CELAC Summit Offers Proposals, amid Divisions and Dissent / By W. T. Whitney Jr.

Cuban president denounces US interference at Celac Summit | Prensa Latina, 01.24.23

The 7th Summit Meeting of the Community of Latin and America States (CELAC) took place in Buenos Aires, Argentina on January 23. In their Declaration, representatives of 33 member nations, including 14 presidents, paid  homage to integration, unity, and  “political economic, social, and cultural diversity among member states.” They agreed “by consensus” to an all-embracing set of proposals and statements, 100 in all, and to 11 “special statements” on the situations of particular countries.

As is usual, host-country president Alberto Fernández made arrangements and set the agenda. The one-day meeting included closed- door discussions and brief presentations by representatives of the various country.

Participants at CELAC’s founding meeting in Caracas in 2013 declared  the region to be a “zone of peace.”  CELAC, it was hoped, would be promoting regional cooperation on social and economic development, agreement on common political goals, and progress toward integration and unity.

Preparations had begun in 2010 after U.S. interventions in Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Cuba, and other countries had intensified. CELAC would differ from Organization of American States (OAS), the regional organization serving U.S. interests since 1948. The United States and Canada are not members of CELAC. 

A gap separated the fifth CELAC Summit in 2017, in the Dominican Republic, from the sixth one, on September 16-18, 2021 in Mexico City. Instability in Venezuela, Bolivia, and Brazil was a likely factor.  Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador (AMLO), presiding over CELAC VI, spoke of CELAC as the regional equivalent of the European Union. There was speculation about CELAC replacing the OAS. 

Brazilian President Luiz Inácio “Lula” Da Silva’s arrival at CELAC VII generated excitement. Brazil had rejoined CELEC after being removed by Former President Jair Bolsonaro in 2020. Lula supports closer ties of both CELAC and the Mercosur economic organization with the European Union.

In Buenos Aires, rightwing demonstrators from Argentina and elsewhere were noisily protesting against CELAC. They objected to the presence of leftist countries like Venezuela, Cuba, and Nicaragua. To avoid confrontation, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro and President Daniel Ortega of Nicaragua stayed away. AMLO also did not attend, claiming he was busy.

Crisis in Peru provoked divisions.  The Declaration was silent on the coup there and on repression of popular resistance. Colombian president Gustavo Petro, President Xiomara Castro of Honduras, and AMLO, in a video presentation, called for deposed President Pedro Castillo’s release from prison. Presidents Fernández of Argentina and Boric of Chile said nothing on that score. 

CELAC did not respond to Prime Minister Ariel Henry’s requests for  member states to “participate in a specialized multinational force requested by Haiti” to deal with gang warfare.

President Fernández, surprisingly, had invited U.S. President Biden, who sent former Senator Chris Dodd in his stead. Dodd spoke at the plenary session, as did European Council President Charles Michel.  President Droupadi Murmu of India participated virtually. Chinese President Xi Jinping sent a message of solidarity.

The Summit Declaration says little about implementing proposals and realization of earlier plans.  It refers to expected actions by United Nations agencies and by regional organizations with special experience and expertise.

The only CELAC actions mentioned are recent meetings of ministers of CELAC countries with international agencies dealing with healthcare and food-supply issues. The only CELAC initiatives underway soon are meetings of CELAC representatives with officials of the European Union, China, the African Union, and the ASEAN nations.

The website celacinternational.org mentions far-reaching plans as of 2013 for transportation, healthcare, and hunger-alleviation projects. A subsequent lack of follow-up information and references to other projects suggests flawed implementation.

Speaking at the Summit, Colombian President Gustavo Petro called for “building integration through concrete projects” and for action on the climate crisis, revitalizing the Amazonian forests particularly. He denounced “U.S. deficiencies in moving toward a carbon-free economy.” 

President Miguel Díaz-Canel of Cuba reminded his listeners of U.S. “efforts to divide us, stigmatize us and subordinate us to its interests.” The United States is isolated, he suggested, in its “strategy of hegemony and domination.”  And Cuba’s inclusion on the U.S. list of states that sponsor terrorism greatly impedes “our aspirations for development.

On video, President Maduro of Venezuela called upon CELAC to demand that the United States no longer intervene in the affairs of “free and sovereign nations” and “No more coup-plotting, no more sanctions against sovereign nations.” 

Uruguayan President Luis Lacalle, dissenting, charged that, “there are clearly countries here … that do not respect institutions, democracy or human rights.” He has drawn criticism for his push for a regional free trade zone and a Uruguayan -Chinese trade agreement. 

Speaking for El Salvador, Vice President Félix Ulloa urged CELAC to take on an executive secretary to preserve the alliance’s “institutional memory.” 

