Other Blood on Their Hands

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While apologists
for Bush’s and Blair’s murderous adventure in Iraq see a “silver
lining” in pseudo-events in the Middle East, real events in Colombia
illuminate the universal nature of their “mission." The latest
tells a horrific story that, had it qualified as news, probably
would have been reported as a tragedy whose victims “paid the
price of cocaine paid with blood." That was how the London Observer
on 13 February represented the suffering of Colombia, which is
typical of most of the American and European press, with a Foreign
Office minister assuring us that Colombia’s woes all could be
blamed on drugs; and that the “Oxford-educated” president of Colombia,
Alvaro Uribe, was “trying to rein rogue elements of the army”;
moreover, the British government was helping him in his noble
cause. As for America’s colossal military involvement in Colombia,
known as “Plan Colombia," whose expenditure rates just behind
the billions spent in Iraq and Israel, this was merely “controversial”
and “aimed at eradicating the [drugs] trade…." As for Bill Rammell,
the junior Foreign Office minister responsible, it seems, for
most of the planet, the Observer reported that he had identified
a moral issue in Colombia. For the English caring classes, said
Busy Bill, snorting cocaine “should be as socially taboo as was
drinking a bottle of South African wine during apartheid."

Busy Bill
was in Pyongyang not long ago, telling the North Koreans it was
just not right for them to have nuclear weapons. That his own
government was armed to the teeth with nuclear weapons was, of
course, irrelevant. Prior to that, Busy Bill was telling me, in
an interview at the Foreign Office, that the Chagos Islands in
the Indian Ocean, whose entire population had been brutally and
illegally expelled from their homeland by British governments,
could not possibly return because they would be at mortal risk
from the “rising sea." When the tsunami struck on Boxing Day,
it spared the Chagos — as the Americans knew it would: that is
why they colluded with the British to kick the inhabitants out
and build a vast military base in what the US Navy calls “the
superb, secure and outstanding environmental conditions” on Diego
Garcia, the principal island.

Let’s leave
Busy Bill for a moment and return to Colombia. On 21 February,
according to witnesses, soldiers of the 17th Brigade of the Colombian
Army entered the Peace Community of San Jose de Apartado, in the
northwest of the country. The community has no political alliance
and is internationally renowned and “protected” by the Inter-American
Court of Human Rights. According to witness statements, the soldiers
abducted and murdered eight civilians, including three young children
and a teenage girl, who were hacked to death with machetes. Among
them were Luis Eduardo Guerra, the community leader, his partner
Bellanira and son Deiner; Guerra was admired as a remarkable humanitarian
and conciliator. Since 1997, his people have suffered more than
130 murders; there have been no convictions.

The United
Nations has called for an investigation; the United States has
called for an investigation; and so has the Foreign Office. If
the past is a guide, the latter two will be confident that this
latest horror will blow away and Colombia’s faade can be erected
again. For just as Bush and Blair are soaked with blood in Iraq,
so they are in Colombia.

The Colombia
military and police have the worst human rights record in the
Western hemisphere. That the government of “Oxford-educated” Uribe
is any better than his predecessors and that drugs alone are the
cause of more than 20,000 murders every year is a fiction promoted
in Washington and London. No one doubts that FARC, the peasant-based
guerrilla group, has trafficked in cocaine, but the overwhelming
majority of the drugs trade and the violence in Colombia are the
responsibility of the state, its military and paramilitaries,
funded and trained, directly and indirectly, by the American and
British governments. Moreover, the issue of cocaine is a distraction:
the fuel of the conflict, not the cause. The victims are the likes
of Luis Eduardo Guerra and his family, and trade union activists,
teachers, land-reformers, indigenous and peasant leaders who work
to promote social and economic justice and human rights. In his
study of British foreign policy, Unpeople, the historian Mark
Curtis wrote: “The war in Colombia is essentially over the control
of resources in a deeply unequal society: the elite, especially
the large landowners, control most of the wealth while the majority
of the population lives in poverty. The basic role of the state
is to marginalise the popular forces and ensure that Colombia’s
resources — notably oil — remain in the correct hands. [US and
British] strategy is to support this… The ‘war on drugs’ is
a cover.”

Death squads
linked to Colombian governments have been so successful in driving
people off their farms that 76 per cent of the land is now controlled
by an elite of less than three per cent of the population. Given
the close links between the military and the paramilitaries, says
Douglas Stokes, at Aberystwyth University, “US military aid is
going directly to the major terrorist networks throughout Colombia,
who traffic cocaine into US markets to fund their activities.”

The Blair
government, in common with other European governments pressured
by the United States, refuses to say exactly where most of their
tax payers’ millions of pounds of “drugs related assistance” to
Colombia end up. “We do not give details of all the support,”
says Bill Rammell, “nor of specific units to whom we provide assistance,
as to do so could reduce its effectiveness and potentially endanger
the UK personnel involved.” We get his drift. His predecessor,
Keith Vaz, was less shy. “We should give as much support as possible
to the government of President Pastrana,” he said in January 2000.
Read Amnesty’s reports on the murderous connections of the Pastrana
regime and you certainly get his drift. As for Uribe, the Blair
government’s propaganda is that he has an “impressive” record
of “containing crime and violence." They mean that he has allowed
the Colombian police, military and paramilitaries to “pacify”
the cities and make sections of the Colombian middle-class feel
safer. No one sees what they do outside the suburbs. In Uribe’s
first year as president, there were nearly 7,000 political killings
and “disappearances," worse than the average during the four years
of Pastrana.

the American-inspired European Union line, Rammell has been promoting
the Uribe regime, and his omissions are many, such as the fact
that the chemicals used in turning coca into cocaine all come
from the US and Europe, and that significant British oil investments
and human rights violations are two sides of the same coin, with
BP protected by the Colombian military, and the pipeline company,
in which it is a major shareholder, investigated for its reported
links with a notorious army brigade. Such is the state-sponsored
menace in Colombia that British non-government organisations,
together with their Colombian counterparts, are at constant risk.
“We regularly urge the Colombian government,” says Busy Bill,
“to support and protect their work…."

The murderers
of Luis Eduardo Guerra and seven others, including children, must
be quaking.

18, 2005

was born and educated in Sydney, Australia. He has been
a war correspondent, filmmaker and playwright. Based in London,
he has written from many countries and has twice won British journalism’s
highest award, that of "Journalist of the Year," for his
work in Vietnam and Cambodia. His new book, Tell
Me No Lies: Investigative Journalism and Its Triumphs
, is
published by Jonathan Cape next month. This article was first published
in the New Statesman.

John Pilger 2005

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