operation was a bad omen for any detainee, even when innocent. When they took her to the airport she knew nothing good could come of it, that the State was going all out against her and would do everything possible to show results in the case and they charged her with terrorism, conspiracy, homicide and attempted homicide with a possible sentence of 60 years.

When we were being taken to the airport in Flandes, I said to myself, this thing is not so that they invalidate our arrest. If they are setting up such an operation to get some people on holidays, they are definitely not going to let us go. Regardless of whether we did it or not, these people are going to convict us. To see how they organised the truth, leaves you feeling powerless.

In fact, later she found out when she could read the press that they had already convicted her, that both state functionaries and the press had declared that the guilty ones had been captured. They published identikit pictures of some of those arrested that matched them so neatly they seemed to be photos, but they did not match the statements from the witnesses. The identikit photos had been prepared days before the attack.

Little did Lina know when she was arrested the legally doubtful manoeuvres the State would resort to, re-arresting her three times in contravention of court orders to free her. The State sought out judges in their pocket to legalise what was illegal and to justify her re-arrest and even open up another slightly different case against her. Amongst the manoeuvres of state was the harassment of the relatives and attempts made to force them to give information or testify against other detainees.

The strategy did not work when it came to the relatives, but one of the detainees, Natalia Trujillo, could not withstand captivity and the pressure on her and handed herself over to the State, reaching an agreement with the Prosecutor which consisted in her not serving any time in exchange for her false testimony against her friends and fellow students. It was a potentially serious blow in the legal case, but it was also a hard knock in personal terms. You could understand bitterness in a case like this, but when Lina speaks of her former cell mate, there is no trace in her voice, but rather of pain and also an understanding of how a person could break like that.

You feel enormous hurt, you just don’t expect that to happen, especially as we went through this process together, together we experienced what was happening, together we felt the same pressure from the State and what happened to her is sort of like that. We all have different ways of dealing psychologically with this type of severe pressure. It is no secret that the State seeks to weave its own truth and as part of doing so it resorts to these type of situations, to push people to their physical and psychological limits that they end up saying things that are not true. It was really hurtful.

Natalia suffered the legal process for more than two years, but in August 2019 she turned up testifying against Lina and other people linked to the case.

As I said, we don’t all have the same capacity and I can’t say that I didn’t feel pain nor exhaustion during all of this process, because it was really severe and there are days you just don’t want to move an inch. I believe in the power of love and I really believe that solidarity also picks you up and saves you from many things. When you are down the other person picks you up and you pick them up, there are series of bonds which are built and that pushes you forward, but we don’t all have the same capacity to say ‘right I can take a little more of this’.

Perhaps, Lina was stronger and she showed that in a photo that went viral. She is seen with her hands tied behind her back leaning in towards a journalist, seething and shouting. I asked her about that photo, as in person she is nothing like that, but an arrest is not a normal situation for anyone.

We were in the station in Puente Aranda and it has to be said that it is a horrible place. It was a complicated situation, we had nowhere to sleep. I hadn’t a clue about the hearing to legalise our arrest, that was explained to me the next day and we were heavily guarded. We left Puente Aranda in an armoured car with police vehicles surrounding it. We got there and the armoured car took a while in getting us out. When I got there I saw relatives and some friends crying, I could see their deep pain in the midst of all the rage and impotence and they were very quiet. I felt the need to say it wasn’t true, that this was about something else.

Of course, they had told me ‘You’re to keep your mouth shut’ and in that moment I felt I couldn’t let this go… You feel a rage for your own life, but also seeing your family subjected to such complex situations, that the police push them around. We were walking and there was a lot of press there and we were guarded by the police and they didn’t want us to talk. So as soon as I got down out of the armoured car I started shouting that this was a judicial false positive that this had got to do with electoral interests at the time, that is was part of the Uribista strategy. I started shouting that and that photo was taken when I was going up the stairs and a journalist from City TV came up to me and I was really upset as whilst I was shouting a policeman tried to push back the journalists and he shouted at me ‘shut up, shut up, don’t say anything!’ Obviously that was like winding me up more. Looking back on it, it would have been very different had we remained silent.

And that is certainly the case. In the entire process none of those arrested bowed their heads, they have even appeared in videos from the jail, some have written articles and others were even spokespersons for prisoners in prison protests. Unjustly detained, but not defeated.

All prisons try to crush the individual, to break them, to take away their dignity, their sense of being alive. Colombia’s prisons are no different in this matter and in fact various problems such as overcrowding and poor health and educational services make the situation worse still. Being a political prisoner can be dangerous, but when the numbers allow for it, being part of a prisoners’ collective has its advantages. Lina was taken to the Good Shepherd Prison (Buen Pastor) in Bogotá and following her processing she was placed in the political prisoners’ wing.

It is very interesting, because when we got there, the last political prisoners of the FARC were beginning to leave, we were eight days in the police station and they put the fear of God into us, that ‘you are just posh kids and in the Good Shepherd prison they are going to rob you and attack you.’

