Colombia / South America - The right-wing counteroffensive
By ERNESTO HERRERA
(This article first appeared in International Socialist Rreview Issue 60, March–April 2009)
THE SITUATION in Colombia is considered “a separate case” in Latin America. Of course its political and socioeconomic conflicts have particular features, along with other reasons that have their roots in Colombia’s history of violence, beginning with the 1948 “Bogotazo” (massive protests and government repression in which at least 200,000 died following the assassination of Liberal presidential candidate Jorge Eliécer Gaitán). But within the broader context of Plan Colombia and relations between the U.S., Colombia, and Brazil, the picture presented here of the present military, political, and social configuration in Colombia extends throughout South America.
The following article was written in September 2008. Since October, new incidents have occurred, the most outstanding of which was the mass indigenous mobilization that, under the name of the “Minga,” shook national politics in the final months of 2008. More recently, assassinations of union leaders at the hands of paramilitaries or Colombian state security forces happened once again. At the same time, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) released more hostages under their control. Nevertheless, the basic picture described below has not changed substantially.
THE RESCUE in July 2008 of the Franco-Colombian citizen Ingrid Betancourt and fourteen other hostages (including three American mercenaries) held by the FARC, stands out not only as the greatest political triumph of President Álvaro Uribe in his six years in office; it also reinforces the counterrevolutionary strategy of U.S. imperialism in the Andean region. That is, it consolidates Plan Colombia1 as a means of territorial control so as to facilitate the business of multinational corporations, and simultaneously, it increases the pressure on the “radical nationalist” governments of Hugo Chávez and Evo Morales.
Presented as a “victory of sovereignty against terrorism” by various liberal and media analysts, the success of Operation Check has an impact on the entire continental scene: it favors the offensive of the dominant elites (and their governments) to secure the submission of their respective workforces. In that sense, the political effects of this right-wing victory are broadly negative for the left and the social movements that are resisting and reorganizing in the context of an unfavorable balance of forces.
An irreversible defeat for the FARC?
Operation Check has been a devastating blow for the FARC. It left them without their main trump card in the game of political negotiation (the exchange of hostages for jailed guerrilla fighters), and, moreover, disorganized their military retreat into the jungle. Two communiqués from the Central High Command of the FARC (July 5 and August 21) are revealing, though they maintain the proposal for “humanitarian exchange,” they no longer demand a neutral zone, nor recognition of the FARC as a belligerent force.
As part of the resolutions of their Eighth Conference (held in 1993), the FARC has continued to stress their strategy of “territorial penetration” and “organizational articulation between urban and rural work.”2 On the other hand, they decided to build a big regular military force, the guerrilla army, and to create special regiments and militias in the main cities, including Bogotá, to build ties with the urban popular movements, especially in the outlying suburbs. Their military capacity (around 16,000 soldiers at the moment), and their innumerable successful actions against the security forces of the state (en Patascoy, Las Delicias, Puerres, El Billar, la Caparpa, Cerro Toldo, Mití, Miraflores, and La Uribe) allowed them to affirm for the time being that the “war can be won.” In fact, the FARC came to the table at Caguán3 overvaluing their military capacities and possibilities to grow as a military force that could carry out operations on a large scale. With these actions, the FARC gained the ability to concentrate and scatter numerous guerrilla contingents of between 300 and 400 combatants. At any rate, seen from afar, “this did not mean an extraordinary qualitative leap in their military capacity, so as to strategically tip the balance of forces in the confrontation.”4
At the close of the peace process in San Vicente del Caguán, the FARC withdrew to the rural areas. The United States and the European Union included the guerrilla group on their lists of “terrorists,” and with the complicity of the Mexican and Canadian governments, shut down the solidarity committees and stopped the flow of money from outside. Thus began a period of isolation and persecution.
