Saturday, March 8, 2008

US steps up pressure on India to wrap-up Indo-US nuclear treaty

By Arun Kumar and Kranti Kumara

With less than a year remaining in the Bush administration’s term in office, the US political establishment is showing increasing signs of anxiety about the progress India has made in finalizing the Indo-US civilian nuclear treaty. Both senior Republicans and Democrats have hailed the treaty as the cornerstone of an Indo-US “strategic” and “global” partnership.
The Telegraph, a Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) daily, reported on February 10 the mood in the US government as follows: “Ending weeks of silence on the Indo-US nuclear deal, America’s pointmen on the nuclear issue in both Washington and New Delhi today launched a concerted, two-pronged effort to get India to pursue the deal without further delay.”
The “pointmen” the article was referring to are US Undersecretary of State Nicholas Burns, who led the US team in its negotiations with India’s Congress Party-led United Progressive Alliance government, and the US ambassador to India, David Mulford.
“We don’t have all the time in the world, particularly since this is an election year... and so we hope very much that this process can now be expedited,” stated Burns.
Mulford was even blunter. During an interview on Indian television he said that if the nuclear treaty is “not processed in the present (US) Congress it is unlikely that this deal will be offered again to India. It certainly would not be revived and offered by any administration, Democratic or Republican” before 2010.
The following week a delegation of three influential US senators—2004 Democratic presidential candidate John Kerry, Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Joseph Biden, and Republican Foreign Relations Committee member Chuck Hagel—brought the same message to India. “If you don’t soon conclude the deal, the [upcoming presidential] elections in the US will have a bearing on the legislative clock,” said Biden.
The senators urged New Delhi to conclude mandatory agreements with the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and the Nuclear Suppliers Group no later than the beginning of June, so as to enable the US Congress to ratify the Indo-US nuclear treaty by July. After then, they claimed, the US presidential election campaign will effectively paralyze congressional legislative action.
The UPA government has encountered many obstacles in negotiating a “safeguard” agreement with the IAEA. For months, the Communist Party of India (Marxist)-led Left Front, which has been sustaining the UPA government in power since May 2004, opposed the opening of talks with the IAEA. And while last November the Stalinists did finally allow the UPA government to initiate negotiations with the IAEA, they continue to say that they will bring down the government should it implement the treaty, because the treaty would entangle India in Washington’s predatory foreign policy.
Negotiations with the IAEA have also proven difficult. Despite four rounds of negotiations with the IAEA, New Delhi has been unable to conclude an agreement.
Once a deal with the IAEA is reached India will still have to negotiate a waiver from the 45-nation Nuclear Suppliers Group (NSG), before it will be allowed to partake in nuclear trade. The NSG’s support is by no means guaranteed, since allowing India to engage in nuclear trade would give it special status within the world nuclear regulatory regime as a state that obtained nuclear weapons in defiance of the five “recognized nuclear powers” and continues to refuse to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
The US senators warned that if the Indo-US civil nuclear deal is not consummated, it will impact negatively on the Indo-US relations. “If the US is not able to ratify [the treaty],” said Biden, “it might be interpreted as rejection and lack of trust in India and that will be a shame because we want to tell you that we trust India and we value this relationship very much.”
Following on the senators’ heels, US Defense Secretary Robert Gates arrived in India February 27 for a two-day visit and promptly exerted still more pressure on the Indian government. “The clock,” said Gates, “is ticking in terms of how much time is available to get all the different aspects of an agreement implemented.”
Denying that he was interfering in the internal politics of India, Gates declared that the civilian nuclear cooperation deal “serves the best interests of both countries” and would have “positive global consequences.”
From the standpoint of US imperialism, the “positive” global consequences of the Indo-US nuclear deal would be:
* The forging of a strategic relationship with India, through which the US would be well-placed to transform India into a junior partner and ensnare the country in its imperialist geo-political designs in Asia, including domination of Mid-East oil and gas reserves; recruiting India into an anti-Iran alliance; checkmating Russia in Central Asia; and, most importantly, combating China’s growing influence.
* The opening up to US arms and weapons-systems manufacturers of the huge Indian
market for weapons, till now dominated by Russia. Penetrating this market would not only allow the US military-industrial complex to rake in huge profits, but would also have the added benefit of tying India even more tightly to US foreign policy interests by making the Indian military dependent upon the US for parts.
* To position US energy companies to garner a large share of the tens of billions of dollars India plans to spend in the coming decades on civilian nuclear technology and reactors.
Despite the threats of the Stalinist Left-Front to bring down the Congress-led UPA, there is every indication that Congress Party leaders will forge ahead with the deal, for they believe it offers India great benefits. It would end the more than three decades-old US-led international embargo on nuclear trade with India. It would provide de facto recognition of India as nuclear-weapons state and allow India to concentrate more of the resources of its indigenous nuclear program on developing its nuclear arsenal. In pursuing the deal, Washington has made clear that it recognizes India’s aspirations to be a world power and that it has jettisoned any conception of Indo-Pakistani “parity.”
As for the US’s plans to use the deal to bring India into its geo-political orbit, the Indian government and much of India’s geo-political-military establishment harbors the belief, or at least the hope, that India will be able to offset US pressure by simultaneously pursuing close relations with China and Russia, as well as the European Union and Japan.
On February 26, The Telegraph published an article entitled “Countdown to nuke D-Day after budget” that reported the political designs of the Congress-led UPA as follows: “The core of the Manmohan Singh government has resolved that it would cement an Indo-US strategic partnership before the end of its term, trashing opposition from Left parties and reservations about the Indo-US nuclear deal among some constituents of the UPA.”
The Congress-led UPA, in keeping with its plans to challenge the Left Front over the nuclear issue, last week presented a populist “election” budget that boosted spending on health care and education and offered debt relief to 40 million poor farmers.
India’s corporate elite is also strongly supportive of the UPA pressing forward with the nuclear deal with the US. The Times of India published an editorial February 22 entitled “We Won’t Get A Better Deal.”
The Times editorial lauded the “far -reaching changes in US-India relations” during George W. Bush’s presidency. “Whatever the international criticism of President George Bush, his presidency will be regarded as a period of far-reaching changes in US-India relations. The Bush presidency saw a historic delinking of US relations with India from those with Pakistan. ...
“[The US] has sought to complement rather than complicate our efforts to improve relations with neighbours like Nepal, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.
“Bush is the first US president to declare the importance of India in safeguarding the sea lanes of the Indian Ocean and in ‘creating a strategically stable Asia.’ US technology sanctions against India have been eased in the recent past.
“Outsourcing has grown unhindered. Finally, the nuclear agreement of July 2005 has provided a window of opportunity to end the international nuclear sanctions India has faced for over three decades now.”
The editorial went on to harshly criticize the Stalinist Communist Part of India (Marxist) or CPM, accusing it of doing China’s bidding in opposing the nuclear deal with the US. “There seems to be a striking similarity,” said the Times of India, “between the rhetoric of our communist parties and Chinese statements on the issue. Like the Chinese, our communist parties are opposed to India acquiring or possessing nuclear weapons, despite continuing Chinese assistance to the nuclear weapons and missile programmes of Pakistan.”
The reality is that the CPM is a vital prop of the Indian bourgeois state. In opposing the nuclear treaty with the US, it urges the Indian bourgeoisie, in keeping with its traditional “non-aligned” foreign policy, to forge closer relations with Russia and China, so as to promote a “multi-polar” world.
The Congress-led UPA government, in tandem with its burgeoning partnership with the US, has been continuing the BJP-led National Democratic Alliance’s (NDA) policy of pursuing closer relations with Israel. Israel is now India’s second largest arms supplier; on January 21 India launched an Israeli spy satellite aboard an Indian rocket despite strenuous protests from Iran.
While India has long had close relations with Teheran, since 2005 it has twice buckled under US pressure and voted against Iran at the IAEA. As a result of Washington’s opposition, India has also dragged its feet on concluding negotiations with Teheran on a pipeline project that would bring Iranian natural gas to India via Pakistan.
Taking advantage of India’s vacillation, the Chinese government has wasted no time in informing Iran that it would be willing to take India’s place as the third partner in the proposed pipeline project. Thus the Iranian-Pakistani-Indian pipeline, which was meant to underpin the Indo-Pakistani peace process, could well mutate into an Iranian-Pakistani-Chinese pipeline.
Given the immense difficulty and opposition facing the Indo-US nuclear deal both domestically and internationally, it is entirely possible that the Indian elite could ultimately find itself losing both the nuclear agreement and the Iranian gas pipeline deal.
In any event, as the mounting US pressure for the nuclear deal demonstrates, India—in lockstep with its integration into the world capitalist economy and resulting “rise”—is increasingly being drawn into the struggle amongst the great powers for resources, markets, and military-strategic advantage.

