Downloading PDF. Please wait... Issue 2093

Colombia: vicious friend of the West

This article is over 13 years, 10 months old
The US and Britain are funding one of the most murderous regimes in Latin America writes Esme Choonara
Issue 2093
Graffiti at the national university in Bogota reads, “The barricade closes the road, but opens the path. Long live May ‘68” (Pic:» Jess Hurd/ )
Graffiti at the national university in Bogota reads, “The barricade closes the road, but opens the path. Long live May ‘68” (Pic: » Jess Hurd/

Colombia’s government is not just a vicious regime that targets trade unionists and civil activists. It is also George Bush’s key ally in Latin America and on the front line of his intervention in that region.

Bush recently declared uncritical support for Colombian president Alvaro Uribe.

He sees Uribe as a bulwark against the radical anti-US governments of Venezuela’s president Hugo Chavez and Bolivian president Evo Morales.

The US has been channelling huge amounts of money and military assistance to Colombia for years – first under the cover of the “war on drugs”, then under the “war on terror”.

Britain is the second biggest donor of aid to Colombia. New Labour refuses to say exactly how much military aid and assistance it has given to Colombia, but it is thought to be over £1 million a year.

This comes in addition to military training and granting export licences for the sale of arms to Colombia.

Bush and his defence secretary Robert Gates are trying to push a controversial free trade agreement through the US Congress.

Bush says this agreement is “pivotal” to countering the influence of Chavez in Latin America.

Meanwhile the Colombian national army and right wing paramilitaries that operate with the collusion of the state are waging a brutal war on the poor and left wing activists in the country.

Colombia is one of the most dangerous countries in the world to be a trade unionist. More than 4,000 union activists have been murdered in the last 15 years, as have thousands of human rights campaigners, journalists, students and opposition politicians. Torture and “disappearances” are common.

The links between the Colombian state and paramilitary death squads are widely documented. In 2003 Uribe’s government claimed it was “dismantling” the paramilitary groups. But an investigation by Amnesty International found that “paramilitarism has not been dismantled – it has simply been re-engineered”.

Amnesty pointed out that many paramilitaries were encouraged to join “civilian informer networks” to provide military intelligence to the security forces, or to become “civic guards”. It concluded that “many paramilitary structures remain virtually intact and that paramilitaries continue to kill, often in collusion with the security forces”.

State repression is often carried out under the pretence of stopping the “terrorism” of left wing guerrilla groups.

Colombia recently launched a raid into neighbouring Ecuador and murdered several members of the left wing Farc guerrilla organisation.


This is just the latest in a 40 year war that the Colombian state has waged against leftist guerrilla groups such as Farc and the smaller ELN group.

These groups emerged in the 1960s in response to state violence against the poor and political opposition. They have been fighting corrupt and elitist governments for decades.

Chavez has called on Colombia to recognise Farc as a legitimate political force and enter peace negotiations. Any serious peace process in Colombia must involve negotiations with both Farc and the ELN.

But Uribe is desperate not to give credit to Chavez or make any concessions to Farc. Instead he continues to attempt to defeat the opposition groups by brute force.

Farc and the ELN offer some protection for farmers in the areas they control. These farmers face chemical crop spraying and violence from US-backed “counter-insurgency” programmes.

However, the guerilla groups are not based on mass democratic movements. Nor are the social and economic conditions in areas they control significantly better for the poor.

Farc and the ELN have been locked into a bloody war for decades against a highly armed state that is backed, financially and militarily, by the US and Britain.

Their guerilla strategy will not offer the political progress ordinary Colombians need so badly.

But against all the odds – and in the face of brutal repression – Colombian trade unions, students and social movements are resisting and fighting for fundamental change.

Children in the Barrio (Pic:» Jess Hurd/ )
Children in the Barrio (Pic: » Jess Hurd/

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