But when we go to Wing Six, the political prisoners really surprised us, they had cleaned our cells, clean sheets, everything was organised, they had hot soup, coffee, toilet paper and other things. There were around 34 prisoners from the FARC and the ELN. After a while the FARC prisoners were released and social prisoners began to arrive and it was very different. As it was a high security wing, people connected to the drugs trade began to be put in it. There was a complete change in the atmosphere as their money could be seen, they paid for whiskey to be brought in, which when the political prisoners where there, that didn’t happen. When the social prisoners came, it was different, a huge change.

Although states usually try to treat political prisoners as common criminals, they are not and it can be seen in how they organise in prison and how they relate to the prison authorities. And to form part of a collective had, as Lina saw when she arrived, certain advantages for own safety and well being.

The prisoners had outside support and they reported things, the guards called Wing Six the wing for the complaints as we were always reporting to the Procurator, the Public Defender’s Office etc. The Director consulted the prisoners about how to do certain things. Meetings were held with the Director. This didn’t happen on other wings; they didn’t take the prisoners’ views into account. The political prisoners won a space, these were not concessions from the prison authorities, but rather they were won through protests and even hunger strikes over the years.

7 killed in Colombia protests against police brutality - Weekly Voice
Colombian riot police attack a demonstrator (Photo sourced: Internet)

But it is not just people like Lina who suffer the effects of judicial frame-ups, but also their families, especially when they are accused of a crime such as the attack on the Centro Andino. The State harasses the relatives and tries to put pressure on them as part of its legal strategy.

There is an enormous pressure put on our families as well as the social stigma. In my case, when I was captured, they were raiding my home at the same time and it was severe as I live on a main avenue and they closed the entire avenue off, there were armoured cars, and at least ten anti-explosives vehicles and a huge number of police officers and everyone was asking, what happened? And since my release, they haven’t stopped following me and taking photos and there is a permanent presence of plainclothes cops.

To her, the case and other processes against other students are state strategies to defeat the social movement and hand down exemplary sentences as a warning to all those who think differently and want to change the country. The legal cases try to break grassroots processes and the detainees themselves. In her case, it didn’t work that well.

To see the misery of this system in the flesh makes you understand and treat this space as another space for political struggle. In the legal process itself and the prison, you see the system so cruelly unmasked because this can only be done by people who have no respect for life, for humanity, for nothing. You feel you have to continue struggling for what you believe in, for life. This system has been in crisis for a long time and I left the prison and we are in a pandemic, we face a very complicated situation which is not far removed from the logic of the system. In this system there are humans who are in the top category and then there are those who are not in any category. And my position and that of my friends in the case, is the type of position that has to be hidden out of view and that is the role of the prison.

You see the State’s aim take shape, to continue suppressing and depleting the movement because, amongst other things that is one of the tools in creating the idea that there has to be an exemplary punishment that has to be handed down and it seeks out the tools to rob people of their humanity.

Although Lina and the others unjustly arrested for the Andino Case are at liberty, the legal case against them continues. It is to be hoped that the judges make a finding in law, as has already happened in the case of Mateo Gutiérrez who was also accused of belonging to the same organisation that supposedly carried out the attack and he managed to demonstrate and prove his innocence. But in Colombia justice limps along and sometimes never gets there.

end.

Photo credit: Gearóid Ó Loingsigh

The ELN and the “Stockholm Syndrome”

Gearóid Ó Loingsigh

(Reading time: 5 mins.)

(Translated from http://www.elsalmon.com.co/2021/02/el-eln-y-el-sindrome-de-estocolmo.html? by Diarmuid Breatnach and published with permission)

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”. [1]

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). [2]

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.” [3] 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.

End

USA Green Beret receives Lancero designation badge from Colombian Army General in Colombia.

USA DEMOCRATS AND COLOMBIA: BUSINESS AS USUAL

By GEARÓID Ó LOINGSIGH

(Reading time: 8 mins.)

— 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.

“Handsome US Presidents”, in particular Democratic ones, have helped Columbian ruling circles carry out a murderous reign of terror against social activists. (Photo source: Internet)

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.[1]  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.[1] 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.[2]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.

Barak Obama when he was US President with Vice-President, now President Joe Biden. Obama’s presidency was a disaster for the Colombian people and his running mate then, now President too, looks set to follow in his footsteps. (Photo source: Internet)

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.”[3]

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.[5] 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.

President Iv√°n Duque (L) of Colombia speaks during a meeting with US President Donald Trump at the United Nations in New York September 25, 2018. (Photo by Nicholas Kamm / AFP) (Photo credit should read NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images)

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)

Sources:


[1] The New York Times (04/14/2001) SPECIAL PLEADING; A Felon’s Well-Connected Path to Clemencyhttps://www.nytimes.com/2001/04/14/nyregion/special-pleading-a-felon-s-well-connected-path-to-clemency.html

[2] Statistics taken from https://securityassistance.org/

[3] Ibíd.,

[4] Alston, P. (2009) Statement by Professor Philip Alston, UN Special Rapporteur on extrajudicial executions – Mission to Colombia 8-18 June 2009.https://newsarchive.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=9219&LangID=E

[5] The Guardian (27/10/2020) US embassy warns Colombian politicians not to get involvd in US electionshttps://www.theguardian.com/world/2020/oct/27/embassy-warns-colombian-politicians-us-elections