US: 63,000 jobs lost as economy continues downslide

By Patrick Martin
Total US employment fell by 63,000 jobs in February, the second consecutive monthly decline and worst showing in five years, according to a Labor Department report released Monday. The figure demonstrates that the recession in the US economy is worsening and that the corporate onslaught against the jobs and living standards of working people will intensify.
The stock market plunged 147 points, following Thursday’s drop of 215 points, in a decline that has taken the Dow-Jones Industrial Average to well below the 12,000 mark. The New York Stock Exchange closed at 11,893.69, its lowest point in nearly two years, and more than 2,100 points down from the peak last October 11. The total losses on all stocks traded are approaching three trillion dollars in less than five months.
The wave of selling was fueled by the jobs report, although Wall Street frequently celebrates such indicators of job market distress because rising unemployment dampens wage demands and business costs and makes it possible for the Fed to cut interest rates without sparking inflation.
In the current context, however, such concerns are dwarfed by the fear that rising unemployment will trigger a further wave of defaults on mortgages, credit cards and other consumer debt, exacerbating the credit crisis that has unfolded over the past eight months since the crisis in the sub-prime mortgage market erupted. Moreover, inflation is raging, symbolized by the soaring price of oil, over $106 a barrel in trading Friday, and the price of gold, now approaching $1,000 an ounce.
To be blunt, what Wall Street fears now is not a recession—it is already widely accepted that the US economy slipped into recession last fall—but the collapse of major financial institutions and market dislocations which could set the stage for a full-scale worldwide depression, of a kind not seen since the 1930s.
In an effort to stave off the wave of selling triggered by the jobs report, the Federal Reserve announced Friday that it would make $100 billion in new credit available to major banks this month, on top of $160 billion in short-term loans it has extended in occasional auctions since December. The Fed also announced that it will increase the size of the short-term lending in auctions set for March 10 and March 24 from $30 billion to $50 billion apiece.
Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke has already indicated that the central bank will likely cut interest rates again at the next meeting of its Open Market Committee, now set for March 18. The Fed has cut rates by 1.25 percent in the last two months (2.25 percent since October) in an increasingly desperate effort to stimulate the financial markets.
The job report was particularly jolting to financial markets because most economists had predicted a small rise in payrolls, with forecasts estimating the increase at 25,000 jobs. Some 52,000 net jobs were eliminated in manufacturing, as well as 39,000 net jobs in construction, on top of a loss of 25,000 jobs in January.
Despite these numbers, the official jobless rate actually declined slightly, from 4.9 percent to 4.8 percent, because 450,000 unemployed stopped looking for work in February and accordingly were excluded from the count, which is based on the number of people actively seeking jobs.
The Labor Department report also found that January’s net job losses were worse than initially reported, 22,000 compared to 17,000, meaning that 85,000 net jobs have been eliminated since the first of the year. The agency also cut in half its estimate of net job creation in December, from 82,000 to 41,000.
The US economy must generate an increase of 150,000 new jobs each month just to keep pace with population growth, so the figures reported mean that over the past three months job creation fell short of the number of workers seeking employment by nearly half a million jobs.
The top economic adviser to President Bush, Edward Lazear, chairman of the White House Council of Economic Advisers, told the press Friday that the US economy might actually shrink in the first quarter, the first time that any top official has admitted that the US growth rate would fall below zero. “We don’t really know whether it will be negative or not,” he told reporters. “We have definitely downgraded our forecast for this quarter.”
The official government definition of a recession is two consecutive quarters of zero or negative growth, a figure increasingly likely for the first half of 2008. J.P. Morgan’s chief economist, Bruce Kasman, told the Associated Press, “It is appropriate to characterize the US economy as having entered a recession in the first quarter.”
The jobs report was only one of a series of economic reports and market events that have shaken financial markets in the last few days. Particularly significant was the default by two major companies caught in the aftershocks of the mortgage crisis.
Thornburg Mortgage, the second-largest independent mortgage lender in the US, after Countrywide, revealed Wednesday that it was in default on $610 million in loans after failing to meet a margin call from one lender, J. P. Morgan. The company, based in Santa Fe, New Mexico, said it would restate its 2007 financial results and take a charge of $428 million to reflect losses on adjustable-rate mortgages.
CEO Larry Goldstone issued a bitter statement Friday warning that the company might be unable to continue as a going concern, and declaring, “The panic that has gripped the mortgage financing market is irrational and has no basis in investment reality.”
Thornburg specializes in luxury homes and has relatively few sub-prime mortgages. Its margin calls began after the Swiss bank UBS announced a write-down February 14 on the value of $26.6 billion in “Alt-A” mortgages—higher-priced and higher value than sub-prime. Since then, Thornburg’s share price has been driven down from $11.54 to $1.22 Thursday.
On Thursday, Carlyle Capital, a subsidiary of the giant hedge fund Carlyle Group based in the British Channel Islands, said it had failed to meet margin calls from banks on $21.7 billion in mortgage-backed securities. The company was heavily engaged in purchasing mortgage-backed bonds issued by Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the two huge government-sponsored institutions that underwrite much of the US home mortgage market. Carlyle Group is expected to provide credit to prevent a default of Carlyle Capital, but the crisis casts a shadow over the most important financial institutions in the US mortgage industry.
A report Thursday by the Federal Reserve showed that household net wealth fell for the first time in five years, dropping $532.9 billion, or 3.6 percent, in the fourth quarter of 2007. The collapse of real estate values accounted for a third of the decline, while the decline in financial assets accounted for nearly half.
The Fed report also found that for the first time since such records began in 1945, American homeowners owed more on their homes than they owned. Average net home equity dropped below 50 percent—a figure that is even more remarkable since one third of US homeowners have either paid off their mortgages or bought without a mortgage, and therefore have 100 percent equity.
Other figures reported include:
* An increase in the proportion of mortgages in foreclosure to 2.04 percent, an all-time high and nearly double the level of 1.19 percent a year ago. The proportion of loans either past due or in foreclosure hit 7.9 percent in the fourth quarter, up from 6.1 percent a year earlier, and the highest since figures were first collected in 1979.
* A published estimate that mortgage losses would cost the banks $400 billion, about 40 percent of the $1 trillion in combined capital of all banks insured by the FDIC. Bank lending would be cut by $900 billion as a result.
* The Federal Reserve “beige book” report on business conditions in the United States, released Wednesday, found weak or no growth in 8 of 12 regions.
* Factory orders for January plunged 2.5 percent, according to the Commerce Department, while orders for durable goods fell more than 50 percent.
* Credit-card borrowing soared 7 percent in January, up from an increase of 2.8 percent in December, as consumers had to resort to charge cards to finance their expenses. Consumer debt overall rose 3.3 percent, nearly double the growth rate of 1.8 percent in December.
The reaction in official Washington to the dismal developments was a combination of imbecilic rhetoric and inadequate action. President Bush made a hastily organized appearance before television cameras to understate the obvious, admitting “It’s clear our economy has slowed,” and adding, “Losing a job is painful and I know Americans are concerned about our economy. So am I.”
Declaring, “our economy will prosper,” Bush touted the economic stimulus package approved by Congress last month at the instigation of the White House, although the size of the package, $168 billion, is less than one third of the decline in net worth of the fourth quarter, and entirely dwarfed by the trillions wiped out in the real estate collapse.
Bush urged taxpayers to buy consumer goods with their $600 or $1,200 rebates when they get them, which will not be until May or June, although surveys already predict that the vast majority will use the money to pay urgent bills.

Friday, March 7, 2008

World's Billionaires

The World's Richest People

The number 13 has long been considered unlucky by superstitious people around the globe. How fitting, then, that Bill Gates' reign as the world's richest person ends after his 13th year at the top.
Despite being worth $58 billion, $2 billion more than last year, Gates is now just the world's third-richest person, ceding the top spot ranking to his good friend and partner in philanthropy, Warren Buffett, whose net worth jumped $10 billion to $62 billion. (All stock prices and net worth valuations were locked in on Feb. 11.) Ranked No. 2 is Mexican telecom tycoon Carlos Slim Helú, whose fortune has doubled in just two years to $60 billion.
It is certainly a dawning of a new era. But not just because of Gates' fall. The 22nd annual rankings of the World's Billionaires reflects all sorts of upheavals in the list's makeup. Two years ago, half of the world's 20 richest were from the U.S. Now only four are. India wins bragging rights for having four among the top 10, more than any other country.
In Pictures: The World's Billionaires
By The Numbers: Race For Title Of World's Richest Man
In Pictures: Youngest Billionaires
For the first time ever, the number of billionaires Forbes could identify crossed into four figures, reaching 1,125. The total net worth of the group is $4.4 trillion, up $900 billion from last year. Despite the turbulence in the U.S. markets, Americans account for 42% of the world's billionaires and 37%, of the total wealth; those shares are down two and three percentage points, respectively, from last year.
Sixteen years after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Russia, with 87 billionaires, is the new No. 2 country behind the U.S., easily overtaking Germany, with 59 billionaires, which held the honor for six years.
The rankings include 226 newcomers. Seventy-seven of the new faces come from the U.S., half of whom made their fortunes in finance and investments, including John Paulson and Philip Falcone, both of whom became wealthy shorting subprime debt. Another third of the new billionaires comes from Russia (35), China (28) and India (19). Two of the most noteworthy new entrants are South Africa's Patrice Motsepe and Nigeria's Aliko Dangote, the first black Africans to make their debut among the world's richest. Dangote is also the first-ever Nigerian billionaire.
It is also a record-breaking year for young billionaires, with Forbes finding 50 under the age of 40, 25 of whom are new to the list. Sixty-eight percent of these under-age-40 tycoons built their 10-figure fortunes from scratch, including Google (nasdaq: GOOG - news - people ) co-founders Sergey Brin and Larry Page; former Enron trader John Arnold, who now runs a hedge fund; India's Sameer Gehlaut, who started online brokerage Indiabulls; and, last but not least, Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who at age 23 might just be the youngest self-made billionaire in history.
Zuckerberg is probably destined to be the most talked about newcomer of the year because of his age and ingenious social-networking site, but there are fascinating entrepreneurs of all ages climbing into the ranks. Some of the more notable ones include China's Gao Dekang, who is one of the world's biggest makers of down jackets and vests; Portugal's Americo Amorim, who turned his grandfather's small cork operation into the world's largest; and Brazil's Eike Batista, who built and lost a gold mining fortune, before hitting it big in iron ore. He is now one of the world's richest mining billionaires.
With all the rosy news of the past year and the overall gains, it is easy to lose sight of the volatility that has been wreaking havoc on these fortunes on a daily basis for months. For instance, Hong Kong's richest person, Li Ka-shing, lost $5.5 billion of his net worth, all tied to publicly held stocks, in the 37 days between Jan. 4 and Feb. 11.
Meanwhile, mainland China's richest person, 26-year-old Yang Huiyan, fell from $17.3 billion in September to $7.4 billion in the rankings. Google co-founder Sergey Brin's fortune touched $25.5 billion in the past year but is now down to $18.7 billion. Others were hit much harder, falling off the list entirely, including Lehman Brothers (nyse: LEH - news - people ) chief Richard Fuld and Bear Stearns (nyse: BSC - news - people ) ex-chief James Cayne (he was sacked), both victims of the world's credit crunch, and Pulte Homes (nyse: PHM - news - people )' William Pulte, whose stock collapsed along with the housing market.
What will happen in the next 12 months as we continue our wealth watching? There will likely be some big losers, some big winners and a lot of ups and downs in between. The only certainty is change itself.

