Plan Colombia. Military intervention at the hands of the FTAA
(by Ginny Santos. Feb, 2001)

"I hope the ends don't justify the means" says a US military authority in Colombia, but what he will not admit is that the FTAA is neither justifiable as an end nor as a means. The expansion of NAFTA, named the Free Trade Area of the Americas, is expected to be ratified by 2005. However this is not just another treaty that is in its negotiation stage and should be stopped before its final implementation. It is a process that is already working in full gear towards the FTAA as an end result. An end which is the creation of a secure playing field for capitalism. Thus, in the expectation of creating a capitalist heaven, the 34 participant "democracies" have a mission that consists not only in passing neoliberal pieces of legislation that will undermine labour, environmental standards, and all sorts of human rights, but also consists in wiping out all domestic and international obstacles/opposition to the "free" market economy.

With that end in mind, the FTAA supporters achieved the approval of an aid package called Plan Colombia. Initially proposed by the Colombian government the plan was then ratified by the Clinton administration after prolonged lobbying by interested parties. It consists of more than a $2 billion package for the Colombian state and military with the principal goal of recovering the state's control over the country, while creating a safe playing field for investors. $ 1.3 billion is from the US, and an equitable amount from the European Community, showing that although the FTAA is an affair of the American continent, Europe's as well as Japan's economic interests have the same objectives in mind. Despite the western media portrayal of Plan Colombia as an aid to a country torn by what they frame as a drug war, it is a plan designed to facilitate the Free Trade Area of the Americas.

In order to fully understand how Plan Colombia falls into the mandate of the FTAA, it is important to have some basic background knowledge of Colombia's socio-economic history. In Colombia, political violence has been a well known experience to many generations. Since the early 20th century, there has been a two-party electoral system that has suppressed any possibilities of opposition. Within that system there have been ongoing pockets of resistance. The early black communities whom managed to organize a successful fight to slave work in plantations, moved into the jungle in northern Colombia where they formed today's free communities known as 'Palenques.' They were the first to achieve recognized autonomy from the Spanish monarchy. Meanwhile, various indigenous communities have been struggling by every means possible against the invasion of their lands by TNCs wanting to drill into sacred territories or power plants that build damns resulting in hundreds of deaths from disease and the displacement of entire communities. One internationally known community is that of the U'wa people whom, faced with the threat of their land being drilled by Oxy Petroleum, have expressed their intention to commit mass suicide if the drilling plans go ahead. As their statement says, "death with dignity is better than slow genocide."

The largest standing guerilla group, the FARC, with significant peasant support have managed to gain control of the southern territories and have strongly opposed the privatization of Colombian resources while waging a constant war against US-backed military and paramilitary groups. The Colombian military, armed and trained by the United States, has not crushed domestic resistance but has contributed to the annual death toll of about 3,000, as well as the now habitual massacres (mostly committed by paramilitary groups) and to the 300,000 new refugees that are driven form their homes every year. Furthermore, Colombia has been a receiver of IMF/World Bank austerity policies since the 1970's, and has been described by the Wall Street Journal as the country with the best economic growth in Latin America. All this, while approximately 55 percent of Colombia's population lives below the poverty level.

Within this context, Colombia remains a country rich in natural resources and is considered an excellent trade rout due to its geographical situation with coasts on both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Its main natural resources are oil, coal, gold, emeralds, platinum and uranium. And its main exports are coffee, exotic flowers, sugar, bananas and cotton. Colombia is also expanding its maquiladora industries. However, the numerous resistance movements and the long history of union organizing are not welcoming to foreign investors whom choose to hire private militaries/paramilitaries in order to secure their establishments. British Petroleum, for example, has intervened directly in the ongoing war by hiring mercenaries to work with the military on counterinsurgency strategies in order to protect the oil industry from guerilla bomb attacks as well as from union organizing. Sindicalist organizing is yet another strong threat to profit maximization, which is why no less than 79 union activists were murdered in Colombia in one year (2000), in addition to the assassination of 4.000 opposition activists and 3.000 union leaders in 14 years of violence. Nevertheless, the Colombian state continues to be praised as the longest standing democracy in Latin America.

