Saturday, 7 June 2014

CORPORATE-SPONSORED TERRORISM: DEATH SQUADS IN COLOMBIA

INTRODUCTION: THE VARIETIES OF "TERRORISM"

The topic of corporate-sponsored terrorism supported by the state has not received much publicity by the mainstream media in the last three decades. By contrast, “terrorism”, which the US government deems important and mainstream news organizations cover in depth, has received enormous coverage in an effort to create a climate of fear and conformity to the political and socioeconomic status quo and to justify existing foreign policies that violate the national sovereignty of other countries. 
Controversial because the topic in question deals with US corporate-sponsored death squads operating in Colombia and at the very least tolerated if not facilitated by the US and Colombian governments, corporate terrorism is appropriate at a time that since 9/11 it is really difficult to determine who the US and other countries baptize a "terrorist". 

If we consider the fatal attack on the Belgian Jewish museum (May 2014) where three people were gunned down by a French Muslim, we could conclude that the individual was a Jihadist to be strongly condemned by all defenders of the law, human rights, and human decency.  It turns out, however, that the gunman had traveled to Syria to fight against the Assad regime, that is to say, the same regime that the US and its allies have been financing and fighting in the last three years. In this instance, the individual who killed three people in the museum is the same person that the US and its allies would baptize “freedom fighter” when he was engaged in rebel activity against Assad, but a ‘terrorist’ in the case of the Jewish museum attack.The mainstream media and politicians rarely raise the questions: 1. why do terrorist organizations begin? 2. who finances and supplies them? 3. why are recruits interested in joining; 4. why are there those who do not join but view terrorism as "understandable response" to Western imperialism.

Absurdity’s limits do not stop with Jihadists that the West praises when they are involved in toppling a regime that the US opposes – Libya or Syria only a couple of years ago, for example. The distinction between "terrorist" fighting against the same enemy as the US and EU is acceptable somehow, but when they carry out political acts of violence against Western or pro-Western targets that is unacceptable. Because of such blatant absurdities in US foreign policy reveal sheer political opportunism and total absence of any ideological foundation, Robert Ford, former US Ambassador to Syria, recently stated that US policy of assisting anti-Assad Islamic militants will result in terrorism that could potentially touch US interests in due course. Ambassador Ford noted the example of Afghanistan in the 1980s when the US trained Jihadists that would eventually turn into al-Qaeda. 

Similar contradictions as Ambassador Ford noted are blatant in the case of Ukraine where containment and encirclement US policies are bound to backfire in the absence of a political solution or ideological foundation rooted in democratic principles rather than political opportunism intended for short-term geopolitical and economic gains. Supporting neo-Nazis among other heterogeneous elements in the Ukraine against the Russian-backed separatist elements is not merely a manifestation of an incoherent foreign policy filled with contradictions and aimlessness for the ‘democratic' West, it also reveals the slow decline of the US in relationship to Asia with China at the core is forcing Washington toward desperate anachronistic Cold War solutions to 21st century problems. 

CORPORATE-SPONSORED TERRORISM IN COLOMBIA 

Without going into detail, there are about three dozen countries where the US has supported neo-Nazis, neo-Fascists and varieties of terrorists, and an assortment of right wing extremists all as a means of securing economic, military and/or diplomatic alliances. I will focus on Colombia where there is a clear cut case study because of US corporate involvement in terrorism backed by private companies while the US government has turned a blind eye at the very least. 

WIKILEAKS revelations have exposed with incontrovertible documentation that the US government knew and did nothing about US corporate-backed terrorist activities in Colombia. Moreover, three court cases against US-based multinational corporations brought to light the extent of such terrorist activities at a time that the US has been heavily publicizing its campaign against specifically-targeted “terrorists” around the world. This alone is an issue that calls into question the hypocrisy regarding the outcry of respect for human rights on the part of the US when in fact human rights are not respected and in fact violated with the acquiescence of Washington.


Whether or not the US has any moral authority to complain about the legitimate threat of terrorism emanating from fanatic Muslims is an issue of debate simply because of its historical involvement with them directly or indirectly. Many Western politicians, journalists and analysts point to 9/11 as the ultimate act of terrorism and the need to contain terrorism, as though it is possible to accomplish the goal with conventional military means rather than providing a political solution. Critics of the war on terror, which the US has created to replace Communism as the new enemy of the West, argue that official acts of war, including US drone warfare that has killed thousands of innocent people is much more devastating than anything individuals or groups can ever deliver in a hundred years. Does drone warfare constitute an act of terror because it takes out innocent civilians?