Thursday, March 6, 2008

The Cost of Power

Coal Mining and Human Rights in Colombia
March 06, 2008 By Aviva Chomsky and Orlando Orlando Acosta is a leader of the Colombian National Mining and Energy Workers’ Union (Sintraminergética) and an employee of Drummond Mining Company (USA). Aviva Chomsky teaches at Salem State College. An eminent historian of Latin America, she is the author of Linked Labor Histories: New England, Colombia, and the Making of a Global Working Class, (forthcoming from Duke University Press) and several other books. She is also a member of the North Shore Colombia Solidarity Committee.

Orlando and Professor Chomsky spoke at Brown University in January 2008. This is the transcript of their presentation and the question and answer session which followed. For more information, contact achomsky(at)


First of all, I would thank the organizations that allowed me, Orlando Acosta, a representative of the workers in the mining and energy sector in Colombia, to discuss the impact of North American, Swiss, and [South] African multinationals on these countries that are full of wealth, and go there with the objective of taking away resources, with no regard for communities and the people of Colombia.

I’m going to talk about Drummond, because it is a North American company. It arrived in Colombia in 1987. It obtained a claim to exploit coal in a region of ten thousand hectares in the Caribbean region of Colombia. This mine is in Cesar province. In 1995, when the shaft was opened, the workers, because of the company’s pressures and violations of their rights, became unionized in order to resist. This is open-pit mine. When they took away the top layer of land to get down to where the coal is, the communities living in the areas surrounding the mine were displaced. Moreover, the water sources in those areas were removed, obstructed, so the ecosystem changed as well.

The struggle of workers against these multinationals resulted in the murder of four trade unionists in 2001. As soon as the multinationals arrived, they became acquainted with politicians and the powerful families of the area. These families were also related to the paramilitary groups. The killings took place during our struggle to improve working conditions.

The structure of the Colombian nation did not enable us to make an efficient complaint in order to find out who ordered these killings. Thus, we had to resort to the international community, and to speak directly to the coal miners Drummond has employed here in the United States, in Alabama. A steel union here in the US made it possible for us to denounce the head of the company, Augusto Jimenez, as the intellectual author of these killings.

International lawyers found out through their investigations that there was a direct link between president Augusto Jimenez of Drummond in Colombia and paramilitary groups, and that money passed hands, so these four union leaders would be killed. During the trial, obstacles were placed in the way of key witnesses integrated into the paramilitaries, who were imprisoned and therefore not able to testify. The lawyers specially requested that President Alvaro Uribe allow these key witnesses to testify, but he refused permission. The Colombian government’s obstruction contributed to the court’s favorable ruling in favor of the multinational. This ruling, of course, further worsened conditions for the workers and exacerbated the conflict between the union and the company. This is just one example of how the human rights situation in Colombia worsens day by day.

And the Colombian government, pursuing approval of the free trade agreement with the United States, has claimed that the number of union leaders murdered in Colombia has diminished, when in fact, that is not true. Official investigations tend to point out that union leaders die as a consequence of robberies, and not from political murder. Their other policy is to threaten the lives of family members of union leaders. A message is regularly sent to the families of leaders telling them that if they do not stop their denunciation of the policies of the mining companies, they’re going to lose what they cherish most. Last year, I myself received a leaflet at my house, which had a skull on it -- a clear message -- claiming that I was a drug dealer.

You students – the future of the world – must bear in mind that the so-called ‘third world’ countries, in their pursuit of development, surrender their natural resources, thinking that that’s the only way to effectively derive wealth from them. It is important that you understand that that is a mistake. What is left behind in these countries is just the displacement of large segments of populations and murders that remain in impunity; that is no way to develop a country. That is why we’ve told the Colombian government that the free trade agreement as it stands right now is not beneficial to the Colombian people.

This must be of interest to North Americans and the international community, because wealth rests in the hands of a few, and redistribution of it is not going to take place. We must all contribute to the denunciation of these violations so we can contribute to make the world of a better place. This is what I want to share with you. Thank you.

Let’s take three questions at a time.

QUESTIONER: What is President Uribe’s response to this? Is the Colombian government willing to step up and help out, or are they part of the problem?

QUESTIONER: Through your struggle to organize, have you developed solidarity links with other communities in the world that are also fighting the extraction of coal or other fossil fuels?

QUESTIONER: To add onto that, have there been any attempts to organize with other unions in Colombia?

ACOSTA: OK, first question: President Uribe: Is he willing to help, or is he part of the problem? I would like to say to you, the security policies of President Uribe go against the rights of the Colombian people. The money that the US government gives to the Colombian government to fight subversive groups just makes the war worse. The ones that suffer most are the peasants and common people, because they’re in the crossfire between the army and the guerrilla groups. The methods that President Uribe uses do make evident that he is part of the problem, the problem of human rights violations in Colombia. There is proof of the fact that many congress people the Uribe government relied on to carry out policies are now in prison for their links to paramilitaries.

When he was governor of Antioquia province, Uribe [helped create] the CONVIVIR, vigilante outlaw groups that [helped] cattle ranchers protect their properties. They gained strength and eventually became the paramilitaries that we know today.
Second question: You asked if we have solidarity links with other movements. We do have strong links with fellow union members that work for the Drummond company here in the United States, in Alabama. We have strong ties with unions in Venezuela. At a national level, the mining and energy sector, the teachers union, the peasants and farm unions; we’re all united. Because of our strength, the Colombian government and the large businesses (which are grouped in their own association) have had to ask the unions stop with our protests, because they were affecting the outcome of the free trade agreement between Colombia and the United States. That’s the network we’ve been able to develop in order to oppose those policies.

We’re focusing on our international outreach efforts on US unions because the coal that is being extracted in Colombia ends up here. [The abuses I have described] are what pay for the commodities that you enjoy here. When Drummond moved to Colombia, they closed two mines in Alabama, because it was more beneficial for them, due to the low cost of labor in Colombia.

I think the third question was answered by my answer to the second question. Different unions, we have grouped, and formed this organization called the Mining and Energy Coordinating Committee.

QUESTIONER: Has your union had any sort of interactions – positive, negative or otherwise – with groups like FARC? And on a related note, do you see FARC as a positive or negative force in the conflict?

QUESTIONER: You spoke about a legal proceeding in the United States. Have you developed a legal strategy within Colombia, within the legal system there, and what would your perspective be on a strategy like that? And a related question, do you work with lawyers that help you on a pro-bono basis?

QUESTIONER: As a citizen and trade union member in Colombia, what changes do you feel should be made to the free trade agreement in order to make it beneficial, not only for the US but also Colombia?

ACOSTA: First question, regarding our alleged links with the FARC. We are a national organization with a political platform, and we’re totally independent from the influence of the state, the church, and the guerrillas. Whatever influence the FARC might have, positive or negative, derives from the influence of the state. The government is not interested in eliminating the FARC; the Colombian president doesn’t want to get rid of the FARC because the FARC provides an excuse for the US government to keep giving money to Colombia, so it’s in his interest to keep the war going.

QUESTIONER: I wasn’t trying to imply, necessarily, that you were working with the FARC, or that they were influencing you, I was just wondering about any kind of interactions; have they bothered you, or tried to extort protection money from you? Anything. I was just curious.

ACOSTA: We haven’t had any sort of contact with them, but of course the context of the war against the guerrillas has affected us. When President Uribe came to power, he made it very clear that those who would not side with his government would be considered enemies of his government. And he has labeled us union leaders who oppose his policies as guerrilla fighters. And he has also called us paramilitaries. We’re really in a crossfire. I mean, in some cases you might be killed by the paramilitaries, and in some cases you might be killed by the guerrilla. And you must really keep in mind that the army and the paramilitaries are just the same thing, ultimately.

