The Preprogrammed War Has Started

On the night of Wednesday 20 February 2002, President Andres Pastrana announced for the second time in less than two months the end of the peace process with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc). However, his latest declaration to the people of Colombia had a ring of deadly finality as he authorised General Fernando Tapias, head of the Colombian Armed Forces, to retake the demilitarised zone with immediate effect.

There was no 48-hour interval this time to allow the Farc to withdraw from the zone. Just hours after the dreaded proclamation, military planes were overflying the demilitarised zone and dropping bombs of up to 250 kg. By morning they had dropped more than 200 on military targets they had been planning for months from their zone frontier base at Tres Esquinas. This is Plan B ­ the small print of Plan A or Plan Colombia.

More than 13,000 troops have been mobilised from different parts of the country to make their way to the zone. It is thought the takeover will be complete in less than six days. There has so far been no information in the media about the condition of Farc combatants or possible civilian casualties.

In his public speech, Andres Pastrana referred to his concern for the safety of those civilians who have been resident inside the zone throughout the peace process, yet suggested the Colombian army would protect them. While we all hope this could be true, we are not that naive and the evidence of all too recent history casts very serious doubt upon this assertion.

When the army enters the zone, so too will their paramilitary soulmates. Already hit lists are circulating among the civilian populations of the zone warning certain people to leave if they want to stay alive. One such list has the names of around 30 people, all accused of collaborating with the guerrillas. There is no doubt that we are about to be witnesses to a civilian bloodbath with government authorisation.

Under the new Law on Defence and National Security, the demilitarised zone is a major designated Otheatre of operation¹ in which the army will have total judicial autonomy, unaccountable to any civil judicial authority. In the name of Opublic order¹ they will have complete freedom to detain, torture, disappear, rape and murder with total impunity and without being answerable to any authority but their own. In addition, the new statute actively requires them to form new paramilitary groups from the civilian population, or so-called cuerpos civicos de convivencia ­ an echo of the vicious paramilitary groups formed in Uraba by top presidential contender, Alvaro Uribe Velez, which he called the Oconvivir¹.

If you know anything about events in Chechnya over the last few years, there may sadly be many parallels to draw with what seems imminent in Colombia¹s demilitarised zone and in other parts of the country.

The reasons given by President Pastrana for the rupture of the peace talks were the Farc¹s attacks on utility companies and their detention on 19 February of Senator Jorge Eduardo Gechem Turbay. The media representation of events since the last crisis in the peace process was patched up on 14 January 2002 gives the impression that the aggression has been all one-sided; that the government has been making every effort to make the peace process work, while the Farc has shown no will to do this.

However, much less emphasis is given by the media to the fact that State-sponsored paramilitaries and national security forces have been continuing their rampage of death and devastation in different regions of the country, most recently in Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta, Valle del Rio Cimitarra, Choco and Arauca, where assassinations and massacres have been accompanied by the forced displacement of thousands of campesinos. Nothing is done by the government. The army and police have been using the new national security statute to harass and arbitrarily detain those who do not profess to believe in the current neo-liberal, US-manipulated regime. I refer in particular to members of the Patriotic Union/Colombian Communist Party. And while the Farc attacks utility companies because of their corrupt owners and multinational involvement in usurping Colombia¹s natural resources and impoverishing further the Colombian people, trade unionists protesting the privatisation of public utilities and their sale to foreign multinationals are being threatened, disappeared and assassinated.

The detention of high-ranking politicians, while not desirable, is an attempt on the part of the Farc to compel the government to keep its commitment on the issue of prisoner exchange. Let¹s not forget, when the last big exchange was being discussed by the Farc and the government last year, the latter promised to release at least 50 Farc guerrillas from prison. In the event, the Farc released more than 250 political prisoners, the government a meagre 11. Where was the government¹s commitment to the peace process then?

Some of the main issues on the peace agenda presented by the Farc, after the dismantling of paramilitary groups, have been political and social changes to achieve a truly democratic society with social justice for all the people. However, instead of putting more ideas and resources into helping the millions of unemployed and underemployed people in the country, instead of putting more money into education so that even the poorest can benefit from at least a basic education, instead of making health care accessible to all the Colombian people, money and resources have been taken away from these projects. Financial constraints and IMF structural reforms, it has been repeated and repeated, have made it necessary to limit public expenditure, reduce workers¹ rights and environmental controls and open up the market to more multinational ownership. And yet, money for fumigations rather than alternative development, money to fund a far-reaching Onational security¹ statute, money to fund further impoverishment and enslavement to the neoliberal agenda, money to kill people and freedom, money for war is always available.

What is strange is that this latest and most final rupture in the process has coincided with the United States government agreeing to provide yet more military aid to the Colombian army and to allow this aid to be used directly against the insurgency as part of their Owar on terrorism¹.

This was a planned war, conceived in Washington. Its blueprint was Plan Colombia. The peace process was never going to work, because there were powers in the White House beyond our influence and deaf to our pleas making damn well sure it wouldn¹t.

The only hope now lies with the international community, but when we talk about the international community we are talking about governments. Governments protect each other. The only way they are going to be able to have any influence is by finally opening their eyes to the major role that has been and is being played by the United States and the Colombian State in the terror and violence that is killing and displacing thousands of innocent Colombian civilians every year.

To deny the integral responsibility of the US and the Colombian State and fail to confront them is just to see the terror, violence, repression and suffering go on and on ad infinitum.

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