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The FARC controversy.

from documentary sources

Editor's note: Colombia is the most violent country in the world. FARO is Latin America's most controversial guerrilla group, both within Colombia's civil society government opposition and internationally In June, 2002 at AFSCME's 35th International Convention, Carlos Flores, Secretary-General of Columbia's Public Service Workers Union, said, "in the last 10 years, 1,741 union brothers and sisters have been assassinated; in the year 2000, 135 trade union brothers and sisters were assassinated; in 2001, 184 more brothers and sisters were assassinated. So far this year, 87 have been killed." Here, from diverse sources, are brief statements on or related to FARO and websites for further exploration. First, a direct report from Colombia:

Eyewitness to Nightmare: Unions Under Siege in Colombia, with US Aid by Fred Hirsch, from Bogota, Colombia

Fred Hirsch is a retired plumber in Santa Cruz, CA, and member of Plumbers and Fitters Local 393 in San Jose, CA. E-mail: fredsam@cruzio.com. Local 393 voted to send two members to Colombia with a Witness for Peace/Global Exchange labor delegation in January. Mary Gaddis and Fred Hirsch went so they could see firsthand the effects $1.3 billion of U.S. aid had on Colombian trade unionists. Known as Plan Colombia, the U.S. sends supposedly "counter-narcotics" aid to this strife-tom nation of 40 million people. These are excerpts from his report.

"We call Plan Colombia 'Plan Latin America.' It's not about drugs, but about corporate control of the entire region. It will give us war without end," one trade union leader told us. "Most US aid goes into the military, the rest into corrupt hands," another man explained. "We have 30% unemployment, 26 million people are in misery, most of the rest are just poor and 10 families rule the country. Plan Colombia strengthens the institutions that cause these conditions."

Terrible outrages are happening here, funded by taxes that U.S. working people pay. I'm a retired plumber who's been around the block a few times. I'm not easily moved, but in Colombia I saw a daily life reality I'd only glimpsed before, mostly in nightmares.

Several images are etched in my mind for life. An economics professor told of the torture he had escaped at the garrison of the Nueva Granada Battalion, where he was hung from a tree by the arms. His tormenters demanded the names of union oil workers he taught, so they could be tortured too, and likely assassinated as "subversives."

Our 20-member trade union delegation went to that garrison. We probably saw the tree from which our friend had hung. We listened to and questioned the commander of the base, Col. Gilberto Ibarra. My spine trembled to hear him say his officers, trained at the School of the Americas (also known as School of the Assassins) had "worked in the community for peace and prosperity with trust and love."

We were told the camouflage-clad Ibarra had set up a United Self-defense of Colombia (AUC) paramilitary death squad in a nearby town. Plan Colombia "is positive for employment in our country and it ... helps to persuade terrorists to concede to government demands," Ibarra said. "We're working to win hearts and minds as was done in Honduras and Guatemala" (where death squads decimated unions and the military wiped out many indigenous villages).

The unions are "a complex problem," Ibarra said. "There are guerrillas and sympathizers in USO (Union Sindical Obrera, the oil workers union). Many are in the same families. For example, if a man's brother is a subversive, he'll help him ... Yes, union people are involved in terrorism." He thus signals the go-ahead to cleanse the unions of what he calls "subversion and terrorism."

The USO put it differently. Fifty years ago USO fought to establish Ecopetrol, the state-run oil company. Then transnational corporations (TNCs) took 8% of the profits; now they get 70%. USO is fighting against new oil contracts giving 95% of profits to the TNCs, which include Amoco, Occidental, Shell and Texaco.

The economist, whose torture was described, no longer teaches at the university. As an AUC "military target," a regular schedule would court death. He rarely sleeps in the same place two nights in a row. He recounted Colombia's history and political economy. From 1900 to 1920, when drugs were not at issue, 50,000 indigenous people were killed in the Putamayo region in order to grab their land. From 1948-1958, 250,000 people were killed and two million displaced for sugar industry expansion.

