Colombia's government has plunged the country into full-scale civil war. The US backs this brutal and bloody policy. Andreas Pastrana, president of the South American country, broke off peace talks with the powerful FARC guerrilla group on Wednesday of last week.
He ordered an immediate military assault on the area his government agreed was under guerrilla control while talks took place over the last three years. Within hours planes and helicopters, including US-supplied Black Hawks, were bombing targets inside the FARC-controlled zone. Several towns have been hit in the raids, and there have been civilian casualties.
The US and the European Union governments rushed to support the Colombian government, claiming it is a 'war on drugs' that is part of their 'war on terrorism'. The truth is different.
The Colombian government, its multinational backers, and the US and European Union governments aim to crush resistance to their neoliberal policies. The Colombian government wants to destroy the guerrilla forces along with their social support after decades of civil war.
Pastrana's government also wants to crush peasants and workers fighting its drive to privatise public services and plunder the country's vast resources of oil, gold and coal. The government has strung out the peace talks with the FARC while preparing for war.
The US has pumped up to $2 billion in mainly military aid into the country under its Plan Colombia. The real drug traffickers in Colombia are linked to the government, the armed forces and the right wing paramilitaries who have waged terror across the country. The wife of the US attaché was caught smuggling cocaine only 18 months ago. The US government has even admitted that Carlos Castano, head of Colombia's right wing AUC paramilitaries, is one of the biggest drug traffickers.
Since 11 September the Colombian and US governments have claimed Colombia is part of the 'war on terror'. There is real terror in Colombia. Tens of thousands of people have been killed in Colombia in recent years. The vast majority are victims of the army and the paramilitaries. Every week three trade unionists are assassinated. The death squads kill over 60 people weekly.
Alongside this terror the government is imposing neo-liberal economic policies. Millions of people have been pushed into poverty by wage cuts, welfare cuts, privatisation, and opening the country up to multinationals like BP. Over two thirds of Colombians are now living below the miserable official poverty line. In the face of this, and despite the terror and assassinations, workers have continued to fight back.
Workers in the city of Cali occupied and won last month in a fight to stop the privatisation of public utilities such as water and telecoms. Last weekend one of the leaders of the Cali occupation and a leader of Colombia's oil workers travelled to Britain. They spoke at the conference of the Colombia Solidarity Campaign (see page 14 for a full report).
Berenice Celeyta, from the Sintraemcali union which led the Cali occupation, argued that 'Colombians are being assassinated because our country is full of natural resources which the multinationals want. 'The Colombian government is responsible for state terrorism. Our fight was not just against privatisation, but also against the IMF, the World Bank and imperialism.'
Hector Vaca of the USO oil workers' union said, 'Plan Colombia is not about drugs and terror. 'There is a very clear economic reason behind it-to appropriate the resources of Colombia and help US strategic interests.' Everyone at the conference agreed to mobilise support for this Saturday's anti-war demonstration, and to link what was happening in Colombia to George Bush's global war drive. Berenice and Hector are touring Britain speaking over the coming week.