Colombia – a Model US Client State and a Dangerous Place to be if you are a Trade Unionist
What is the British Police Involvement in Supporting Colombia’s State Repression?
It is one of the mysteries of US Foreign Policy that it applies sanctions against Cuba and Venezuela for ‘human rights violations’ but Colombia, next door to Venezuela, as America’s favoured child, is immune. Maybe what Roosevelt is reputed to have said about Nicaragua’s dictator Somoza, is applicable: ‘he may be a son of a bitch but he’s our son of a bitch.’
Although there has been a decline in the number of murders in recent years, Colombia is still one of the most dangerous place in the world to be a trade unionist. At least 14 trade unionists were murdered in Colombia between January 2019 and March 2020.
Perhaps that is why Britain’s National Crime Agency was attracted to the idea of training Colombia’s murderous police. An article in Declassified UK by Matt Kennard reveals that the NCA has spent £2.3 m in the past 5 years training a police force that has killed 63 people since May whilst suppressing protests over the government’s proposed tax reforms.
Kennard describes the NCA as ‘UK’s secretive law enforcement arm that operates globally but which is shielded from any transparency.
The NCA “engaged” with “Colombian law enforcement agencies to improve their capability”. However the NCA refuses to answer any questions as to what that engagement means, its own role or even which police units it is training.
An article in the Guardian on 7th July ‘I just need my son’: the people who disappeared amid Colombia’s protests’ reveals how 77 people have disappeared since April as the people have risen up in protests. Of course disappearances are nothing knew when it comes to American client states in Latin America but what it does demonstrate is the thread of hypocrisy which runs through US foreign policy.
Only Cuba and Venezuela are subject to sanctions whereas in the case of Colombia and similar death squad regimes, the West trains, funds and supports their military – all in the name of human rights!
Dolores Barros is looking for her 17 year old son, Duvan, who disappeared on 5 June. ‘The disappearances have evoked memories of some of the darkest days of the country’s civil war’.
In several Colombian cities the Police have detained protesters in extrajudicial sites, using football grounds and shopping centres to hold people without formally charging them. People with long memories will remember how Chile’s Junta detained people in Santiago’s football ground prior to murdering them. Folk singer Victor Jara had his hands and fingers crushed or chopped off by soldiers who then riddled his body with bullets.
Colombia is a good response to groups like If Americans Knew who believe that United States support for Israel is because of the Israel lobby which distorts the true, peace-loving nature of US foreign policy.
Kendrick Sampson, the actor and Black Lives Activist described his experience of a trip to Cartagena, Colombia where he had a traumatizing experience with police brutality. Earlier this year in Cartagena, local civil rights organizations declared a local emergency because of the number of young Black men being killed by police. And during protests in Bogota last autumn, at least 13 people were killed in clashes with police after thousands flooded the streets in protest of the police murdering Javier Ordoñez. Sampson wrote that:
In the U.S., we need to keep pushing our leaders to move billions of our taxes out of fundamentally violent systems like military, police and prisons and move that money into community led and operated systems that repair the harm done, and center care of those who need it most. That is what will keep us safe—care and repair. The U.S. has zero legitimacy in speaking out against abusive policing and militarization if it continues funding it, here and abroad.
We have to understand the struggle for Black liberation is an international struggle in solidarity with all oppressed peoples. From Palestinians in Shiekh Jarrah facing ethnic cleansing, to the Rohingya people, to police brutality in Brazil and Colombia. We must commit to stand with all people fighting against state-sanctioned violence and continued imperialism and colonialism. Our liberation is inextricably linked together. None of us are free until everyone is free. Let’s get free together.
The situation in Columbia has deteriorated markedly since “President” Ivan Duque came to power in 2018 (through fraud & backed by narco paramilitary funding). He is known to be a puppet front under the influence of ex-president Alvaro Uribe Velez, listed as trafficker #82 in declassified US official documents. Uribe is still free despite having hundreds of legal cases against him for narcotrafficking, paramilitarism, and massacres of civilians.
The most horrifying genocide which was perpetuated under his presidency (2002-2010) was the assassination of 6402 innocent young men who were enticed under promise of work in distant regions and assassinated and then passed off as guerrillas (known as ‘false positives’ but more correctly extra-judicial executions) in exchange for benefits and holidays for military officials and to demonstrate to the public that Uribe’s “democratic security” policy was effective against the FARC guerrillas.
The mothers have formed a network to look for their disappeared sons. See Colombian military accused of 6,400 extrajudicial killings
The rate of unionisation in Colombia is less than 4% but trade unionists are still threatened and killed yearly. According to the latest ITUC report Colombia is among the 10 worst countries for working people.
Even after the signing of the Peace Process in 2016, social and environmental leaders have been murdered at the rate of approximately 1 nearly every day. ie more than 200/year as well as trade unionists, indigenous and black leaders and women leaders, adding up to 1180 in the last 5 years
Paramilitary armies which the state uses to carry out state terrorism are still in their thousands free to roam the country now that the FARC guerrillas have left. The government blames “armed drug trafficking” groups but these are not the main assassins of social leaders. The government turns a blind eye when the police or army are found to be collaborators with these groups.
Colombia has extreme land concentration, environmental deprivation, underfunding in health education, pensions etc.. In other words a savage neoliberalism coupled allied to a police state. A horror which the mainstream media keeps pretty silent on.
Hence there are plenty of reasons for the General Strike which has gone on continuously since the 28th April 2021 and is now in its 61st day.
Over the last month during the strike 67 people were murdered by the riot police, more than 1500 injured, about 50 young people have had permanent eye injuries and sexual assaults by the police. The number is increasing as the strike has not stopped.
Further Information on the situation in Columbia
Colombia Solidarity has a revamped web-site which has some good all-round analysis of the situation in Colombia.
There are also some good recent articles in the Jacobin magazine
Also the US NGO Wola
You can find articles in Open Democracy such as Why Colombia has erupted in protest and Alvaro Uribe, the Colombian ex-president, faces judicial worries in the US
See also ‘I just need my son’: the people who disappeared amid Colombia’s protests Guardian 7.7.21.
Justice for Colombia has info on trade unions and the demobilised FARC combatants.
You can also have a look at ABColombia which is the umbrella body for NGOs