In 1984, 32% of arable land was held by big landowners: today, 49%. Colombia imports eight times the food it did in 1981, while 15 million acres lie fallow. The stake is no longer agriculture but oil, coal, natural gas, gold and other riches in unexplored Colombian soil.

That is why union leaders and other defenders of workers' rights are targets. The economist said, "If the violence we live with were truly known in your country, it would be stopped." Paramilitary terror against Sinaltrainal, the Coca Cola workers union, drove union membership down from 5,600 to 2,000 in three years. In a genuine solidarity action, the United Steelworkers of America (USWA) filed a suit against Coca Cola for human rights violations against Sinaltrainal.

Organized by the military, the AUC is backed by big landowners and drug lords. They focus on "fighting guerrillas," but really attack, kidnap, mutilate, kill and disembowel people who organize and speak out for peace and human rights--especially union leaders.

Communique from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARO) (The Narco News Bulletin 12/11/02 #26 <narconews.com>), Secretariat of the Central General Command of the FARCEP. Mountains of Colombia, 30 Nov. 2002.

The FARC-EP reaffirms its unwavering revolutionary ... commitment to continue the battle to win political power using a combination of all forms of struggle for as long as the State and its governments do not change their out-dated and perverse political customs ...N]othing and no one will succeed in derailing the political objectives of our organization which has risen in arms for the conquest of peace with social justice ...

... Mr Alvaro Uribe Velez came to the presidency to set in motion his macabre strategy of total war without dialogue against the workers and the population of the lower and middle classes, for the benefit of the oligarchy, the landowners, the ranchers, the owners of the financial system and the imperialist capitalist multinationals.

The result is an ever-widening gap between the ... oligarchs who own the economic and political power of Colombia and the rest of the population which is forced by the policies of the State and its government to join the ranks of the abject poor, unemployed, marginalized, destitute and exiled ...

The FARO Army of the People calls on the Colombian people to step up their organized struggle ... in the factories, the streets and the countryside in defense of their interests, freedoms and fundamental rights ...

Statement By Colombian Commission of Jurists (available at: Center for International Policy (CIP); http://www. ciponline.org Colombian Commission of Jurists +571 376 8200 ext. 142.

The Colombian Commission of Jurists ("Comision Colombiana de Juristas"), CCJ, is a non-governmental organization established in May, 1988 under the name of Andean Commission of Jurists Colombian Section. The Commission is an affiliate of the Andean Commission of Jurists, and the International Commission of Jurists, with headquarters in Geneva. CCJ's consistency is recognized nationwide in so far as this institution is called to take part in important human rights commissions in this country. An example of such activities is the following seminar: "The International Criminal Court and the defense of Human Rights" ... organized by the Commission and the Political Science and International Relations School of the Pontificia Universidad Javieriana. It took place in Bogota (Colombia) from November 6 to 8, 2002.

This statement is quoted at length in a Report from Robert White, President of the Center for International Policy (CIP). During his twenty-five year U.S. Foreign Service career, Ambassador White specialized in Latin American affairs with a particular emphasis on Central America. After retiring in 1981, he served as a Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He joined the Center for International Policy as its president in 1989.

What today is the hemisphere's largest guerrilla group began after a U.S.-supported attack on a Communist Party-inspired peasant cooperative in southern Tolima department calling itself the "independent republic of Marquetalia." According to the guerrilla group's version of events, the May 1964 raid pitted 16,000 military personnel against a community of 1,000, of which forty-eight were armed. Survivors of the Marquetalia raid founded the FARC shortly afterward, led by Manuel Marulanda, a peasant guerrilla who had fought since 1948 in a period of partisan bloodletting known as La Violencia. Still headed by the septuagenarian Marulanda, the FARC now has about 18,000 members in almost 70 fronts plus mobile columns and urban militias. The group controls or operates freely in 40 to 60 percent of country, much of it sparsely populated jungles and plains east and south of the Andes. Its leadership has declared that it expects to grow to 30,000 within the next few years. The FARC regularly recruits minors, at times by force.

