New efforts for peace dialogue in Colombia

Democratic Reps. William Delahunt and James McGovern, both of Massachusetts, and George Miller of California, recently spent four days in Colombia looking into longstanding U.S. corporate complicity with terrorists.

Delahunt, head of the Subcommittee on International Organizations and Human Rights of the House Foreign Relations Committee, is investigating Chiquita Company’s payments of $1.7 million to right-wing paramilitaries between 1997 and 2004.

The corporation recently agreed to pay $25 million in fines, provided company executives suffer no penalties. Chiquita reportedly facilitated arms deliveries to the paramilitaries and allowed drugs to leave on Chiquita ships.

In Colombia, Delahunt met with top paramilitary leaders now in prison. “They were very specific and clear on the relationships between themselves and the American companies,” he said. For years, troops under their command subjected political activists, unionists, indigenous people, peasants, and students to massacre and mayhem. The onslaught continues.

Interviewed Jan. 16 by Bogota’s El Tiempo daily, Delahunt promised to return to Colombia for more fact-finding and to take testimony in Washington from company executives. “We are concerned,” he declared, “by the magnitude of the participation of American companies in the payments they made to the AUC,” (the Spanish initials of the paramilitaries).

Delahunt lauded Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez for facilitating the recent release of two hostages held by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

Meeting later with President Chavez in Caracas, he expressed concern that all the remaining hostages be released, not just three U.S. military contractors held by the FARC. Alluding to Washington’s anti-terrorist rationale for its role in Colombia, Delahunt told reporters that his country is “two-faced in its treatment of terrorists.”

As he was arriving in Caracas, Venezuela’s National Assembly approved a proposal by President Chavez for the Colombian government and the international community to recognize the leftist insurgents in Colombia as “belligerent forces,” no longer as terrorists. Analysts see that shift as potentially helping to bring humanitarian exchange of prisoners under the aegis of international law.

The Assembly also rejected lists of terrorist organization imposed unilaterally by the United States. Characteristically, such lists include national liberation forces.

Meanwhile in Bogota, the head of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, Admiral Michael G. Mullen, was conferring with Colombian Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos. In a press conference, he denounced Venezuelan arms and airplane purchases as exerting a “destabilizing effect in the hemisphere.” He reaffirmed that for his government the “FARC is an organization embarked on terrorist activities.”

Dialogue on peace for Colombia is rife with bureaucratic clichés, at least at the level of command. Rep. Delahunt seems to have taken on the project of unearthing the hypocrisy inevitably underlying much of the high-level foreign policy discussions carried out in Washington. Two months ago, for example, he held hearings that nailed down the duplicity of high U.S. leaders in protecting anti-Cuban terrorist Luis Posada.

But there is another dimension of the interchange on securing peace, one relating to the realities of human suffering. That is what Gustavo Moncayo, the “Walker for Peace,” talks about. He was in Caracas when Delahunt was there, preparing to walk to Bogota. He had already walked hundreds of miles across Colombia.

Moncayo’s son Pablo has been sequestered by the FARC for ten years. Along his way, the father has called for humanitarian exchanges, talked of peace, and decried the suffering of prisoners. “The cries of the parents,” he said in Caracas, “cause no pain to authorities in Colombia, not do they know what it is to walk a day, a year, even ten years.”

Moncayo praised Chavez for attempting “to change the terminology for dialogue.” He offered to exchange himself for any prisoner: “It doesn’t matter who they are, soldiers, the political prisoners, the North Americans. What’s important is that they all go free.”

atwhit @ roadrunner.com