Monday, October 6, 2014
Paramilitarism: the main obstacle to peace in Colombia
By: Pablo Catatumbo, September 25, 2014.
The growing importance of the Havana peace talks in the eyes of world public opinion makes it necessary to analyze frequent events in our country's recent history that were previously ignored or silenced, and which have delayed the achievement of the much desired Peace.
On the occasion of important events like the start of the discussion on the item "Victims" in the Agenda of the General Agreement, the implementation of the "Historical Commission of the Conflict and its Victims" and the very important "Subcommittee on Gender" it becomes necessary to start a national debate about the nature and existence of paramilitary groups in Colombia, since the clarification of this issue is planned for this stage of the talks, according to the Agenda.
The Colombian case is unique in the sense that what we know as paramilitaries ("death squads" in most Latin American countries), existed before the emergence of revolutionary guerrilla movements.
Interestingly, in our country the counter-insurgency was founded before the insurgency. US interference is to be held responsible for this in the first place, together with the foundation of the "School of the Americas" and early involvement by Colombian troops on the side of the imperialists in the first hot war of the Cold War: The Korean War.
«In Colombia, the anti-communist fanaticism of the McCarthy era was wantonly and slavishly adopted by the ruling class and the military leadership, with tragic consequences for many people in the country»
The Colombian Armed Forces have used anti-communist counterinsurgency manuals, written by the US army since 1958 - long before the rise of the FARC-EP and ELN - in the context of adopting for Colombia the "French counterinsurgency doctrine" applied in Indochina and Algeria. The US updated this as "National Security Doctrine" which it extended and applied throughout Latin America.
Those manuals recommend the creation of paramilitary groups in order to eliminate opponents and opposition leaders, as well as carrying out covert actions of political sabotage, "psychological warfare", "Civil-Military Operations" and the systematic use of torture as a weapon of war. In Colombia, the anti-communist fanaticism of the McCarthy era was wantonly and slavishly adopted by the ruling class and the military leadership, with tragic consequences for many people in the country.
In this regard, we can find ample evidence in the archives of declassified US files as well as in the materials and actions produced by the Army training centers. That's why a real commitment to truth and clarification of the national tragedy should include the publication of their files by the Armed Forces.
Returning to the issue of the application of counterinsurgency tools derived from the foreign doctrine of "National Security", we can observe its practical application in the criminalization of social protest, the selective executions of popular leaders and the organized repression against groups of communist peasants who had accepted amnesty and surrendered arms in southern Tolima.
«The murder of Charro Negro was the trigger that set off, 4 years later, the war in Marquetalia»
The high military command of the time, guided by the Liberal and Conservative parties, sponsored liberal groups that had supposedly demobilized, but who in reality were incorporated in the conflict again as counterguerrilla forces under the hypocritical name "Guerrillas for Peace."
"Mariachi", the brothers Loayza, "Arboleda", "Peligro" and others were part of these groups. Today, the strategy is still the same; demobilized fighters are linked to the conflict again as informants or members of paramilitary groups.
It was these groups, this paramilitary structure, acting as a spearhead, together with the security forces, that started attacking the agrarian project of the communists in southern Tolima and prevented peace from being consolidated. Suffice to remember the backstabbing betrayal and infamous murder of Jacobo Prías Alape, historical political leader of the people from Marquetalia, on January 11, 1960 in Gaitania at the hands of one of the mercenaries of "Mariachi", nicknamed "Belalcázar". The newspaper "El Tiempo" presented it as "the result of an intense gunfight between rival factions." The murder of Charro Negro was the trigger that set off, 4 years later, the war in Marquetalia.
Many years later, Manuel Marulanda spoke these words to a group of guerrillas of the unit "Isaías Pardo", his personal guard: "It was the political and military leadership that ordered the followers of "Mariachi" to commit this murder. With the passage of time, Charro's death has led to a national confrontation which has great prospects for producing changes... Armed uprisings are not always caused by the death of a comandante; this is virtually unique. Anyway, the spark was lit in Marquetalia and that was the serious beginning of the revolution, which we're seeing the result of now".
«Common factors were the connivance of the traditional parties, the direct support of the Army in the areas and of regional economic powers»
The murder of "Charro" was followed by the death of other guerrilla leaders like "Vencedor" and "Media Vida" and the Natagaima massacre, which occurred on September 26, 1962, and left 27 communist-affiliated peasants brutally murdered. This led to the emergence of what later became known as "the 26 of September Movement", one of the groups that gave rise to the FARC.
These events, notable among many other horrendous episodes of working people in this region who suffered massive victimization due to political intolerance, were triggering the logical reaction of the peasantry, which, years later, led to guerrilla warfare, the initial creation of the "South Block" and afterwards the current FARC-EP.
However, these initial episodes were not the only ones. With the progress of the popular movement and the prospects for the unity of the left, new local paramilitary experiments emerged and developed.