A CELAC “social summit” took place in Buenos Aires on the day prior to CELAC VII. Present were Argentinian trade unionists and leftist political parties and political leaders and activists from many countries. Former Bolivian President Evo Morales headed a panel of speakers.

Participants demonstrated outside the actual Summit against the rightwing protesters and “in support of our anti-imperialist presidents.”  Returning later, they demanded support for Peruvians’ resistance and called for non-recognition of the coup government. 

U.S. imperialism remained the perennial CELAC theme. Asked about U.S. designs on the region’s natural resources, Bolivian President Luis Arce was forthright: “[T]hese are our natural resources … We are not going to accept any imposition by anybody nor let anyone regard our natural resources as if it were theirs.”   

General Laura Richardson’s remarks before the Atlantic Council on January 19 had prompted the question. She is head of the U.S. Southern Command.

The next CELAC summit meeting will occur in Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, population 104,000 and the first Anglophone site for a CELAC meeting. Prime Minister Ralph Gon­salves will be presiding.

W.T. Whitney Jr. is a political journalist whose focus is on Latin America, health care, and anti-racism. A Cuba solidarity activist, he formerly worked as a pediatrician, lives in rural Maine. W.T. Whitney Jr. es un periodista político cuyo enfoque está en América Latina, la atención médica y el antirracismo. Activista solidario con Cuba, anteriormente trabajó como pediatra, vive en la zona rural de Maine.

Colombia’s First Leftist President Will Bring Historic Change, if the US Lets Him / by Daniel Kovalik

Colombia is the latest Latin American country to turn from the right, and possibly stand up to Washington, with the inauguration of Gustavo Petro.

It’s a historic day in Colombia, as the country inaugurates former guerrilla Gustavo Petro as its first leftist president, and Francia Marquez as its first vice president of African descent. This was unthinkable not long ago, and before this unlikely team now lie the combined challenges of standing up to US domination and fixing decades of social injustice.

The last time it appeared Colombia would have a leftist president was in 1948 with the candidacy of the fiery and popular Liberal Party leader Jorge Gaitan. Tragically, Gaitan was assassinated before the election, leading to the period of ‘La Violencia’, in which between 200,000 and 300,000 Colombians were killed over the following decade. In the melee which immediately followed Gaitan’s assassination, a young Fidel Castro and Gabriel Garcia Marquez, who would later become life-long friends, would briefly encounter each other in the streets of Bogota. It is uncertain who was behind the assassination of Gaitan, though one of the main versions, and certainly my belief, is that it was the newly-created CIA, which became the US’ regime-change instrument for decades to come.

RELATED CONTENT: Colombia’s President Petro: Guaidó’s Presidency is Non-Existent

Even after La Violencia, Colombia has continued to be marked by gruesome political violence, even to the present time, with over 220,000 killed in such violence since 1958. In recent years, this violence has mostly been carried out by US-backed military and paramilitary death squads closely aligned with the right-wing governments which have seamlessly governed Colombia since 2002. The state violence since 2002 has been staggering, with the military murdering at least 6,400 and possibly 10,000 people from 2002 to 2008 alone. Meanwhile, over 92,000 Colombians have been disappeared, and over 5 million Colombians are internally displaced, amounting to one of the largest numbers of internally-displaced people in the world.

Given this landscape and the numerous death threats both Petro and Marquez received during the presidential campaign, and for years before, many have feared they could suffer the same fate as Gaitan. Indeed, the two campaigned behind bullet-proof shields to protect them from the very real threat of assassination. This threat has not abated simply because they have been elected, and just surviving their full term in office will be a very real feat.

The threat Petro and Marquez pose to the system and powers-that-be, both in Colombia and Washington, is their promise to break the hold that the rich oligarchs have had over Colombia for centuries and to redistribute wealth by shifting the tax burden and boosting the social safety net in order to benefit the poor and the disenfranchised indigenous and black population. Colombia is, by design, one of the most unequal societies on Earth, and those on the top will not cede their wealth, land, or power easily, and the US, which dominates Colombia through this elite, will not allow this to easily happen. In addition, Colombia, the only NATO partner in this hemisphere outside of North America, is the US’ closest ally in Latin America and the base of operations to dominate the region. The US, still wedded to the Monroe Doctrine, will resist mightily any attempt of Petro and Marquez to change this.

RELATED CONTENT: Petro Reveals Timetable for Resumption of Diplomatic Relations with Venezuela (+Monómeros)

Washington is already panicking at the fact that, with the election of the two, five of the largest economies in Latin America are now being led by leftist presidents, and this may soon become six if Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, the current frontrunner in Brazil, is re-elected this year. US officials are open about the fact that they wish to maintain control over the region’s vast resources, and these leftist presidents, who wish to use their countries’ resources for the benefit of their own people, stand in the way of this control. The head of US Southern Command, General Laura Richardson, made it clear recently that the focus of US operations in the region is to maintain control of the region’s “off the charts” resources. As she explained, “60% of the world’s lithium is in the region; you have heavy crude, you have light sweet crude, you have rare earth elements, you have the Amazon…”  The US has no intention of letting these resources slip through its fingers.

