by James Patrick Jordan
For years the US government has given the wrong kind of aid to Colombia – billions of dollars for war and repression, and to secure profits for global capitalism. It has made Colombia both a dependent state and a crucially strategic military colony for US imperialism. What it has not done is give any kind of adequate support for Colombia’s peace process or for the Total Peace Plan proposed by President Gustavo Petro, despite US responsibility for six decades of war. The US owes Colombia a debt of peace, and that debt is long overdue. (The Pentagon’s Yarborough Commission recommended in 1962 that the Colombian government organize paramilitaries and acts of terror, along with unilateral assaults against autonomous peasant zones. On May 27, 1964, following this advice, the Colombian Armed Forces launched an unprovoked and massive assault on the Marquetalia zone, beginning 60 years of armed conflict and civil war.)
In 2022, popular movements surged to elect Pres. Petro and his running mate, Francia Márquez, Colombia’s first Center-Left administration, and the first Afro-Colombian, woman, and grass roots activist to hold the vice-presidency. Even before they were elected, US actors were interfering and trying to manipulate the process, and this continues today.
The US government and its Wall Street overlords do not like the steps towards independence taken by Petro and Márquez. These include the normalization of relations with Venezuela, a call to end the War on Drugs, and efforts to advance the Total Peace Plan. The plan would include honoring commitments from the 2016 peace accords for rural development, illicit crop substitution programs, modest land reform, and the return of the displaced to the land they were forcibly removed from. These kinds of steps taken by a sovereign and legitimately elected government are not tolerable to the masters of the US Empire. The Empire’s aim is to either tame the Petro administration or get rid of it altogether.
Getting rid of Pres. Petro and Vice-President Márquez is precisely what is motivting efforts in the House to end all foreign aid to Colombia. The Thursday, July 27 House Committee on Foreign Relations Subcommittee on the Western Hemisphere held a hearing on “Colombia’s Descent into Socialism” designed to defame the Petro administration and justify the total cut in aid. The Republican led House is trying to legislate Colombia’s affairs from Washington DC indisregard for the nation’s sovereignty.
The Republican House leadership has been coordinating with the Colombian far right. However, the participation of Biden administration officials from the Department of State and USAID as featured witnesses is a sign that their efforts are not unwelcome to the Democratic Party establishment.
In fact, under Biden administration oversight, the DEA (Drug Enforcement Agency) attempted to embarrass, entrap, and derail Petro’s campaign with agents posing as Mexican narcotraffickers who wanted to be photographed with the candidate and contribute to his campaign. Since then, the Biden Administration has tried its best to tame Patro and bring him fully in line with US policies and plans for Colombia and all of Latin America. Biden administration participation in this hearing may be a sign that patience is wearing thin.
Gustavo Petro is not a socialist and neither is Colombia. But he is sufficiently independent and progressive and attuned to popular movements to warrant the attention of all the oligarchs and their servants in both Washington, DC and Bogotá. This has nothing to do whatsoever with socialism. Rather, these efforts reflect the most savage and brutal aspects of capitalism. Returning the dispossessed to to their territories, advancing access of rural families to land, rural development would all put some limited restrictions on transnational corporate and land baron access to natural resources.
Ending the Drug War would expose the lie behind it: that it has nothing to do with fighting drugs and everything to do with repressing and subjugating popular movements and governments, and establishing US military power over Colombia and the entire continent. In face, the very agencies that enforce the so-called Drug War as often as not are protecting major narcotraffickers. For instance, if one travels through the Naya region of the Department of Cauca, one will see miles of coca plantations punctuated by military checkpoints. Former Pres. Álvaro Uribe has even been recognized by the US Defense Intelligence Agency as one of Colombia’s top 100 narcotraffickers. Yet, he is the leader of Colombia’s Center-Right and is one of those with whom the Republican leadership regularly meets and consults to collaborate to undermine and topple Colombia’s duly elected government.
Cutting all aid to Colombia is not what they country needs. What it needs is support for peace. The US spends billions supplying the Colombian military, police, and jails, but little to nothing to help advance peace and an end to political violence that claims one life per day. The country’s National Protection Unit cannot even commit to assuring that working vehicles and other measures of security are available for the escorts who protect the most threatened social leaders, human rights defenders, and ex-combatant signers of the peace accords. The US has the resources to turn this situation around. Rather than supply yet more helicopters to the ESMAD riot police to harass popular movements and protesters, it should provide vehicles to help ensure the safety of those who risk their lives every day for peace in Colombia.
Instead, the leaders in the House want to punish the Petro administration not for its alleged socialist tendencies, but because he wants to achieve a Total Peace that would limit and inconvenience the vultures of profit. They prefer endless war and constant repression.
As people of the US, we must not only act now to sop this latest effort to isolate and neutralize Pres. Petro and the millions of voters behind him. We must demand that aid to Colombia not be ended but that it be changed. Not one dollar more for war in Colombia! Let’s fund peace instead.