According to Luis E. Celis, in the study cited above,
In Caguán the project of building the FARC’s power was buried. They did it to themselves, with each kidnapping or stolen vehicle they carried back to their area, with every military school, with all the recruitment of people with no political commitment or education, with each kilo of processed coca, all to rearm themselves and improve their logistics. All these steps brought them closer and faster to their own debilitation... This is what the FARC has lived through in the last ten years—neither successful negotiation nor a military project on the rise. On the contrary, it has weakened itself as an organization, receiving the heaviest thundering blows in all its history.5Under the government of Uribe, the FARC developed a war strategy with two components: 1) engagement of its small units with the official army deep in the mountains and isolated rural towns; 2) the use of political kidnapping as a tool to put pressure on the Colombian government and the “international community.” After the rescue of Ingrid Betancourt and the other hostages, the guerrillas lost their main bargaining chip in negotiations and were left only with the option of hard battle in the jungle.
At this point, the military capacity of the FARC is fractured and the lines of communication between its units and its fronts practically broken. The death of three members of the Secretariat (Raúl Reyes, Iván Ríos, and Manuel Marulanda), plus the demoralization, capture, and surrender of several commanders of the main military blocs, have had a devastating impact on the political strength and morale of the insurgent movement. Although the FARC is still active militarily in some departments (the south of Meta and the north of Cauca), this doesn’t change the predominant perception in the urban areas in the center of the country: its “defeat is irreversible.”
Having obtained no results from the attempt to “activate the masses” through its two political wings, the Clandestine Communist Party and the Bolivarian Movement for the New Colombia, and being blocked in its attempt to put boots on the ground in the urban areas where the struggles over structural problems of the country take place (more than 70 percent of the Colombian population lives in the cities), the process of social isolation of the FARC became acute. Removed (and in many cases counterposed) to the struggles and demands of the urban popular movements and the unions, or in conflict with the claims of autonomy made by Black and indigenous communities, the FARC has continued to lose political legitimacy and has been discredited in the eyes of the majority of the population. Meanwhile, in the areas it controls, the FARC “promoted nothing like agrarian reform, and its policies increasingly resembled social cleansing and the elimination of thieves and undesirables.”6
Still rooted in the old, rural Colombia and imbued with the “agrarian ideal” derived from the peasant social base that gave rise to it in the 1960s (though without the possibility of recruitment from earlier years), the FARC ended up losing the battle by “out-stating the state,” without winning the support of the most exploited social layers. The forced conscription of children, the extortionate kidnappings by some of the guerrillas, and the notorious financial links with regional drug lords generated a popular rejection of the FARC’s actions. Not to mention the negative effects of the brutal conflict with the ELN (Ejército de Liberación Nacional, Army of National Liberation) in the area of Urabá, which degenerated into a bloody war between the two guerrilla organizations.
This social isolation reinforced what Fidel Castro has called the “hermetic sectarianism” of the FARC. This feature of its action progressively eroded the social support for the FARC and accelerated the breakdown of morale in its ranks—and in this way facilitated the counterinsurgent policies of the Uribe government. With the support of the U.S. and the enormous financial and military resources provided by Plan Colombia ($6 billion since 2000, weapons, planes, high-tech spy systems, special anti-guerrilla battalions, and U.S. and Israeli mercenaries running logistics, plus the influx of arms from South Africa, Israel, and France), Uribe and the Colombian ruling class have almost achieved one of their essential political objectives: to destroy the main guerrilla force in the country.
That’s why the discourse being peddled around the peace process is pure hypocrisy. The Colombian oligarchy and U.S. imperialism want to continue the war until they smash the insurgency, and, as a result, continue the repression of the popular movements, something usually papered over as much by the governments, parties, and “progressive” figures in Latin America as by the governments of France, Switzerland, and Spain, which have offered themselves as “mediators” or “facilitators” in the conflict.
In view of the strategic shift in favor of the state and its repressive forces, and more fundamentally, the loss of its character as an “armed social movement,” the FARC have arrived, for the first time in forty-five years of existence, at an historic crossroads: either find a way to make their political and military strategy of “drawn-out peoples’ war” viable or negotiate for peace under conditions very similar to outright surrender. Up to now, faithful to their historic tradition, the FARC have been an extraordinary example of long-term resistance, and so it would be a bit bold to speak of their “irreversible defeat.” But the national and regional conditions have never been so unfavorable for them.
The regime of “democratic security”: a war machine
The euphemism of “armed conflict” that the government and the media use is an attempt to hide the reality of class war, exploitation, and repression—where the oligarchy and its state, imperialism, and the multinational corporations are carrying out a bloody political, social, and economic offensive against the working people.