In short, the real threat of regime change looms over the new Petro/Marquez administration in Colombia, and it will take vigilance and international solidarity to ensure that this threat is not realized. Latin America desperately needs the type of social change that Petro and Marquez promise, and we must ensure that there is no repeat of the fate which befell others like Gaitan, or President Salvador Allende in Chile, who promised the same.

Dan Kovalik is a US labor and human rights lawyer, writer and activist. He has been a peace activist throughout his life and has been deeply involved in the movement for peace and social justice in Colombia, Venezuela, Nicaragua and other countries in the Global South. He has taught International Human Rights at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law since 2012.

Orinoco Tribune, August 16, 2022, https://orinocotribune.com/

Antonio García: Peace is not always associated with social justice and the welfare of society / by People’s Dispatch

The first commander of the National Liberation Army, Antonio García, spoke about the possibility for peace amid a time of historic transformation in Colombia

Colombia is undergoing a period of radical transformation. The country which for decades had been dominated by conservative rule, and subject to the demands and needs of the United States government and foreign capital, will finally have a progressive government.

The victory of the Historic Pact ticket in June has opened up new possibilities for the country with regard to the guarantee of essential social, economic, and political rights such as housing, education, healthcare, and more for all communities and sectors in the country, many which have been historically denied and excluded.

It also puts the possibility of true and lasting peace back on the table. Under the rule of Juan Manuel Santos, enormous advances were made in achieving peace in the country, notably the signing of Peace Accords with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia in Havana, Cuba in 2016 and the initiation of talks with the National Liberation Army (ELN).

However, under the government of Iván Duque, both of these achievements saw tremendous setbacks. The Havana Accords were systematically undermined and the programs underfunded by Duque. Over 330 signatories of the peace agreements, or reincorporated ex-combatants, were assassinated. Duque put the process with the ELN on hold indefinitely and during his presidency, no negotiations were carried out.

President-elect Gustavo Petro and vice-president-elect Francia Márquez have reiterated their commitment to building a lasting peace with social justice in the country, and rebuilding what Duque’s attempted to destroy. Most recently, during Márquez’s pre-inauguration tour of Latin America, she announced in a press conference that Chile’s president Gabriel Boric had offered to host the peace talks between the government and the ELN.

To understand more about the armed conflict in Colombia and what are the major issues at stake in the peace process, a group of independent media platforms obtained an exclusive interview with Antonio García, the first commander of the National Liberation Army (ELN). He shared his analysis of the current situation and perspectives for peace.

The ELN recently commemorated the 58th anniversary of its creation. What are some of the social causes that gave rise to this group that remains in arms today? What brought you to join?

Antonio García:  Thinking about the origins is to recall the painful experiences of building revolutionary guerrillas that would accompany the struggles of the people after the violence (from 1948-1958 there was a period of violence between Liberal Party guerrillas and Conservative Party paramilitaries). The liberal-conservative oligarchy, in order to overcome the violence, made several pacts in 1957, which were polished until they defined the National Front. In May 1958, elections were held and on August 7 the first president was sworn in; from then on, the government would take turns every four years. The liberal guerrillas were deceived and betrayed in a negotiation that only sought their demobilization.

Then came a stage of trials in the construction of guerrillas based on the residues and groups that had been left over from the liberal guerrillas of the violence. During this time, several rebel leaders were assassinated by people from these groups as part of the oligarchy’s plan, as was the case of Federico Arango Fonegra and Antonio Larrotta.

A new revolutionary guerrilla independent of the oligarchic influence had to be born as a product of the reflection of these errors. This was the task taken on by leaders of the rebel youth, who joined forces with the movement of the oil workers of Barrancabermeja, university students and guerrillas who did not want to be amnestied and who had fought under the command of the liberal guerrilla of Santander Rafael Rangel Gómez. These three components gave birth to the first rural guerrilla front that marched for the first time on July 4, 1964, but the urban guerrilla of the ELN had also made incursions a month earlier in support of popular causes.

The causes for the emergence of the armed rebellion are of a social and political nature. The first are the injustices in which the national majorities face, product of a political system that favors an elite, which lives better, because of the poverty of the majority; it is the elite that has governed the country for centuries, which uses political, military, legal and media power to impose its will in favor of the economic power groups aligned with US interests. To achieve this, it politically excludes, persecutes, prosecutes and kills. It is these policies and practices that the existence of political prisoners, exiles, displaced, tortured, massacred, disappeared, and genocide come from. Some realities are denied by the governments, such as political prisoners, while others are only part of cold numbers in the statistics.

In a struggle of this nature, there can be no personal reasons, it is the same in all the people, one encounters this reality in one’s own life, one sees it in others, the pain and suffering; the need in every face and in every house; in the cities and in the fields. The human being is by nature a social being, from this understanding it becomes part of a community and has a commitment to a common destiny. This means it will not accept the injustices in the communities and feels moved to be part of the construction of a happier future for all.

From a very young age, I was a student leader in my school and I was committed along with other young people in the struggle for the demands of students, peasants and settlers in Mocoa, my place of origin in the early 70’s. Then I followed the student and popular struggle in the Industrial University of Santander; in those same struggles, in those same places, in the popular neighborhoods I met many other comrades with whom we ended up identifying with the aspirations of the people and we saw that the best option was to join the ELN and decided to seek it out.

What is the situation of the possible peace talks? Is there a real will for peace in the dominant sectors of Colombia? What mistakes or negative elements did the previous agreements have, and what conditions would the ELN not be willing to give up at a dialogue table?

AG: With the previous government, with Iván Duque, it was impossible, because it set impossible or unreal conditions. It wanted the guerrilla to exist legally in a sense, but that type of revolutionary guerrillas has never existed and will never exist, because taking up arms is already an illegal act, and ending it implies recognizing it and outlining a route to overcome such conflict.

There has been a limited will in the dominant sectors, since they understand that overcoming the armed conflict is the absence of armed confrontation and their process is centered on the demobilization of the guerrillas, disarmament and reintegration of combatants. Almost all peace processes have focused on this, and on giving certain political advantages to the demobilized combatants. However, very little or almost nothing has been done to attack the causes that have originated and reproduced the conflict, which are of a political and social nature, such as poverty, lack of support and social programs for the population, political exclusion, repression, and the absence of political participation in decision-making.

Since 1991, the ELN has been willing to talk with governments to build a political solution to the conflict; but it has been the governments who have abandoned the negotiations or have refused to sign the agreements and in the case of Iván Duque refused to respect agreements signed by the previous government and ignored the guarantor management of several countries. The ELN has never placed conditions to any government, it is understood that all issues can be discussed or examined at a table, if peace is truly desired.

In your opinion, what relationship should exist between the concept of peace and social justice? Can there be peace with capitalism? What is your assessment of the systematic violation of the Peace Agreements signed in Havana?

AG: Peace, in history, has been associated with a time before or after a war; as if those times of “peace” were better for a whole society, for all its members. Many times, wars were won or lost, but it is not for that reason the people managed to live better, this is because it is the poor who always make up the fighting force.

Peace is not always associated with social justice and the welfare of society; it is generally only associated with the absence of armed confrontation. Thus, the opposite usually happens, because authoritarian regimes have been erected to benefit economic and political elites who use power to continue enriching themselves. It is in this context that sectors of society are forced to take up arms, because there is no other option to achieve changes that favor the impoverished and excluded majorities.

The nature of capitalism is the exploitation of labor, of workers. Machines or raw materials alone do not produce wealth, that is why they need workers. When Capitalism is threatened, it opens itself to reforms or pacts, as it happened at the end of World War II, it agreed to a social capitalism, or welfare capitalism in Europe; because it felt threatened by the advance of socialism in Eastern Europe. But when the USSR disintegrated at the end of the 1980s, the pact between capital and labor came to an end; welfare capitalism came to an end, and the way was opened to brutal neoliberalism. Capitalism refused to advance along the path of agreements with labor to create a more equitable society. Today, we have broken societies and countries, social and political conflicts on all continents and the so-called first world has also been touched by social explosions. It has become clear that without struggles there will be no social justice.

Regarding the negotiation of the government of Juan Manuel Santos with the FARC, which ended in 2016, it is difficult for me to respond to the extent that I have been critical of what happened, both of the agreements and the way they were made. I only make this reflection: Can one be sure that the counterpart will comply with the agreements? The right thing would be to be able to elucidate this methodological doubt; if it was not done, it is the fault of those who negotiate in this way, because in this type of process one cannot act in good faith, since the lives of many people are at risk. The fact that people who participated in a peace agreement continue to die, raises further questions to those in power.

Last year we witnessed an astonishingly strong popular mobilization in Colombia with a tremendous variety of visions of change and social transformation, which the Colombian regime could not constrain to its traditional forms of violence and co-optation. How do you see this process in relation to the recent electoral victories? What consequences does it have for the achievement of truly revolutionary goals?

AG: What happened in these last three years of struggles and massive mobilizations of society is the product of a repressed situation, not because there were no struggles in previous years, but because the State managed to repress them by generating fear with the systematic use of violence by the military and police forces of the State, as well as with its paramilitary bands. Tens of thousands were murdered, disappeared and imprisoned, and millions were displaced, exiled and expropriated. Even so, the people kept on fighting and resisting; it was the perseverance of the fighters who never gave up that made us reach the great protests of 21-N (November 21) of 2019, 9-S (September 9) of 2020 and 28-A (April 28) of 2021.

It was not those who called for surrender who made possible this explosion of struggle that has made us all wake up. The new generations of young people learned from the previous generations, and in those great mobilizations, they joined body and soul, marching together three generations: grandparents, parents and children; what was most striking was to see them all fighting for the same thing they had fought for in their youth. New social actors such as women, indigenous peoples and black communities, peasants, workers, unemployed, urban dwellers and the LGTBIQ+ community; this force built in diversity contributed with their agendas and experiences, as well as with new forms of urban struggle, with expressions of defense and protection of the mobilized such as the guards and the First Lines.

Of course, there were expressions that wanted to demobilize, saying that if the protests were not suspended, the electoral process would be affected; the opposite turned out to be true, it was this new mobilized social force that placed in the hearts of Colombians the need for change and the confidence that it could be done, and that the real possibilities of change lie in the mobilized force of the people.

Indeed, there is a risk that the social movement may be captured by the institutions and give up its belligerence to continue with its struggles. But it must be understood that the new government has a very limited margin to fulfill its promises, due to its agreements with sectors of the oligarchy and the great scarcity of resources it will have. Therefore, many of the main transformations demanded by the people must be won through mobilization and what that the government can offer.

Taking into account the recent electoral result, with the victory of Gustavo Petro and Francia Márquez for the political force the Historic Pact, what evaluations can you make of this victory at the polls? What real possibilities of transformation does this government have and what will be the main obstacles?

AG: In Colombia there is a tiredness with the old politics, before there was apathy to political participation, because the electoral machines controlled the process and everything was already decided. Even today regional clientelism continues to maintain part of that control, something like half of the electoral force is in their hands.

The result is that, over half of the population supports the Historic Pact or joins it, because there is no other [political option] that attracts them. Rodolfo Hernandez was not a real candidate, but the result of a miscalculation of the right wing. They inflated him in order to take away Petro’s votes so he could not win in the first round and Federico Gutierrez could go to the second round, but Rodolfo ended up beating Fico and he was the one who went to the second round; life gives you surprises.

Of course, the Historical Pact has democratic proposals, in the economic, political and social spheres. However, in order to have a majority in the parliament it has had to make alliances with sectors of the center right. This means that it will have to negotiate reforms with such sectors, where the scope of such reforms will be at stake.

The main obstacles to carry out deep reforms are in the nature of the Colombian oligarchy, which got used to governing without allowing protests and used repression against the protesters to prevent changes. Now, it will try to block them in the parliament and then resort to the old manual dictated by the gringos, sabotage the economy, diplomatic and economic blockade and of course the old practices of intervention.

If this is not the case, we would be facing a change in the political nature of international capitalism led by the United States.

Of course, if there is a real change in Colombian society, the people will have to support it, and it can only be through popular mobilization, as they have done in the last three years, with force and strength.

Capitalism as a world system began to take shape since the Middle Ages, and works as a single system, with all its gears. Within it there exist highly industrialized countries as well as those with almost no industrial development. Some have States and political regimes with democratic tints and some social consideration, but with highly elitist circles of power; others have open dictatorships and others are like Colombia with disguised democracy. Capitalism will always generate backwardness, dependence, exclusion; that is why it is inevitable to move towards post-capitalist societies.

Petro proposes to modernize capitalism and give it a human face, but capitalism is essentially based on the exploitation and alienation of human beings and the depredation of nature. Modernizing the Colombian economy implies confronting the backward sectors of landowners, cattle ranchers and the launderers of narco-money, who have achieved an extraordinary primitive accumulation of capital in the last four decades, based on narco-paramilitary violence, and ended up taking over the Colombian State.

Petro will be able to manage a part of the government’s public treasury, but he will not be able to touch the deep State that controls power in Colombia. The alternative social and political movement will accompany Petro in the reforms that favor popular interests, but it must go far beyond the government’s initiatives, maintaining its proposals for transformations.

People’s Dispatch, August 2, 2022, https://peoplesdispatch.org/

Prisoner Simón Trinidad Is Victim of Toxic US – Colombia Alliance / by W. T. Whitney Jr

In this Jan. 13, 2002 photo, the Commander of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Simón Trinidad, reads a declaration during a press conference in Los Pozos, Colombia. | AP

Simón Trinidad’s 72nd birthday is July 30. Don’t think about sending him a card. U.S. prison authorities have blocked his mail since 2004. Extradited from Colombia, he would remain in solitary confinement until 2018. He is lodged in a maximum-security federal prison in Colorado.

As a leader of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), Trinidad was in charge of political education and propaganda. He was captured in Ecuador in 2003, with CIA assistance. He had been conferring there with a United Nations official about the release of FARC-held prisoners.

Transferred to Colombia, Trinidad was a high-profile prisoner.  He had family connections with upper elements of Colombian society and had been a lead FARC negotiator in peace talks with Colombia’s government from 1998 to 2002. The Colombian government and its U.S. ally might have detected a propaganda advantage in a public trial and severe punishment. Putting him away, out of sight, as a prisoner of war in Colombia would have offered little gain.

Ideas may also have cropped up that Trinidad extradited would be an object lesson for Colombia’s political dissidents, display damage done to the FARC, and advertise the newly strengthened U.S. – Colombian alliance. Colombian officials asked the U.S. government to request his extradition.

U.S. Plan Colombia took effect in the early 2000s. At the cost eventually of more than $10 billion, the U.S government provided military equipment, intelligence services, and funding for Colombia’s military, police, and prisons. The purpose, claims the U.S. Global Leadership Coalition was “to provide security and economic development assistance to help combat the spread of narcotics … and promote economic growth.”

Narco-trafficking was a secondary matter. Plan Colombia was mainly about fighting leftist insurgents, primarily the FARC. A stiffened alliance was background to the targeting of Trinidad and to enhanced political oppression in Colombia.

Interviewed recently, Colombian historian Renán Vega Cantor mentions “80 years, during which Colombia became the main US ally in the region.” He cites seven U.S. military bases, “a U.S. presence in 50 [other] places …[and] 25 secret U.S. agencies” operating in Colombia.  Crucially, the paramilitaries, long notorious as agents of deadly violence, are “Colombian Army proxies sponsored, financed, trained, and supported by the United States, which have carried out all kinds of atrocities that the Armed Forces, openly, cannot legally carry out.”  

Says Vega Cantor, “Plan Colombia militarized [Colombian] society in an impressive way, propelling the growth of the Colombian Armed Forces to unthinkable levels.” Colombia presently fields 500,000 troops; its army is one of the world’s largest. Some 50,000 Colombian military and police officers received training at the U.S. Army’s School of the Americas in Georgia, referred to by some as the “school of assassins.”

The U.S. government has readily accepted the cruelty marking its partner’s civil war. Cruelty was on display recently. The Truth Commission, set up via the 2016 Peace agreement between the FARC and Colombian government released its ten-volume Final Report on June 28, 2022. Cruelty portrayed there is vast enough to have infected the criminal justice system of its ally, or so it seems.    

Analyst Camilo Rengifo Marín, referring to the Report, takes note of “an armed conflict of more than 60 years that goes on still and led to more than 10 million victims of whom 80 percent were civilians.” He writes that, “50.770 were kidnapped, 121.768 disappeared, 450.664 murdered and 7.7 million forcibly disappeared.” Another observer indicates that, “The report is critical of the role played by various U.S. administrations in developing security policies, in militarizing society, and in hiding relations between paramilitary groups and the Colombian Army.”

The Final Report itself states that, “During many years, the victims got little attention and often were defended only by human rights organizations or by churches. From torture victims and kidnappings by guerrillas … to victims belonging to political movements like the Patriot Union and other opposition groups, those victims were invisible to most Colombians over the course of decades.” 

Simón Trinidad has been all but invisible in the United States. U.S. authorities sought his extradition solely because of alleged narco-trafficking. After all, international law does forbid extradition on political grounds, like rebellion. The indictment greeting Trinidad on arrival in Washington charged him with providing material support to terrorists, taking hostages, and dealing in illicit drugs.

It took four trials between 2006 and 2008 to exonerate him on the charges of narco-trafficking and providing material support for terrorists, and to convict him of conspiring to capture three U.S. drug-war contractors.  FARC gunfire had brought down their plane. The idea of conspiracy derived exclusively from Trinidad’s status as a FARC member. 

In 2008, 57-year-old Trinidad received a 60 -year sentence. Since 2018, he’s been allowed to eat a midday meal in a dining hall. Phone calls are rare. Emails and periodicals are prohibited, along with letters. Trinidad’s only visitors are his lawyers and rarely his brother and Colombians conferring about Peace-Agreement arrangements.

Trinidad faces charges in Colombia relating to possible crimes committed during the Civil War. The Peace Agreement provided for a “Special Jurisdiction for Peace” (JEP in Spanish) whose role is to decide on punishment or pardon for former combatants on both sides charged with crimes. To be pardoned they must tell the truth.

Simón Trinidad is eligible to appear before the JEP. Trinidad’s U.S. lawyer Mark Burton indicated via email that a first step towards his virtual appearance there is for Colombia’s Foreign Ministry to ask the U.S. Justice Department to approve of Trinidad’s appearance before the JEP.

Burton is hopeful. The new foreign minister of the incoming Gustavo Petro government may be receptive; Álvaro Leyva Duran “worked on the negotiating team of the FARC in Havana” during the peace talks, Burton recalls. The JEP could pardon Trinidad or require court appearances in Colombia. Either way, pressure would mount for the U.S. government to commute his sentence to allow for deportation.

President-elect Gustavo Petro, campaigning, protested the ongoing killings of community leaders and former FARC combatants. A central demand of his Historical Pact coalition has been full implementation of the 2016 peace agreement. Ultimately, relief for Trinidad rests on realizing peace in Colombia.

Any affinity of the U.S. government with the goals of the new Historical Pact government would be good news for Trinidad. For the United States to back away, even a little, from intervening in Colombia would also be good news.  Secretary of State Blinken, speaking with Petro, “underscored our countries’ shared democratic values and pledged to further strengthen the 200-year U.S.-Colombia friendship,” according to an announcement on June 20. The mouthing of hypocrisy is bad news.

Peace in Colombia, and Trinidad’s fate, depends on the U.S. relaxing its cop-on-the-beat posture for an entire region, that of monitoring any and all stirrings of fundamental political and social change. A new kind of U.S. openness, however, doesn’t jibe with U.S. determination to protect the interests of corporations and the moneyed classes at home and abroad.

Until a new anti-imperialist consciousness has inspired a meaningful and potentially effective, all-points opposition, collective effort is in order now towards organizing and fighting for Simón Trinidad’s return to Colombia. Even so, that struggle would have to fit within a larger context of anti-imperialism, peace now in Colombia, and support for the new government there.

W. T. Whitney Jr. is a political journalist whose focus is on Latin America, health care, and anti-racism. A Cuba solidarity activist, he formerly worked as a pediatrician, lives in rural Maine. W.T. Whitney Jr. es un periodista político cuyo enfoque está en América Latina, la atención médica y el antirracismo. Activista solidario con Cuba, anteriormente trabajó como pediatra, vive en la zona rural de Maine.

People’s World, July 18, 2022, https://peoplesworld.org/

Historic! Gustavo Petro wins elections in Colombia / by Martin Hacthoun

According to data from the National Registrar’s Office, Petro and Francia Marquez, his running mate, will govern Colombia after a triumph already described as historic in this country that has been for over 200 years under right-wing rule.

With 89.35 percent of the tables reported, Petro obtained 10 million 75 thousand 836 votes for 50.88 percent of the valid votes.

Hernandez, from the League of Anticorruption Leaders, got 46.85 percent of the votes. Colombia’s president-elect, Gustavo Petro, affirmed that today is a day of celebration for the people.

“Let them celebrate the first popular victory. May so much suffering be cushioned in the joy that today floods the heart of the Homeland”, expressed the leader of the Historical Pact in his Twitter account upon learning the results of the ballot, which declared him the winner.

He dedicated this victory for God and for the People and its history. “Today is the day of the streets and the squares,” emphasized Petro, who has called for a great national pact.

Leaders from the region sent the winning ticket messages of congratulations, specially the presidents of Argentina, Venezuela, Mexico and Cuba were the first to hail Petro’s victory.

Prensa Latina, June 19, 2022, https://www.plenglish.com/

Progressive Coalition Campaigning in Colombia Promises Real Change / by W. T. Whitney Jr.

Historic Pact confirms Gustavo Petro and Francia Márquez presidential ticket in Colombia | Peoples Dispatch

In Colombia Gustavo Petro and Francia Márquez on March 24 registered as presidential and vice-presidential candidates, respectively, for elections taking place on May 29. On behalf of the Historic Pact coalition, Petro stated that, “today is the first day of a campaign that promises to actually change the history of Colombia.”

He was, in effect, proposing that someday killings, disappearances and dispossessions would be gone. And no longer would elections be the exclusive province of oligarchs.  Real democracy would replace the hollow version of Colombian democracy regularly proclaimed by U.S. officials.

The Historic Pact campaign scored well in primary elections held on March 13. Of 5.6 million Colombians voting in the coalition’s primary, 4.5 million of them chose Petro as presidential candidate. Significantly, 783,160 of them opted for Francia Márquez for the same office. Later, of course, Petro selected her as his vice-presidential running mate.

Other primary results were: of the 4.0 million people voting for the rightwing Team Colombia coalition, 2.2 million (54.2%) selected Federico Gutierrez as that coalition’s presidential candidate. Colombians loyal to the centrist Center of Hope coalition, 2.2 million in all, picked Sergio Fajardo as presidential candidate with 723,084 votes (33.5%).  Results were reported also on many other presidential candidates running either as individuals or as candidates of other coalitions.