The second question: To give you an idea of how the judiciary works in Colombia, the Supreme Court of Justice heard our case but really the lawyer took us there to show us what state the judiciary in Colombia is in, what happens to all the injunctions and lawsuits that are filed. The judiciary has basically collapsed. It is useless because of corruption. Basically these lawsuits don’t make it because they’re intercepted by agents, snitches if you will, that kind of tell the Drummond company that a lawsuit is being filed against them, so the company will pay bribes so the lawsuit will be thrown out of court. That’s why, when these murders happen, we have to resort to the international community, our mining union colleagues here in the US, so we can sue here in the US and those crimes will not remain in impunity.

Third question, about the free trade agreement. [We must take] into consideration the differences between the political structures in Colombia and the United States, and [remember] that the full text of the free trade agreement is not available. Only three articles have been discussed by [the Colombian] congress: intellectual property rights, agricultural affairs, and labor policy.

Intellectual property rights basically means patents on medications. The US owns eighty percent of those patents. Look at Africa. [Also look at] the Amazon; people die because they don’t have the vaccination against malaria. Or take for instance health coverage in this country; there is no public universal health coverage. Regarding agriculture, the US subsidizes its farmers, whereas Colombia doesn’t. There is no agrarian policy. One of the things that’s being permitted are genetically modified seeds, such as the terminator seeds, so that when the farmer buys seeds, they cannot re-harvest seeds from their crops to replant, because they’ve been genetically designed not to reproduce.

So there are huge disparities between the two countries, and the treaty is made in such a way that makes it difficult for the Colombian people to realize how unfair those differences are, and in what measure the treaty fails to overcome them. Union leaders in Colombia have formally proposed that this free trade agreement be taken to a referendum, so the Colombian people can determine what is in their best interest, what is the most fair treaty we could get.

QUESTIONER: You say you’re dealing with mining unions in America. So much of the mining industry right now is not unionized. The mining union is weak. What can they give, what have they given you, what are you looking for?

ORLANDO ACOSTA: From what we understand, the constitutional structure of Colombia and the US are very different, in terms of what they allow unions to be. The way they are organized in the US, the unions are very closely linked with politicians. Precisely because of their close ties with politicians in the US, unions have helped [force the] US Congress to withhold the approval of the free trade agreement with Colombia, until improvements in the human rights situation are made and improvements in the trade agreement are made.

QUESTIONER: Building two on your previous answers, it’s clear that you have to go to international courts, but I’m wondering if you have had any kind of support from other institutions in Colombia? And, I’m wondering if there’s been any progress in the campaign to force a referendum on the trade agreement? Is the initiative only from your union? Are you going to gather signatures and move forward in that procedure?

ACOSTA: We have demonstrated against the approval of the free trade agreement, and we have gathered signatures on a petition against the agreement as it stands now. We have gone before the attorney general’s office and the anti-corruption ministry, but the way they organize -- the bureaucracy and the corruption of the judiciary – turn what should be easy procedures into very lengthy and costly procedures for which we neither have the resources or time. Our situation is very urgent; we have to meet our immediate demands.

In Magdalena, my home province, there are two offices of the labor ministry, and one of them declared itself completely incapable of carrying out an investigation against Drummond. It just preferred not to do it. We have consequently sued this government official, because of her negligence and because she permitted an ill worker to be fired from his post - he has problems with his back, he has to use crutches.

I would like it if in sometime in your career at students you take a look at the effect of coal multinationals in countries like Colombia, and do take interest in what is going on. I really encourage you all to look into these matters if you can, someday.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: I would like to make a suggestion to everyone. The least we could do would be to contact our legislators, and those who students who aren’t from Rhode Island could contact their legislators, and say they oppose the free trade agreement. That’s the least we could do; call and say we oppose the free trade agreement in its current form. It would hurt people there, and it would hurt people here. It’s that simple.

QUESTIONER: In addition to coal mining, are there other multinationals or other types of corporations that have bad track records as far as human rights? [Audience laughter…] Well of course there are, but in Colombia right now, do you guys have other labor unions you work with?

ACOSTA: For instance, in the northern mining region, there are three companies - Glencore, which is a Swiss company; PHP Billiton, which is a British/Australian company; and Anglo-American, which is a British/South African company - that operate another open-pit coalmine in the province next to Cesar, where the Drummond mine is. Avi [Chomsky] has been doing a lot of work with the communities affected by that mine. Glencore was just nominated for an important prize, of one of the ten worst companies of the year in Switzerland as far as violations of human rights are concerned. The impact Glencore has on human rights and the displacement of communities takes place not only in Colombia, but in Bolivia and Ecuador.

Chiquita brand has changed names in 1928; it was formally known as the United Fruit Company, but in 1928 there was a famous massacre, which is featured in One Hundreds Years of Solitude.

First of all, I would like to thank you for [the money that was collected at the event]. Between brothers, there must be solidarity. We have also brought some books, some hand-woven shoulder bags. The real value of these shoulder bags is not economic; it is human. By purchasing them, you help an indigenous community in the northern peninsula known as Tabaco, which was displaced by Glencore. I’d like to give the floor to Avi, who has researched this whole issue, and is working on it, so she can explain what has happened.

AVIVA CHOMSKY: I teach at Salem State College, and Salem is home to one of two main power plants on the east coast of Massachusetts. You guys are very close to the other one, the Breighton Point plant in Somerset. Some of you are probably familiar with that. Those two plants import coal from Colombia – from the Drummond mine and the Cerrejon mine, the Drummond one being where Orlando works. And that’s how we initially, in Salem, got involved – by learning what the source of this coal that comes in on these giant forty-thousand ton ships every three weeks or so into our harbor, the coal that powers our plant and turns on our lights.

We’ve been working in particular with the community of Tabaco, which was violently displaced in 2001 by agents of the Cerrejon mine, and with five other small local communities – Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities – that are currently in what they call a ‘process of displacement.’ The company is basically just trying to make life so impossible for them – through contamination, through cutting off their roads, their access, their healthcare – that people are just going to leave.

Three projects we’ve been involved in that I want to mention to you: One, we take regular delegations down to the region, for people from the United States who receive the coal, and also people from the different countries where the companies are based, to see for themselves how their coal is mined, what the conditions are. When we go on these delegations, we generally meet with mining officials, with government officials, with members of the communities that are affected by these mines, and with the unions, in both of the mines, the Drummond and Cerrejon mines. We’re taking our next delegation in May, the 24th to the 31st, and I hope some of you will consider coming with us and see for yourselves; there are flyers about the delegation up there.

The second project we’ve been involved in is the mochila [shoulder bag] project, trying to be able to provide some material aid for the communities. One of the traditional crafts in the region is the weaving of these shoulder bags. We’ve developed a project with the communities…we all participate in unfair trade all the time, even if we don’t want to. None of us really want to displace these communities in an active way, and yet we’re passively participating in it because we have no choice in where we get our electricity, and we can’t live without electricity. Our lives are structured so that we basically can’t opt out. So we are participating in unfair trade, a trade relationship that is harmful to people on the other end of it.

We talked about if we could develop a fair trade in coal, like there’s fair trade in coffee. We thought that would be really difficult for us to do, but we’ve created this sort of alternative project in fair trade in mochilas. That is, the mochilas are something the people in these communities want to produce; it’s a traditional craft, it’s something they do by hand, it’s part of their culture and its something they’re eager to find markets for. We can’t, as individuals, pay them a fair price for their coal, but we can pay them a fair price for their mochilas that they produce. It’s a relationship that they’ve been very excited about producing. We’re selling the bags up there; the small ones are sixty dollars and the large ones are 75 dollars. All of that money goes directly back to the communities. The way we do it is we pre-pay them half the price of the mochilas and then we carry them back here. We sell them and bring back the other half to the communities the next time we go.

The third thing I wanted to draw your attention to: there are several different books for sale up there that give more information about the various issues we’ve been talking about. One is translated by me and written by the president of the state-sector mining union in Colombia. It’s a general overview of the mining sector in Colombia and how multinationals have controlled what should be public goods in Colombia, to the detriment of the population. It’s called The Profits of Extermination.

The second book I want to draw your attention to is an anthology we just published last summer in Colombia [The People Behind the Coal], which is something the communities have been asking us to do for a very long time. They’ve been saying that they need documentation of the impact of the mine on their communities, and also of the history of their communities; that in their struggle to achieve their rights with the mine, they need some of this documentation. And we were finally able to pull together last year a series of human rights reports, health reports, historical studies, testimonies from the union and the communities about the situation. So there’s a lot of primary voices in there. The book was published in two editions – English and Spanish – and both of them are available there. It was one of the most exciting book projects that I’ve worked on, the only one really where I really felt like, ‘this is an answer to what the communities have asked us to do to help them.’ So I hope you will all take a look at what we have up there on the table.

QUESTIONER: What’s the best possible vision of the future that you’re fighting for, in terms of is it more fair wages and better living conditions from the company? Is it to not have the company exist at all, and to have a better company? Is it to not have to live by extracting coal, and a whole other way of life instead? What’s the vision of another world that you hold in your heart to continue with the struggle?

ACOSTA: Our first concern is the wealth that is concentrated in the hands of these companies reaches the families of these workers. In other words, there needs to be a redistribution of wealth. Just by following environmental regulations, and by paying taxes that they’re supposed to, as specified in the leases they signed to obtain these coal claims. The problem is that these companies simply don’t pay taxes. For instance, last year Drummond had to pay back to the Colombian state forty-million dollars. The company is supposed to pay a royalty to the government for every ton of coal it exports. And the royalty payment is supposed to vary based on the price of coal on the international market. The contract says how much they’re supposed to be in royalties.

