Colombia: Destablising the 'new Latin America'

Just weeks after the Ecuadorian and Venezuelan governments called on Colombia to respect the need for peace and negotiation with the guerrilla group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People's Army (FARC-EP), the Colombian of President Alvaro Uribe launched an extensive armed air and land assault against the insurgency movement.

This assault by the US-funded and-armed Colombian military took place within the sovereign territory of Ecuador.

On March 1, the Colombia illegally deployed a military campaign within Ecuador that resulted in the deaths of Raul Reyes (the FARC's chief negotiatior) and up to 19 other FARC combatants. Such actions are a clear display of the US-backed Colombian state's open negation of international codes of conduct, law and social justice.

These actions took place days before major international demonstrations, including within Colombia, scheduled for March 6, which were promoted by the National Movement of Victims of State-Sponsored Crimes, the International Trade Union Confederation, and countless social justice-based organisations.

The international demonstrations, which occurred in over 60 cities globally, were in protest against the torturing, murdering and disappearing of people by the Colombian state, their allies within the paramilitary United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC) and the newly reformed Black Eagles.

Recently, Uribe's top political adviser, Jose Obdulio Gaviria, proclaimed that the protesters should be criminalised. Paramilitaries in Colombia's south-west, near where the illegal incursions into Ecuador occurred, threatened to attack any organisation or person associated with the protests.

It is believed that the Uribe government aimed to utilise the slaughter of Reyes and others to deter people within and outside Colombia from participating in the March 6 events.

Numerous researchers, scholars and lawyers have supported recent calls to declare the FARC a legitimate force fighting against the corrupt Colombian state.

In January, Ecuador's foreign minister Maria Isabel Salvador argued that the FARC should no longer be depicted as a terrorist organisation. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez also declared that, far from a terrorist force, the FARC are a real army occupying Colombian territory and sharing in the Bolivarian vision promoted by Venezuela for a new Latin America.

Mexican deputy Ricardo Cantu Garza has also promoted the recognition of the FARC as a belligerent force legitimately fighting against a corrupt and unequal socio-political system.

As prominent US attorney Paul Wolf argued: "The FARC-EP are a belligerent army of national liberation, as evidenced by their sustained military campaign and sovereignty over a large part of Colombian territory, and their conduct of hostilities by organised troops kept under military discipline and complying with the laws and customs of war, at least to the same extent as other parties to the conflict ... there is no rule of international law prohibiting revolution, and, if a revolution succeeds, there is nothing in international law prohibiting the acceptance of the outcome ..."

Disturbingly, in the face of the FARC's promotion of a humanitarian prisoner exchange and peace negotiations with the state in a demilitarised zone, the Uribe government has opted for systematic violence.

After researching Colombia and the FARC for years, independent journalist Garry Leech argued that, "there is no evidence that the FARC is anything but one of the armed actors in Colombia's long and tragic domestic conflict".

However, the Washington Office on Latin America's Coletta Youngers has stated: "The US government now views the Latin American region almost exclusively through the counterterrorist lens, though the region poses no serious national security threat to the United States ..."

Youngers argues that the FARC cannot be correctly framed within the concept of global terrorism, which "negates their political projects".

Characterising the FARC as a foreign terrorist organisation dramatically alters the dynamics of the peace process in favour of a killer state. Stipulating that the FARC is terrorist results in the inability for legal peace negotiations to take place between the FARC and any government that subscribes to the categorisation.

James Petras and Henry Veltmeyer argue that labelling the FARC and its supporters as terrorists "puts them on the list of targets to be assaulted by the US military machine".

The terminology of terrorism is perfect for imperialist ideology. It is a very open-ended reference that "allows maximum intervention in all regions against any opposition" and "any group engaged in opposing militarism, imperialism ... or local authoritarian regimes could be labelled 'terrorist' and targeted", argue Petras and Veltmeyer.

After years of increased violations of civilian human rights, the ongoing suppression of trade-unionism, assassinations of left-of-centre activists and politicians, and with 75 governors, mayors and Congressional politicians alleged or found guilty of having direct links to the paramilitaries — including the vice-president, defence minister as well as Uribe's brother and cousin — the Colombian state has deemed it necessary to illegally encroach upon nations with government's whose ideology it opposes.

It is now clear that the Colombian state, with the full backing of the US, aims to impose its will through force.

The Colombian regime is neither humane nor democratic. The current Colombian state must be transformed, sooner rather than later.

[Assistant professor James Brittain and professor Jim Sacouman are sociologists at Canada's Acadia University. They have been researching the Colombian civil war and political economy for the past decade.]