Confronting this regime of state terrorism—disguised under the rhetoric of “democratic security”—are the unions, the indigenous and peasant movements, the African communities, students, human rights organizations, and women. It is not a coincidence that the majority of victims of state terrorism and paramilitary massacres are social fighters, activists in the social movements, and militants of the legal parties of the left.
The numbers are horrifying. On September 23, 2008, some 400 human rights organizations presented a report to the United Nations High Commission: more than 13,600 Colombians were assassinated, executed, or disappeared during the six years of Álvaro Uribe’s government. Meanwhile, the Commission of Colombian Jurists notes that between July 2002 and June 2007 12,547 victims of extrajudicial executions, political homicides, and forced disappearances, of which the perpetrators are known in 7,183 cases; another 4,174 dead at the hands of the paramilitaries; and the army and police responsible for the deaths of 1,900 more. For its part, the National Movement of Victims of State Crimes reports that the paramilitaries and state security forces have tallied up 15,000 disappearances; 1,700 indigenous people massacred; and 5,000 militants of left-wing parties assassinated. In addition, the United Workers’ Central (Central Unitaria de Trabajadores, CUT) has denounced the murder of more than 2,000 trade unionists. In 2007 alone, security forces carried out at least 330 extrajudicial killings. Often in these assassinations, especially of peasants, the victims were presented as “guerrilla fighters killed in combat.”
Up to February 2008, according to official numbers, there were two and a half million “internally displaced” people and as many as four million according to humanitarian organizations—a number surpassed only by Sudan. The drama goes beyond the dispossession suffered by millions of Colombians, who have been turned into a new social class that survives in worse conditions than those of the urban poor.
They arrive in other places, dragging their tired bodies and empty stomachs, looking in bewilderment at streets they’ve never before seen. Without anything or anyone.… Many do not know how to read or write, and their lives have become a nightmare.... They suffer from three incurable diseases: dispossession, uprooting and neglect.7Among other things, this planned pillage has allowed for the concentration (by means of direct theft) of more than six million hectares of land in the hands of large landowners and (narco-paramilitary) warlords. Along with this, space has opened up for a model of monoculture and agro-industrial exploitation that destroys not only biodiversity, but also community agriculture projects and collective social organizations of descendants of African and indigenous peoples. The rapacity with which this massive pillage was carried out allows us to conclude that it was done according to the logic of accumulation of land, power, and capital. Millions of hectares changed hands at gunpoint, accompanied by horrific massacres. Who made off with the loot? “In some cases, it was NGOs tied to the paramilitaries that ended up with the land; in others, well-known entrepreneurs; there are also political clans and well-connected people from the local society.” In less than ten years, the rural map of the country changed substantially.
Hamlets and trails disappeared. Many areas of the countryside were depopulated as the poverty lines in the city got longer and the pincer movement of the drug traffickers, the paramilitaries, and the guerrilla forces imposed an unprecedented agrarian counterreform in the countryside.8In this war on the popular movements, the “self-defense forces,” paramilitary groups now benefiting from Uribe’s “Peace and Justice Law,” played a decisive role.9 The government claims that with this reform, they achieved the “demobilization” of 30,000 paramilitary fighters; however, countless media reports and public complaints reveal that these ultra-right-wing groups killed more than 500 people between 2007 and 2008, and that they have assumed different names but maintained their criminal ways: “The appearance of new groups, with such names as the Black Eagles, the Power Rangers and the New Generation Organization, confirm that the risk of ‘recycling’ is a real issue.”10 Several sources agree—paramilitarism has not been “dismantled,” and they claim that between nine and ten thousand paramilitary troops have again taken up arms in the last few years.
The conspiracy between the army and the paramilitaries has returned to the center of the accusations. In the poor neighborhoods of Bogotá, Medellín, Montería, Urabá, and other areas, the forced disappearances and rise in youth crime appear to be following a calculated strategy with criminal ends promoted by the armed forces, with the full complicity of the “new” narco-paramilitary groups. At the time of writing this article in 2008, forty-eight youths have been disappeared and later turned up murdered. These serious facts that certain sources in the media have branded “confused,” offer a vivid picture of the permanent violation of human rights in the country.