But they’re allowed to deduct the following: the coal that is taken out by water routes, and this takes four-hundred twenty kilometers; and this might cost, let’s just put a random figure on it, a low figure – forty pesos. So they’re allowed to deduct from the royalties the extra they had to pay for the transport. So a revision was made to the contract, and now the transportation is only two-hundred twenty kilometers, and its by rail, not by water. It’s much cheaper, but they’ve continued to claim the previous cost. That’s how they were underpaying their royalties, and that’s why they’ve had to pay this forty-million dollars.

We have asked the company not to leave the country, but the company definitely has to improve its policies. Local communities must be provided with schools, basic sanitation, housing. They could afford all that with the money they aren’t paying in taxes. We basically want to improve production and the working conditions, so those things the community must receive are given, and not evaded. That’s what we are fighting for.

I would like to thank you all for coming. There must be solidarity between all of us, so abuses stop. We must think of humanity as one. We can achieve the goal of a better world for all. We must really care about our neighbors, so it doesn’t happen like that famous poem, where it says, ‘they took the peasant, but I didn’t care because I am not a peasant. They took a communist, but I didn’t care because I was not a communist. They took a clergyman, but I did not care, because I was not a clergyman. But when they came for me, it did matter to me, and when I went out for help, there was none, because I did not care before.’ We must reach out to those around us, to our neighbors, and help them.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

The Guerrilla in Colombia

An Interview with Rodrigo Granda, Member of the FARC-EP International Commission

Rogrigo Granda interviewed by Jean Batou

Rodrigo Granda is a member of and the leading international spokesperson for the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia-Ejército del Pueblo, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People’s Army (FARC–EP). His name gained global prominence in December 2004 when he was kidnapped in Venezuela and handed over to Colombian authorities by a number of Venezuelan National Guard soldiers seeking a reward placed on his head by the Colombian government. At the time of his capture Granda was attending a meeting of the Bolivarian Peoples Movements in Caracas. Granda’s kidnapping in Venezuela at the instigation of the Colombian government created an international dispute between Venezuela and Colombia. He was released in 2007 in response to pressures exerted on the Colombian government by French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
The FARC–EP describes itself as a Marxist revolutionary people’s movement and has been in an armed conflict with the Colombian regime since 1964. It is the largest revolutionary force in the country (the other guerilla group is the smaller ELN or National Liberation Army). At any given time it controls much of the country, although the mainly rural regions under its control vary. In 1984 the FARC–EP agreed to a truce and formed an organized political wing called the Patriotic Union (UP), which was to engage in electoral politics. The UP received such widespread support that the Colombian ruling class panicked and unleashed its death squads, assassinating thousands of UP members and drowning the truce in blood.
Today Columbia is ruled by what has been called a “genocidal democracy” (see Javier Giraldo, Columbia: The Genocidal Democracy, Common Courage, 1996). “The richest 1 percent of the population controls 45 percent of the wealth, while half of the farmland is held by thirty-seven large landholders.” The majority of the population subsists on less than 3 percent of the arable land, while 3 percent owns more than 70 percent of that land (James J. Brittain, “The FARC–EP in Colombia,” Monthly Review, September 2005). Columbia is the dominant source of cocaine in the world. Large parts of the country are dominated by drug lords with their paramilitary armies with which the government is closely associated. Columbian President Álvaro Uribe is himself linked to drug traffickers, including members of his own family.
In the 1990s under the Clinton administration “Plan Colombia” was introduced whereby the United States provided massive military aid and direct “special operations” support to Colombia aimed at the FARC–EP, under the cover of an anti-narcotics operation. During the Bush administration, Washington replaced this with “Plan Patriota,” carried out in cooperation with Uribe’s government, under the rubric of which the United States has intensified its war on the FARC–EP as part of the so-called War on Terrorism. In 2001–02 the United States, followed by its allies in the European Union, officially designated the FARC–EP as a “terrorist” organization. However, the dominant reality in Colombia is state/paramilitary terrorism. As part of the stepped-up repressive campaign in the Bush/Uribe period the paramilitaries in league with the Columbian military forces committed atrocities such as burning children alive and using chainsaws on others while still alive (see James J. Brittain, “Run, Fight or Die in Colombia: The Paramilitaries Burned Wayuu Children Alive and Killed Others with Chainsaws,” Counterpunch, March 12–13, 2005, Meanwhile, Bogotá and Washington continue to use chemical fumigants on large parts of the country, ostensibly aimed at coca eradication, but also as a form of chemical warfare.
An issue of growing international concern has been the humanitarian exchange of prisoners/hostages taken by the two sides in the war. In June 2007, during negotiations on the release of twelve Colombian lawmakers held by the FARC–EP, a counterinsurgency attack on the FARC–EP encampment where these prisoners were being held was carried out and eleven of the lawmakers were killed in the crossfire. The FARC–EP was accused by Bogotá and Washington of having “murdered” the captives although evidence on the ground seemed to confirm the FARC–EP’s story that the death of the prisoners was unintended (see Inter Press Service News Agency, “Columbia: Pawns of War—The Hostage Crisis,” November 2, 2007,
In fall 2007 Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez became increasingly active in negotiations for the release of FARC–EP captives, bringing in a number of important international figures to support the effort, such as U.S. filmmaker Oliver Stone. This led eventually to the release in January 2008 of two high-level prisoners held by FARC–EP. Chávez followed up his success in this regard with a demand that the FARC–EP (and also the smaller ELN) be designated as a “real army” with political objectives and not a “terrorist” organization; that it be accorded “belligerent status” in international law. This would then facilitate further releases of prisoners on both sides. His call was supported by the Venezuelan Assembly and Ecuador but rejected by the United States, the Colombian government, and the European Union. The according of belligerent status to the FARC–EP would mean that both the Colombian military and the FARC–EP would have to conform to the Geneva Conventions on warfare and the treatment of prisoners. It would also result in increased pressure for peace negotiations on both sides. Both Washington and Bogotá are therefore adamantly opposed to any such change in the international designation of the FARC–EP as a “terrorist” organization.—Ed.

