In Colombia, four million people have been forced from their homes and land. Poverty is rampant: almost 24 percent of Colombians earn less than two dollars a day; 65 percent, less than three dollars daily; 40 percent of the children don’t attend school.

Contributions by multinational corporations and the U.S. government to turmoil and suffering in Colombia, unmatched in Latin America, are well documented.

Left wing guerrillas there are still potent after four decades of struggle. Abusers of human rights count on impunity. Their relations with government leaders are cozy.

Yet, underlying all of this is an economic/political model imposed on Colombia, according to an international eight-person panel that heard testimony in Bogota, the capital, Nov. 20-23.

“Forced displacement in Colombia owes above all to the neo-liberal model of development.” Belgian academician François Houtart, president of the Tribunal of International Opinion (TIO) on forced displacement.

The Bogota tribunal was remarkable for its emphasis on human displacement and the out-sized role of military force. Modeled on Bertrand Russell’s tribunals on the U.S. war in Vietnam, this TIO reviewed three studies on population displacement and heard testimony from 28 victims. Over 400 other victims had previously testified before five regional tribunals. Colombian human rights groups sponsored the tribunals.

According to witnesses, during the 1980s paramilitaries forced peasants off land sold for a pittance to drug traffickers intent upon laundering new wealth. Left-wing political opponents and suspected sympathizers were removed to give landowners free rein. The paramilitaries opened up land for mining, agribusiness and construction projects. Witnesses described terrorist assaults. They cited the complicity of courts in legitimizing new proprietors. They described landowner and corporate financing of paramilitary terrorists. Now, they claimed, natural resources are stolen, and agriculture is given over to profitable monoculture operations costly to the environment.

The TIO condemned Colombian government officials for indulging crime, multinational corporations for depending on paramilitaries, and industrialized nations for permitting corporations to “finance the military and paramilitary operations that displace millions of Colombian women and men.”

Proposed remedies included returning land to peasants and communities, financial compensation, acknowledgement of past crimes, guarantees against new ones, removal of impunity, and reconciliation.

Acknowledging his tribunal’s lack of jurisdiction, Francois Houtart assured an interviewer that its legitimacy derives from the visibility it gives to crimes against humanity, especially those perpetrated or neglected by states. The tribunals represent “the ethical conscience of humanity expressed through distinguished personalities in the judicial world, from scientific, religious, artistic, and political fields.”

Beginning in 1979, 33 Permanent People’s Tribunals (TPP) have taken place throughout the world. From October 2005 through July 2008, Colombian human rights groups are staging TPPs to “judge crimes committed against the Colombian people by national economic groups and by transnational corporations.”

In Cacarica, Colombia, Feb. 24-27, 2007, one TPP ruled on transnational military corporations. A lawyers’ collective catalogued charges against the U.S. DynCorp company: its fumigation flights cause terror and suffering, DynCorp enjoys bi-national judicial immunity, and Colombian authorities remain oblivious to its operations.

A major beneficiary of Plan Colombia, DynCorp “has been most implicated in the commission of crimes in this country as well as violations to human rights caused through its aerial spraying operations,” according to the tribunal.

Indeed, Washington’s lead card in Colombia is military action. Under Plan Colombia, Washington has underwritten Colombia’s military and police to the tune of $4.46 billion over eight years.

Introducing Plan Colombia in 1999, then-U.S. Secretary of Energy Bill Richardson spoke of U.S. investments “in the areas of mining and energy, and to secure these investments, we are tripling military aid to Colombia.” (Quoted by Francisco Ramirez). U.S. concerns, however, range far beyond investment safety. Writing in Argenpress, Alberto Pinzón depicts Colombia’s Army as “a true armed anticommunist party.”

Through its 1947 Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance, Washington sought to shape the Colombian military into a bulwark against an “internal enemy.” Colombian dictators readily complied with the worldwide U.S. anti-communist agenda.

Pinzon explains that the army “irregularization” prescribed by counterinsurgency experts from the “U.S. Southern Command ended up in the total take-over of state power by the present narco-paramilitary regime.” That in turn led to “the terrible happenings that destroyed Colombian society during this period.”

W. T. Whitney Jr. is a member of the People’s Weekly World editorial board.


W. T. Whitney Jr.
W. T. Whitney Jr.

W.T. Whitney Jr. is a political journalist whose focus is on Latin America, health care, and anti-racism. A Cuba solidarity activist, he formerly worked as a pediatrician, lives in rural Maine. W.T. Whitney Jr. es un periodista político cuyo enfoque está en América Latina, la atención médica y el antirracismo. Activista solidario con Cuba, anteriormente trabajó como pediatra, vive en la zona rural de Maine.