American Aid will fuel Colombia's problems
Colombia was back in the news last month due to the visit of U.S.
president Bill Clinton to the Latin American country.
He was there to promote Plan Colombia, which consists of $1.4
million of military aid. At the same time, revelations of the
ordeal of rural communities there, who suffer the brutality of
the paramilitary groups, supported by the Colombian army, emerged
through the testimony of Father Brendan Forde.
Father Forde had witnessed and denounced the massacre in La Unión
Father Alberto Franco worked in the Urabá region and has a wide
experience of the problems faced by ordinary Colombians. During
his visit to Ireland, Alberto Franco met government officials to
brief them about Colombia, fears in relation to Plan Colombia and
the situation faced by communities in that country.
Alberto Franco divides his time between working in a marginalized
area of Bogotá, with about 100,000 inhabitants, and rural
communities in zones of conflict. In Bogotá, Alberto had constant
contact with young drug addicts, who cannot afford cocaine, and
so are dependent on a drug called `pegante' (glue).
Colombia is a very rich country in natural resources and in
renewable and non-renewable resources. It's on the rich corner of
South America, between the Pacific and Atlantic Coasts. The
country has a population of 42 million, most of whom work very
hard to earn a living in very difficult economic situations.
About 60% of the population live in poverty, with 10 million of
them living in absolute poverty. As is the stereotype in South
America, we find the contrast of a very rich country with very
poor inhabitants. At the moment there are two million people
displaced by political violence, without taking into account
those displaced by the social and economic violence. It is the
country with the second largest number of internal displacement
in the world.
When talking about displacement caused by social and economic
factors, it is necessary to take into account a phenomenon, which
is not only taking place in Colombia but also in other big cities
of the `developing' world. This factor has been euphemistically
termed as `social cleansing'. Social cleansing means the
assassination of sex-workers, drug addicts, petty criminals,
homeless people, and others in similarly distraught
circumstances, with the complicity of the State.
In order to understand Colombian reality it is important to
understand that there is a history of violent conflict in the
country. There are two active guerrilla groups in Colombia, the
Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC) and the National
Liberation Army (ENL). The state has taken advantage of the
situation of political turmoil to repress any sort of social
protest from any legal organisation.
Alberto Franco explained that there is a misconception in
relation to the effects of the Plan Colombia, which is being
presented as an anti-drugs strategy in Colombia. ``The good
businessmen that they are, the U.S. forgot one of the most
important business principles'', says Fr Franco.''This is that if
there is demand for a product, there will always be production
and if the production is illegal it will be a better business.
Another question is that if the US is so worried about the damage
done by drugs, why don't they invest a similar amount of money in
treating drug addicts or finding a solution for the consumption
of drugs in North America?''
Plan Colombia is badly flawed. It will only apply to the south of
the country, an area controlled by the FARC, while Colombian and
U.S. officers decided to ignored the paramilitary controlled
areas - in spite of the internationally known link between
paramilitaries and drug trafficking.
Plan Colombia will cause the displacement of another 600,000
people, who will loose their crops to the indiscriminate chemical
fumigation, which destroys all but coca plants.
``I always asked myself if the US would accept the sort of
fumigation that they plan for Colombia if a similar plant starts
growing in North America'', says Alberto Franco.
To illustrate the human rights situation in Colombia, Alberto
Franco referred to the Río Frío massacre. On 5 October 1993, the
television news showed images of high-ranking military officials
talking about a successful operation, that concluded with the
death of thirteen guerrillas in Río Frío. A few days later, when
the commission for Peace and Justice got in contact with the
survivors, they told them how those thirteen guerrillas were
members of two peasant families, who with the collaboration of
international organisations were cultivating organic coffee and
``On the 5 October, the families Ladino and Molina were surprised
by a group of armed men that were dressed with a mix of army
uniform and civilian clothes'', said Alberto Franco. ``Some of them
were tortured and some of the women were raped before they were
murdered. After the attack, army officers visited the mother of
one of the victims and she recognised one of them as one of the
massacre perpetrators, she said nothing. And this demonstrates
the great, the monstrous, capacity for lying that the army has
and the communication media also.''
This case, as with hundred of others, has been referred to the
government and the justice courts in Colombia. But in the spacve
of 12 years, none of the cases presented by the Commission for
Justice and Peace, a Catholic non-governmental organisation, have
been pursued. And there are also consequences for those who
decided to denounce the perpetrators. ``Going to the judicial
authorities apart from being a waste of time is a risk because
the assassins very quickly get to know who presented the
complaint'', Alberto claims.
Father Javier Giraldo, a well-known Human Rights activist, once
described Colombia as a `genocidal democracy'.
``At the beginning of this year the International Labour
organisation sent a delegation to Colombia, and one of the
delegates confirmed that in Colombia it is easier to form a
guerrilla group than a trade union, and less dangerous. Colombia
is a democracy where active non-violence is almost impossible,''
``Colombia is a democracy where the military see civil affairs as
a danger to them. So it is up to you to think about what is going
to happen with the money and the arms that the United States are
sending up in the form of Plan Colombia, who is going to use them
and what are they going to do with them.''
Lift: One of the delegates confirmed that in Colombia it is
easier to form a guerrilla group than a trade union, and less