Ernesto Aguilar on Colombia, the FARC, and a future without imperialism

The following editorial is from 

In August, Juan Manuel Santos ascended to Colombia’s presidency. His election is not unusual for Colombia, which has been under U.S. influence for many years. Previous president Alvaro Uribe stood against the South American popular upsurge, led by Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, but which runs strong throughout the rest of the continent. This clash was in spite of Chavez’s many overtures to help previous Colombian leaders bring the armed opposition factions to the negotiating table. Egged on by the Bush Administration, Uribe opted for force over diplomacy. With such proving to be a largely failed strategy, and U.S. as well as Colombian resources for fighting a civil war drying up, where the nation goes from here is anyone’s guess.


Colombia has been a target of criticism in the international community for human rights abuses as well as close ties with the United States that some have alleged has sought to destabilize populist governments in the region, specifically Venezuela and Bolivia. Amid international pressure and changing strategies by the opposition, Santos will be forced to reconsider Colombia’s course. 

In the United States, efforts to educate people about what U.S. tax dollars are doing to Colombia are growing. While actively or materially supporting a host of Colombian opposition movements is illegal in the U.S., whose government has branded many organizations as terrorist, groups like the Colombia Action Network speak out on abuses. Online, groups like the National Committee to Free Ricardo Palmera and those supporting change in Colombia are seeing censorship by Facebook, but have recently been restored

Meanwhile, groups like the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, known by its Spanish acronym FARC, are attempting to change its image with a new approach, hinted at in Guillermo Leon Vargas’ [Alfonso Cano] recent statements to Al Jazeera. Surely, groups battling U.S.-supported governments globally understand that, as financial problems threaten the ability of the U.S. to continue funding initiatives like drug interdiction – itself shorthand for military bankrolling – gestures toward peace and civil society can only benefit longterm. And, if history has taught us anything it is that a determined revolutionary force south of the U.S. border can halt an oppressive government and even take it over. Consider the FMLN’s recent ascent to power in El Salvador, the Sandinista victory in Nicaragua and even the UNRG in Guatenala. U.S. money may buy guns, but over a protracted war, they can’t buy a people’s desire for food, justice and sovereignty. With the FARC talking about government corruption and needs of the people, the Santos administration is on the defensive. 

The sociopolitical climate in Colombia has been misread by many people as a problem of simply the drug war. However, Evo Morales, interviewed in Oliver Stone’s film South of the Border, gives a fuller picture. For him and millions in the global south, what is happening in Colombia is imperialism, plain and simple. For decades, U.S. interests have sought friendly leaders and officials receptive to whatever North American interest was in vogue at the time. Sometimes it was bananas or coffee or maybe it was controlling precious metals or coca leaves. Books like The Open Veins of Latin America remind us of the sorry history of imperialism in Central and South America – a doctrine that has been used and abused around the world, but which is today seeing resistance, from the streets of Colombia to the jungles of India. 

Mural of South America's "Liberator" Simon Bolivar and FARC-EP founder Manuel Marulanda


Colombia’s election may or may not be a precursor for upcoming elections in Argentina and in Brazil. Both countries have seen leadership from the center-left in Brazil to the Chavez-allied administrations in Argentina. These nations have seen wide support from their constituents, who have deep objections to the loan arrangements handed out in South America by the International Monetary Fund and World Bank. Author and journalist Greg Palast has further reported on a scourge of what he calls vulture capitalists, those seeking to make big bucks over the world’s poorest people. Santos has made preliminary steps to mend bridges Uribe burned, but he has a long way to go. 

Colombia’s fortunes are likely to rest on a new approach that will require an embrace of a new society, one less yoked to what its neighbors perceive to be U.S. support with strings. And though it is doubtful negotiation with the FARC is an option anytime soon, a new Colombian administration must balance out the necessity for security with modeling a domestic policy that respects human rights, dissent and free exchange on the future for a country grasping for solutions. A decision this week by a Colombian court to declare unconstitutional an Alvaro Uribe-brokered deal that gave U.S. troops access to its military bases is encouraging. The world can only hope Colombia’s dimmest days are behind it, for the sake of all of South America.

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