The blows against the FARC—and the reduction of the ELN to the status of a second-rate force—has boosted the capitalist offensive. In this sense, Uribe’s policy of “democratic security,” which really means the militarization of society, must be understood as part of the class war. Throughout his two terms, Uribe raised the military portion of the budget from 3 percent to 6.3 percent and increased the number of agents in the military and police forces to 250,000, under the Patriot Plan (the second phase of Plan Colombia). “Holistically speaking, military expenditures combined with servicing the external debt absorbed 49.1 percent of the national budget in 2007, a number that will be even greater in 2008.”11 For this military escalation, Uribe can also count on the “patriotic contribution” of the entrepreneurs who pay an additional 2 percent tax to pay for the war, and on his political-financial connections with drug trafficking mafia groups.
In this landscape of the counterinsurgent order, all the mechanisms of social control and repression are tightening up, such that the policy of “democratic security” is aimed directly at the popular movements, and in particular against the social activists and trade unionists, who are hunted down and killed by the official state security forces, by the paramilitaries, and by the hired goons of companies like Banacol, Proban, Uniban, Del Monte, Nestlé, Coca Cola, Repsol, AngloGold Ashanti, Drummond, Chiquita Brands Inc., Dole, etc.
However, the resistance against exploitation and repression is showing itself in diverse ways—such as in the case of the strike of sugar cane cutters that began on September 15, 2008. More than 10,000 sugar refinery workers from the Valle del Cauca, Risalda and Cauca in the southwestern part of the country are protesting against starvation wages (350,000 pesos, or about $180 per month), and against the conditions of slavery imposed by the contractors and the system of cooperatives known as Associated Labor. Their struggles are aimed at improving working conditions (they work fourteen hours a day) and obtaining a labor contract and health and social services—which is to say, they are demanding the most basic democratic rights.
The function of Lula: Secure borders, profitable businesses
Obviously, the counterrevolutionary strategy is not confined to Colombia. Uribe’s “democratic security,” which began as a laboratory for counterinsurgency (comparable only to the “dirty war” in Guatemala in the 1970s and 1980s, with military advisers from the U.S., Israel, and Argentina). It’s now being promoted as the model to follow, for two essential reasons: First, because it fully restores the “legitimate right of the state” to a monopoly on the use of violence against any attempt by insurrectionary movements to subvert the “institutional order”; second, because it offers guarantees of “stability” to the surrounding regimes in a region plagued by economic crisis, unemployment, poverty, and social frustration.
Various imperialist administrations, from Bush to Sarkozy, have congratulated Uribe. That’s to be expected—he’s a reliable partner who will score even more points when he eventually signs a free-trade agreement with the U.S. and increases commerce with the European Union. The real danger comes from the “progressive” side—not only because they congratulated Uribe and even called him “friend” and “brother” (as did the Venezuelan president). It’s also because the condemnation of armed struggle by Chávez, Correa, Lula, and Morales is in fact a treasonous blow against revolutionary combat.
This “progressive” adaptation to the theory of “democratic governability,” which is imposed by the Inter-American Democratic Charter of the Organization of American States (OAS) as well as by the norms of the “international community,” politically and judicially validates the criminalization of protest and social rebellion. That is, it is meant to stop the poor from taking the law into their own hands, against all those who rebel with revolutionary methods. Or, similarly—it strives to delegitimize any initiative for self-organization and self-activity on the part of the exploited, pigeon-holing their demands into existing institutions and electoral disputes. On the plane of “labor relations” (or rather capital-labor relations), this implies acceptance of the rules that limit social antagonism (class struggle) to the two-on-one game of “tripartite negotiation”; on one side the state and the bosses, and on the other the workers. For this reason the wage increases won by the unions always lag behind inflation.
The practice of labeling any insurrectionary movement—or even any struggle by those condemned to starvation wages, unemployment, and precariousness—as “terrorism” and “violence” is becoming the dominant discourse. From there it’s a small step to “zero tolerance” for the “offenders”—whether in the factories or the countryside, in the student centers or in the ghettoes, and particularly in the “red-light districts” of the big cities where the “criminality” or the poorest in society are concentrated. This is what’s happening in Rio de Janeiro, São Paulo, Bogotá, and Buenos Aires, among many other places, where the repressive actions of the military and police forces amount to a systematic operation of social cleansing.