Voters also cast ballots on March 13 to fill 108 seats in the Senate and 187 in the House of Representatives. In Senate voting, the Historic Pact led with 2.7 million votes and 21 seats.  The Conservative Party followed with 2.2 million votes and 15 seats. The Liberal Party with 2.1 million votes and 15 seats was in third place. Voting for delegates to the House of Representatives gave 33 seats to Liberal Party candidates, 29 to the Historic Pact, and 27 to Conservative Party candidates.

Because most legislators joining the new Congress represent many political groupings.  For the Historic Pact legislators to do their work, they will have to form alliances.  

Petro, a former M-19 urban guerrilla and mayor of Bogota, served in Colombia’s Senate. There he established himself as an implacable foe of two-term former president Alvaro Uribe, who personifies and has led the extreme right-wing sector of Colombian politics.  In 2018, Iván Duque, an Uribe protegee and now the outgoing president, defeated Petro in second-round voting, gaining 10.3 million votes to the latter’s 8.0 million votes. Petro’s first presidential campaign was the first outing for the brand-new Historic Pact, whose formation Petro had engineered.

For progressives, the Historic Pact this year has star-power. Francia Márquez herself gathered more votes for a presidential run than did Sergio Fajardo, the candidate of the third largest electoral coalition. Márquez is a 39-year-old African-descended lawyer and environmentalist, whose activism has centered on the environment harm caused by mining activities in Cauca Department – from where she was forced to leave because of threats.

Márquez won the National Prize for the Defense of Human Rights in 2015 and the prestigious Goldman Environmental Prize in 2018. The BBC named her as one the 100 most influential women in the world.

On announcing Márquez’s vice-presidential candidacy, Petro asserted that Márquez would represent “three pillars [of] the first people’s government of Colombia,” specifically “the women of Colombia, the excluded territories, and peoples excluded by the color of their skin.”

Márquez responded, dedicating her words to Colombia’s youth: “Our job will be to close gaps arising from inequity and inequality in those regions where people are excluded and silenced.” Reports suggest that in a Petro government she would serve as environmental minister and fill a newly created Ministry of Equality.

Troubles emerged after the March 13 elections. At issue were voting irregularities marking the elections for the Senate and House of Representatives. The Election Observation Mission on March 18 reported that not one of more than 28,000 polling booths produced a ballot showing a vote for a candidate supported by the Historic Pact or by other left-leaning groups.

Former President Uribe reacted: “These elections leave mistrust everywhere. To these inconsistences must be added the overwhelming vote for Petro in the narco-trafficking regions. This result cannot be accepted.” His Democratic Center Party called for a total recount, insisting that otherwise “the new Congress would be illegitimate.”

Petro on March 20 called upon “all political parties to reject [Uribe’s] invitation to a coup d’état. It’s time for everyone to defend democracy.”  In a recount, almost 400,00 additional votes were discovered. The Historic Pact gained three more Senate seats at the expense of three other parties.

Obstacles remain. According to  an observer, “Voting for the Historic Pact took shape in spite of and against massive buying of votes by the Mafias of the traditional parties and the new parties of the oligarchy …[and] against the multimillion dollar machinery of the establishment’s electoral businesses.”   

Two recent opinion polls have Gustavo Petro winning the first round of elections on May 29. One points to 37% of likely voters favoring Petro. Next in line, Federico Gutiérrez, candidate of the Team Colombia coalition, polled at 19%. Another poll gives Petro a 32% favorability rating, with Gutiérrez at 23%.

Analysts say that the Historic Pact must win a first-round victory, that a “second-round election would be very dangerous.” Coalition strategists envision a broad-front approach aimed at opening up “political space beyond the Historic Pact.”

Youth activism and popular resistance beyond the orbit of left-leaning political parties did fuel the growth of the Historic Pact – as exemplified by the vice-presidential candidacy of Francia Márquez.  As part of the political uprisings of 2021 in Colombia, these sectors recalled the upsurge of social movements in Chile that helped to install the new progressive government there headed by President Gabriel Boric

Alexander Escobar is a senator whose political party, the Democratic Pole, is part of the Historic Pact; he was a presidential candidate within that coalition. His advice for Petro now is for the Historic Pact to be cautious in assimilating social movements into the campaign.

Escobar insists that electoral success must precede efforts at fostering mobilizations outside regular politics. While admiring activists who “have big dreams, that are so strong and have so many roots,” he relies on “real organizing and decision-making spaces.”

W.T. Whitney Jr. is a political journalist whose focus is on Latin America, health care, and anti-racism. A Cuba solidarity activist, he formerly worked as a pediatrician, lives in rural Maine. W.T. Whitney Jr. es un periodista político cuyo enfoque está en América Latina, la atención médica y el antirracismo. Activista solidario con Cuba, anteriormente trabajó como pediatra, vive en la zona rural de Maine.