Jean Batou: The Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia–Ejército del Pueblo, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia–People’s Army (FARC–EP) looks upon itself as a politico-military movement waging a social/insurrectional war against the Colombian state. As such, the FARC–EP takes prisoner police officers, soldiers, officials, and mercenaries. The FARC–EP has also decided to kidnap civilians representing the Colombian state apparatus. In short, it also kidnaps civilians, the release of whom depends upon payment of a ransom. While no one can argue with an army taking its armed adversaries prisoner, how can the FARC–EP justify taking civilians captive? Does the FARC–EP not realize that such practices tend to isolate it from broad swathes of antigovernment public opinion in Colombia?
Rodrigo Granda: The FARC–EP is indeed a politico-military movement making use of the inalienable right to rebel against a state that practices paper democracy. What we are doing is responding to a war imposed on us from the highest echelons of power in Colombia. State terrorism has been wielded against us and our people as a method of extermination for decades.
Of course, it is common knowledge, that war of this kind needs funding. This war was forced on us by Colombia’s rich, so they are the ones that have to finance the war they unleashed. That’s why the FARC–EP holds people for whom a monetary payment is collected, which is really a tax. This money is set aside to maintain the apparatus of the people’s war.
As you may know, we talk about constructing a new power, a new state. If in Switzerland, France, or the United States someone ducks out of their duty of paying taxes, then that person has to go to jail. The new state we are shaping has fixed the payment of a peace tax. That means that any individual or corporate body, and any foreign companies operating in Colombia and making profits of over a million dollars a year, have to pay a peace tax equivalent to 10 percent of these profits. Debtors are told they have to enter into dialogue with those who manage the FARC–EP’s finances to pay this sum. If they fail to do so, of course, these people will be arrested and taken to prison until they pay and fulfill their obligations toward those of us who are shouldering the responsibility of the new state, constructed and led by the FARC–EP, acting as the People’s Army.
Now, within the context of military operations some officers, noncommissioned officers, policemen, and soldiers do fall into the hands of the FARC–EP and some are currently being held as prisoners of war. Likewise, during our confrontations with the Colombian state some prisoners from our side have fallen into enemy hands and, following summary rigged trials, they are now serving extremely long sentences in different jails across the country. Unfortunately, this is par for the course during a war. At any rate, amid the extremely acute conflict taking place in Colombia it is possible that some detentions might not, on the whole, be looked upon by the population in a favorable light. But we believe that, by making Law 002 public, according to which certain economically powerful individuals and entities have to pay a peace tax, we have already given them warning and they also have the option to discuss and resolve their situation and to settle up within the time period set. If we can ensure this is complied with then the number of detentions will certainly tail off as a result.
As for whether this divides us from the civil may have some effect on that, but it probably is not crucial, because large sectors of the Colombian population are fully aware that, in general, the FARC–EP only arrests people whose economic situation is pretty comfortable. There is no way this is about arresting people for the sake of arresting them.
Prisoners of war are kept for the purposes of humanitarian trade-offs, which we are hoping to carry out very soon. Let’s not forget that in Colombia the public prosecutor’s office and the specialist judges impose heavy sentences on many guerrilla fighters (who are lucky enough not to have been killed during their capture), sentences that will keep them in prison practically for life, because justice in Colombia is class justice and is applied as such. And, obviously, those of us who make use of the inalienable right of rebellion are labeled “terrorists” or “kidnappers.” You should know that the sentences dished out to revolutionaries range between forty and eighty years.
So you can see that this matter of the tax is a need determined by the current war situation affecting Colombia. We would like it if we did not have to detain anyone, no civilians or oligarchs, not to mention the military....But the confrontation, the daily reality in Colombia, means that this is how things happen—not the way we’d like them to.
JB: The armed struggle is largely funded by the collection of the revolutionary tax on coca leaf cultivation and cocaine base production—and also, to some extent, on ransom payments from kidnappings. If a peace process is initiated, could the guerrilla movement stop using these sources of funding without jeopardizing its politico-organizational autonomy? In other words, are there not certain forces within your movement that are attempting to defend the status quo for fear that demobilization might deprive the FARC–EP of these decisive sources of funding and that this might lead to its isolation?
RG: The first thing that has to be said is that the FARC–EP has always been an autarkic movement, that is to say, it has always operated using its own means and has never depended, either in the past or at present, and will never depend, on any funding of a foreign nature. As the FARC–EP, we were able to develop a subsistence economy initially and then factors of production that have enabled us to keep the movement going.
The FARC–EP existed long before either drug trafficking in Colombia developed or a logistical policy for the systematic detention of persons was implemented. These were by-products of the general situation in the country.
Over the years the FARC–EP has diversified its financing through all kinds of investments: in high finance at home and abroad, and in agricultural production, cattle raising, mining, transport, construction, and many other productive investments.
Now, there is no doubt that the face of Colombia was transformed by the neoliberal policies imposed through terror that ruined the countryside forcing thousands of poor peasant families to survive by producing for this economy so as not to starve to death as a result of the devastation caused to their traditional crops of coffee, corn, banana, sorghum, cotton, and so on.
The FARC–EP is chiefly a rural movement and we are in direct contact with that reality, but we have no authority to force people to abandon so-called illicit crops without giving them an alternative.
At the talks in the Cagúan region (1999–2002) during the government of President Pastrana, the First International Public Audience on the replacement of so-called illicit crops and protection of the environment was held under the initiative of our guerrilla organization. The meeting was attended by the EU, Japan, Canada, the UN, and the International Group of Friends of the Peace Process in Colombia. The United States was invited but did not take part.
At these talks, the FARC–EP presented a viable project for eradicating coca leaf plantations in the municipality of Cartagena del Chairá in the Caquetá Department, of which there were around 8,000 hectares at that time.
We wanted the international community to commit to an alternative to repression and to promote social investment in the area so as to create an “experimental laboratory” there, in the search for ways to eradicate those crops, and then extend the experiment to other regions of Colombia and possibly the continent: Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia. This proposal is still valid.
At the same time, we believe that legalization of the drug will help to solve the problem. Economists such as [Milton] Friedman and reputable journals like the Economist acknowledge that this is the case. There is a reason for this: as it is a clandestine business, profitability due to capital turnover is staggering. It is currently estimated that there are $680 billion circulating in the world as a result of drug trafficking and there is no crime people would not commit to get their hands on such an enormous sum of money.
First and foremost it is an economic problem, then a political, and of course, an ethical and moral one, but if the huge profits are eliminated, then the fundamental incentive, which is the return on investment, will be cancelled out and the states will be able to control the market. This would be something like what happened, allowing for differences, with the legalization of the United States.
What must be made clear, and we have demonstrated this to the national and international community, is that there is no way the FARC–EP is a drug trafficker, not by any stretch of the imagination. We are not involved in the production, transport, commercialization, or exportation of narcotics. On the contrary, the FARC–EP is willing to work with the international community and with the U.S. government itself to solve this serious problem plaguing the world.
Our organization has implemented the collection of a tax on coca paste buyers who have to enter the areas where these crops are grown and we operate. This payment is collected as a way of controlling the abuses committed against the peasant growers. Of course, we act as policemen. It is the Colombian state that must control this area, but, up until now, it has been incapable of doing so, in spite of the billions of dollars poured in by the U.S. government to put an end to this business.
It is also important to bear in mind that the money provided by this tax is a tiny quantity in relation to the costs of the FARC–EP military apparatus. As for the arrests, it has to be said that this income also helps with the economic maintenance of the FARC–EP, but it is not the most crucial part.
The FARC–EP’s ultimate aim is not to “line the pockets” of its directive personnel, its hierarchy, or its combatants. For us money is a means, something that can help us attain the strategic political end of the FARC–EP, which is to take power in order to bring about political, economic, social, and ecological changes of all kinds that Colombia needs and is demanding. So, the financing is just a means to achieve these ends. Nobody in the FARC–EP aspires to become a millionaire. This is the big difference between us and the drug barons and paramilitaries who are seeking personal gain and want to live “the high life.”
With respect to what you say about a possible demobilization, that is not in the FARC–EP’s immediate plans. I mean, there is not even any contact with Uribe’s government. In the hypothetical case that the war was stopped and other action embarked upon, the FARC–EP has its “plan B.” But we’re talking about hypotheses; the reality is quite different.
However, the FARC–EP is not at war just for the sake of it. We have said that if the political environment changes and the conditions exist for engaging in open, legal politics without fear of reprisals or of being killed; if the door to real democracy is opened, then we could think about changing the form of military confrontation in response to whatever situation was instituted. It has fallen to the FARC–EP throughout the period of Uribe, and before, to act as the political opposition and the armed opposition to the regime because there has been no other way we could express our thinking. The Colombian bourgeoisie is a bloodthirsty, reactionary bourgeoisie that only understands the language of arms. If we had not responded to the aggression, they would already have branded us with red hot iron, and chained us up, like in the age of slavery.
JB: The recent mass mobilizations against the violence and kidnappings have pointed the finger of blame at both the government and the insurgents. Don’t these mobilizations represent a setback for the left in that Álvaro Uribe has been able to use them to his advantage to divert public attention from his involvement in parapolitical scandals?
RG: The mobilizations, as you yourself say, express a repudiation of violence and particularly official and paramilitary violence. The Colombian people are certainly showing signs of fatigue over the military-type confrontation, but what people wouldn’t after forty years of war imposed by the regime?
Álvaro Uribe tried to capitalize on a movement that incorporated popular sectors very close to the FARC–EP, and even members of our guerrilla organization. There, at these mobilizations, you could see the banners demanding a humanitarian exchange, in the search for dialogue toward a political solution to the social and armed conflict in Colombia. If you analyze the press releases, and radio and television reports, you will find that Colombia’s most prestigious commentators criticized the government’s political opportunism. You have to remember that there was even a public confrontation between the interior minister and one of the relatives of the eleven congressional representatives killed in the failed military rescue attempt ordered by the government on June 18 this year. And then the claim that President Uribe has capitalized on the mobilizations is untrue. On the contrary, in the latest opinion polls following those events Uribe’s image is shown to have been tarnished and his popularity is in “free fall” for the first time since he took office.
As for the problem of parapolitics, this is something that has been denounced for over twenty years by the newspaper Voz, the organ of the Communist Party of Colombia, by the FARC–EP, and by democratic friends throughout the country. However the Colombian state has always ignored these denunciations.
