Colombia: A US-backed terror state

December 4, 2009

By waging a brutal war against its own population on behalf of transnational interests, the Colombian state has earned the endorsement of successive Washington administrations. They have lavishly rewarded Colombia's ruling elite with high praise and billions of dollars of military aid.

The corporate media have also responded favourably, depicting Colombia as a democracy under threat from "dictatorial" Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, in need of US support.

Under the guise of combating guerrillas and narco-terrorists, this moral and financial support has contributed to a murderous campaign against all forms of dissent inside Colombia's borders. Targets include trade unionists and leftists, women's groups, peasant activists, indigenous organisations, Afro-Columbian communities and other "surplus" elements that impede the advance of "free trade" with the US.

Hundreds of thousands have died in Colombia's long-running dirty war.

Trade unions and leftists

The US Labor Education in the Americas Project said "more trade unionists are murdered in Colombia than in all other nations combined".

Since 1991, right-wing paramilitary groups have assassinated more than 2200 Colombian trade unionists.

In the mid-1980s, paramilitary groups expanded with help from drug barons, large landowners and the US-funded Colombian army, which supplied them with arms and training. In 2006, Carlos Castano, the former head of the paramilitary umbrella group AUC, said: "We kill trade unionists because they interfere with people working."

Foreign corporations have worked closely with Colombia's paramilitaries. The most notorious example is Coca Cola's well-documented involvement in the assassination of several high-profile union organisers.

Members of lef-wing political parties have also been targeted by paramilitary assassination campaigns. More than 3000 members of the Union Patriotica party were murdered by the AUC, including the UP's leader and 1990 presidential candidate Bernardo Jaramillo Ossa.

Women and peasants

rmed groups have historically targeted men, but the number of female victims is on the rise. A 2002 report by the UN's Special Rapporteur on violence against women said attacks on Colombian women are widespread, systematic and often go unpunished.

In the city of Barrancabermeja, the grassroots Popular Women's Organisation (OFP) has been targeted by the AUC for defending human rights and taking part in non-violent anti-war initiatives.

The international development agency Panos London said OFP member Esperanza Amaris was abducted and murdered in October 2003. The AUC culprits — who dumped the body of this 40-year-old mother of two by the roadside — had previously issued death threats on account of her prominent involvement in peace work.

Violent land seizures have driven about 4 million rural Colombians into internal exile. Under the US-funded Plan Colombia, at least 20,000 members of dissenting farming communities have been murdered by paramilitaries operating with the direct support of national army units.

The aerial spraying of herbicides contributes directly to the mass displacement of peasants. Nominally a tactic of the "War on Drugs", the Colombian government's US-backed chemical warfare eradicates not only commercial coca plantations, but every crop in the area.


In July, the Permanent Peoples' Tribunal (which investigates and tries global human rights violations) warned of "the imminent danger of physical and cultural extinction faced by 28 [Colombian] indigenous groups".

The tribunal said this genocide is the direct result of the "Colombian government, as well as other armed actors and national and transnational sectors, [participating] in different ways in the deployment of strategies that have the objective of expelling indigenous peoples from areas of economic interest".

It also described a "widespread" trend in which indigenous civilians are the target of "terror sown by armed groups, frequently at the service of transnational companies, in order to both clear out the territory before the start of economic activities and to clamp down on protests against such activities".

The human rights of Afro-Colombian communities have also been systematically violated. Along with the indigenous peoples, regions with the highest concentration of Afro-descendant communities are the most seriously affected by transnational/paramilitary aggression.

Afro-Colombian activists have argued that the economic and physical aggression waged against them amounts to genocide by stealth. Mega "development" projects such as the huge expansion of palm oil plantations endanger the Afro-Colombian culture and social structure, which has developed over the past 500 years.

It is no coincidence that, for the past five decades, the Colombian state has proved itself both an exceptionally loyal ally of the US and one of the most oppressive and bloodthirsty regimes in Latin American history.

Today — under president Alvaro Uribe — it remains the worst human rights offender in the western hemisphere. Although paramilitary groups have begun to demobilise, the killings continue.

Intent on reasserting US control in the region, and to combat the formation of strong revolutionary movements in Venezuela and elsewhere, the Barack Obama administration plans to export the repressive Colombian model to the rest of Latin America with an expanded network of US military bases.

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