Putting the moral authority argument aside, as well as the issue of whether the state with the military means at its disposal has the ultimate power to deliver mass devastation, my focus here is on US corporate-sponsored death squads in Colombia with the ultimate goal of securing the market and higher profits and prevent not just a leftist regime from coming to power, but even reformists interested in promoting social justice.    

In the age of global an anti-terrorism campaign that the US started at the end of the Cold War as a way to replace Communism as a global threat and maintain public support for the status quo, Colombia is one country that has endured terrorist acts in the form of right wing paramilitary organizations funded and sponsored by US corporations seemingly above the law because they enjoy the backing of the state. According to the UN, and human rights organizations, left wing killings carried out in Colombia have accounted for 12% of clash-related fatalities, while right wing paramilitary deaths account for 80%. This raises the question of who is behind right-wing death squads and for what purpose. Similarly, the vast majority of disappearances and kidnappings are attributed to right wing paramilitary groups that are at the core of human rights violations. Invariably, this has been ignored by the Colombian government and the US that has historically close ties with Bogota. 

Who is behind the right wing paramilitary groups? Narcotics trafficking operations is certainly one source, with its inexorable links to official channels and banks around the world and in the US in order to launder money conduct the illegal international trade. In fact, there have been reports in the mainstream media about the links of top US and EU banks to drug lords. However, drug traffickers are hardly the only ones behind paramilitary operations. According to a number of press reports and human rights organizations, Coca Cola Bottling, Chiquita Banana and Drummond mining operations are three companies that have in the past financed right wing paramilitary operations resulting in killings, disappearances and persecution of trade unionists, labor organizers and leftist activists. The German TV network Deutsche Wella recently ran a long documentary on this issue, focusing mostly on Drummond and its role in Colombia. 

"LA VIOLENCIA" and Colombia's Legacy of Political Violence 
 
In the 1980s, when I wrote my first book dealing with Colombia, I argued that the inexorable link of the country’s violent political culture and its externally dependent monocultural economy with a considerable US corporate and government connection accounts for a unique situation in Latin America, almost as unique as the US-Panama one involving the canal that has been a symbol of US hegemony for more than a century. Among the top five most unequal nations in the world, Colombia is also a country with one of the world’s worst human rights and labor rights records; a reality that forces people to struggle for social justice only to encounter domestic and foreign-based terrorism against their struggle for better living and working conditions.  
Colombia’s legacy of violence linked to the political system and people’s struggle for human rights and social justice can be traced to the popular uprising of 1948 and the ten-year era of political violence that followed - La Violencia. 

The period of Colombia’s contemporary history of violence started in April 1948 with the assassination of a Marxist reformist, Jorge Eliecer Gaintan, a populist caudillo who denounced the corrupt Conservative and Liberal political parties behind which were the country’s socioeconomic elites and the US. Gaitan envisioned a new era for Colombia based more on a version of Keynesian economic policies with the creation of a strong social safety net to lift the peasantry and working class, while strengthening and broadening the small middle class. Gaitan’s assassination by right wing elements and the ensuing riots and mass demonstrations brought together the traditional Liberal and Conservative elites that feared a popular revolution. 

What followed was a ten year period of political violence between the two competing political parties, but with victims from peasantry and working class. The era known as La Violencia (1948-1958) coincided with the early Cold War and it crushed any reformist aspirations that aimed at addressing the gross socioeconomic inequalities, social justice and human rights issues, and especially any chance of regime change that would threatened both the domestic elites and US companies operating in Colombia. Symptomatic of La Violencia was a guerrilla movement under different groups from the 1960s to the early 21st century that fought against right-wing violence intended to maintain the sociopolitical and socioeconomic status quo. 

While the Cuban Revolution encouraged leftist rebel groups in Colombia, as indeed throughout Latin America in the era of Che Guevara, the US responded with special operations training to combat leftists in all walks of life, and to cleanse society of leftist influences in every sector from education to trade unions. Considering that the Alliance for Progress did nothing essentially to improve living conditions for peasants and workers, focusing instead on indoctrination and co-optation programs of potential supporters of reformists and leftist groups, the lower classes remained skeptical of any domestic or US program supposedly intended to improve the material lives of the masses. 

