An estimated 13 million people marched for peace in Colombia on October 24, the opening day of new peace talks between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). There were 2 million marchers in the capital of Bogota, while over a million protested in Medellin. Millions more filled the streets of 57 cities and towns across the nation, bearing banners that read simply “No Mas.” Their main demand was for an end to the killing of civilians by the military and paramilitary groups, who were responsible for over 80% of the political killings in Colombia last year. Many peasants and townspeople elaborated on the “No More” message, wearing T-shirts and bearing signs that read: “No More Massacres,” “No More Unemployment,” “No More Torture,” and “No More Gringo Military”–the last in reference to the increasing presence of U.S. military personnel, weapons, and money in Colombia to provide support to the corrupt Colombian military. Currently, the U.S. Congress is debating a bill that would boost military aid to Colombia to $1.5 billion; last year’s total was $289 million, which made Colombia the third-largest recipient of U.S. military aid. The U.S. aid package is being touted as money for the drug war, but the Drug Enforcement Agency’s chief administrator, Donnie Marshall, has testified before a House subcommittee that the FARC “are associated with drug traffickers, providing protection or extorting money from them. But from the point of view of the DEA, we judge the FARC from the point of view of enforcing the law. And at the moment we haven’t come close to the conclusion that this group has been involved as a drug trafficking organization.” Nevertheless, Sen. Jesse Helms is trying to push enormous amounts of money into the civil war in Colombia in the name of “the drug war.” Colombian President Andres Pastrana, however, supports the DEA’s position: “The FARC has always said they are interested in eradicating illegal crops.”From: “Millions march for Colombia peace, BBC News, 10/25/99; “Paramilitaries’ influence in Colombia welcomed by some but feared by others,” NPR, 10/7/99 (from a transcript); and “DEA Clears FARC,” CounterPunch, 9/1-9/15/99.
On October 20 the Indonesian parliament elected a president, but it wasn’t B.J. Habibie, Suharto’s hand-picked successor. And surprisingly, it also wasn’t Megawati Sukarnoputri, the popular granddaughter of Sukarno and the woman that everyone assumed would win the election. When Habibie lost a vote of confidence and agreed to step down, his supporters in parliament scrambled to find a replacement candidate–anyone but Megawati. They turned to Abdurrahman Wahid, a Muslim intellectual and a “moderate” who is a close associate of General Wiranto, the man who really runs Indonesia. Wahid was acceptable to the military, to conservative Muslims, and to businessmen: he won 373 votes–just 22 more than he needed to win. Megawati had 313 votes. Stanley Roth, an official with the U.S. State Department, was quick to praise Wahid: “This is a man, clearly, the United States can work with.” Immediately after the election results were announced, people took to the streets in several cities and towns around the country to protest in support of Megawati. Banks and government offices were burned in Solo, central Java, in South Sulawesi, in Northern Sumatra, and in Bali, a stronghold of Megawati support (she is part Balinese). In Jakarta, thousands of protesters fought police with rocks and Molotov cocktails, while police fired rubber bullets and used tear gas to disperse crowds. Protesters burned part of the Jakarta Convention Center. In response, the parliament quickly moved to elect Megawati Vice President to put an end to the unrest. Her influence, however, will be minimal. Last week, Wahid named the members of his new cabinet and revealed his preference for a military-style government ala Suharto. Notably, Gen. Wiranto will move into a new, more powerful position as Co-ordinating Minister for Political and Security Affairs. Wahid also named three other generals to cabinet posts.From: “Muslim Cleric is Elected Indonesia’s President,” LA Times, 10/21/99; “Megawati supporters go on rampage countrywide after election defeat,” Agence France Presse, 10/20/99; and “Neat trick, but balancing act will create problems,” Sydney Morning Herald, 10/27/99.
An update in the Pinochet extradition process: a British magistrate ruled on October 8 that Pinochet can be extradited to Spain to stand trial. But Pinochet won’t be leaving England any time soon. His associates in the Chilean government have been unsuccessful in persuading British Home Secretary Jack Straw and Prime Minister Tony Blair to release Pinochet from custody, so Pinochet’s lawyers have filed a habeas corpus petition with London’s High Court. This will set off a second round of appeals that could last another year. This second appeal will challenge the extradition order itself; the first appeal dealt with the legality of Pinochet’s arrest and detention under British law.
Shame on Michel Barton, spokesman for the U.N. Office of the Coordinator for Humanitarian Assistance. On October 14, he told a reporter for The Irish Times “…we don’t believe that people in their thousands have been killed and their bodies buried or thrown in the sea. If this had been the case we would have found evidence by now. Presumably all the missing people are in West Timor or still hiding in East Timor’s mountains.” What he neglected to tell the reporter is that no U.N. investigative team has yet entered East Timor to investigate the killings, even though the U.N. Commission on Human Rights said it would send a team over a month ago. Gathering evidence has been left to the Australian military, which admits that it isn’t able to do the job properly. In addition, witnesses and Australian military personnel report that the militias took great care to hide the number of people they killed. One strategy included burning bodies, loading the charred corpses onto trucks, and dumping them into crocodile-filled lakes near Suai, a coastal town 60 miles southwest of Dili. In another instance, victims from Maliana were hacked to death with machetes, trucked to the coast, loaded on a boat, weighted with sandbags, and thrown into the sea. U.N. peacekeepers have often reported reaching sites of alleged massacres and finding lots of blood, piles of abandoned personal effects, a few scattered body parts, but no corpses. And they have no training and no equipment to search for and exhume bodies. Presumably, the U.N. can’t spare any investigators from Kosovo … nor can it be honest about its own dereliction of duty. In the meantime, U.N. peacekeepers have accounted for only half of the 850,000 people who lived in East Timor prior to the militia attacks.From: “UN official doubts Timor massacre stories,” Irish Times, 10/14/99; “Evidence is there, but where is the U.N. team?” Sydney Morning Herald, 10/16/99; and “A Killing Ground Without Corpses,” Washington Post, 10/22/99, p A01.