Coral Wynter & Jim McIlroy, Caracas
Hernan Durango is a Colombian journalist for the progressive Venezuelan daily newspaper Diario Vea, who was forced to flee his homeland eight months ago due to death threats from right-wing forces. In Colombia he was a leader of the Central Unity of Workers (CUT), the country's largest union federation, and a militant of the Communist Party of Colombia (PCC). He spoke to Green Left Weekly in mid-June about the May 28 presidential election in Colombia and the political situation there now.
Incumbent pro-US President Alvaro Uribe was returned to office after the electoral commission declared he had won 62% of the vote, a higher result than he achieved in the last election in 2002. Durango, however, described the election as a "huge fraud", noting that "out of a total population of 44 million, 26 million Colombians were eligible to vote, but only 12 million did".
The rigged character of the election, he said, was indicated by the fact that "independent election scrutineers were excluded". Durango pointed out that hundreds of teachers who had volunteered as scrutineers were excluded from local, vote-counting committees.
Polling booths "were removed from areas where the [Democratic Alternative Pole opposition candidate] Carlos Gaviria had a lot of influence. Also, 200 polling booths were moved from rural areas where the peasants live to central city areas, which the peasants had difficulty reaching.
Other elements contributing to the rigged nature of Uribe's victory were "the role of money power, the narcotraffickers, in the elections, the abuse by Uribe in the mass media against Gaviria, and the small amount of coverage given to the opposition campaign.
"In the case of the outside world, including Venezuela and other countries where Colombians live, other people voted instead of the registered voters.
"This also happened in Colombia itself. In many regions, there was a high rate of abstention. Many people just didn't vote. It was arranged by the pro-Uribe camp that other people would vote in their places. This is a process of organised fraud, which was made possible by the fact that the election scrutineers were all supporters of the president."
Durango also noted that paramilitary groups supporting Uribe intimidated people to vote for him. "The bosses of the paramilitaries shamelessly campaigned for the president, guns in hand, to ensure that people voted for him.
"Many forms of pressure were used. The paramilitaries and the army prevented Gaviria from campaigning in many parts of Colombia. In other areas, where the opposition was strong, some leaders of the local community were assassinated. Others were forced to leave because of threats."
Discussing the achievements of the Gaviria campaign, Durango said: "We were very happy with the support for the left, the 2.6 million votes that Gaviria received. It's a very good vote, very positive. Never before has the left in Colombia received such a vote. We beat the Liberal Party, which came third.
"Our opponents were Uribe, the Liberals, the Conservatives, the landowners, the narcotraffickers, the big business people, and the proprietors of the mass communications media.
"Colombia is a staunch prop of the US in Latin America. Uribe is the principal defender of North American policies in the region. This is why we have the intervention of US soldiers in Colombia."
Asked about the role of the US military in Colombia under Plan Colombia and Plan Patriota, Durango explained: "There are officially 1000 technicians, soldiers and advisers that we know about. But there are an estimated 20,000 [US military personnel] who are not on the list."
Durango said that Uribe's war against the left-wing guerrillas of the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) is intensifying, with new confrontations every day. "The government does not have the desire to engage in dialogue, to look for a political solution to the conflict.
"The government aiming to increase its military operations. Every day, the Colombian military is fulfilling Plan Colombia and Plan Patriota, helping the US. This creates an ever more difficult situation, with the armed forces being continually expanded.
"The government has also made fake negotiations with the paramilitary groups, so that, today, instead of disbanding, the paramilitaries are actually growing. These groups handed over arms in front of the television cameras, but they have in fact kept as active as ever. They have kept up intensive activity all over the country.
"This is a real threat to Venezuela. It is certain that groups of paramilitaries are crossing the border, and are becoming a danger to Venezuela. This is part of US policy — using Colombia against Venezuela."
Durango said the best trained of Colombia's right-wing paramilitaries are being stationed on the Venezuelan border "with sophisticated arms from the US, for a possible invasion of Venezuela".
Speaking of the current situation in Colombia, Durango said: "Colombia is the worst country in the world for violations of human rights. They had assassinated, up to August 7 last year, 342 trade unionists, as a direct policy of the state. This is a policy of the Uribe government."
On the position of the FARC, Durango explained: "The Uribe government has failed to destroy the guerrillas, even with its extremely violent methods, because the guerrilla forces are multiplying. We have to stress that this is a social conflict — the causes of this turmoil are social and economic. It won't be solved by military methods, through Plan Colombia, which is the government's policy, along with the US.
"The government must sit down with the guerrillas, as has happened in many countries where there has been armed conflict, such as El Salvador and South Africa. We have to struggle to achieve this, as the Uribe government has no sincere intentions of seeking peace in Colombia.
"The FARC are growing. They are strong, invincible. Every day they occupy more territory. They are demonstrating that they are a real political and military force. They have their international spokespeople. They have their webpage, their emissaries, their presence in society. They are not hidden. The only thing they don't have is a state.
"The world doesn't realise the extent of the problem. The president comes from the narcotraffickers. The narcotraffickers are in charge of government policies. The other thing to emphasise, so that the world understands, is that the North Americans are the principal obstacle to finding peace in Colombia. The US is the main enemy. The North American government policy is violence and war.
"Uribe seeks to strengthen the violence of the US, to increase the US military presence in the region. Together, they are fomenting threats against Venezuela.
"In this, they now have the support of [newly elected President] Alan Garcia in Peru. They fear that the people of Latin America are standing up and want governments representing their own interests. This is going to sharpen the confrontation in Latin America."
Asked about media coverage of allegations by Rafael Garcia, a senior official of the Colombian secret service (DAS), of a plot by the DAS to assassinate Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, Durango said: "The DAS official provided proof of the plan to murder Chavez, and it came from Uribe himself. This must be fully investigated. It is very serious, and affects Venezuela, as it implicates the Uribe government directly."
Explaining the source of the violent conflict in Colombia, Durango said: "Colombia is ruled by an oligarchy, the most implacable on the Latin American continent. We can see it is different in neighbouring countries. Venezuela is experiencing a revolution, with relatively few deaths. They say here it is a fight, but it is not like in Colombia. There, it is a bloody war.
"Any leader who emerges from the people is ordered to be murdered, or they have to leave the country. So it is a very hard situation. There is no real democracy in Colombia. There is a facade of democracy, but inside this, there is basically a civil dictatorship.
"The oligarchy are accustomed to this type of government. The US is accustomed to this type of government, maintained by violence. They use violence to govern. This is what we have in Colombia.
"The Colombian people are fighters, who are resisting in many ways. There are the guerrillas, who are engaged in a people's war. There is also the policy of unity of the various sectors, and the unity created by the Democratic Alternative Pole, the party of Gaviria. It is very broad, bringing together many sectors.
"It is a clear advance, so I think Colombia can see a light at the end of the tunnel. We are going to continue cultivating, strengthening the work we are doing. When you plant a seed, a flower emerges. In Colombia, I am confident we are going to see a whole garden of flowers some time in the future."
From Green Left Weekly, July 5, 2006.
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