Colombia and Venezuela: Who's behind the rising tensions
Feb 18, 2008
In early January, in a unilateral move, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of
Colombia (FARC) released two women it had been holding. Its aim was to
demonstrate it was serious about wanting to negotiate a humanitarian exchange
of prisoners with the Colombian government.
An estimated 500 captured FARC fighters are held in Colombian government
jails under horrendous conditions. The guerrilla group is believed to have
detained about one-tenth that number of people.
On Feb. 2, President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela, who had facilitated the
release of the two women and provided helicopters to pick them up, announced
that the FARC would soon be releasing three more people—Gloria Polanco de
Losada, Luis Eladio Pérez and Orlando Beltrán Cuéllar, all
former members of Colombia’s Congress—to the Venezuelan government.
FARC said it was in “recognition for the persistent efforts to achieve a
humanitarian accord” by Colombian Sen. Piedad Córdoba and
Chávez. Córdoba, whose electoral constituency is largely
Afro-Colombian, is in opposition to the current government of President
Since Uribe had last summer authorized the humanitarian exchange efforts,
and even asked Chávez and Córdoba to make the arrangements, one might
think the success of their efforts would be applauded by Uribe’s
right-wing political base as easing the strife of a long civil war in their
country and perhaps even leading to broader negotiations.
One might think that, but one would be wrong.
On Feb. 4, large right-wing demonstrations were held in many Colombian
cities and abroad denouncing the FARC. They had been widely publicized in
advance by all the major pro-government media. The Colombian stock exchange
closed down for it, bosses pressured their workers to attend, and the
government shut down schools and public services for the rally, according to a
well-informed online report by Kiraz Janicke of the Australia-Venezuela
What had caused Uribe and the privileged oligarchy he represents to so
change their minds?
Perhaps it was the very favorable response to the FARC’s gesture from
the Colombian people, including even the families of soldiers and others
detained by the guerrilla group. Perhaps it was the right wing’s fear
that revelations about the close link between the Uribe ruling group and the
murderous Colombian paramilitaries were becoming a huge scandal.
Whatever caused the ruling circles to change their minds on the humanitarian
exchanges, the demonstrations had the same flavor as the ones that preceded the
coup against the pro-socialist reformer, President Salvador Allende, in Chile
in 1973. In those demonstrations, it was made to appear that ordinary
housewives were angry at Allende and blamed him for food shortages. In the ones
in Colombia, the media emphasis was on the youth, who were said to have
organized the marches using the Internet facility Facebook.
But in both cases, the role of U.S. imperialism in encouraging, facilitating
and putting a media spin on the marches cannot be denied. In Chile, the
demonstrations were followed by a fascist coup d’état that put Gen.
Augusto Pinochet in power. The military murdered Allende and thousands of trade
unionists, socialists and communists in the first few days.
There is, of course, no progressive government to overthrow in Colombia. But
U.S. imperialism and the corporations it represents, particularly the oil
companies, are in an increasingly dangerous struggle with neighboring
Venezuela, where Chávez has been trying to raise the educational and
material level of the masses of people, using oil revenues to pay for it.
Amazingly, this is openly attacked in the U.S. business media as a
“cynical maneuver” by Chávez to get mass support. How come no
“cynical” U.S. politicians—and there are many of
them—ever follow his example? Are they afraid they’d be taken down
by the so-called “intelligence” community, which works hand in
glove with the corporations?
Colombia out of synch
Colombia has been out of synch with most of the rest of South America,
especially since Chávez was elected president of Venezuela. In country
after country, militant, mass protests followed by elections have ushered in
governments that at the very least espouse some independence from Washington
and put an emphasis on closing the huge social gap between the oligarchy and
the oppressed popular masses, many of whom are Indigenous or of African
By contrast, Uribe and his privileged political base depend on massive U.S.
military aid to stay in power. This ruling group wants to tie Colombia’s
economy to a “free market” agreement modeled on NAFTA. In Mexico,
NAFTA has brought huge profits to U.S. agribusiness and misery to the workers
and farmers, driving them to emigrate in huge numbers.
In his State of the Union address this year, President George W. Bush put a
big emphasis on urging Congress to pass a trade agreement with Colombia. Three
high-level U.S. officials—Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Michael Mullen,
director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy John Walters and
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice—recently visited Colombia, where they
attacked Venezuela in speeches.
President Chávez has said that the U.S. is planning to use Colombia in
a military aggression against his country. There is plenty of compelling
evidence to support this charge.
Progressives everywhere should be prepared to answer the flood of propaganda
that would accompany such an event and mobilize in solidarity with the working
people of Venezuela and Colombia, who are trying to free themselves from the
clutches of the profiteering U.S. transnationals and their thugs.