By 1979 when the Sandinista revolution and the civil wars in El Salvador and Guatemala were unfolding, Colombia was entering the illegal narcotics market, moving rapidly to compete with Mexico that had become a major supplier for the US drug market. Parallel to the drug trafficking activity that was moving toward rapid development, reformists and leftist guerrilla groups were becoming active. With US support, the government systematically crushed any hope of reform, thus pushing society toward greater polarization and various means to make a living amid rising population. At the core of Colombia’s politics was a counter-reformist era characterized by hostile policies toward any progressive group and toward organized labor, policies that perpetuated the extreme poor-rich gap and further contributed to radicalization among a segment of the population. Needless to point out, the US, IMF, World Bank and Western Europe sided with the counter-reformists because it meant greater profits for their corporate operations. However, there was reistance from the grassroots and the governemnt's response was not accommodation but violence amid a cocaine trade that bought not just Colobian officials but US as well. 

In the 1980s death squads targeting trade unionists and other human rights activists became more active. In the last three decades, the death squads, paramilitary groups and the military have been responsible for the deaths of thousands of people (3,000-10,000), thousands disappearing, and at least five million displaced, all in a campaign to keep the population under a perpetual state of terror to prevent any kind of revolutionary climate or permit a revolutionary or reformist movement that would contain the role of the domestic elites and foreign companies. All along, cocaine became Colombia’s second most significant export after oil, bringing billions of dollars in revenue. The drug cartels from Medellin to Cali thrived, largely because of their well established connections in political and legal institutional structure.  

SOFT DRINKS AND DEATH SQUADS

Amid the gangster political economy that evolved in Colombia by the late 1980s, US corporations began to play a catalytic role, much more violent than United Fruit Company had played in Guatemala in the early 1950s in Guatemala where it was responsible for the end of reformist regimes and the beginning of a violent anti-peasant and anti-labor dictatorship. In 2001 and 2006, Coca Cola was brought up on charges in U.S. District Court in Florida, allegedly because the company affiliates had used death squads to assassinate, torture, kidnap, and threaten trade unionists in the company’s plants. The lawsuit charged that the Coca Cola Company not only benefited from the acts of the death squads, but it organized them. The best angle for the plaintiffs in this case was to argue that Coke was a company that violated human rights of its own employees, though the reality of death squad operations goes beyond human rights abuses. COKE denied the allegations, but at the same time refused an independent investigation.

The interesting thing is that Colombia’s GDP at the time of the COKE legal issues involving death squads was lower than the market cap of the multinational bottling corporation. At the same time, the bottling company had the US government behind it, while Colombia had no leverage because of the dependent nature of its economy. From the 19th century era of coffee dependence to petroleum and bananas in the 20th century, Colombia’s rich natural resources were mostly under foreign control. One reason that the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and before it other left wing groups made inroads among the masses is because of foreign exploitation of labor and natural rich resources that have kept the vast majority chronically poor.

COAL MINING AND DEATH SQUADS

Mining and railroads is another area where US-based corporations have played a role with death squads in Colombia. Considering that 65% of the population lives in mining zones and a large number live on less than $400 per year, the question is who is making the immense profits at the expense of the Colombian people.  Drummond that operates La Loma and Cerrejon has faced numerous law suits for the assassination of mining and railroad workers who were trade union activists. Drummond’s private security group, the notorious right-wing paramilitary organization United Self Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) not only engaged in assassinations but also in terrorizing hundreds of people, including engaging in kidnapping and torturing.

The US embassy in Bogota was well aware that Drummond’s private security company was engaged in terrorist activities in north-eastern Colombia, and informed the State Department that Drummond was not only engaging death squads, but at the same time ignoring labor laws and environmental standards. This was taking place during the second term of the Bush administration and early years of Obama, years that coincided with US global campaign against Islamic terrorists, while turning a blind eye to US corporate-hired terrorists. One reason that the US ignored this issue is because Drummond is a major US-based multinational corporation and its Colombian operations are essential, considering that Colombia ranks sixth largest coal producer in the world. The only defense of Drummond was that the law suits for various violations, including death squad activities, stemmed from a Dutch company’s desire to secure mineral rights in the same area. Meanwhile, the US government had extended more military aid to the government in Bogota as an incentive to favor US companies over others. 

BANANAS AND DEATH SQUADS.  