While it received limited assistance from the Soviet bloc during the Cold War, today the FARC finances itself through kidnapping for ransom, extortion, and involvement in Colombia's drug trade. [T]he FARC [and ELN are] responsible for the majority of kidnappings committed in Colombia today. The group's extortion has reached such an extent that in 2000 it promulgated a "law" demanding contributions from any Colombian whose assets exceed US$1 million. The FARC and ELN are responsible for about 15 percent of killings associated with Colombia's conflict, many of them civilian non-combatants. The FARC regularly carries out massacres, and has claimed many innocent lives through indiscriminate use of inaccurate gas-cylinder bombs.

Statement of Committee Chairman Henry Hyde (R-Illinois), hearing of the House International Relations Committee. April 24, 2002

The FARC is waging war against Colombian society. In the past decade, over 5000 Colombian police have been killed, thousands of civilians slaughtered, the government's authority obliterated in much of the country. Despite repeated and unprecedentedly generous peace offerings by the government, the armed assault on that government and on the Colombian people has only increased. The FARC now acts as though it is sovereign in its own territory. Were it to succeed, the consequences would be nightmarish, a criminal state free to expand its corrupting touch to its neighbors and beyond.

We already have a taste of what might come. The FARC's war against Colombia is being financed by illegal drugs. In this, the FARC is not a mere passive profiteer, taking its cut. Instead, it has become an active participant by sheltering and promoting the cultivation, processing, and trade in illegal drugs.

Columbia: Stop U.S. Military Aid by Mary Knoll Missionaries

While guerrillas do profit by taking the drug trade in areas under their control, the involvement of the paramilitary in the drug trade is even stronger. Numerous sources, including the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency, have linked paramilitary groups to drug trafficking. This link is especially worrisome in light of proven links between these groups and the Colombian armed forces. In the past year the Colombian army has taken some steps to weaken this link, dismissing several prominent officers with strong links to the paramilitary, yet much remains to be done. The 1998 U.S. State Department Human Rights Report states that there are "credible allegations of cooperation" between Colombian armed forces and the paramilitary, including both silent support and direct collaboration by members of the armed forces.

U.S. Government Paper and Response. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA)--Government document at: http://www.hrw.org/press/2002/02/ colombia0205.htm--Response at: http://www.hrw.org/press/2002/05/ colombia0516.htm

In a new briefing paper that details Colombia's human rights record [these organizations] disputed the human rights certification made on September 9, 2002 by Deputy Secretary of State Richard Armitage, who released an estimated million [dollars] in training, weapons, munitions and other supplies to a military with a record of serious human rights violations.

International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU): ICFTU represents 158 million workers in 231 affiliated organizations in 150 countries and territories: http://www.worldpsi.org/psi.nsf/07545e 68al1263c0c1256873002db34e/88ad40 763e92b5f6c1256c7700463e5d! OpenDocument

Brussels, November 10, 2002 (ICFTU OnLine): Jorge Humberto Marin Henao, President of the Municipal Employees Association (ADEM), a Public Service International affiliate in Medellin, Colombia, was at the union office when an unknown man came in and asked to see him. On entering, the man said "Don Julio Cesar has asked me to tell you that you must leave the city and this is your last warning." With this, he pulled out a revolver and slammed it down on the Humberto's head. Later the same day, another man came to the office and said that Jorge had 3 days to leave the city.

Humberto has since fled the country, taking temporary asylum abroad with the help of PSI and other public sector trade unions. In Colombia, he is one of the fortunate. According to a list compiled by the ICFTU and sent to President Alvaro Uribe, by International Day of Human Rights on 10 December 2002, 151 trade unionists had been murdered in Colombia.

[D]espite claims by President Uribe to the contrary, the situation is not improving. On December 10, to mark the International Day of Human Rights, the ICFTU is once again calling on him to put an end to the killings and to the ostensible impunity of the killers.
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Title Annotation:Special feature: the push-pull of immigration, Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia
Publication:Social Policy
Geographic Code:3COLO
Date:Jun 22, 2003
Words:2290
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