End Plan Colombia! Speech from the US Social Forum, June 2010

Speech by Karen Sullivan, member of the Anti-War Committee, at the US Social Forum in Detroit, Michigan in June 2010.

Hi, my name is Karen Sullivan, and I’m with the Minnesota Anti-War Committee. I’ll be speaking to you today about conditions in Colombia – more specifically the last ten years since Plan Colombia has been in effect. I’ll be addressing Plan Colombia’s total failure, which has resulted in atrocities, such as displacements, murders, kidnappings and the like, that have affected the Colombian people. Other panel members will be addressing others topics more in-depth, to include the seven military bases, and revolutionary movements within Colombia.

On July 13, 2000, President Clinton signed Plan Colombia into law, under the pretext of the war on drugs, making Colombia the third largest recipient of US foreign aid, and a focus of US foreign policy. Plan Colombia, however has done little to curtail the wave of drugs coming into the US.  The almost 9 billion dollars the US has sent in military aid since 2000, however, has had horrendous results in Colombia. It has paid for military and paramilitary human rights abuses including massacres, disappearances, kidnappings, and threats to social justice and labor activists and their families.

Most of the aid is spent on attack helicopters, weaponry, hi-tech surveillance planes and equipment. Money is also used to outfit and train “counter-narcotics battalions.” These batallions combat left-wing guerrillas and have been linked to countless atrocities and massacres against campesinos, trade unionists, and students who the Colombian Government have accused of supporting the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – People’s Army (FARC-EP). US military personnel, intelligence, and contractors are stationed in Colombia, providing direct support to the Colombian government in the counter-insurgency war. Under the guise of a war on drugs, the U.S. government has given billions of dollars to protect U.S. business interests, fund death squads, and quell peoples’ movements for social and economic justice. In fact, Colombia receives more US military aid than any other country outside of the Middle East. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and Colombia Action Network delegations have documented that the right-wing Colombian government uses US tax dollars to kill and threaten trade unionists, human rights workers, and campesinos (peasants) who organize against the US’s free trade agenda.

In 2003, using the “War on Terror” as a justification, the Bush Administration won more increases in military aid and involvement, including a $100 million military aid project to protect an oil pipeline in Northern Colombia. That money was attached directly to the Bush request for funds for the war in Iraq!

One of the many tragedies of Plan Colombia is the chemical spraying of crops near Amazonia.  The chemical spray kills all crops leaving the land barren for 2 to 3 years, taking away the farmer’s main source of income. The only crop that can actually grow on the affected land is the coca plant.

FENSUARGO, the largest agricultural workers union in Colombia is demanding that the US stop sending military aid and advisers to Colombia.

On May 15th, 2006 FENSUAGRO mobilized 150,000 campesinos, indigenous people, Afro-Colombians, and students to protest unjust socio-economic conditions. They occupied the Pan-American Highway for several days and were confronted by paramilitary forces. Some of the activists “disappeared” at checkpoints. Two days later, they were attacked and fought back with rocks. At least 60 people were wounded and several were killed.

Political assassinations and disappearances are all too common, and trade unionists are the hardest hit. US corporations even employ paramilitary groups to intimidate, threaten and murder Colombian union leaders. Coca-Cola is now the subject of an international boycott campaign, because of its use of violence against its union workers.  Colombia is the most dangerous place to be a trade union activist in the world. US corporations like Coca-Cola, Chiquita, Drummond, and Occidental Oil, hire paramilitaries to target trade unionists in order to kill union organizing and negotiating efforts. This corporate-death squad link has come under increasing scrutiny recently. Drummond Coal and Chiquita Banana have faced, and continue to face civil suits in the U.S. for their employment of paramilitaries to murder and intimidate union organizers at their sites in Colombia.

In 2004 the U.S. began a new form of intervention in Colombia. The U.S. kidnapped and extradited Colombian rebel leader Ricardo Palmera of the FARC-EP while he was planning a U.N. negotiated prisoner exchange. Later, in 2008, the U.S. Military planned and commanded the Colombian government’s assassination of FARC leader Raul Reyes in Ecuador. This violated Ecuador’s sovereignty, eroded hope for prisoner of war exchanges, and raised tensions throughout South America. These acts show how the  U.S. violated the sovereignty of both Ecuador and Colombia, damaging peace efforts. It should be noted that Colombia’s newly elected President, Jaun Manuel Santos, was the Minister of Defense who oversaw these blatant acts. Unfortunately Santos will most likely continue to support US Imperialism, as the Obama administration is preparing to interfere further in Colombia’s decades old civil war, with indictments against other rebels.

Colombian human rights, labor & other activists are calling for an END to U.S. military aid & intervention, because it fuels a war against civilians. Paramilitary death squads work hand-in-hand with the Colombian military, and reap the benefits of US military aid. The paramilitaries, along with the military, are responsible for 80% of Colombia’s human rights violations, which is the worst in Latin America.

As I have attempted to briefly explain, as long as the Colombian government keeps spending its resources fighting, killing, and torturing the Colombian people, the solidarity movement in the US should demand an end to all aid – both military and “humanitarian” – to Colombia.