This happened in regions such as Puerto Boyacá, Cimitarra, Yondó, Urabá and Córdoba. Common factors were the connivance of the traditional parties, the direct support by Army batallions in these areas and by regional economic powers. There were American, British and Israeli (Yair Klein and others) and also Central-American advisors. And the worst complicity: the media, which imposed the discourse of a "legitimate self-defense", the "guerrilla fighters dressed up like civilians" and "everyting is allowed".
«This was an organization that was similar to the one that existed in Argentina, and with which the most cruel of all crimes of state terrorism began in Colombia: the forced disappearance of people»
The emergence of the Patriotic Union in 1984 would open a new scenario for paramilitary actions by the Public Force: the carrying out of a real political genocide against members and supporters of this alternative political proyect for peace. Other political projects in development, like the Popular Front, A Luchar, peasant and indigenous organizations and the nascent United Workers, CUT were subjected to similar treatment.
Names such as MÁS, MRN, the Triple A, "Grillos", "Tiznados", "Mano Negra", etc. followed one after another.
Behind these acronyms was the new alliance between extreme economic and political right, drug trafficking and the top leadership of the Armed Forces.
There is well documented evidence about Harold Bedoya Pizarro, former commander of the Armed Forces, former military attaché at the Colombian Embassy in the United States, student and later teacher of the US military school 'School of the Americas' at Fort Benning (Georgia), being the founder of the "triple A", a sinister local extension of Operation Condor. This was an organization that was similar to the one that existed in Argentina, and with which the most cruel of all crimes of state terrorism began in Colombia: the forced disappearance of people.
In the 1990s, when paramilitarism united around the acronym AUC, many people tended to see it as a sort of "personal project" of the Castaño brothers, to hide the commitment of the establishment and economic power with this "project"; and to conceal the direct connivance of national and foreign entrepreneurs, landowners, legislators, governors, mayors, media, battalions and brigades, with the expansion of the new paramilitary "blocks".
«Prosecutors concluded afterwards that the trucks belonged to the battalion Palacé of Buga»
I directly encountered the warmongering and political practices of the AUC, since I was part of the guerrilla command that was in charge of repelling its project to occupy the Central mountain range in Valle del Cauca in 1999.
We were eyewitnesses of the material and logistical support by the Battalion Palacé of the Third Brigade, based in the city of Buga, to the so-called "Calima Block".
Kodiak trucks that belonged to that battalion transported paramilitary groups from Buga to the mountainous area of Buga, Tulua, Sevilla, Caicedonia and Bugalagrande; they were the ones who carried out the massacres of El Placer, Alaska, La Moralia, Ceylán, La Marina, Monteloro, Santa Lucía and Barragán. As mute witnesses and evidence of what is said here, there are three of those trucks with plates at a place called "El Diluvio", burned by guerrillas after clashes in the village "El Placer". Prosecutors concluded afterwards that the trucks belonged to the battalion Palacé of Buga.
Neither the military and police officers nor the civil authorities of the region moved a finger to defend these peasant communities victimized by those horrifying massacres.
We, the guerrilla fighters of the FARC and the Jaime Bateman Cayón movement, went out in defense of that homeless population, until we managed to defeat the paramilitary threat after nearly two years of confrontation.
While all this was happening, the great entrepreneurs of the sugar industry in Cali, Palmira, Tuluá, Buga, Bugalagrande, Florida and Pradera, met in Cartago in the farm of alias "Rasguño", to agree with Castaño, "Rasguño", "DonDiego", "Chupeta" and other mobsters, regarding the shares of the financial support they would provide to these paramilitary hordes. Confessions of H.H to prosecutors give ample witness to what we say.
«Colombia's Peace requires full elucidation of all aspects of this paramilitary reality and its conjunction with the actual power that is ruling in the regions»
The regional media welcomed and praised the "rescue work" of the AUC, as we can see in articles by the two columnists of the newspaper "El País" from Cali, Diego Martínez Lloreda and some paramilitary scribbler named Mario Fernando Prado.
Colombia's Peace requires full elucidation of all aspects of this paramilitary reality and its conjunction with the actual power that is ruling in the regions. It also requires its effective dismantling and guarantees of non-repetition. Without this, there will be no peace in Colombia, since the paramilitaries remain a clear reality in all regions of the country.
The final question is: Are the Colombian establishment, the State, the entrepreneurs and the traditional political parties mature to assume the elucidation of this truth and the dismantling of the sectors that have boosted, sponsored and exalted paramilitary action in Colombia?
This is not mere rhetoric; we say it with sincere conviction and full patriotic responsibility: In the answer to this question is the likely outcome of the Peace Process in Havana. Because indeed, paramilitarism - the official and the mafia version - , is the main obstacle to achieving peace in our country.
President Santos said: "The key point... the heart of the problem, is the point of the victims and what is called transitional justice. Therein lies the heart of the solution to this conflict. The most difficult thing".
Mr. President may be right, this is an obstacle that we must overcome, but to solve what he calls "the heart of the problem", we need to solve the problem of paramilitarism. That is what Peace in our country depends on.
With the active, impune and rampant paramilitarism as currently exists in Colombia, it is impossible to carry out political activity of opposition against the establishment. That's the biggest challenge we face.
Posted by Alter P at Monday, October 06, 2014