Month: August 2000

Funding Dictatorship in Colombia

Colombia is frequently referred to as the “oldest democracy in Latin America.” It’s now on the well-worn path towards dictatorship, with the help of $1.3 billion in military aid from the Clinton Administration.

Our own Senator Patty Murray recently defended the Colombia aid bill in a letter to constituents who had asked her to vote against the aid package. “While I support efforts to end the production of drugs in Colombia,” she wrote, “I believe the Congress must be absolutely certain U.S. assistance is not used to assist the Colombian military in the execution of its civil war, or allocated to units guilty of human rights violations. As a member of the Foreign Operations Subcommittee, I voted to place extensive conditions on funding in the Senate Appropriations Committee version of the Foreign Operations bill.”

Sen. Murray obviously, naively believes that such “extensive conditions” matter to the Clinton Administration. In fact, on August 22, Bill Clinton signed a waiver to release the first disbursement of funds from the aid package, even though the Colombian government has met only one of the seven human rights conditions set by Congress. That one condition was a simple written statement issued by Colombian President Andres Pastrana that military personnel accused of human rights abuses would be tried in civilian courts. In short, Clinton released the funds on Pastrana’s say-so.

The Clinton Administration also cites the “good faith” effort that Pastrana has made to extradite drug traffickers to the U.S. for trial. This is supposed to be indicative of both Pastrana’s sincerity in pursuing the drug war and the efficiency of Colombia’s “reformed” military. In fact, only three drug traffickers have been extradited in the three years since the extradition treaty was signed, and the most recent to be shipped to the U.S. was Alberto Orlandez, who has been sitting in a Colombian jail since 1998.

Sen. Murray is eager to assure us that she’s concerned about U.S. money being used to pursue the Colombian civil war or to commit human rights atrocities by the Colombian military. Notably, she avoids mentioning the right-wing paramilitary death squads, supported by the Colombian military and rich landowners, who commit the bulk of civilian murders in Colombia and who are inextricably linked to drug trafficking. This is called “plausible deniability”–as long as the Clinton Administration and its uncritical supporters in Congress can deny that the military and paramilitaries are linked, then there’s no problem.

But the evidence is quite clear. The worst massacre in Colombia this year–in El Salado–was committed by a large paramilitary group over the course of three gruesome days, while a Colombian military unit blockaded the roads to and from the town, refusing to let human rights workers in to stop the violence. The military later claimed that paramilitaries were fighting FARC rebels in the area and that civilians couldn’t enter for safety reasons. However, eyewitnesses and victims of the El Salado massacre tell a different story.

During the massacre, relatives of the victims fled to a nearby military garrison and demanded that they intervene to stop the bloodshed. “We made a scandal and nearly caused a riot, we were so insistent,” one man said. “But they did nothing to help us.” [“Colombians Tell of Massacre, as Army Stood By,” New York Times, 7/14/00.] The senior military officer in the region, Col. Rodrigo Quinones, was promoted to the rank of general afterwards. In the early ’90s, Quinones was director of Naval Intelligence, where he organized a major paramilitary network that murdered more than 57 trade unionists, human rights workers, and opposition politicians. These are the people who will receive the U.S. aid money.

While it’s a state secret in the U.S., the European press extensively reports paramilitary links to the Colombian military. Take, for example, Carlos Castano, a major paramilitary leader, who has strong links to the U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency. In mid-August Castano spoke on Colombian national television, describing a meeting he had with DEA agents about obtaining funds and training from the U.S. Colombian aid package. One of Castano’s translators, who has attended meetings between Castano, the DEA, and drug traffickers, said that the DEA agents were setting up future meetings between Castano and U.S. Army officials, people from the Department of State, and a series of politicians. [“Europe urged to withhold support” Ana Carrigan, The Irish Times, 8/24/00.]

Castano has an interesting history. He was a hit man for the Pablo Escobar, head of the Cali drug cartel. Recruited by the CIA, he worked with Colombian police to capture Escobar. Afterwards, he set up a right-wing death squad and worked under contract to the Colombian army to murder labor union members and left-wing politicians. In the 1990s, he took his army paycheck and founded his own paramilitary group, which now controls a large swath of northern Colombia and feeds on proceeds from drug trafficking and the occasional military handout. Says Ana Carrigan of the Irish Times: “Today Castano is in a process of metamorphosis, from psychopathic gangster to political icon. In the last two years he has unified the disparate, autonomous, regional paramilitaries into a national force of some 10,000 men in uniform. Under his leadership, this army provides the muscle for a shadowy, fascist political movement, whose civilian leadership is invisible though its goals are not: first to close down the peace talks between the government and FARC; then, to provide a launching pad for a military-civilian ‘national unity government.'” In other words, a military dictatorship.

This is the type of man who will benefit from “Plan Colombia,” as the aid package is called. The funds will buy 18 Black Hawk helicopters, 42 Huey helicopters, and training and equipment for the Colombian military. It will end up in the hands of men like Quinones, who will funnel it to men like Castano.

A portion of the funds is earmarked for humanitarian aid, but last week over 100 Colombian NGOs–the very groups targeted to receive that aid–refused it on the grounds that it would only make the civil war worse, and that it would turn them into targets of the FARC. In addition, they all refused to ever accept money from the U.S. government, as a matter of principle. Clearly, they know (even if Sen. Murray doesn’t) who is responsible for aiding the current Colombian government and the Colombian military (and, therefore, the paramilitaries).

Pres. Clinton will be traveling to Colombia on August 30 to unveil Plan Colombia. He’ll be met with protests from Colombian human rights, environmental, indigenous, and social justice groups. The International Action Center (IAC), a groups of activists opposed to Plan Colombia, have helped organize protests in New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, Detroit, San Diego, Montreal, Toronto, Stockholm, London, Rome, Vienna, Buenos Aires, and other cities. The IAC can be contacted at 212-633-6646, via e-mail at iacenter@iacenter.org, or on the Web at http://www.iacenter.org.

Other sources for this article include: “Colombian Groups Say U.S. Aid Endangers Them,” Washington Post, 8/23/00; “Clinton Clears Aid Package for Colombia,” Washington Post, 8/23/00; “Leaders Debate Colombia Aid,” Reuters, 8/14/00; and “Albright Fails to Rally Brazil on Colombia Drug War,” Reuters, 8/16/00.

Crackdown in Philly

The majority of the people arrested in Philadelphia protesting the Republican National Convention were practicing nonviolent civil disobedience, not property destruction, as the media would have us believe. Over a hundred remain in jail, and have suffered abuse by the Philadelphia police and corrections officers.

The charges and the bail amounts have been surreal, and folks’ civil rights have been violated repeatedly. For example, John Sellers, Director of the Ruckus Society, was held on bail of $1 million–more than is typically required for accused rapists, wife-beaters, child molesters, and assorted murderers. His crime? Standing on a sidewalk, watching the demonstrations. 75 people were arrested at a site that was used for making puppets, and their materials confiscated. They were charged with “obstructing traffic” and their bail was set at $15,000 each, even though none of them were in the street or participating in a demonstration at the time of their arrest. Bail for activists arrested during peaceful demonstrations and street blockades have been set us high as $500,000 each.

Once arrested, the reports of abuse inside jail have been numerous and horrifying. Pepper spray has been used on detainees during their arraignments. Prisoners have been stripped, beaten, deprived of sleep, denied food and water for extended periods, and refused access to a bathroom. People with diabetes and asthma have been denied their medications.

Leslie Cagan, a ZNet correspondent reported: “There are numerous accounts of arrestees who have been isolated, verbally abused, punched, kicked, thrown against walls, bloodied, and dragged naked across floors, in one instance through a “trash trough” containing refuse, spittle, and urine. There has been a reported sexual assault by a female officer who pulled and twisted a prisoner’s penis, as well as reports of people dragged by their genitals, and nipples being twisted by guards. Seven witnesses saw one woman dragged naked and bleeding … Many of the arrestees have been held since Tuesday [Aug. 1] without arraignment, some without phone calls or contact with their lawyers. There are reports of missing paperwork, and arraignments with incomplete or slipshod records, and lawyers have been allowed only very limited visits.”

The detainees are being released slowly and sporadically. The prisoners have been practicing jail solidarity, demanding that they all be treated equally, that the abuse be stopped, and that they all have access to their lawyers. A solidarity protest outside the Roundhouse Jail and calls from concerned people all over the world have been effective in reducing bail or having charges dropped against many of the arrestees.

John Sellers of the Ruckus Society was released on August 10th; this is a portion of his statement: “Ruckus condemns the use of violence in any form. We have never taught the use of vandalism or property destruction in a political protest. We have never advocated the use of vandalism by other organizations. Hundreds of citizen activists now sit in the Philadelphia Prison System. They are not the individuals who chose to destroy public and private property during the Republican National Convention. They are, in fact, people of conscience whose greatest crime is standing up to the grave injustices that are shaking this country to its core. They are political prisoners being punished by the same corrupt system whose authority they had the courage to question.”

To help, contact the Legal Support Team in Philadelphia at 215-925-6791. They need money for the bail fund and legal support. You can also call some or all of the following numbers and ask that people arrested for exercising their free speech rights be released immediately: Mayor John Street at 215-686-2181, DA Lynn Abrams at 215-686-5777, Deputy Police Commissioner Mitchell at 215-686-3364, Captain Fisher (Head of the Police Department office of Civil Affairs) at 215-685-3684, Chief Maxwell (Head of Criminal Investigations for the police) at 215-686-3362, Police Commissioner John Timoney at 215-686-3149 or 215-686-3388, City Council President Ann Verna at 215-686-3442 or 215-686-3412 and 3413, Mayor’s Chief of Staff Stuber at 215-686-7508, and Roundhouse Jail 215-686-1776 or 215-685-8574.

