In Washington, business interests are pushing the Obama administration to submit a U.S.-Colombia free trade agreement for congressional approval. Yet terror prevails under the new regime of President Juan Manuel Santos
With Republicans riding high, the Washington Post predicts, “all three trade agreements (with Colombia, Panama and South Korea) have better prospects – good news for the American companies and workers.” NACLA Report correspondent Dawn Paley claims “transnational corporations throughout all sectors” are backing the Colombian agreement. Under a trade pact, markets there in plastics and resins, construction, mining and communications would each be worth $2 billion a year. U.S. oil and gas service companies would take in $1.2 billion annually.
Critics say that a bilateral trade agreement would augment the effect of U.S. military aid to Colombia in providing sanction for human rights abuses. The circumstances of incidents occurring there recently are politically instructive.
Labor union President Martha Diaz, for example, reports from Bucaramanga that on December 30 a thug pushed her 17-year-old daughter into a car, put a gun in her face, and accused her mother of being a guerrilla. Unless her mother ceased anti-government activities, they warned, “the consequences would be worse.” She was returned home with a letter from paramilitaries threatening death to family members. Observers say designation as a guerrilla signals that anyone so targeted is fair game for deadly attacks. In her appeal for international solidarity, Martha Diaz sees the incident as “the price to pay for a firm class consciousness.”
Nelson Lombana Silva found himself similarly categorized. He is the regional secretary of the Alternative Democratic Pole, a leftist electoral coalition. He heads the Communist Party in Tolima and writes for that party’s press. An e-mail he received on January 3 said, “Lombana is only one more guerrilla.” The message added: “The Communists are the same guerrillas that for so many years have only caused chaos, evil, kidnappings, extortions, genocide.”
On New Year’s Eve, gunmen stepped out of a crowd in La Unión, in Valle del Cauca, to kill storeowner José Lenin Mayuza. In a radio interview, his sister Carmen Mayuza told why her family has been decimated: the “state [is] doing little more than searching out an opposition …in order to exterminate it.”
Her brother Solomon was “disappeared” in 1998. The body of her brother Alexander was returned in pieces in a plastic bag in 2003. Her brother Luis was assassinated in 2008. She, her brothers and three sisters, many of them labor activists, have been jailed and exiled. The “paramilitary war against all militants of the Patriotic Union” had forced the family to leave Meta in 1988, she said.
Colombia’s Communist Party and leftist insurgents launched the Patriotic Union (UP) as an electoral coalition in 1985. In Meta, José Lenin Mayuza served as a UP city councilman. The murder campaign against UP participants continues, so far claiming over 4,000 victims.
Murder also occurs in the context of removing peasants and poor workers from valuable land. There were 26 murders last year in Guapi, in Cauca, presumably by paramilitaries, who undertake “private justice in a municipality with a strong public security force,” reports analyst Azalea Robles. The last victim, 16-year-old, African-descended Juan Carlos, died on December 11. Paramilitary activities began in that area a decade ago in concert with land takeovers for industrial-scale palm oil production and a hydroelectric project.
The Colombian resistance movement relies on international solidarity, and blocking a U.S.-Colombia trade deal is one ingredient of that. David Ravelo, jailed almost four months ago, is part of that movement. The Communist Party leader and director of the CREDHOS human rights group, says he is persecuted because he denounced extra-judicial killings, disappearances and displacements. “They are looking,” he told an interviewer on January 7, “to silence a leader of the people who has never let himself be intimidated and that the establishment could not co-opt.” To block dissent, he said, “there exists a whole organized system of terror.”
Ravelo is charged with “rebellion and aggravated homicide,” the latter allegation served up by a jailed paramilitary leader and self-confessed murderer. Ravelo said his morale is high, “because sooner or later, the truth will free me.”
Popular forces in Colombia expect that the terror campaign and the presence of a resistance movement will inspire foreign support. The U. S. labor movement, moved by persecution of Colombian unionists, has worked to delay imposition of a U.S.-Colombia trade pact. Full realization that in Colombia repression extends widely, that state-fostered violence serves corporate and imperial interests, and that resistance there has valiant, even heroic, qualities has the potential for broadening opposition within the United States to new forms of capitalist intrusion in Colombia.
Photo: Repression of Colombian indigenous protest, Fellowship of Reconciliation, CC 2.0