Republican News · Thursday 5 October 1999

[An Phoblacht]

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 in Colombia.

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 selling it.

``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,'' Alberto says.

``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 dangerous

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