A year and a half ago I had the opportunity to talk to the peace commissioner of Uribe’s government, Dr. Luis Carlos Restrepo, at the Cómbita high-security prison, where I was being held hostage. During our conversation, we touched on various topics and I was able to demonstrate to him that the policy of “democratic security” imposed by the president and the “Plan Colombia” had failed. He said to me, “Look, Señor Granda, the Colombian state has certainly used unorthodox methods to fight you....” Those methods Restrepo was referring to are none other than parapolitics and paramilitarism: that was a project that was cold-bloodedly calculated for Colombia. It is an expression of fascism, through which mainly the financial monopolies, the industrial sector, and the landowners have benefited from all the economic restructuring resulting from globalization and privatizations in Colombia. The deals and profits these sectors have made are phenomenal. At the same time, what there is left to privatize in the country is at present minimal, which tells us that the most acute period of pushing forward the neoliberal project in Colombia is over to an extent, as there are no state companies of any size left to sell to the transnationals.
That is why the state is now trying to dismantle all the killing mechanisms they created as a military support for their fascist project to impose neoliberalism and, in this sense, we could draw a comparison with General Pinochet’s Chile. Remember that it was right when the military coup took place in Chile in 1973 that they started to implement neoliberal policies for the continent. The military coup practically wiped out the popular resistance, the working class, the middle classes of the population, the peasantry, and imposed the social discipline of the monopolies: fascism in the service of neoliberalism that used terror in our America as a basis for implementing its economic project and its ideological politics.
Now in Colombia the establishment has egg on its face: it is the institutions, along with the men that constitute them, that are implicated in the crisis they have led the nation into. Colombia is a country with one of the highest corruption rates in the world. It was said that Colombian institutions were created as a protection from all forms of corruption. That is why, in order to implement its neoliberal policies, the establishment threw overboard any sense of ethics in politics and now it is paying the price for its “unholy alliance” with narcoparamilitarism created with the intention of eliminating the revolutionary left whatever the cost. That model and that fascist project for Colombia have failed them. When the tidal wave of denouncements comes, the president tries, obviously, to avoid any kind of public debate, and creates smokescreens: the reelection, the referendum, the Soccer World Cup, etc., aiming to distract Colombian public opinion. The scandals and the corruption prevailing in Colombia are of such magnitude that none of these publicity “shows” can manage to distract attention away from one fundamental aspect: the corruption imposed by the “mafia,” paramilitarism, and narcotrafficking (which are the same thing) for a government that is a government of “mafiosi” exercising narcodemocracy.
JB: The ELN (National Liberation Army) recently decided to lay down its arms. To what extent does this weaken the armed struggle of the FARC–EP, given that from now on the Colombian state, the paramilitaries, and the United States will be able to concentrate all their efforts to fight it?
RG: The question of whether at present the whole counterinsurgent struggle orchestrated by the Colombian government and the United States can be focused against the FARC–EP is relative. Practically from the outset of Plan Colombia, the FARC–EP has withstood these operations [of the Colombian military and the United States] alone. There is no doubt that the Colombian state has never fought paramilitarism militarily. While military operations in areas where ELN comrades are active have been minimal, so, to some extent, the responsibility of combatting the bulk of operations by the Colombian army and the “gringos” have fallen on our armed organization. You must remember that at present Colombia is the third largest recipient of U.S. military aid, after Israel and Egypt. During the first stage of Plan Colombia, the United States provided $7.5 billion and the Colombian state imposed a war tax of 12 percent, which was increased this year by a further 8 percent. Even so, Plan Colombia and all subsequent operations have failed against the FARC–EP resistance and counteroffensive.
So it’s highly debatable whether the enemy can defeat us even if it trains its entire arsenal on us. Our history has shown this ever since our birth in Marquetalia (1964). Remember that sixteen thousand troops were moved into the region against the founding group of the FARC–EP made up of forty-eight peasants, two of them women. Besides, at that time, there was no other insurgent movement in the country either. The bulk of that offensive against the rural self-defense zones, known as “Operation LASO [Latin American Security Operation],” naturally hit the FARC–EP.
We believe, in this new period, that as far as military action by “gringo” troops, mercenaries, and the Colombian army are concerned, the limit has already been reached. What we’re talking about now is a decline. It must be said that in high circles of the Colombian government and the corridors of the Pentagon there is talk of the complete failure of “Plan Colombia,” “Plan Patriot,” “Plan Colombia Consolidation,” and “Plan Victory” (2002–07).
In other words, a military victory by the “gringos” and the Colombian state is impossible over an armed movement like ours that has been fighting for forty-three years and has extensive experience at the level of both its leadership and its combatants. It has to be said that this experience is almost unique in Latin America and the world. Just look at the fact that there’s currently no other great “plan” or “military operation” in the western hemisphere that has the scope and detail of the one being performed in central and southern Colombia, and throughout most of Colombia’s national territory.
We have truly had to fight a war alone. In the past there was the socialist camp, there was international solidarity, we had to “dance with the ugliest girl at the party,” as we say in Colombia. But we’ve shown we can confront and beat the enemy alone. For us, this is an obligation and it is our contribution of solidarity with the oppressed peoples of the world. The combination of all the forms of mass struggle is going to assure us victory in the near future.
The Colombian state has no alternative other than to accept that it has been incapable of defeating the insurgency and that its fascist project, which uses state terror and the chainsaw as an offensive weapon, has failed. The only thing left for this state to do is to seek a rapprochement with the insurgency so that we can sit down and talk to find a negotiated political solution to this long social and armed conflict affecting Colombia.
What you say about the ELN, well, that is the first I have heard about it....As far as I know the ELN has not laid down its arms. I cannot give an opinion on the ELN’s decisions. They are a sovereign organization, a guerrilla organization that has been fighting for years and, to my knowledge, have not so far handed over a single weapon.
JB: The FARC–EP was born from a peasant movement which continues to be its main social base. To what extent has the FARC–EP been able since then to implement a strategic reorientation in the light of extremely rapid urbanization in Colombia? In other words, how does the FARC–EP address the pauperized urban masses suffering constant attacks from the paramilitaries and the repression exercised by the Colombian state?
RG: I have been telling you that the FARC–EP is a politico-military organization, the struggle of the FARC–EP is not one of confrontation between apparatuses, i.e., between the military apparatus of the Colombian state and the FARC–EP’s military apparatus proper.
In general, if we analyze the behavior of bourgeois states over time, we observe that they have various ways of applying what they call “representative democracy” and that they combine practically all forms of struggle to exploit the people. The “gringos” call it the “carrot and stick approach,” which they practice in the following way: if they consider that the masses are meek, they can let them develop certain forms of restricted democracy for a time; if they consider that those masses are becoming radicalized, then they take troops into the streets and impose repression. But if they notice that those mass movements have already become radicalized, then they employ state terrorism, and wage genocide against their opponents and the extermination of the mass organizations. It is this terror at its most horrifying that was experienced by nearly all countries here in our America in the recent past and still persists in Colombia.
From this viewpoint, it is legitimate for the revolutionary movements of Colombia and the world to employ every form of mass struggle to achieve the revolutionary changes that society needs at a given moment in its development.
We have not declared armed struggle by decree, nor can it be declared by decree, or by the will of person or party X or Y. Armed struggle is born of the overriding need to defend class interests at a particular moment in time, when the bourgeoisie close every door of democracy and expression the masses may have.
Unfortunately, Colombia’s history has shown what I’ve just said to be true: seeking national reconciliation in 1982, the FARC–EP entered into dialogue with then-president Belisario Bétancourt and the Uribe Accords were signed. As a corollary of these accords the broad movement called the Patriotic Union (UP) was founded.
This movement erupted into national political life with enormous support among the inhabitants of town and country, the middle classes, students, etc. In other words, it was a movement that brought together very wide-ranging sectors. When the UP began to develop, the bourgeoisie panicked and commenced the planned systematic extermination—first of its leaders, then they massacred its members. This all ended in the most abhorrent political genocide ever seen in Latin America. The FARC–EP learned from this experiment, which was curtailed by state terrorism, and will not let history repeat itself.
We have been making an enormous effort with the creation and development of popular and political movements and organizations at the national level.
We are making an enormous effort with the formation of the Clandestine Colombian Communist Party, which has to be clandestine because we have already had over five thousand members of the UP killed.
We are also working on the formation of the Bolivarian Movement for the New Colombia, in which anyone can take part. This movement has no statutes, people can get together in small groups to avoid enemy strikes, nobody must allude to their political militancy, and its forms of expression are clandestine.
Through such forms of organization, we participate in the student movement, the workers’ movement, the peasant movement, the popular movement...but the FARC–EP is also setting up the Bolivarian Militias, which operate in the countryside, on the outskirts of big cities and within them.
The FARC–EP believe that the revolution in Colombia must, in part, lead to urban insurrectional expressions, perhaps very much like those that took place in Nicaragua at the time (let’s remind ourselves of the battles in Managua, Masaya, Estelí, and León, to name a few), which were guerrilla-type actions combined with popular insurrection, and which together brought down the Somoza dictatorship.
We are making a really big effort with regard to the union movement, the student movement, the urban middle classes, informal workers, the cooperative, and communal movement of family heads. In other words, we are trying to direct everything through simple forms of organization so as steadily to create from the inside-out a politico-practical consciousness of the need for change in Colombia, all the more so when the disastrous consequences of neoliberal policies not only radicalize the urban and rural masses but also, paradoxically, bring them together and ally them in their struggle.
In Colombia, the FARC–EP wishes to build a new government of national reconciliation and reconstruction, one that is broad and democratic, not exclusive in the slightest, in which all sectors of national political life can participate that are concerned about dragging Colombia out of the abyss it finds itself in and establishing it as a country that can face up to the challenges of the twenty-first century with a good deal of hope and optimism, putting us at the vanguard of the democratic and revolutionary nations of the world.
JB: Which social urban movements does the FARC–EP believe require strategic development in this process?
RG: In the cities we work fundamentally with the industrial workers sector. We are also active in the cooperative movement, with neighborhood communal action committees, with associations from the informal economy, which have grown in number in recent years due to neoliberal policies. In addition, we pay a lot of attention to the problems of women and young people in general. So we are represented in all those sectors. We are working conscientiously to give them an organizational character and steer them toward the political struggle.