In 2011, Cincinnati-based Chiquita Banana Company faced 4000 Colombians suing the company for financing and assisting death squad operations.  Four years before the law suit, the banana company paid a $25 million fee after admitting similar charges brought by the US Justice Department, a mere drop in the ocean if the courts find against the company in the more recent case of financing terrorism.  According to published documents, Chiquita paid $1.7 to United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), the same paramilitary group that Drummond engaged.  A state-sponsored death squad operation, AUC is accused of assassinating, torturing, displacing and terrorizing thousands of people while on Chiquita’s payroll during the 1990s.  Chiquita also funded left-wing FARC that was strongly against AUC, thus the company was playing both sides of the political spectrum to make sure it had paramilitary cover.

The company’s legal defense is that terrorist acts carried out by AUC took place in Colombia by Colombians. Therefore, US courts have no jurisdiction.  Chiquita is the same banana company that was instrumental in overthrowing the reformist regime of Guatemalan President Jacobo Arbenz in a CIA coup in1954, although back then it was known as United Fruit Company, the same company responsible for funding assassinations against radical workers and trade unionists throughout banana plantations of Latin America.

CONCLUSION

This is not a case of history repeating itself, but rather large corporations with enormous assets to buy political influence in all the countries where they operate, including the home base where the problem starts. United Fruit in the 1950s would not be able to do anything were it not for the fact that the State Department and the CIA were not behind it. Chiquita in our time would not be able to be funding terrorism in Colombia were it not for the US government allowing it. The same goes for Drummond and COKE. 

  With one of the closest US ties of any Latin American country, especially given its geographic proximity to Venezuela that has not always had cordial ties with Washington, Colombia has one of the world's worst human rights records. It is on the list of just about any human rights organization, as well as on the list of Western governments friendly to Bogota. The UN as well as other organizations list Colombia as one of the world's most dangerous countries for trade unionists, especially those working for foreign corporations. This is one reason that trade unionism in Colombia has been falling in the past four decades, especially since the Reagan era when trade unionism came under severe attack in the US. 

 The legal cases I delineated above are ultimately in the hands of the courts. There are allegations, witnesses and of course the results of death squad activities. As to who and how many are responsible inside and outside of Colombia is a matter for judge and jury to determine. However, on the basis of the evidence presented so far, there is a cloud of profound suspicion hanging over the US-based multinationals that are not guilty of poor working conditions or neglect of safety standards that led to problems for their workers. The allegations are very serious because they point to a scheme of foreign corporations using the internal paramilitary networks to achieve their goals. 

As a consumer enjoying a bottle of COKE, eating a CHIQUITA banana inside your warm house heated by DRUMMOND corporation coal, remember that the blood of workers, human rights and civil rights, including women's rights activists has been spilled in Colombia with multiple parties responsible; and for what, the subjugation of a society so that it dare not try to assert its national economic sovereignty in the same manner as the US enjoys for itself.

Beyond the case of Colombia, what we have here is a blatant contradiction in US policy when it comes to "terrorism" and the war on terror. While Colombia proves beyond any doubt that human rights, civil rights, labor laws and environmental standards have been grossly violated, it also proves that the US government turns a blind eye to proven cases of death squad activity whose only goal is maximizing profits for multinational corporations. At the same time, anti-government rebels (FARC and ELN) opposed to US patron role in Colombia are labeled terrorists. 

One of the modalities in US foreign policy has been able to demonize its enemy as though there is a struggle between the forces of good and evil at work, rather than one set of interests vs. another. Even more absurd, there has been an effort to vastly exaggerate the strength and influence of the demonized "terrorist" enemy as the US defines it on a case by case. This may be understandable from a propaganda point of view because the US government wants public opinion on its side, but in a preverse way such a strategy actually lends greater credibility and strength to the enemy at issue and invariably makes it more appealing with certain disgruntled elements.

Labeling Colombian leftists terrorists, demonizing them and exaggerating their actual strength and influence is no different than the US labeling terrorists Russian separatist rebels in Eastern and south-eastern parts fighting against a pro-US regime that is right wing. Considering that in no case does the US use criteria based on any ideology or democratic princples in labeling a group 'terrorist', given that the sole criterion is political and economic opportunism, the tragic chapter on the anti-terrorist global campaign is nothing but a farce and a facade to preserve political and economic hegemony.



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