This is in tune with the “necessary political stability” demanded by a “good business climate.” Here is where the role of Lula as a subimperial operator and guarantor of the regional capitalist order is highlighted.
Invoking the “geostrategic” weight of Brazil, the government of Lula plays the role of a hinge between the Latin American countries and the United States, and of the leader of “stability” in South America. None other than Samuel Pinheiro Guimaräes, Brazilian vice-chancellor and one of the ideologues of Itamaraty (Brazil’s foreign office), explains it thus:
The United States is and continues to be the most influential country in the region. There is more American influence in each country in the region than any country in the region has in any other. It’s clear that the economic, social, cultural, technological, political, and military influence of the United States in Brazil is much greater than that of any of the Andean, Caribbean, or Latin countries in Brazil. This growing rapprochement among the South American countries and the election of governments of different left shades allows for a more beneficial and respectful dialogue between the nations in the region and between each of them and the United States, and for a calm and dignified defense of our interests.12After signing the Declaration of Riberalta with Evo Morales in the Bolivian Department of Beni—a treaty which opens the way for the construction of a 580-kilometer highway that will link the Amazon with the Bolivian Altiplano13—Lula arrived in Colombia on Uribe’s invitation to commemorate its day of National Independence (July 20). Accompanied by Peruvian President Alan García, Lula arranged for Colombia to join the Security Council of the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), something Uribe had rejected at UNASUR’s summit in Brasilia in May 2008.14 In return, the Brazilian president pledged his “unconditional support” in the fight against the FARC.15
For his part, Uribe imposed three decisive conditions: 1) that the decisions of the Council be made by “consensus”; 2) that the organization’s declaration of principles reject “violent groups”; and 3) that official recognition be extended only “to the institutional forces consecrated in the constitution of each of the signatory countries.” With this, the reactionary regime of Uribe has avoided any possibility of the recognition of the Colombian guerrillas as a “belligerent force,” and as a result, has established the doctrine of zero tolerance for insurgent movements. Whether the resistance is armed or nonviolent, it’s all the same.
Everything else followed naturally. They signed nine cooperation treaties, including one that calls for joint surveillance of the 1,500-kilometer Amazonian border, and two memoranda, which, according to the new Colombian Chancellor Jorge Bermúdez, opens the way for “cooperation in combating the illegal traffic in arms, munitions and explosives” and the “permanent exchange of intelligence information, including areas of science and technology.”16 He forgot to add—military cooperation to confront the presence of the FARC on the border. Simultaneously, they signed nine treaties on fossil fuels, the environment, and trade.
As a finishing touch, the bosses’ turn arrived. Some 250 bosses from both countries gathered at the event called “New Business Frontiers,” where it was made clear that one of the most important areas is the export of weapons and the construction of factories to produce “defense materials” in conjunction with the countries of South America, for which, according to Uribe, “Colombia is a country that has the desire and the potential.” In a word, secure borders, profitable businesses. In any case, Lula confirmed that Brazil is not only an industrial and agricultural power, but is also one on the military plane. Under his government, the Embraer corporation exported to Colombia the first installment of a total of twenty-five Super Tucano war planes, some of which were used in the March 1, 2008, bombing of FARC leader Raúl Reyes’s campsite on Ecuadorian soil.
The “security” vocation of Lula’s government was reaffirmed once again on September 7, when minister Mangabeira Unger—surrounded by high military commanders—announced “a package of measures, projects and proposals for the defense, protection and development of the Amazon.” The great satisfaction of the generals was evident—they considered themselves to have won a victory. President Lula was giving them carte blanche in the Amazon.
They gained permission to infiltrate, monitor and repress the social and indigenous movements fighting the devastation and irrational settlement of the Amazon. They’ll be shouting down the NGOs, detaining and shooting poor Brazilians.… They’ll soon be authorized to do “security” on the hydroelectric installations.… They’ll also be allowed to associate—albeit as subordinates—with the 19 US military bases around the Amazon in order to extend Plan Colombia, now finally internationalized by Brazil.… The Brazilian army is preparing to play Jungle Captain to foreign interests and to pursue the guerrillas and members of social movements who are organizing against imperialism and the surrender of the country.17Thus, with this “Plan Amazonia” sketched out by the geopolitical ideologues, the role of the Brazilian armed forces as “border vigilantes” has been resurrected to control and repress the revolt of the poor—just like the occupation of Haiti or the invasion of the favelas of Rio de Janeiro.
