Arriving in Colombia a day before the start of the 18th Congress of the Colombian Communist Party (CPC) gave me an opportunity to visit the famous Gold Museum in Bogota.

Beyond the exquisite display of finely crafted gold pieces from the indigenous Indian cultures of Colombia was an important political lesson. After explaining the deep spiritual and religious value of gold in the early indigenous cultures, a tour guide explained that this was in stark contrast to the Spanish conquistadors who wrought violence and destruction as they stole vast quantities of gold to enrich the Spanish royalty.

Fast forward to the present and simply substitute multinational corporations as the conquistadors of the 21st century and you can begin to explain the violence and terror directed at the students, workers and peasants of Colombia.

The struggle to determine who will benefit from the riches of Colombia’s natural resources and the wealth created by its people is at the heart of the crisis in Colombia today.

It was in the context of this struggle that the CPC opened its 18th Congress, held Nov. 9-11, in Bogota, Colombia. Over 400 delegates – workers, academics, peasants, unemployed and students – attended three days of intense deliberations under the banner: “For a New Country.”

One of the main themes of the congress was to expose the new danger of outright U.S. military intervention in Colombia. Responding to the United States’ post-Sept. 11 war on terrorism, Jaime Caycedo, general secretary of the CPC, said, “This new policy presents a most serious obstacle to the possibilities of a political solution in Colombia.”

Another main theme throughout the deliberations was how to support the peace process between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

Carlos Lozano, editor of the CPC’s newspaper, Voz, said, “The banner of peace is the party’s proposition. The most important task is to pursue the Common Agenda,” an accord reached between FARC and President Andres Pastrana through the peace process. The Common Agenda consists of a 10-point structural program that addresses development, the economy, unemployment, education and biodiversity in Colombia.

Lozano, a member of the Commission of Notables, investigated solutions to the current civil war and crisis in Colombia. The commission’s report recommended a solution in the framework of a bilateral truce, ceasefire and cessation of hostilities, which would create the space for a discussion and implementation of the Common Agenda.

“As a nation, we have two choices: war or peace,” said Luis Eduardo Garzon, former leader of the Patriotic Union, as he addressed the congress. Garzon is running as a presidential candidate for the Social Political Front in Colombia.

“If we choose war, it will spread across South America, with the danger of fragmenting Colombia and other countries. The ultimate cost of the war will be death for thousands of Colombians. It is the economic, social and political issues that have forced President Pastrana to negotiate with FARC in the peace process.” A war against FARC will not address these issues, therefore peace is the choice Colombians must make, he said.

While President Bush, and the oil interests he represents, advance their threats to nations across the globe under the pretext of a war against terrorism, Caycedo said, “we must reaffirm the position of the Colombian Communist Party, that the Colombian guerrilla movements are not terrorist.”

In an escalation of Bush’s war on terrorism, Anne Patterson, U.S. ambassador to Colombia, announced in late October that the U.S. will provide Colombia with counter-terrorism aid. The announcement followed the declaration by the State Department’s top counter-terrorism official that Washington’s strategy for fighting terrorism in the Americas will include “where appropriate, as we are doing in Afghanistan, the use of military power.”

Little doubt was left that FARC would be the target when the official stated that FARC “is the most dangerous international terrorist group based in this hemisphere.”

Caycedo pointed out that “terrorism in Colombia is in fact state-sponsored terrorism with its most repugnant expression being the paramilitary forces who assassinate and massacre with total impunity in broad daylight without any action by the Colombian government.”

The delegates, nearly one-third of whom were involved in trade union work, were militant in their resolve to build the Party in face of very difficult conditions, including state-sponsored violence against activists. Thunderous applause welcomed Wilson Borja, leader of the government workers’ union, when he mounted the stage on crutches to address the Congress.

One year ago, Borja was attacked by paramilitaries in Bogota after joining with leaders of the oil workers’ union to call for starting a peace dialogue with the ELN, the second largest guerrilla organization after FARC, and calling for the establishment of a demilitarized zone in the north of the country, where they operate.

He sustained severe injuries from which he is still recovering one year later.

Trade union leaders in Colombia are special targets of attack because of their role in demanding corporations provide decent wages and working conditions. Three-fifths of all trade unionists killed in the world today are killed in Colombia.

In some cases paramilitary organizations perform the dirty work of union-busting and boosting corporate profits, as in the case of the Coca Cola’s Colombian subsidiary, Bebidas y Alimentos. It was at its bottling plant in Carepa in 1996 that union leaders were killed by paramilitary forces and remaining employees were given an ultimatum to resign from the union, leave Carepa or be killed.

The paramilitary organizations, loosely organized into the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, have been described as a “Sixth Division” of Colombia’s army, a reference to the close collaboration and coordination between the paramilitary forces and the army.

