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Columbia In The News

Marcel Idels
With the recent world focus on the three Irish men on trial in Colombia for alleged training of FARC guerillas, this article, written from a FARC viewpoint, is a contribution to the overall perspective

ìThe government knows that it cannot negotiate with the indigenous to gain access to the natural resources on our lands, so it is waging a war that is intended to kill us or drive us off our territory.îóNational Organization of Indigenous Colombians
Colombia is 53 times bigger than El Salvador, three times the size of California, and twice the size of France. It is the only country in South America with coasts on both oceans. Three major rivers start in Colombia: the Amazon, Magdalena and the Orinoco. The Andes is the main mountain range and it splits into several cordilleras creating large separated valleys and diverse habitats. Forty one million people live in Colombia and about five million Colombians have fled the country over the last ten years. One and a half times as many people live in Colombia as in all of the Central American countries combined. To the south lie Peru and Brazil, east is Venezuela and west Ecuador. To the north is Panama-historically a part of Colombia until the US supported a coup in Panama so it could build the canal and more easily control it.

Incredible Ecological Diversity
The Continental US has 800 species of birds, Colombia has 1800 species. There are more species of all kinds in Colombia and the areas near its borders than in all of Brazil or any other country. There may be more species in Colombia than in all of North America. The war and the herbicide spraying by the US endangers the most biologically diverse region on Earth. Fifty percent of all species live in tropical rainforests. Five to ten percent of all tropical species disappear each decade: 100 species a day. Half of all the land based species on Earth live in the Amazon basin, according to the Audubon website ( There are more species of fish in the Amazon than in the entire Atlantic Ocean. The only country in the world with more species than Colombia is Brazil, which is seven times larger. Ten percent of all the species on the planet live in Colombia and many live nowhere else. This wildly diverse country, with coasts on both oceans and several mountain ranges, ranks second in the world in the number of plant species and amphibians, third in reptiles. Amid the battle zones grow half the worldís orchids and a dazzling variety of jaguars, giant otters, primates, spectacled bears, agoutis, kinkajus and dolphins. There are more species of birds in Colombia (1800) than any other country and 75 percent are threatened. Manatees, tapirs and macaws are only a fraction of the species that are on the verge of extinction in Colombia. And now there is war in paradise.

There were 426 massacres in 2000 in Colombia, while 319,000 people were displacedñconstituting the largest displaced population in the hemisphere. Most of the displaced are womenñmany of the men were killed or disappeared by the paramilitary death squads. The term ìdisplacedî sounds bad, but the depth of the horror doesnít sink in from a distance. One woman described what it means to be displaced. It doesnít simply mean you are moved from point A to point B. She explained, ìThey take away your land, your food, your house, often your family and friends through disappearance, murder or massacre, your support, your community, your culture, your history. They burned our farm animals in front of us, you flee with whatever you can carry on your back, and you go to the city and become a beggar in the streets. The pain is unbearable, the shock is sometimes deadly, and many have gone crazy. We canít even protest for basic human rights or they will disappear a family member, or kill us.î

743 people were physically disappeared in Colombia in the year 2000. To ìdisappearî someone is to murder them, but there is no body, hence no closure for the victimís family and friends. It is another form of terror employed against the population. It is the terror of knowing, but not knowing for sure. It is the terror of psychological and emotional instability.

Plan Colombia
In 1998, the US drafted Plan Colombia as a way to attack the peasant-based guerrillas of the FARC-EP and the ELN through a push into rebel held areas of Southern Colombia. The plan sends $2 billion from the US government to Colombia for the first two years of a six year plan and is the largest foreign aid package ever sent to a Latin American government. Colombia is also the largest recipient of US military aid - at $2 million per day. Plan Colombia is publicly justified as a War on Drugs. However, if peasants are driven off the land, the land can be seized for cattle ranching, palm oil plantations and corporate extraction of coal, oil, minerals and hydro potentials. This is a 50 year struggle between small farmers and the privileged class who already own most of the land and wealth of Colombia.

The US subsidized United Technologyís Sikorsky (Connecticut) and Textronís Bell Helicopter (Texas) to give 60 Blackhawk and Huey helicopters to the war effort. They are used to spray herbicides on coca crops but the spray also hits food crops, peasants and forests.

When the Colombian government decided to go to war against the FARC-EP, the US knew this equipment would be used by the most brutal and corrupt military in Latin American history. The Colombian government allows its armed forces to collaborate with the drug trafficking, rightwing, death squad paramilitaries of the AUC.

The Rightist Paramilitary Armies
People are brought forward and murdered in front of their fellow villagers. Sometimes they are shot, sometimes they have their heads bashed in with rocks, and sometimes the paramilitaries utilize hatchets and chainsaws. In El Tigre US-backed death squads gathered people into a building, doused it with gasoline, set it aflame, and burned the people alive. But that was not a sufficient level of terror and intimidation. They then took people to the bridge over the Putumayo River, beheaded them and dumped their remains in the river. The bodies washed up a day or two later as a reminder that the paramilitaries can erase El Tigre from the map anytime they want to. It is a brutal lesson. These government supported Death Squads were responsible for 400+ massacres and 3000 deaths in the year 2000 (about 90 percent of civilian casualties).

The paramilitary armies were formed in 1981 to protect narcotics cartels. In 1990, the CIA got involved in their training, integrating them into the work of the official Colombian military. They have been used to torture and kill suspected supporters of the rebels, engage in ìsocial cleansingî of homeless, addicts, and prostitutes, publicly target human rights workers and assassinate political candidates. The US Congress named them as the No.1 group the Colombian military must sever ties with in order to receive US aid. However, President Clinton waived this requirement two days before he left office.

Crop Fumigation

Crop fumigation destroys coca fields, but it also destroys food crops, forests and fragile ecosystems, pollutes water supplies, and causes respiratory and skin problems for humans. It is done primarily by private US military contractors. Crop fumigation has increased every year from 1995 to 1999. It generated $24 million for Monsanto corporation between 1992 and 1998.

US Interests in Colombia
Colombia sells the US as much oil now as Kuwait did when the Gulf War started. Colombia, Ecuador and Venezuela together sell the US more oil than all the Middle Eastern countries combined. Only 20% of the probable oil fields in Colombia have been explored; rebels protect the rest.

Forty percent of foreign investment in Colombia comes from the US. The US imports 55 percent of Colombiaís legal exports and most of its illegal exports. When Clinton visited Colombia in August 2000, the top executives of 20 corporations went with him, from oil and coal companies to America Online. A 1999 International Monetary Fund loan to bail out the Colombian economy demanded that all public utilities be sold to private owners.

The US and Colombian militaries are fighting side by side with, and protecting, the brutal and illegal paramilitary death squads, despite the rhetorical admission by the US State Department that the paramilitaries are ìterroristsî and profit-driven narco-kingpins.

There is no moral equivalence between the rebel guerrillas (FARC-EP and the ELN) and the paramilitary troops. That view reflects official propaganda, not reality. The rebels oppose the rule of the large landowners, foreign capital, and the Colombian oligarchy. The paramilitaries seek to maintain that status quo. The governments and the paramilitaries, together, wish to enforce a brutal and undemocratic regime to violently prevent every aspect of an open society; they seek to keep the impoverished majority from participating in elections, in unions, and in civil organizations. By assassinating and repressing all social movements, they have made violent revolution inevitable.

Marcel Idels is a member of EcoSolidaridad-Andes Libre. This article has been edited and abridged.

More info on Colombia: Narco News:; Colombia Report:; Center for International Policy:; News Agency for a New Colombia:; Infoshop:; CMC: