Tuesday, July 15, 2008

A Setback to the Peace Process: What Really Happened in Colombia?

A setback to peace process

What really happened in Colombia?

By Berta Joubert-Ceci
Published Jul 13, 2008 10:26 PM

Colombia made prime news around the world on July 2 like never before. We learned that former Colombian presidential candidate Ingrid Betancourt had been freed from a Marxist guerrilla group along with three U.S. Pentagon contractors—Tom Howes, Marc Gonsalves and Keith Stansell—and 11 members of the Colombian army and police.

They had been taken prisoner by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC-EP) at different times in an effort to force the government toward a political, negotiated solution of the 60-year-old Colombian conflict. FARC had proposed exchanging 500 of its members held in Colombian prisons and three in federal jails in the U.S. for the several hundred people it had held in the jungle.

More importantly, the negotiated solution would involve a treaty whereby the FARC would sit down with the Colombian government to seek avenues for a real peace with economic and social justice for the majority of the Colombian masses, who are overwhelmingly poor.

Freedom in three versions

However, the news on prime time was a distortion of the facts, concocted by the Colombian government, which is very experienced in releasing half-truths and false propaganda. It dubbed the action “Operation Jaque” (checkmate).

According to Colombian Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos, the 15 held by the FARC were handed over to military forces disguised as members of a “humanitarian mission.” The government stressed that it was a peaceful operation with not a single shot fired by either side. Their explanation was that it was an undercover operation facilitated by “infiltrating high layers of the FARC” and making them believe that the prisoners were going to meet Alfonso Cano, the current FARC top leader, who supposedly had sent the helicopter to pick them up.

With this story, they portrayed the armed insurgency as a group in disarray after the recent deaths of three of its Secretariat members—Raul Reyes and Ivan Rios who were killed, and Manuel Marulanda, its founder, who died of natural causes.

They called it a perfect operation that signaled the end of the guerrilla group.

While Santos stressed that it was a 100-percent Colombian operation, with no involvement of foreign governments or organizations, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino stated on July 3 that it “was conceived by the Colombians and executed by the Colombians with our full support.” U.S. Ambassador to Colombia William Brownfield told CNN about the “technical support” the U.S. provided for the operation.

What was this “support”? MSNBC reported on July 3 that “On Thursday, Col. William Costello, spokesman for the U.S. Southern Command, said the command made 3,600 intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance flights, followed up on 175 intelligence leads and spent $250 million trying.”

It then quoted U.S. officials who “spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak on the record and the Bush administration was adamant about giving the Colombians the credit.” These sources said, according to MSNBC, that “the U.S. Special Operations Command helped with surveillance that positively located the hostages within the past year using satellites, aircraft and ground reconnaissance—and had tracked them since then.”

A second version of what happened comes from France.

The French online news site MediaPart and Radio Suisse Romande both reported that the operation was not a rescue but a “$20-million-dollar transaction” and that the Colombian government had paid that amount—provided by the U.S. government—for the release of Betancourt and the three Pentagon contractors.

Reportedly, secret negotiations took place through the wife of one of the men in charge of watching over Betancourt. The woman had been seized by the Colombian military and forced to make her FARC husband change sides and agree to the bribe. Needless to say, the Colombian government vehemently rejects this version, but admits that it does pay for information.

Two European envoys—French diplomat Noel Saez and his Swiss counterpart, Jean Pierre Gontard—were in Colombia at the time. They had requested permission from the Colombian government to further negotiations with the FARC for the release of Betancourt, who holds French and Colombian citizenship, and the others. The Colombian government granted them permission and vowed to help the effort. This was widely known; the government itself had publicized it earlier. It had been reported in France that the two had already communicated with the FARC leadership.

Narciso Isa Conde, a Dominican left leader, has presented a third version of the events. Isa Conde is part of the Continental Bolivarian Coordinating Group and has the authority to speak on this matter since he had participated in earlier negotiations for the release of Betancourt. In a widely circulated article written July 3 and entitled “There was no such rescue,” he wrote that the operation was really “an initiative stolen from the FARC.”

Isa Conde says that the FARC was about to release the 15 to the French-Swiss team, so they had to be brought to one point from their locations in three different parts of the jungle. The detainees were to be transported in civilian helicopters to a place where they would meet with the FARC leadership in a ceremony to hand them over to the Europeans.

However, the Colombian military, with the help of U.S. surveillance, located the helicopters and substituted military pilots dressed as FARC members, wearing Che tee shirts, who kept up the pretense until all the detainees were inside the helicopters.

This certainly would explain why the rest of the guerrillas were so willing to hand over the prisoners without a shot being fired.

Role of Israel

Many reports mention how “swift” and “smooth” the operation was. Ingrid Betancourt, on her arrival in France, mentioned “the Israelis” and their “extraordinary commando operations, that resemble the coup that occurred today.”

In fact, Israel is part of Plan Colombia, the U.S. strategy to control Colombia. There is ample documentation on how the Israeli secret services Mossad and Shin Beth have assisted Uribe’s government in Colombian territory. The Israeli newspaper Maariv reported in 2007 that Gen. Israel Ziv, who had commanded Israeli forces in Gaza, was a consultant on “security” for the Colombian government.

According to a recent report in TeleSur, Colombian Defense Minister Santos traveled last February to Israel to meet with the leadership of Mossad—Israel’s equivalent of the CIA. On the same trip, he went to the U.S. to meet with Defense Secretary Robert Gates, a former CIA director.

Beneficiary: Uribe!

One thing is crystal clear. The person who gains most from this operation is President Alvaro Uribe himself.

Up to his neck in a corruption and parapolitical scandal, he needed a smokescreen. With the help of the capitalist media worldwide, but particularly the Colombian oligarchy’s media, Uribe’s administration has mounted a campaign to present him as a hero and the greatest defender of peace—even as his closest allies in government are being implicated in massacres and other crimes perpetrated by paramilitaries. Many are already serving prison time.

He really needed this, and the U.S. gave it to him.

His reelection in 2006 has been ruled illegal by the Colombian Supreme Court of Justice because he offered positions and favors to a congressmember who provided the critical vote approving his reelection, since it was not permitted in the Constitution. In spite of that, he is now proposing a referendum to change the Constitution so he can run for a third term in 2010.

His Army chief, Gen. Mario Montoya, who received a medal from the U.S. Army, was implicated in the creation of a clandestine terrorist unit in the Colombian Army. This “Anticommunist American Alliance” attacked, assassinated and took left-wing activists hostage. Montoya has a long history of criminal activity, including when he led the Joint South Task Force between 1999-2001, financed by the U.S.

Uribe’s past actions regarding people held by the FARC revealed no intent to secure their release. After the FARC unilaterally released seven prisoners late last year, Uribe bombed a FARC encampment in Ecuador where Raul Reyes was preparing the release of Ingrid Betancourt, together with the Ecuadorean government. That bombing, performed with U.S. technical aid, killed Reyes and 23 other people, including an Ecuadorean and four Mexican students.

Betancourt’s mother, Yolanda Pulecio, said at that time, “I pray that Uribe does not find my daughter” because he might “order military operations that could kill her and then justify the war saying that the guerrillas killed her.”

Human tragedy in Colombia worsens

Already this year 30 union leaders have been killed. The paramilitaries that Uribe says are “demobilized” have just changed their names from the “Self Defense Units of Colombia” (AUC) to the Black Eagles. They continue to spread terror throughout the country with total impunity.

The situation in Colombia right now is desperate for the progressive movement, which courageously keeps demonstrating and trying to build alternatives of peace and justice in the face of criminal repression by the state and horrendous violence from the paramilitary forces.

Poverty continues and increases; the privatization of essential services is preventing the masses from having access to education and adequate health care. Millions of children have to work in order to survive. Peasants, Indigenous and Afro-Colombian communities continue to face displacement. Progressive leaders continue to be targets of assassination and disappearance.

As long as these conditions exist, a guerrilla movement will also exist.

Need for international solidarity

It is not surprising that the prisoners of the FARC-EP were “freed” on the very day that U.S. presidential hopeful John McCain was visiting Colombia to assure Uribe of his support for the Free Trade Agreement, now frozen in the U.S. Congress. It was also one day after the infamous Fourth Fleet of the U.S. Navy initiated its prowling in Latin American and Caribbean waters.

The progressive movement in the U.S. owes an enormous debt to the peoples south of the Rio Grande. Wall Street and Washington are the biggest threat to the stability of the region and to the development of the progressive processes taking place there.

It would be an enormous setback for the world progressive and revolutionary forces if this brutal government doing the dirty work for U.S. imperialism were to settle firmly in Colombia, able to threaten the Venezuelan Bolivarian Revolution, Bolivia and Ecuador. It is of utmost importance to show concrete solidarity with the struggling people in Colombia who are staving off the hand of fascist dictatorship.
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