This is the state that has received Plan Colombia as an aid package. It was initially described as a plan to fight narcotics, but approved by the US senate in April, 2000, after extensive lobbying on the part of several corporations whose interests have nothing to do with drug policy. Those corporations include Occidental Petroleum Corp., BP Amoco, United Technology Corp., (military helicopter producer), and Bell Helicopter Textron Inc. Therefore, it is no surprise that 85 percent of the US package to Colombia is to be spent on military weapons. Meanwhile, one of the FTAA's principles states a clear commitment to "non-intervention and to the peaceful resolution of disputes." So, does the funding of a war escalation, the training of a military known for its human rights atrocities, the fumigation of the only crops that can sustain the people's lives, and the purchase of advanced weaponry qualify as non-intervention and peaceful resolution? Perhaps, a better question should be; what are the real intentions, behind Plan Colombia. This is where the actual FTAA, rather than its nice-sounding statement of principles, comes into play.

The process by which the FTAA is negotiated is through nine working groups, of which-just as an interesting side note- the one pertaining to 'market access' is to be chaired by Colombia. Every year, each of the 34 countries, represented by their trade ministers, make several commitments to a plan of action within each of the working groups. Some of the steps within the plan of action that Colombia has certainly taken a lead on are; (a) "Combating the problem of illegal drugs and related crimes" and (b) "Combating terrorism." Thus, Plan Colombia falls perfectly into place just at the right time with one of its main responsibilities being "the reduction of cultivation, processing, and distribution of narcotics" and "the strengthening of police and armed forces." However, the target is not actually to put an end to coca production but to put an end to the historically rooted opposition and resistance to the illegitimate bi-party system and neoliberal agenda. As a result, the intended victims are not the big drug cartels who will profit by purchasing the fumigated lands that peasants find themselves forced to sell off, nor the US banks and chemical corporations that are well known to be engaged in the narcotrafficking business. The intended victims are rather the peasants, the urban poor, the guerillas, the indigenous people struggling to protect their land and their lives, the black communities seeking self-government and the protection of the freedom they have fought for for so long, and basically any one who opposes the ultimate free market economy that the FTAA is seeking to impose.

The are many benefits to waging war in Colombia. To begin with, Colombia now has the third largest displaced population in the world. Internal refugees are mostly peasants, indigenous people, and afrocolombians whom are forced to abandon their small lots of land, escaping from the violence. Between 1995 and 1999, the number of displaced people surpassed one million (89,000 in 1995, 181,000 in 1996, 257,000 in 1997, 308,000 in 1998, and 225,000 between January and September 1999). Half of the people forcefully displaced are black Colombians. The issue is, as Hector Mondragon, a Colombian analyst living underground states, "Not only that people have been displaced by war, but also more importantly, that this war is being made specifically to displace people." The reason is that this displacement allows for large land-owners, known as 'latifundistas', to purchase more land for large-scale coca production and export crops resulting in the further enrichment of the elite at the expense of the small 'campesino'.

We are witnessing the new century's foreign policy. A policy of war, where communism is no longer the excuse for western illegitimate intervention, but rather narcotics are the excuse for an intervention that is made legitimate by the free market forces and for the free market.

Already in the previous war known as 'La Violencia' between 1948 and 1958 about 2 million peasants were displaced and 200,000 murdered. During that time period, the large sugar cane plantations were extended together with cotton production which grew by 500 percent. This leaves coca production as the only profitable crop for peasants to produce. However, as they are displaced from their land and enter the jungle, the cost of production is increased, which means that the peasant is forced to work harder and plant more coca leaves in order to survive. In 1999, although 16 thousand hectares of illegal plantations were destroyed another 38 thousand new ones were planted. Thus, it is well known that fumigations will not eradicate coca production and that increased violence is no solution to narcotraffic, but both are in fact a solution to the unwanted survival and autonomy of the poor and to the spread of opposition to neoliberalism.

It is obvious that the FTAA supporters are also taking into account their experiences from the implementation of NAFTA. In 1993, Mexico eliminated, through a constitutional reform, the inalienable rights of communal lands, resulting in the armed uprising of the zapatistas (Mayan community of Chiapas). Now that NAFTA is to be expanded, Colombia is the next state that is expecting to implement a similar constitutional reform. In fact, president Pastrana made a public declaration last February 2000, in regards to a constitutional reform in favor of free trade. Such reform consists of making available all land for foreign investment. A step that is essential to the creation of a free trade area. The inalienability of indigenous land as well as the land belonging to the black communities of Colombia was a right that they managed to secure in the 1991 Constitution. Although in practice, this right has only given the indigenous people and afrocolombians relative protection, it is vital that they maintain such recognition. The authorities know that such constitutional reform is likely to result in a similar situation as the one faced by Mexican authorities and their investors. Thus, Plan Colombia will serve to forcefully free up more land through the displacement of 'campesinos' while also strengthening the military in view of increased opposition.