One Planet – August 2, 2000

How do you protest a fraudulent election? The Peruvian way. Three days of massive protests greeted the inauguration of Alberto Fujimori to an unconstitutional third presidential term. On July 26, over 100,000 people marched in Lima in a nonviolent demonstration. They were met by 40,000 riot police armed with tear gas and live ammunition, who cordoned off most of downtown Lima with armored cars. Police fired tear gas canisters directly into the crowd, used water cannons, and fired live bullets into the air. Three protesters were shot and 80 people injured in the melee. In response, demonstrators split into groups and set fire to several government buildings, including the National Elections Board building, the state bank building, and the hated Palace of Justice. One large group surrounded and set fire to the former Education Ministry building, one of the tallest office towers in Lima. Demonstrators fought off police and fire department personnel, chanting “the dictatorship will fall!” A smaller group of demonstrators circled around behind police lines and attacked the National Palace, Fujimori’s official residence.

Why the violence? Back in May, international monitors refused to certify the Peruvian elections, saying that media bias, handouts to the poor to buy votes for Fujimori, and suspicious glitches in the computer that counts votes had made the election undemocratic. Fujimori’s opponent, Alejandro Toledo, asked only that the May election be delayed for three weeks while the computer problems were fixed, but Fujimori refused. Toledo asked Peruvians to boycott the election, and final returns showed that nearly half the electorate either refused to vote or defaced their ballots in protest. In addition, Toledo received 17% of the vote from Peruvians who did cast ballots. (Many Peruvians are afraid to not vote, since they can be fined $33 if they don’t–this is an enormous sum of money in a country where over half the population lives in deep poverty.) While the U.S. government could sanction the dictatorship, it has gone against international opinion and accepted the results of the election. Peru is the second-largest recipient of U.S. aid money in South America, behind Colombia.

In other election news, Robert Mugabe’s ZANU-PF party won a narrow majority in Zimbabwe’s parliamentary elections in late June. ZANU-PF won 62 seats to the opposition Movement for Democratic Change’s 57 seats. MDC has claimed election fraud in 30 of the races, and election observers from the European Union have said that the elections were marred by violence and intimidation. Judicial challenges may overturn some of the seats won by ZANU-PF or force a by-election in some districts. The results have been a blow for Mugabe, whose party previously held 147 of the 150 seats in Parliament. Mugabe’s strongest support was in rural areas, where squatters continue to occupy white-owned farms and demand land reform. Urban voters, on the other hand, supported MDC in a show of anger over poor economic conditions caused by punitive IMF and World Bank actions over Zimbabwe’s involvement in the Congo war and strikes by white-owned businesses and farms protesting land reform. Mugabe now lacks a majority to push through changes in the constitution to further his land reform proposals. In early July, he attempted to form a coalition government with MDC, but MDC party leader Morgan Tsvangirai responded by forming his own shadow cabinet and calling for Mugabe to be impeached. Mugabe has been forced to name an almost entirely new cabinet, and to cut the number of cabinet ministers in half. Nevertheless, Mugabe’s government is still pushing ahead with the transfer of 200 white-owned farms to black peasants.

On July 19, the World Diamond Congress adopted a resolution to ban the sale of conflict diamonds–gems sold to support the civil wars in the Congo, Sierra Leone, and Angola. The World Diamond Congress is made up of two main groups that represent the diamond industry: the World Federation of Diamond Bourses and the International Diamond Manufacturers Association. The resolution calls for a system that would seal diamonds into packets at or near each mining site and provide a certificate of origin for each sealed packet. Diamond buyers have pledged to buy only certified packets, while the WDC has called on the main diamond exporting countries (particularly South Africa, Botswana, and Namibia) to pass laws that would make it a criminal offense for individuals or companies to sell or export uncertified packets.

It’s not surprising that the resolution places the burden of enforcement and the costs of certification onto the diamond exporting countries, while removing that burden from the diamond dealers. De Beers, which controls two-thirds of the market in uncut diamonds, is supporting this proposal as the best solution to avoid the bad publicity over conflict gems; it also will reduce the supply of diamonds on the market and therefore drive up the price. Global Witness, a human rights organization that has helped bring the role of conflict diamonds to world attention, is worried about the proposal, and for good reason. A U.N. ban on uncertified diamonds from Angola has done little to stop UNITA from selling gems, because of corruption in the Angolan certification system. In other words, it’s easy to forge certificates. Other diamond-exporting countries, such as Russia, are unwilling to implement a certification system, ostensibly because of the cost, but also because it’s a double-edged sword. Having witnessed what economic sanctions can do to a country like Iraq, many nations are justifiably wary about controls that can, at the whim of the U.S., make their natural resources easy to ban from world markets.

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