COLOMBIA WAS facing a bloodbath this week as peace talks in its long-running civil war teetered on the brink of collapse. A last minute deal extended the deadline until this weekend.
The threat of renewed war is a direct result of the US government's $1.3 billion 'Plan Colombia' military intervention in the country, and US president George W Bush's so called 'war on terrorism'. Most of the media have echoed Colombian and US government claims about what is happening in the South American country.
They say the government is facing attacks by left wing guerrilla forces who are drug barons, and that Plan Colombia is about fighting these 'narco-terrorists'. The truth is quite different. Drugs are a key factor in Colombia's civil war, but the biggest drug runners are the Colombian military, right wing paramilitary forces, and people linked to the Colombian and US governments.
The real agenda behind Plan Colombia is a drive by the US and Colombian governments to smash resistance to their neo-liberal economic policies of privatisation and opening the country to multinational corporations. The civil war in Colombia has being going on for over 30 years. Its roots lie in the monopolisation of wealth, land and political power by a tiny elite. Some 70 percent of land is controlled by just 3 percent of people. One in three Colombians live below the World Bank's poverty line.
Over 35,000 people have been killed in the civil war, and over 1.5 million people have been displaced. The US government admits that 80 percent of the killings were by the army and right wing paramilitaries.
When people have sought to change things through elections the result has been bloody repression. Thousands of opposition candidates and activists were assassinated through the 1980s. Right wing death squads linked to the military routinely kill trade unionists and human rights activists. Over 1,500 trade unionists have been murdered in Colombia in the last decade.
Coffee was a staple crop for many small farmers. The World Bank and IMF have pushed more and more countries to produce coffee to earn foreign currency to pay debts to Western bankers. World coffee prices have collapsed, ruining small farmers and leaving them with no option but to turn to crops like coca-the raw material from which cocaine can be made.
The drug barons who then feed off these farmers are linked to the Colombian military, and the US and Colombian governments. Laurie Hiatt, the wife of the US military attache to Colombia, was caught smuggling cocaine last year. Ernesto Samper was until a few years ago Colombia's president, and was financed by the notorious Cali drugs cartel.
A NUMBER of rural guerrilla groups demanding political and economic reform have been fighting government forces for many years. The biggest is the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia). The government agreed to hold peace talks with the FARC three years ago, and handed control of a Switzerland-sized area of south Colombia to the guerrillas. The US and Colombian governments say the FARC are drug traffickers.
But the US Drugs Enforcement Agency itself admitted two years ago that 'to date there is little to indicate the insurgent groups are trafficking in cocaine'.
Bush steps up war drive
US PRESIDENT George W Bush signalled a new drive against the FARC while he was bombing Afghanistan when he labelled the group 'terrorists'. Just last week the latest consignment of new Black Hawk assault helicopters arrived in Colombia. There has been growing resistance to the drive by the Colombian government, backed by the IMF, to privatise everything from education and health to water supplies.
In Cali the last few weeks have seen workers occupying against a plan to privatise the city's main public utilities company. The charity War on Want argues that Plan Colombia 'is an effort to secure the profits of corporations and create the conditions for future multinational exploitation in Colombia, something that is especially important in the light of IMF-imposed economic reforms'.
The US government says that Colombia, along with its neighbours Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru, are what it calls 'a grand area', defined as 'a region whose economic subordination is necessary for world domination'.