Interview with Diego Escobar

Interview with Diego Escobar, a Colombian Trade Unionist, a local representative of ASONAL-Judicial. Diego knows very well what it means to be persecuted by the vicious Colombian ruling class. We interviewed him while he was attending the UNISON Delegate Conference 2004.

"The fundamental thing is that Capitalism must be smashed in each revolutionary process"

The hypocrisy of imperialism, and of US imperialism in particular, stinks to high heaven. While they are using all means possible to destabilise Venezuela and remove a democratically government, the government of Hugo Chavez, their attitude to neighbouring Colombia is completely different.

One of the most dangerous places in the world to be a trade unionist is Colombia. Over the last few years a big number of trade union activists and shop stewards have been imprisoned or executed by the Colombian government. In many cases, the paramilitaries backed by the government, have been doing the dirty work of removing militant trade union activists. Their crime was to have fought for better conditions for their class. We would like to express our respect for the brave struggle of these trade unionists in Colombia who are paying with their lives for their commitment to the struggle of the working class.

However, the imperialists do nothing to stop this. Why should they? After all, the Colombian regime is on their side. They even lend a helping hand by sending paramilitaries into Venezuela to do some of their dirty work.

Diego Escobar is a local representative of ASONAL-Judicial (a trade union which organises the workers in the judicial system in Colombia). He is also the Secretary of the Solidarity department in the CUT (Colombian Trade union Confederation) in El Valle del Cauca. Diego knows very well what it means to be persecuted by the vicious Colombian ruling class. We interviewed him while he was attending the UNISON Delegate Conference 2004.

What are you doing in Britain?

It was an idea of War on Want (an NGO) which is linked to SINTRAENCALI (Colombian trade union linked to the CUT). I am the coordinator of the body in charge of raising solidarity with our cause abroad. I came here to denounce the real conditions in my country. The situation for the working class and the peasants is really bad. We are in a situation of general impoverishment. I am also here to denounce the lack of respect for basic human rights, especially in the judicial sector where I am working.

What do you expect from the British working class?

We want to deepen the brotherhood and solidarity between peoples, not only in Europe but all over the world.

We think that as imperialism and capitalism are internationally organised our struggle must also be international. What is your opinion?

Yes, of course, we must fight in a global fashion but in a genuine way as well. We need to set up an international body to coordinate the struggle of the workers, an international body free of bureaucrats. Yesterday, in the UNISON international meeting, I proposed the idea of the creation of an international forum to coordinate the struggle of the working class on an international scale. This forum must come from the trade unions themselves.

What is your experience as a trade unionist in Colombia?

The situation for the trade unions in Colombia is really complicated due to the alliance between the national oligarchy, the stockbrokers and the multinational corporations. For them it is really important to control Colombia as the first step in controlling the whole of Latin America. I say this because the militant tradition of the Colombian working class, the students, the peasants and the communities. They have brutally clamped down on these movements, but they still have the problem of the guerrillas. Their strategy is to depict the trade unions as the social and political lever of the guerrilla groups within the civil society. Thus the ruling class threatens and victimises trade unionists using the guerrillas as an excuse.

Why do you think that imperialism wants to smash all sorts of opposition in Colombia?

Colombia has always been a target of imperialism. One of the reasons is that we have the oldest guerrilla group in the world. In the late nineties and early 2000 Lucio Gutierrez came to power in Ecuador, then Lula followed suit in Brazil and Chavez in Venezuela. So imperialism has focussed its attention on these countries. They managed to convert Lucio Gutierrez and others to neo-liberal policies at the service of the IMF.

However, for the USA it is still necessary to smash the Colombian guerrilla groups. In fact Colombia feeds on the insurrections and social movements that take place in the whole region. When the Colombian oligarchy sees that the area is unstable they rush to call "Daddy" USA to calm things down. And of course they always come running.

What do you think about the events that are taking place in Venezuela?

In Venezuela we have seen that the social movements are in the vanguard of the revolutionary process. The Venezuelan Revolution is pretty unique because it strength comes from below. There is an empowerment of the "pueblito" (a Latin American phrase used to describe the poorest sections of society). At the moment Chavez is the person who is giving back social rights to the people. Within the public administration he has been the only one in all Latin America who has passed laws in favour of the people. For instance, there are the Fishing Act, the Land Act, the process of re-nationalisation of formerly privatised companies… He is making the people see that they have rights. The best example is the new Bolivarian Constitution.

What is your opinion on this statement of Chavez: "Each peasant, each fishermen, each student and each member of the people should learn how to use arms"?

Due to the "mess" in the "backyard" there is the danger of US intervention. Therefore the national consensus gives two options. 1) Take up arms to defend the conquests already achieved. 2) Permission from the State to give an opportunity to the opposition to take power through democratic means.

I personally think that Chavez will be successful in the recall referendum. However, there are lots of dangers in the situation. For instance many bosses have put pressure on their workers to vote against Chavez. Camilo Torres said that, "the ones who count the votes are the ones who win the elections" and now the Bolivarians are controlling the process. Nevertheless the revolution cannot be stopped by legal means. But the revolutionary process must be strengthened.

I think a key question is the fact that Colombia is being used against Venezuela through the Plan Patriota. Patriota was the name that Simon Bolivar and his army were given. That is why the imperialists use this name. They want to confuse and to cover the military and oppressive nature of this US plan using this term which belongs to the Latin American masses.

Do you think that the Bolivarian Revolution must break with capitalism to move forward?

The main aim of a socialist revolution is to smash the means of accumulation of wealth and the means that generate inequality. It also means to stop the expropriation of the peoples by foreign hands. It means the self-determination of the peoples. For me the fundamental thing is that Capitalism must be smashed in each revolutionary process.