At the same time, this political work, with the experiences it provides of ways of fighting repression, nourishes our own political action. Although the FARC–EP was born essentially as a peasant movement, and this base is maintained in its current make-up, it is also true that there are other sectors of Colombian society that are accompanying us in the struggle. There are middle classes and professional, technical, and upper-class sectors, as well as liberal professionals, clergy, and people from the world of popular culture and art in all its forms linked to the FARC–EP. This has been changing over recent years. We must emphasize the participation of women in our ranks, who now represent 43 percent of the guerrilla force.
JB: It is claimed that, in the regions under its control, the FARC–EP has not always shown itself to be capable of fully allowing the development of a civil society organized autonomously around the different interests it is made up of (cooperatives, unions, various associations, indigenous minorities, etc.). Doesn’t this situation reveal a rather authoritarian project for society based exclusively on the capabilities and competencies of a kind of party-state?
RG: [laughing] I don’t know where you’re going with that question or where we have had control over any part of the national territory. That has not happened yet. We are not waging a war of positions in Colombia. We are a nomadic guerrilla force. When we are in certain areas for a time, we develop direct democracy as it has never been seen in any other type of organization promoted by the state or the oligarchic parties.
As a matter of fact, I think that internally the FARC–EP is far more democratic than certain states and democracies; our maximum organ of leadership in the FARC–EP is the National Conference of Guerrilla Fighters, which meets every four years (or more, depending on the war situation). The leaders, without exception, are elected by the votes of all the guerrilla fighters. In other words, there are no appointments. It is by popular vote, by the votes of FARC–EP members, that democracy (and the question of hierarchies) is managed within the guerrilla movement.
In conjunction with the communities. The most significant case was that of San Vicente del Caguán, in south central Colombia during the period of clarity and dialogue from 1999 to 2002. We were there for three years and worked with the communities on civic-military activities. Between them, the civilian population and the “guerrillerada” built bridges, roads, schools, hospitals, local footpaths, and reclaimed certain rivers, creeks, and streams that were heavily polluted. In addition to this, the FARC–EP laid down regulations regarding ecology issues (hunting, fishing, tree felling, and forestry, and protection for native trees), all with the participation of the community.
For example, for the construction of a highway, 100 or 200 community action committees from the entire region were brought together and there, by popular vote, it was decided who was going to work, in what way, and how much they would contribute economically and logistically. Then the sums were done and these were handed over to the masses so they could work out for themselves how each of the contributions had been invested. This is open, participative democracy and true mass democracy such as Colombia has never seen before. That is our experience.
There is no place for authoritarianism in the principles of the FARC–EP. The thing is we defend principles. And when it comes to principles we are unwavering. We have our own vision of what democracy should be. Democracy should be open and as direct as possible. In other words, mass democracy as a way of defining and discussing major problems. It’s very simple, if there are a hundred people in a community, why should ten of them decide for everyone? For us those hundred people have the power to make decisions. In Colombia they talk to us about representative democracy because there are elections, but in reality these crooks, all these bums who go to the Senate or the Chamber of Representatives, are not real representatives of the communities.
They are mostly individuals who get there with the help of their wealth, through clientelism and by means of the threats they subject our people to. So, my dear journalist, it’s essential to be clear about what kind of democracy we’re talking about, what we the FARC–EP understand by democracy and what you in Europe understand by democracy. I consider the FARC–EP to be a democratic organization practicing democracy in the areas where it works.
Our option is a direct democracy that is as broad and participative as possible. Democracy exercised by and for majorities. Not paper democracy. Not democracy for a privileged few. We do not like that type of “democracy” and we are not going to practice it. I was saying that in the FARC–EP we like to organize the masses into all kinds of collectives so that they can defend their own interests. That is the secret of the FARC–EP’s existence in the midst of so complicated a conflict as Colombia’s.
JB: The FARC–EP is often criticized, even by leftist forces, for its internal use of “expedient” methods: as in the cases of deserters being executed, “demoralized” militants being sent on suicide missions, pregnant militants being forced to have abortions, and so on. There is no doubt that the FARC–EP is involved in an extremely tough armed struggle, but don’t such methods or practices strike at the individual rights of combatants or freedom of discussion at the heart of the guerrilla movement, thereby revealing an extremely vertical form of political organization in the purest Stalinist tradition?
RG: Your question shows how little is known about the FARC–EP and how, perhaps subconsciously, you are echoing all the enemy propaganda (the oligarchic Colombian regime and its ally the United States). It is the enemy who has claimed we are vertical, that we solve all problems in the expedient way you refer to in your question.
We use political methods to solve any type of problem within the FARC–EP. Initially new combatants attend a six-month training school where the materials studied are fundamentally the statutes, rules of command, and disciplinary regime. If applicants realize they cannot, for physical or moral reasons, obey those rules, they can return home no problem, because until that point they know nothing and nobody other than the people with whom, clandestinely, they have taken the initial training course. Once that level has been passed, the person makes a commitment and joins the FARC–EP for life, in other words, until the triumph of the revolution and in the subsequent construction of the new society.
We do not have obligatory military service or voluntary military service either. Admittance to the FARC–EP involves thorough development in political and military training, in terms of conscious training....Let’s not forget that anyone can use a weapon, but handling politics, the class struggle and social changes, in a society like ours, is much more complicated. This, which is what we are concerned with, calls for permanent long-term training.
It is not true then that we use firing squads or executions without trial, for instance. We have no need to because our statutes contain many ways of penalizing any violation of the organization’s discipline.
Execution by firing squad is only envisaged for traitors or infiltrators who are consciously working for the enemy. That is the most serious measure taken in the FARC–EP. Other than that, any situation can be dealt with using criticism and self-criticism based on Marxist-Leninist principles, which are an integral part of our revolutionary concept.
The other issue, reflected in your question’s content, is a defamatory campaign seeking to reduce the FARC–EP to an undisciplined movement, without a hierarchy and without recognized leaders. A military organization simply cannot survive in those conditions. There is a saying that goes “the discipline is complied with or the militia is washed up.”
It would be absurd to think we could send people on missions who are demoralized, have psychological problems, or lack the sufficient politico-military qualifications. (In a war situation, who could possibly make such a miscalculation?) Quite the contrary, within the FARC–EP participation in missions constitutes a recognition of good work, and is an incentive and an honor for combatants. The FARC–EP employs conscious participation, which is why, prior to action, the leaders make a detailed study of the qualities of the combatants who are to participate in each of the war activities or on special missions determined by the FARC–EP.
As for the conditions of women in the guerrilla force, they are free. In other words, for the first time a left-wing organization and revolutionary movement has defined women as people who are absolutely free and enjoy full equality with men, taking on the same responsibilities and the same jobs, and having the same rights. Ever since the matriarchal era, it’s perhaps only now, in the guerrilla struggle, that women are beginning to play the part they lost in the past, which was the greatest defeat the female gender has suffered in the history of humanity.
As for the issue of pregnancy in the FARC–EP, the female fighters know from the outset that in the war situation they have to go through they cannot get pregnant. Within our organization, we do a lot of educational work on diffusion of information and prevention so that women are well informed about this matter and about how to avoid pregnancy and/or sexually transmitted diseases.
Sometimes, by mistake or by accident, there are cases of involuntary pregnancy. Taking into consideration the objective rules and living conditions in the midst of combat, they are generally interrupted at the request of the combatants themselves. In these cases the interruption is carried out in hygienic, sterile conditions, by qualified doctors with all the necessary measures taken to prevent any risk to their lives.
The interruption of pregnancy has been legalized in many countries and is part of certain constitutions around the world, but we have always been accused of arbitrariness on this matter and we have been demonized. What is going on here? Double standards, that’s what.
We want you to know that, for the FARC–EP, family values and the family unit are the basis for the conception of the new society we want to build. But we’re at a stage that doesn’t facilitate the development of this important aspect of life in any way.
It is telling that, in spite of all the propaganda waged against our organization, the female presence in the ranks of the FARC–EP accounts for 40 percent of combatants at present. The FARC–EP’s women fighters are real Amazons on the battlefield, or as Simon Bolivar said, in reference to those brave Roman women warriors, they are real “Bellonas.” When they are away from the war situation, the behavior of our female comrades is very feminine. In combat, they are every bit as tough as the men. They teach us about honesty, dedication, sacrifice, fraternity, and heroism...we could hardly mistreat our female comrades, they are a fundamental part of the struggle for the triumph of our revolution.
JB: Señor Granda, who was responsible for the deaths of the eleven congressional representatives detained by the FARC–EP? How is it possible that those eleven hostages were all together in the same place? Do you think it was a deliberate operation by the Colombian state to launch a vast political campaign against the FARC–EP guerrilla movement?
RG: The FARC–EP had been warning public opinion at home and abroad that operations to rescue prisoners by force posed an exaggerated threat to the lives of the hostages it was holding.
This is why the FARC–EP has pointed out that responsibility for the deaths of the eleven representatives from the Valle del Cauca on June 18, 2007, lies mainly with those who gave the order and aided the rescue attempt by force—Uribe, first and foremost.
To explain why they were together would be to indulge in speculation because on that date you remember I had just left prison in La Dorada.
What has to be said about the deaths of the eleven congressmen is that it was undoubtedly a meticulously prepared plan, both politically and militarily, and also in terms of propaganda.
Uribe’s government began its plan by talking about the possibility of releasing a number of FARC–EP prisoners for whom no one had made any request, because we had sought a bilateral humanitarian exchange of prisoners between the FARC–EP and the government. But then, Uribe took the completely unilateral decision to free some of the FARC–EP combatants. This, in my view, had to do with the preparations for action on a larger scale in the Colombian mountains.
That covertly planned action was none other than the rescue of the twelve congressional representatives by a special force of CIA agents, British and Israeli mercenaries, and Colombian army commandos.
The intended blow was that, if this special force appeared to have successfully freed the twelve congressional representatives, Uribe would have kept in prison those he was supposedly attempting to free and embarked on a political campaign at home and abroad claiming that ransoms would henceforth be the most appropriate way to secure the release of those being held by the FARC–EP, thereby ruling out the feasibility of humanitarian exchange or any possibility of dialogue.
The result of this and other similar events have led us to believe that Lima- or Entebbe-style rescue operations cannot be repeated in the Colombian rainforests. What is unequivocally required in Colombia is a humanitarian exchange between the government and the FARC–EP as a preamble to dialogue that might open the way to peace with social justice. Let us hope that many of your readers, the international community, and social, religious, humanist, and left-wing states, governments, peoples, parties, and organizations can contribute toward this search for a solution to the social and armed conflict taking place in Colombia.