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U.S. War Widens

by Carolyn Connelly |
August 1, 2002
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With the election of Alvaro Uribe Velez as president, the U.S. media says that Colombia is entering a new phase in "the war against terrorism." President-elect Velez's platform calls for an end to negotiations with the armed insurgency and for a military solution to the conflict. The big story that's not being told is that more than 50% of registered voters abstained in the election. Community organizations in Colombia suggest that close to 80% of the electorate in the countryside opted out. With right-wing paramilitaries monitoring voting in many areas in the countryside, and Army tanks rumbling through poor neighborhoods in the cities, the election results are anything but a popular mandate to expand Colombia's civil war.

President-elect Velez is well known as a former mayor of Medellin. He ran the city when it was an infamous center for cocaine distribution. As mayor, he was a friend of drug lord Pablo Escobar and the paramilitaries protecting him. While serving as director of Colombia's Civil Aeronautics Agency in the early 1980's, he handed over pilot licenses to the Medellin cocaine cartel, enabling them to ferry large quantities of the drug out of the country.

With over half of the Colombian people living below the official poverty line and unemployment over 20%, the Velez government will try to keep a lid on the growing instability. The U.S. looks to Velez to crush the guerrilla insurgency of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN). In addition, the Bush administration expects he will support economic policies favorable to U.S. corporations under the banner of "free trade."

The Velez election brought a swift increase in joint army and death squad activity. Large scale battles have been taking place in the municipalities of Caqueta, Arauca, Narifio, Antiquia, and near the capital city of Bogota.

In the weeks preceding the presidential elections, right-wing death squads began going town to town accusing community leaders of being FARC supporters and executing them.

Since the government walked away from the peace process and attacked the demilitarized zone, the war has expanded. The FARC is stepping up its activities in the cities. Widely considered an unbeatable movement, the FARC has an ever-expanding military capacity and wide popular support amongst Colombia's working class poor and the peasantry. Across western and southern Colombia, FARC military fronts have reported stinging defeats for the Colombian Army and death squads.

In these battles, the U.S. media lies, claiming the FARC is targeting civilians. For example, in the town of Bojaya, 117 civilians were killed in a Catholic church by a stray FARC mortar shell. United Nations investigators confirmed the FARC account of the tragedy. Death squads used civilians in the church as human shields, while the Colombian Army let over 250 death squad members pass through three separate checkpoints.

Resisting a recent attack in Medellin, hundreds of civilians stood face to face with U.S. made tanks chanting, "The people united, will never be defeated," and threw rocks and bottles at the invading force. The FARC, ELN and other liberation organizations helped to defend the poor neighborhoods.

The powerful response of popular organizations and the FARC to the widening war point out the bankruptcy of U.S. policy in the region. It's time for solidarity activists here to step up our organizing against these policies and back the peaceful end to the conflict demanded by the Colombian people.