The concentration of land ownership for large scale production is not the only reason why land is so valuable nor the only reason why the displacement of people is so desirable in the capitalist eye. The FTAA, together with international financial institutions like the World Bank and the IMF, have other projects in mind for Colombia. They plan to use large extensions of Colombian land to build new trade infrastructure. This includes the construction of a dry canal connecting the Atlantic-Pacific with connections to the railway system, as well as construction of new extended highways between ports, rivers, and the Amazon. In addition, as all other members of the free trade area, Colombia is expected to open up its public services, such as education, health care, water, etc., to private investors. And given the success story of the Bolivians' resistance to the privatization of water it will come in handy for the Colombian state to have increased its military capabilities and its reign of terror.

Meanwhile, the black communities have made an active move towards internationalizing their struggle since it has become obvious that without the support of international solidarity they would be unable to resist the increased militarized repression. Their current situation is increasingly worrisome given that their autonomous territories are in the way of the large infrastructure projects. Blacks in Colombia have fought since their arrival to the unknown continent to protect their own culture, to create their own autonomous methods of survival and development, and to create their own identity as black Colombians with a right to be different. Today, blacks constitute about 30 percent of Colombian population. Some live in the 'palenques' (black autonomous communities) while others are dispersed throughout the country. Coca production on their land is there because they have no alternative means of subsistence.

Part of Plan Colombia is a plan to substitute coca with five export crops (i.e. bananas and peppers). This means that whatever land is not in the way of the megaprojects will be turned into centrally managed plantations stripping the people of their autonomy in order to be made into laborers. The black communities recognize this as a violation of their freedom. Their movements are based on an ancestral teaching that says, "I am because we are" meaning that an individual can only be free if the people around are also free. In this time of capitalist globalization they only see their struggle as successful if other struggles for freedom also succeed.

For the same reason that the FTAA is about all of the Americas, the effects of Plan Colombia are not to remain within the Colombian borders. Social movements are on the rise in all of Colombia's neighboring countries. And Venezuela, with even larger oil fields than Colombia, is becoming a place of concern to western capitalists ever since president Chavez was known to be negotiating with Cuba, Iraq and other non-western oil producers. Thus it is in the interest of the western oil producers that the US have a strong military pesence in South America. Thus, one of the tasks of Plan Colombia is to build bases in surrounding countries. In Panama, for example, near the Colombian border, live peacefully the indigenous Kuna people. Now, they are fighting against American intentions of creating a naval base on their land, while they are intimidated with the increased presence of US soldiers. The American military claims that they have to be there for the Kuna's protection as they expect Colombian guerillas to move closer to the northern border, and coca production to expand outwards.

The Kuna people do not want their territory militarized. Colombia's black communities do not want to be part of a war that is not their war. The Colombian campesino does not want to abandon his plot of land. Colombian women do not want to end up in a situation where the only option is to become a maquiladora slave-worker or a wage worker at a large plantation. The Embera Katio people have seen enough deaths and had enough of damn projects and power plants and want the right to live peacefully on a healthy diverse ecosystem as they had done for centuries. The problem is that our northern model of democracy is one that only listens to certain voices. But the American continent does not need a "free" trade area, nor a military aid package. What we need is to raise our voices through different means, not just until they are heard, but until we are actively determining the future of each of our communities in a network of participatory democracies.

What Colombia needs in a time of war is a people-based peace process with deep socio-economic reforms that allow for the various sectors of Colombian society to put an end to the history of domination; immidiate demilitarization and recognition of the worker's unions and peasant federations as legitimate actors; as well as the recognition of the capability of the indigenous and the black communities to self-govern.

As Alfonso from PCN (Proceso de Comunidades Negras) says, "Plan Colombia is the cruelest expression of globalised capitalism." It is the expression of the FTAA in full gear, which is not only going to meet the sustained resistance of the people of Colombia, but also a growing globalized resistance of diverse communities. A resistance with a vision of real participatory democracy that will radically replace the real terrorists meaning the nation-state and its business partners.

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