Conference discusses US role in Colombian conflict

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Conference discusses US role in Colombian conflict

By Jorge Jorquera

QUITO, Ecuador — On November 25-26, more than 60 international delegates and 300 Ecuadoran human rights and social justice activists met here at the Conference for Peace and Development to discuss political developments in Ecuador and the threatened broadening of the conflict in Colombia. Delegates included Colombian peace movement leaders, academics and representatives of Colombian guerilla organisations.

The overwhelming concern of participants was the growing threat of United States intervention in Colombia, and the pressure on Latin American armed forces to support it.

On July 16, the joint chief of the US South Command, General Barry McCaffrey, requested US$1000 million for Colombia's Andres Pastrana government, arguing that it is in a "pre-crisis" situation. The money is earmarked to purchase helicopters, fighter planes and radar equipment.

Despite the United States' increasing economic domination of the region, old political alliances and certainties there are being transformed.

First, the US is about to lose control of the Panama Canal and has already declared its "right" to intervene unilaterally if the Panamanian government proves unable to maintain security.

Secondly, the Colombian guerillas could focus social unrest and struggle in their country and provide impetus for the rest of the continent.

Finally, Venezuela's populist Hugo Chavez government has revived the possibility of an anti-imperialist radicalisation, which had been suffocated by years of military regimes and social democratic collaboration.

The US is particularly concerned about Colombia, where the ruling class is divided and the guerilla forces have grown and proven politically steadfast. Pastrana has been forced into negotiations with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), and is entering negotiations with the National Liberation Army (ELN).

The FARC has made it clear that peace must include a wide range of social and political guarantees. However, the Pastrana government is not in a position to guarantee even the most basic liberal rights. The rule of law cannot be re-established in Colombia without undermining the exploitative capacity and interests of various elites. This explains why the US may step in now.

Pastrana does have one card to play: the Colombian population is war weary, and the paramilitaries have largely disconnected the guerillas from the urban social movements and working class. It is therefore possible that Colombia's peace movement may become a force that, in part at least, contributes to a watering down of the progressive content of any peace agreement negotiated between the government and guerillas.

These political developments fed a wide range of interesting discussions at the conference. Debate centred mainly on whether the conference should support a "peaceful" or a "negotiated political" resolution of the Colombian conflict; it eventually adopted the latter.

Participants were an almost even mix of revolutionary leftists, more or less radical human rights and peace activists, and ex-leftists moving towards social democracy. From Colombia, the FARC and ELN were represented, along with the old M19 current.

Panels and workshops reflected a divergence of views about which social agents could be counted upon to mobilise for a just peace. For many, though not most, the basic task in Colombia is to mobilise "civil society", which has an apparently inherent urge for peace and security. For the majority of conference participants, however, the path to peace rested on the development of a strong social movement in support of the principal demands of the guerillas, unions and indigenous and other social organisations.

In a communiqué responding to the Pastrana government's proposal for a cease-fire from December 15 to January 15, the FARC demanded that the cease-fire include an end to the government's most recent attacks on the Colombian people. They demanded no more taxes on working people, no more price increases on basic goods, readjustment of the minimum wage, a solution to problems in hospitals and educational institutions, the meeting of the immediate demands of energy workers, educationalists and transport workers, and the return of displaced peoples by December 15.

The conference proved a useful focus for solidarity with the Colombian people. An international network has been established, and another conference will be organised. The network will coordinate a continental, perhaps international, day of action in February and support actions in various Latin American countries against US military bases on their soil.