The oligarchical-imperialist offensive
The right wing has benefited from the new situation, rearing its ugly head in several countries throughout the region (Argentina and Uruguay), consolidating its domination (Colombia and Peru), or openly adopting a position in favor of a military coup, as in Venezuela, where the conspiracies of businessmen, generals, and anti-Chávez media outlets take place alongside the “humanitarian” manipulations of Human Rights Watch—all involved in the destabilizing game of the U.S. State Department.
However, it’s in Bolivia where the oligarchical-imperialist offensive is taking on the most reactionary character. The local ruling classes, supported by the Bush administration, are not even tolerating the project of “Andean-Amazonian capitalism” of the pro-indigenous government. As such, the governors of the departments known collectively as the “Media Luna” (Santa Cruz, Beni, Tarija, and Pando, located in the eastern part of the country surrounding the Altiplano, and producing 70 percent of Bolivia’s GDP), are the spearhead of the counterrevolutionary effort to destabilize Evo Morales’s government by means of armed conflict and the massacre of workers and peasants. This far-right offensive is intended on the one hand to fracture the political consolidation of “Evoism” in the wake of the recall referendum that took place last August 10, where 67.41 percent of Bolivians voted to keep Evo Morales in power; on the other hand, to oblige the pro-indigenous government to give ground on the decisive economic and pro-autonomy demands of the oligarchy.
With the capitalist order reestablished in South America, the right wing is feeling stronger. The local ruling classes are once again going on the offensive. They are clearing the “terrorist dangers” out of the Andean region, settling accounts with the “populisms” of the continent, and creating a more favorable South American landscape for privatization, exploitation of the workforce and, once and for all, the appropriation of communal wealth and national patrimony.
Working to the advantage of this right-wing offensive is the situation the popular movements are in after almost ten years of “progressive” governments in the region. These movements, which were a decisive factor in the rise to power of Kirchner, Lula, Tabaré Vázquez, Evo Morales, and Correa, and in the continuation of the “Bolivarian revolution” in Venezuela, are divided and in retreat. This division, “and the difficulty of mobilizing for common objectives, widens the margin of autonomy for governments to forge ahead with their neoliberal policies. Except that now neoliberalism is more subtle, less directly predatory than in the period in which they carried out the savage privatizations and the first structural adjustments.”18 While today,
with the unique exception of Chile, where the movements are experiencing an important increase since Michelle Bachelet rose to the presidency, in the other countries ruled by left or progressive forces, they oscillate between unconditional support for their governments—from which they are receiving material benefits—and more or less open confrontation, but with little ability to call their constituents together.19These relations between popular movements and new governments “are confronting the unprecedented challenge of implementation of these new forms of domination, in which the massive social plans are hardly more than one of the multiple pillars of social control”20—that is to say, in which cooptation, division, and fragmentation are in play against the self-organization and self-activity of the popular movements.
The offensive of the ruling classes should be understood in this context, as should the offensive of U.S. imperialism which, at an increasingly faster pace, is reorganizing its strategy of military intervention in its “security perimeter”—that is, in defense of its vital interests; in other words, in defense of the capital of its multinational corporations, which together with those of Holland and Spain, are at the top of the list of foreign direct investors in the region.
