Uribe’s Colombia is destabilizing a New Latin America

After Ecuador and Venezuela called on the
Colombia to respect the need for peace and negotiation withFARC-EP, the Colombian military carried out an extensive armed air
and land assault against the guerrillas in the sovereign territory of Ecuador.Such actions are a clear display of the US-backed-Colombian state's
open negation of international law and social justice.

By James J. Brittain and R. James Sacouman
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A few weeks after the Ecuadorian and Venezuelan state called on the
Colombian government to respect the need for peace and negotiation with the
Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People's Army (FARC-EP), the
administration of President Álvaro Uribe Vélez supported an extensive armed air
and land assault against the insurgency movement-not within Colombia's borders,
but rather on the sovereign territory of Ecuadorian soil. On March 1, 2008, the
Colombian state, under the leadership of Uribe, Vice-President Francisco Santos
Calderón, and his cousin Defence Minister Juan Manuel Santos, illegally
deployed a military campaign within Ecuador, which resulted in the deaths of
Raúl Reyes, Julian Conrado, and fifteen other combatants associated with the
FARC-EP. Such actions are a clear display of the US-backed-Colombian state's
open negation of international codes of conduct, law and social justice.

The actions of March 1 took place days before a major international
demonstration scheduled for March 6. Promoted by The National Movement of
Victims of State-Sponsored Crimes (MOVICE), the International Trade Union
Confederation (ITUC), and countless social justice-based organizations, March 6
has been set as an international day of protest against those tortured,
murdered and disappeared by the Colombian state, their allies within the
paramilitary United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC) and the
newly-reformed Black Eagles. Recently, President Uribe's top political adviser,
José Obdulio Gaviria, proclaimed that the protest and protesters should be
criminalized. In addition, paramilitaries in the southwestern department of
Nariño-not far from where the illegal incursions were carried out in
Ecuador-have threatened to attack any organization or person associated with
the protest activities.

It is believed that the Uribe and Santos administration is utilizing the
slaughter of Commander Raúl Reyes and others as a method to deter activists and
socially conscious peoples within and outside Colombia from participating in
the March 6 events. Numerous state-controlled or connected media outlets, such
as El Tiempo-which has long-standing ties to the Santos family-have
been parading photographs of the bullet-ridden and mutilated corpse of Raúl
Reyes throughout the country's communications mediums. Such propaganda is
clearly a tool to psychologically intimidate those preparing to demonstrate
against the atrocities perpetrated by the state over the past seven years.

Over the past two months, numerous researchers, scholars and lawyers have
supported the call to declare the FARC-EP a legitimate force fighting against
the corrupt Colombian state. In January 2008, Ecuador's Foreign Minister Maria
Isabel Salvador argued that the FARC-EP should no longer be depicted as a
terrorist organization. Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez also announced that
the FARC-EP are far from a terrorist force, but are rather a real army, which
occupies Colombian territory and shares in a Bolivarian vision for a new Latin
America. Mexican deputy Ricardo Cantu Garza also has promoted the recognition
of the FARC-EP as a belligerent force legitimately fighting against a corrupt
and unequal socio-political system. As prominent US attorney Paul Wolf argued:


The FARC-EP are a
belligerent army of national liberation, as evidenced by their sustained
military campaign and sovereignty over a large part of Colombian territory,
and their conduct of hostilities by organized troops kept under military
discipline and complying with the laws and customs of war, at least to the
same extent as other parties to the conflict. Members of the FARC-EP are
therefore entitled to the rights of belligerents under international law ...
there is no rule of international law prohibiting revolution, and, if a
revolution succeeds, there is nothing in international law prohibiting the
acceptance of the outcome, even though it was achieved by force.

From Copenhagen to Caracas, numerous state officials have denounced the
description of the FARC-EP as a terrorist organization. Progressive officials
and administrations in Mexico, Ecuador and Venezuela have rather opted for the
status of belligerent or irregular forces to more accurately depict the
FARC-EP's domestic and geo-political stance. Disturbingly, in the face of this
evidence and the FARC-EP's consistent promotion of a humanitarian prisoner
exchange and peace negotiations with the state in a demilitarized zone in
southwestern Colombia, the Uribe and Santos administration has moved ever
farther away from supporting an end to the civil war within Colombia by opting for
systemic violence.