Human Rights Watch, in their October 2001 report, documents “detailed and compelling evidence that certain Colombian army brigades and police detachments continue to promote, work with, support, profit from and tolerate paramilitary groups, treating them as a force allied to and compatible with their own.”

The paramilitary groups have also worked to spread a campaign of fear and terror in the countryside, resulting in displacement of peasants and indigenous people and reducing resistance to corporate and large landholder policies.

Under the guise of anti-terrorism, the U.S. government is stepping up its war against Colombia’s leftist insurgents. Sen. Bob Graham (D-Fla.) charges that of 500 incidents of terrorism committed worldwide against U.S. citizens and interests last year, 44 percent were in one country – Colombia.

What Sen. Graham did not relate was that the majority of these so-called “terrorist” attacks consist of bombings of oil pipelines that are used by U.S. oil companies to transport crude oil from remote oil fields to coastal ports.

The U.S. war against terrorism is thus exposed as a war against those who would thwart the right of U.S. corporations to profit from the extraction of Colombia’s natural resources.

Interest in Colombia and its rich resources – oil, natural gas, coal and great biodiversity – is not new. Exxon, BP and Shell have been granted generous concessions for oil drilling. Drummond Coal Co. of Alabama runs one of the largest coal mines operating in Colombia today.

Other companies would like to take advantage of Colombia’s industrialized work force under the essentially neocolonial conditions that will accompany the proposed Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA). Colombia is also strategically situated as a natural trading platform, with access to both the Pacific and the Atlantic oceans and at the connecting juncture of North and South America.

In the main political report to the Congress, Jaime Caycedo charged that the FTAA is a neo-colonial project “whose strategy is not only economic.” The FTAA’s plan goes far beyond trade to include subordination of institutional, political and judicial norms of a country to Washington, D.C.’s leadership.

It includes the adoption of measures that put the institutions of a country under U.S. control without a formal colonial status. The economic foundations of this U.S.-friendly environment are already being laid in Colombia through the neo-liberal policies imposed by the International Monetary Fund in return for its $2.7 billion loan to Colombia.

It is in the interest of U.S. working people to support the aspirations of Colombia’s people in their struggle for peace. Plan Colombia, the so-called war against narco-terrorists (see sidebar), is simply the military component of the FTAA, aimed at wiping out resistance to U.S. corporate policies.

With the increased danger of an outright intervention by U.S. forces in the name of fighting terrorism, it is our responsibility to help build a movement to stop the dangerous plans of the White House and the Pentagon.


Who profits from Plan Colombia?

According to the Department of State Fact Sheet released in March 2000, Plan Colombia is a strategy “promoting the peace process, combating the narcotics industry and reviving the plan to end Colombia’s civil war.” Yet this $7.5 billion plan is designed primarily to assist the Colombian military in its attempt to defeat FARC, the principal threat to the national political and economic elite of Colombia. Funding for Plan Colombia depends almost entirely on international sources, with the primary funding coming from the United States.

With 80 percent of the $1.3 billion aid package, approved by President Clinton in 2000, going directly to the Colombian military and police, it is clear that Plan Colombia is a plan for war, not peace. The package provided for sending up to 800 U.S. military and contractor personnel to Colombia. An additional 300 civilian operatives were allowed, with only the requirement to advise Congress when this number surpasses 300.

The bulk of the aid dollars is earmarked for delivery of attack helicopters – Blackhawks and Hueys – giving the Colombian army greater fire power to combat left-wing guerrillas and to help safeguard the economic interests of U.S. corporations doing business in Colombia.

Add to this a $1 billion aid package through the Bush administration’s Andean Initiative, which will provide additional assistance for military and police forces in the neighboring countries of Peru, Bolivia, Ecuador, Venezuela, Brazil and Panama, and you have the development of a regional military force prepared to defend U.S. interests throughout the region.

The companies already profiting from the Plan Colombia aid package include: United Technologies, which is receiving $234 million for 18 Blackhawk helicopters, Textron of Texas, which is receiving $84 million to upgrade Vietnam-era Huey helicopters, and Lockheed Martin, which is getting $68 million for early warning radar system. DynCorp, a firm that hires U.S. veterans to provide training for foreign military personnel, also is benefiting from this aid package.

While Plan Colombia claims a goal of eliminating large-scale drug production, it targets the south of Colombia where coca is cultivated by campesinos on plots of land less 7.5 acres in size. It is also the region in which the 17,000 member FARC are strongest and have their greatest support.

The campaigns of eradication are virtually ignoring the north, where large-scale coca production takes place with support of the paramilitary organizations. The fumigation and eradication campaigns have targeted not only coca, but also food crops, water supplies and homes of peasants, resulting in displacement from the countryside.

The eradication campaign thus contributes to the massive displacement of Colombians, swelling the ranks of the already 1.9 million people that have been forced from their homes through violence, primarily at the hands of the paramilitary and the Colombian army.