The return of the Fourth Fleet
As is well known, commerce requires order—and keeping an eye on one’s “backyard.” This is the reason for the deployment of the U.S. Navy’s Fourth Fleet in the waters of Latin America and the Caribbean. Created in 1943 and deactivated in 1950, the Fourth Fleet has awoken from its long slumber with the objective of once again patrolling the region and controlling the coastal waters in both Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
The Fourth Fleet (one of six under the Pentagon’s command) set sail last July from its base in Mayport, Florida. The “non-offensive” fleet, led by the nuclear aircraft carrier George Washington, is armed to the teeth with submarines, frigates carrying missiles, dozens of F-14 bomber planes, and the elite SEAL commando group—in which Joseph Kernan, the new officer in charge of the fleet, served with distinction in Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Iraq, and Afghanistan. That is, it is led by a character with experience in “special operations” against “terrorism” and in “non-conventional” combat situations. According to Admiral James Stavridis of the Southern Command, the man in charge of U.S. military operations in Latin America, Kernan, is “the right man for the challenging tasks of the region.21
In any contingency, the Fourth Fleet can rely on an airfield on the island of Aruba (neighboring Colombia and Venezuela), from which, according to several sources, the helicopters that participated in the March 1 bombing of the FARC campsite in Ecuador took off.22
In his analysis of a report on the U.S. Southern Command, the body in charge of U.S. military strategy in the region, international relations specialist Juan Gabriel Tokatlian expresses certainty about the far-reaching consequences of this situation. He states that the reactivation of the Fourth Fleet is “the most ambitious strategic plan for the region conceived in many years by an official U.S. agency.... The Southern Command is trumpeting its role and projection in the area for the next ten years, just like a continental proconsul.” He adds:
In a way, with differing levels of acceptance in each country, Washington has figured out how to plant the omnipresent notion of the “new threats,” of the proliferation of all types of dangers: global terrorism, transnational organized crime and the world-wide drug trade that operates in the “empty spaces” where the State has evaporated or is in the process of breaking down completely.... The Pentagon then insists that these threats require society to put aside the division between internal security and external defense, and that to this end, the police work of the security agencies should interchange and interconnect, erasing the boundaries between police and military tasks... In turn, Latin America has accepted—albeit in partial and contradictory ways—the notion of the doctrine of the coalition of the willing.23This “coalition of the willing” has had practical consequences: on the one hand, the military involvement of El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua and the Dominican Republic, plus the backing of Colombia and Costa Rica, in the invasion of Iraq in 2003; on the other hand, the fact that thousands of troops under twelve Latin American governments constitute the military policing mission of the UN and the OAS as a force of occupation in Haiti since 2004—under the command of Lula’s generals.
Referring to the Fourth Fleet, the commander-in-chief of the Brazilian navy, Admiral Júlio Soares de Moura, stated that “there’s no cause for alarm,” since it’s merely a question of “an administrative action.”24 This is the purest state-sponsored cynicism, because everybody knows that “as much in Washington as at the Pentagon, the Navy recently gained greater importance than the Army or the Air Force.”25
Lastly, so as to save face, ParlaSur (the Parliament of Mercosur, with its seat in Uruguay), made a statement on the issue. On July 29, it declared its “energetic” rejection of the presence of the Fourth Fleet, reaffirming its well-known mission to find “a negotiated solution to conflict,” in a South American region “that is peaceful and democratic.”26 Just as pathetic as it is false—because it’s a matter of nothing less than one of the most exploited, unequal, anti-democratic, and violent regions in the world.
Ernesto Herrera is a member of the Colectivo
Militante (Uruguay) and of the editorial board of Construyendo, the monthly
publication of the Coordinadora de Unidad Revolucionaria (http://construyendo.nuevaradio.org/).
He is the correspondent of La Brèche in Latin America and editor
of the affiliated publication Correspondencia de PrensaAgenda Radical.
He can be contacted at email@example.com. Translation by Brian Chidester.
1 Plan Colombia (plan for the peace, prosperity and fortification of the state) was signed by Presidents Bill Clinton and Andrés Pastrana and approved by the U.S. Congress on July 13, 1999. Clinton promoted it as an “aid package.” For an in-depth study of the subject, there are two essential works to consult, both edited by Jairo Estrada Álvarez: Plan Colombia, Critical Essays (Bogotá: National University of Colombia, 2001) and Plan Colombia and the Intensification of the War: Global and Local Aspects (Bogotá: National University of Colombia, 2002). The plan was presented as a means to eradicate the illicit coca industry in Colombia, but the “war on drugs” has been used as a cover for a war on Colombia’s guerrilla movement and to extend Washington’s military presence in Latin America.