Over the past several years, different aspects of the FARC-EP's real social,
political and cultural activities for progressive social change have been
censored or marginalized by the private press or governments in support of the
Colombian state. Nevertheless, after researching the FARC-EP and the country of
Colombia for years, independent journalist Garry Leech argued that, "while
there is little doubt regarding the global reach of terrorist organizations
such as al-Qaeda, there is no evidence that the FARC is anything but one of the
armed actors in Colombia's long and tragic domestic conflict."

In actuality, the FARC-EP is an actor within the strategic confines of
Colombian society that aims its directives at domestic social change. In light
of such realities, how can this insurgency be a terrorist threat to external
nation-states? Coletta A. Youngers, of the Washington Office on Latin America
(WOLA), responds to this question by describing how:


The U.S. government
now views the Latin American region almost exclusively through the
counterterrorist lens, though the region poses no serious national security
threat to the United States ... little evidence has been put forward to
substantiate such claims, and whatever activity is taking place there appears
to be minimal.

While Youngers does not trivialize its revolutionary tactics, she clearly
argues that the FARC-EP cannot be correctly framed within the concept and
rhetoric of global terrorism. Youngers argues that the insurgency is not a
direct political threat to administrations within the United States, Canada,
the European Union and any other foreign nation-state in the fact that the
FARC-EP's activities "are targeted inward, not outward," hence, "applying the
terrorism concept to these groups negates their political projects."

Characterizing the FARC-EP as a foreign terrorist organization dramatically
alters the dynamics of the peace process in favour of a killer state.
Stipulating that the FARC-EP is terrorist results in the inability for legal
peace negotiations to take place between the FARC-EP and any government that
subscribes to the categorization. According to James Petras and Henry
Veltmeyer, promoting the FARC-EP-and its supporters-as terrorists "puts them on
the list of targets to be assaulted by the US military machine" and "thus
subject to total war."

The terminology of terrorism is perfect for imperialist ideology and
expansionism. It is a very open-ended reference that "allows maximum intervention
in all regions against any opposition" and "that any group engaged in opposing
militarism, imperialism (so-called ‘globalization') or local authoritarian
regimes could be labelled ‘terrorist' and targeted," thus legitimizing external
invasion or attack, say Petras and Veltmeyer.

Internal and external condemnation of the Colombian state has fallen upon
the deaf ears of the Uribe and Santos administration. After years of increased
violations of civilian human rights, the ongoing suppression of trade-unionism,
assassinations of left-of-centre activists and politicians, and a political
reality that has witnessed 75 governors, mayors and Congressional politicians
alleged or found guilty of having direct links to the paramilitaries-including
Vice-President Francisco Santos Calderón and his cousin Defense Minister Juan
Manuel Santos and President Uribe's brother Santiago and their cousin Senator
Mario Uribe-now the Colombian state has deemed it necessary to illegally
encroach upon those nations that deviate from their ideological model of
political and economic centralization.

Not only has the Uribe administration criticized its neighbours, but after
the actions realized on March 1 it is clear that the Colombian state, with the
full backing of the United States, will impose its own ideological goals and
values through force, regardless of the democratic rights and privileges of
conventional electoral law and procedure. While the neighbouring states of
Ecuador and Venezuela struggle for peace and try to assist the people of
Colombia in the quest for an end to the civil war, the Uribe and Santos
administration has bypassed judicial realities and governance to impose its own
objectives.

Careful analysts of the Colombian situation continue to debate whether the
Colombian state is pre-fascist or actually fascist. It is certainly neither
humane nor actually democratic. The current Colombian state must be
transformed, sooner rather than later. Those fighting for peace must condemn
the action of this regime. In solidarity, we must protest the policies of the
Colombian state and raise our voices in support for a New Colombia that stands
for peace with social justice.

[James J. Brittain (Assistant Professor) and Jim Sacouman (Professor) are
Canadian sociologists at Acadia University in Nova Scotia, Canada who have been
researching the Colombian civil war and political economy over the past decade.
]