Plan Colombia: Talking peace, preparing for war

"When the peacemakers aim their guns, of course they shoot to pacify, and sometimes they pacify two birds in one shot." (Mario Benedeti, Ode to pacification)

Over the last few months we have witnessed the pompous presentation of the so-called "Plan Colombia". This plan sponsored by the government of the United States and supported by the governments of other countries (including the Spanish government) has been presented as an effort to eradicate the drug trade in this Latin American country and move forward to peace in the region. In reality it is an imperialist plan disguised as an anti-drug plan, which aims to strengthen the capitalist grip on the region.

What is Plan Colombia?

The first aim of the plan is to encircle economically and politically the Colombian guerilla groups (in particular the FARC, the strongest among the Latin American guerilla armies), to weaken them, and to defeat them militarily. Or, as is most probable, to reach an agreement where the guerillas disarm, which in practice will mean their surrender.

To achieve this American imperialism has decided to intensify its military support to the Colombian army, while at the same time it is trying to involve the neighbouring countries in its military strategy (military bases in Peru and Ecuador have already been used for this purpose; the United States has been given the use of the Manta military base in Ecuador for a period of 10 years). US$ 1.3 billion have been invested by the United States in the Colombia Plan. 70% (US$ 900 million) has been earmarked for military training and the delivery of weapons to the Colombian army. According to the Plan, military "advisors" and "instructors" (with a total limit of 500) will also be sent from the United States. This number can be modified says the document if there is "proof of an aggression", opening the door to a direct military intervention at any moment from the United States.

Apart form the military offensive, the Plan is set to ruin economically the areas under the control of the guerrillas by fumigating them with a fungus (called Fusarium Oxysporum) which according to different experts and ecological groups will devastate the local ecosystem. The effects on human beings is still unknown.

According to the official version, the aim is to destroy the coca and poppy plantations and to stop the supply of cocaine and heroin to the United States. What they are hiding is that those drugs were introduced by the US ruling class themselves into the working class neighbourhoods of the US in the sixties to prevent the struggle of the youth. They also hide the fact that drug addiction among young Americans has been stimulated by the desperate working and living conditions there.

They are also silent about the fact that the major plantations of coca leaves and poppies in Colombia are the property of those same landlords who finance and lead the different paramilitary groups who are fighting the guerrillas. Some of them have not hesitated to come out publicly in support of the Plan Colombia. Another aspect which is hidden in the shadows is that the drug trade generates enormous profits for Latin American, the US capitalists, the Colombian military, the fascist paramilitaries and of course the CIA. Let us not forget that two years ago US Congressmen denounced the "Agency" for promoting the drug trade in the US as a means of financing the "Contras" in Nicaragua.

Does anyone seriously think that those plantations, so politically and financially very profitable for large sections of the capitalists, will ever be destroyed by this Plan? The repression and the consequences of fumigating with gas and fungus will only be felt by the thousands of small peasants for whom the coca and poppy agriculture represents the only alternative for survival under capitalism. Growing coffee or cacao beans is simply suicide for those peasants because of the collapse in the price of those products on the world market. The price collapse is forced on the peasantry by the Western multinationals in order to increase their profits. There is no doubt that the Colombia Plan will not bother the big landowners and the paramilitaries in their thriving drug trade with the American capitalists. The final result of the destruction of the small coca and poppy plantations in the areas controlled by the guerrillas will be the effective monopoly for those big landowners, not only the production and the trade, but also of the growing of coca and poppy itself.

The destruction of the sole source of income for thousands of peasants can only lead to an increase in misery, which in turn, will increase the hatred for imperialism and the capitalist state. That is one of the most important risks related to the implementation of this Plan. It explains the scepticism of a layer of bourgeois strategists. Moreover, a greater destabilisation of Colombia would rapidly spread to neighbouring countries and even to Brazil, the economic engine of the continent. This would be a nightmare scenario for the ruling classes of Latin American.

The Colombia Plan is also an acknowledgement by a part of the local capitalists and by "yanki " imperialism of the growing difficulties of maintaining its control over the region by "peaceful" and "democratic" means.

Towards a new Vietnam?

Decades of dirty war, numerous failed peace agreements and more than a year of stagnation in the negotiations between the Pastrana government and the FARC have not advanced the stability of Columbia. This can only be explained by the incapacity of capitalism in the whole of Latin America to make any lasting important economic, social and political concessions to the workers and the peasants.

As part of this, we need to take into account important differences in Colombia today. Whereas in the past imperialism was able to impose more easily its plans to defeat the guerrillas, this is not the case at present. Not only is the degree of class struggle on a higher level (compared with the serious decline of mass popular resistance movements in the first half of the 90's, we are now witnessing a rise in the class struggle in the whole of the continent), but the FARC itself has a solid position which was lacking in other guerrilla movements in the past. The FARC controls 40% of the territory and commands some 17,000 well-armed and well-trained guerrilla fighters. This relative strength of the guerrillas stands in sharp contrast to the divisions and the decomposition of the state, which in turn. weakens the whole of the Colombian bourgeoisie. This situation has convinced the United States to intervene directly in an attempt to change the balance of forces.

The end result of this intervention is not yet clear. One section of the capitalists, also in the US and internationally, fears entering an uncontrollable escalation of the war. "It is a profound mistake. This is how Kennedy started in Vietnam and this led to the loss of the lives of 50,000 compatriots", warns David Obey, a Democratic member of Congress (quoted in El Pais, 27/8/00).

The trauma of Vietnam is still haunting American society. If they could choose they would prefer another means of controlling the area before resorting to a direct and massive intervention with US soldiers. Such an intervention we should remember would have revolutionary consequences in the whole of the continent. The question is: are they able to choose? And for how long? "In this kind of conflict everybody knows how to start it, but nobody has the slightest idea of how to end it", explains a Republican member of Congress in the same article in El Pais.

Although it is possible that the negotiations between the guerrillas and the government will continue (a breaking off of these talks would have a radicalising effect on the conflict) and that some kind of agreement cannot be excluded (at least with one sector of the guerrilla leaders), the most probable perspective is of an exacerbation of the conflict. Even if they arrive at some kind of agreement (something increasingly remote) not one of the problems of the workers and the peasants will be solved. This in turn will lead to an increase of the violence.

The first result of the launching of the Colombia Plan and of Clinton's lightning visit to this Andean country has been the escalation of the fight between the FARC and the army. The context in the profound crisis of Colombian capitalism and if the polarisation intensifies in the whole of the continent, as a result of the class struggle, the conflict will reach new heights. The FARC could be in a situation where power will be within arm's reach. If the leaders of the FARC had a socialist programme, or if at least they supported the same measures of expropriation and radical land reform of the other guerrillas, they would probably be able to take power rapidly. Unfortunately, by limiting their program to democracy without breaking with capitalism, this perspective of power is hampered and fills the future with more uncertainty.

Imperialism and the bourgeoisie cannot tolerate for ever the existence of a guerrilla force controlling and governing half of the country and threatening its hegemony. If they are presented with the slightest chance to change this situation, they would not hesitate to use the most barbaric methods in their possession to achieve it.

The only thing which can give peace, land and work to Colombia and the rest of Latin America is socialism and workers democracy. To achieve this the most conscious workers and peasant activists will have to build a mass Marxist organisation based on the methods of struggle, and the traditions and strength of the working class who represent the majority of Colombian society (and in the whole continent). This working class has already shown his revolutionary potential in the general strike which only a few months ago paralysed the country.