2 Juan Guillermo Ferro Medina and Graciela Uribe Ramón, The Order of War. The FARC-EP: Between Organization and Politics (Bogotá: Centro Editorial Javeriano, 2002). Another study on the timeline of the historic evolution of the FARC can be found in Fernán E. González, Ingrid J. Bolivar and Teófilo Vázquez, “Two histories at cross-purposes: the FARC and the AUC,” Political Violence in Colombia. From the Fragmented Nation to the Construction of the State (Bogotá: CINEP, 2003).
3 The “process of dialogue” officially kicked off on January 7, 1999. The government declared as a “zone of truce” the five cities proposed by the FARC—San Vicente del Caguán, La Uribe, Mesetas, La Macarena, Vista Hermosa—and recognized their political status. The “liberated” territory measured 40,000 square kilometers in the department of Caquetá. More than three years later, on February 20, 2002, the government broke off negotiations and the Colombian military returned to the five cities, abandoned just hours before by the FARC.
4 Luis E. Celis, From Pastrana to Uribe. Ten Years of Confrontations with the FARC (Bogotá: New Rainbow Corporation, 2008). An analysis of the negotiations in Caguán and their political context can be read in León Valencia, Farewell to Politics, Welcome to War. Secrets of a Wasted Peace Process (Bogotá: Intermedio Editores, 2002).
6 Medina and Ramón, The Order of War.
7 “What happens to the soul of a country of refugees?”, Semana, Bogotá, September 15, 2008.
8 “The victors of the pillage,” Semana, Bogotá, September 15, 2008.
9 After three years of negotiations with “self-defense” groups, the government enacted the Peace and Justice Law in 2005. Under this law, the bosses of narco-paramilitarism benefit from a reduction in penalties and avoid extradition to the United States as long as they “collaborate with the authorities” and “pay economic reparations” to their victims. As a way of avoiding accusations about the links between Uribe and narco-paramilitarism, a handful of “self-defense” commanders were extradited to the United States in a joint operation between the Colombian government, the FBI, and the Drug Enforcement Agency.
10 Gustavo Duncan, The Lords of War. Of Paramilitaries, Mafiosos and Self-Defense Forces in Colombia (Bogotá: Planeta, 2006).
11 Renán Vega Cantor, “The economic costs of Uribe-style warmongering,” Boletín Correspondencia de Prensa – Agenda Radical, August 17, 2008.
12 Samuel Pinheiro Guimaräes, “A Brazilian Vision of Latin America,” Valor Económico, São Paulo, July 14, 2008.
13 The $230 million cost of the project will be financed by a loan from Brazil for Bolivia to pay back in twenty years, at an annual interest rate of 3 percent. The objective is to accelerate the flow of goods between the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, such that the agricultural and industrial products of Brazil can get to Asian markets more rapidly, leaving from ports in the south of Peru and the north of Chile.
14 On the Union of South American Nations (UNASUR), see side note by Ernesto Herrera, “UNASUR: a mandate for ‘democratic meddling.’ Is a new regional gendarme being born?”
15 Diario Folha de São Paulo, July 18, 2008.
16 Diario Página/12, Buenos Aires, July 20, 2008.
17 “The militarization of Amazónia,” Correio da Cidadanía, August 25, 2008.
18 Raúl Zibechi, “The art of governing the movements,” in Territories in Resistance: Political Cartography of the Latin American Urban Peripheries (Buenos Aires: Lavaca Editorial, 2008).
19 Raúl Zibechi, “Governments and movements: Between autonomy and new forms of domination,” in Ibid.
21 Quoted by Sergio Dávila, “Under controversy, U.S. reactivates its Fourth Fleet,” Folha de São Paulo, July 13, 2008.
22 José Steinsleger, “Fourth Fleet: Naval billyclub,” La Jornada, Mexico, September 24, 2008.
23 Juan Gabriel Tokatlian, “U.S. militarism in South America. The configuration of a problem,” Le Monde Diplomatique, Southern Cone edition, Buenos Aires, June 2008.
24 Declaration to Folha de São Paulo, July 13, 2008.
25 Arno J. Mayer, “Beyond the presidential elections in November. Permanence of the American Empire,” Le Monde Diplomatique, Southern Cone edition, Buenos Aires, September 2008.
26 Declaration of ParlaSur, Montevideo, July 29, 2008.