Plan Colombia pays off for Washington

July 18, 2008

Two weeks after Íngrid Betancourt was freed from Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas, along with more than a dozen other hostages, the details of exactly what happened remain cloudy.

The FARC issued a statement late last week claiming that the commanders in charge of the prisoners were "traitors," but those same commanders clearly showed signs of having been beaten by the military as they were paraded before Colombian TV.

The captured FARC commanders' lawyer told Colombian television that, in violation of international law, the military had painted the helicopter used in the rescue with the insignia of the Colombia Red Cross, and some of the disguised military commandos sported International Red Cross emblems. After initially denying it, the Colombian government admitted on July 16 that at least one of their commandos had, in fact, worn a Red Cross emblem in order to fool the guerrillas, in violation of the Geneva Convention.

Meanwhile, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez welcomed Colombian President Álvaro Uribe to a summit meeting where he spoke of the necessity of restoring the economic and political ties with his "brother" from Colombia. This has provoked a debate among supporters of the Venezuelan revolutionary process about why Chávez has had kind words for his former rival, and what this means for the direction of the Venezuelan government.

Raúl Zibechi, a Uruguayan journalist and professor at the Latin American MultiUniversity of Franciscana, analyzes the situation after the hostage "rescue."

THE FIRST half of 2008 produced a sharp political change that allowed the local and global right wing, as well as the multinationals, to restore their positions and go back on the offensive. The change was not confined to Colombia, although its most important epicenter was there, but it extended to countries such as Argentina, Bolivia and Peru, as well as affecting the whole region.

If there had been a sort of strategic equilibrium between the FARC and the Colombian armed forces, in the last months, this has broken in favor of the state in Colombia. The guerrillas lost all possibility of negotiating a humanitarian accord under favorable conditions, they cannot maintain political or military offensives, they have suffered a severe loss of credibility among the population, and now they can neither count on any significant allies in the region, nor in the world.

Even so, the most likely scenario is that the FARC will continue its path, with decreasing ability for initiative and the likely fragmentation of its command and geographic fronts, as is suggested by the liberation of the 15 hostages.

Colombian special forces demonstrate counter-insurgency tactics at the Pentagon's Joint Civilian Orientation Conference outside of Bogotá
Colombian special forces demonstrate counter-insurgency tactics at the Pentagon's Joint Civilian Orientation Conference outside of Bogotá

The strategy outlined by the Southern Command of the U.S. military and the Pentagon, and expressed in Plan Colombia II, contemplates neither the definitive defeat nor negotiations with the guerrillas.

Eliminating the FARC from the scene would be a bad business practice for the imperial strategy of destabilization and re-colonization of the Andean region--what Fidel Castro has defined as a "Pax Romana." That project cannot be carried out without a direct or indirect war, or without permanently destabilizing the territorial and political configuration of the strategic region that includes the arc from Venezuela to Bolivia and Paraguay, passing through Colombia, Ecuador and Peru.

On the one hand, we are dealing with clearing the Andean region to facilitate current multinational businesses (open-air mining, hydrocarbons, biodiversity, monoculture for ethanol production) that depend as much on the appropriation of public goods as the displacement of the populations that still survive in those spaces.

We are not facing, what we might call, a "normal" capitalism, one that was capable in the past of establishing alliances and pacts that gave rise to the "benefactor" state, based on the triple alliance between the state, national business and the unions. We are dealing with a speculative-financial model and with accumulation by dispossession that substitutes negotiations for war and the extraction of surplus value with the appropriation of nature.

This system assumes the form of a criminal or mafia capitalism in countries like Colombia, not only because war and robbery work, but because these things form the central nucleus, the principle mode of accumulation. That explains the close alliance between the private war firms in Colombia that now employ 2,000 or 3,000 mercenaries nicknamed "contractors," with the paramilitary state that Álvaro Uribe heads, rooted in the alliance with paramilitaries and narco-traffickers.

In Colombia, three forces have opposed this order of things: the guerrillas, the left of the Democratic Pole and the social movements. The first group believes that it can win through force of arms or negotiate with this new power. The Pole does not recognize the role of Washington and the multinationals, as designers and beneficiaries of the paramilitary-mafia state, and therefore overestimates the democratic margin that exists. The social movements, for their part, have big difficulties to overcome on the local and sectoral scale, and are not in any condition, for now, to put themselves forward as an alternative.

PLAN COLOMBIA II was responsible for designing the militarist state and is, right now, searching for a way to consolidate it. Now that the FARC no longer represents a major threat to this project, the long-term plan appears clear.

Far from opening space for negotiations, as the left wants, the message from the last months indicates only one path: neither peace nor surrender guarantees the lives of the guerrillas. They can fight and resist or wait to be exterminated, as happened at the end of the 1980s. Their territorial nuclei will be hit to displace them towards the border zones with Venezuela and Ecuador, where Plan Colomba II aspires to convert them into an instrument of regional destabilization.

This is why Venezeula and Hugo Chávez adopted the strategy of reducing tension with the Uribe government.

We are not dealing with an ideological question, as some analysts might expect. This debate might be worthwhile around the tables of a café or in academic offices, but it has little use when dealing with the survival of projects for social change. If the empire consolidates itself, the entire region will suffer from the polarization, and that is the reason for the urgency of removing these conflicts, as much in Colombia as in Argentina and Bolivia.

Neither will an eventual victory by Barack Obama modify things. It might temper the most authoritarian aspects of Uribe-ism, which explains the unease of the government in Bogotá and their hoped-for alliance with the Republican candidate [John McCain]. What is certain is that the plans of the Southern Command do not depend on the tenant in the White House. They plan to promote integrated action in the region that converts it into a stable zone and an impregnable bulwark to maintain American hegemony on a global scale.

In sum, the imperial elites plan to use the force of arms to reverse their decline, and this means re-colonization for Latin American. In a period such as this one, only mass mobilization of the people and political means can contribute to weakening the offensive coming from the North.

First published on Translated by Todd Chretien.

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