George Bush waded into the growing inter-governmental crisis in Latin America earlier this week by expressing the US’s unqualified support for the Colombian president Alvaro Uribe.
The Colombian army last Saturday attacked and killed a group of Farc (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) guerrillas camped in Ecuador. One of those killed was Raul Reyes, a long time leading member of Farc, who is reported to have been in the middle of negotiations to free a number of high profile hostages that Farc is holding.
The governments of Venezuela and Ecuador responded to the attack by cutting off diplomatic relations with Colombia and sending troops to the border.
Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez stopped most trade along the border with Colombia. He said on Wednesday that Colombian firms in Venezuela could be nationalised. Meanwhile Ecuador’s president Rafael Correa has been touring countries in Latin America to build up support in the row with Colombia.
Uribe’s police chief responded by alleging that laptops taken from the Farc camp “prove” that Chavez is funding Farc – an allegation denied by Chavez.
Farc is the oldest of several guerrilla groups in Colombia. It emerged in response to state violence and has fought successive corrupt and repressive governments. Attempts by Uribe and Bush to portray Farc as an Al Qaida style terrorist group ignore the fact that it has a degree of popular support.
Chavez has played a key role over the past year in negotiating the release of a number of Farc hostages. He has also called on the Colombian government to enter serious peace talks with Farc – a proposal that has been roundly rejected by Uribe’s government.
Instead, Uribe continues an approach of brutal armed repression – not just against suspected Farc members, but also against many other opposition forces and individuals.
Colombia is currently one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a trade unionist – with disappearances, murders, imprisonment and intimidation common. The state also allows right wing paramilitaries to operate within the country.
Colombia is the US’s key ally in Latin America and seen by Bush as an important bulwark against the radical anti-US governments of Venezuela and Bolivia.
This is why Chavez recently called Colombia the “Israel of Latin America”. Bush gave Colombia over $750 million last year. More than 80 percent of this was directly for military and police programmes.
Bush has also used the current crisis to try to push a controversial free trade agreement with Colombia through congress.
For many years Farc has been locked into a bloody guerrilla war that has claimed many lives and shows no sign of winning against one of the most militarised countries in Latin America.
An alternative left strategy is beginning to emerge in Colombia. Despite the constant threat of repression, the trade union and social movements continue to grow and to challenge the militarism and neoliberalism of Uribe’s government.
For more on Colombia and Farc go to » Colombian protests hide state violence