ALVARO URIBE Velez is a good friend of George Bush and Tony Blair. The right wing president of Colombia was the only South American ruler to back war on Iraq. Uribe now sounds like he wants his powerful backers to send their forces to Colombia.
Bush and Blair are not about to order a full scale military intervention. They are, though, pouring in money and weapons to bolster the Colombian military and right wing paramilitaries. The US-sponsored Plan Colombia will see some $1.3 billion, almost all in military aid, pumped into the country.
The aim is to help Uribe defeat a 30 year old guerrilla rebelion which enjoys considerable support and is fuelled by the lack of genuine democracy and human rights in Colombia. Uribe is also trying to crush workers and community organisations that stand in the way of a drive to privatise industry and open the country further to multinationals.
Two Colombian trade unionists spoke at a recent meeting in London organised by the Colombia Solidarity Campaign.
Samuel Morales is from the CUT Colombian trade union federation in Arauca, one of the country's key oil producing regions.
'The US intervention in Colombia is key to its wider strategy of containing popular movements in Latin American, symbolised by the election of Lula in Brazil, Gutierrez in Ecuador and above all Hugo Chavez in Venezuela,' he explained. The US is pursuing the same kind of policies as it did in central America in the 1970s and 1980s in countries like El Salvador and Honduras, with their 'dirty wars'. The multinationals in Colombia are central too-companies like BP. Spain's Repsol oil company, Shell and the US Occidental. The areas of Colombia where the multinationals are active are where you get a concentration of paramilitary activity.
'In Arauca an area greater than one million hectares has been handed to the US. There is a huge US military base, with Apache helicopters, 400 US marines, huge radar and satellite installations. The US is concerned about the natural resources-oil but also coal and minerals-from Venezuela and Colombia and the Amazon. This is not just about control of a single country, Colombia, but a whole continent. Venezuela is especially important. The paramilitaries are allowed by the Colombian regime to penetrate and violate the Venezuelan border. Uribe is Bush's representative in Latin America. We are not coming to Britain for sympathy, but for solidarity. We are also bringing our experience of neo-liberalism in the hope that this can help you ensure these same systems don't destroy what you have won.'
Franciso Ramirez from Colombia's mining unions also spoke.
' Uribe is pushing forward a huge economic project involving multinationals from Canada, Europe and Japan as well as the US. Bush's strategy is also to undermine any independent leadership in the region such as Chavez in Venezuela, or Lula in Brazil or Gutierrez in Ecuador. On the border with Ecuador you are getting the imposition of paramilitary and military control. You also have a combination of US and Japanese companies trying to take control of the water resources there.
'If you look in the other direction, towards Venezuela, you see the paramilitary AUC strengthening their presence. And this is linked to the presence of companies like the US coal corporation Drummond and Occidental Petroleum. On the border with Brazil it is similar, there the rivers are important but there is also uranium, gold and US and South African multinationals. It is not just about economics. These are areas of massive biodiversity, the lungs of the world, and if we destroy them it's a global disaster. So what Uribe is doing is dangerous not only for Colombians but for the whole world.'
Blair's New Labour government backs Uribe, and Plan Colombia. Britain's BP oil multinational is also the biggest single foreign investor in Colombia. That's why both Samuel and Franciso particularly appealed for solidarity from British campaigners and trade unionists, saying 'It's only the globalisation of our popular struggles that can save the planet.'
For details on how you can offer solidarity contact Colombia Solidarity Campaign www.colombiasolidarity.org.uk