Since the late 1990s, there have been significant developments to promote regional integration in Latin America bringing hopes of greater independence from imperialism in Brazil, Venezuela, Bolivia, Ecuador, Nicaragua and Argentina. United States efforts to isolate Cuba in recent years have changed to incorporation, with steady, but real moves towards private property relations within the imperialist chain.
Since 2012, the Colombian government and FARC have been engaged in peace talks. Despite efforts towards ‘regional unity’ and ‘independence’ from U.S. imperialism, we must ask a critical question: what does it mean to criticize imperialism? And what then, do the talks in Havana represent for the Colombian people?
There is nothing new about peace talks in Colombia, since 1982 there have been 8 major peace processes undertaken by various Colombian presidencies including Betancur, Gaviria, Samper, Pastrana and even Uribe with both the FARC and ELN, and at times when the guerrillas were much less stronger.
Behind these latest talks lies Plan Colombia Part Two dubbed "Paz Colombia," which represents an ongoing class war against workers and peasants masked by a renewed emphasis on the U.S. war on drugs and the ongoing war on left-wing guerrillas who are misrepresented as being 'out of touch' with Colombian society and the region.
The U.S. has spent $10 billion since Plan Colombia was first devised in 2000. Plan Colombia 2.0 is an extra $5 billion for the next decade. These efforts are not about bringing peace to the country, but ending Latin America’s oldest high-intensity class conflict as part of an ongoing counterinsurgency effort by both Bogotá and Washington which, according to counterinsurgency experts, is about killing your way to the negotiating table, and psychological warfare that is, painting a post-conflict picture about the Colombian conflict.
The “peace process” must be understood in the context of 21st century imperialism, where the main goal is to incorporate nations into its orbit and isolate resistance. This is the context in which the current talks between FARC and the Colombian government are unfolding. In the context of peace without social justice, in other words, pacification.
The Colombian class war has a long history, that is often misrepresented or loaded with historical amnesia, best exemplified by Latin American ‘experts’ but also paramilitary groups who for some reason or another like to name themselves after Jorge Elicer Gaitain, the Liberal Party Candidate of 1946, whose assassination by those very same forces unleashed La Violencia from 1948 to 1958, the only official acknowledgement of a ‘civil war’ by Colombian authorities.
Most analyses of imperialism remain in self-imposed exile, from the 20th century and the Cold War. The Cuban revolution of 1959 represented hope and revolutionary change for Latin American guerrilla movements. It marked the beginning of Colombia being the geo-strategic pressure point for U.S. imperialism in the region, as FARC was considered a greater threat by the Kennedy Administration than the Vietcong in Indochina. In the context of 21st century imperialism, FARC represents a 50-year-old unresolved and unwanted problem. As for the war on drugs, it was under pressure from U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger, that Colombia signed up to Nixon’s phoney drug war.
During Obama’s recent visit to Cuba, both Obama and Raul Castro failed to broker a peace deal to end the Colombian conflict because the Colombian state cannot guarantee the safety of demobilized guerrillas in the face of ongoing terrorism by right-wing drug-trafficking paramilitaries.
When the FARC founded the Political Party the Union Patriotica in the 1980s during peace talks with the Betancur government, 5,000 activists and leaders including elected officials, candidates and community organizers of the UP were assassinated. La Marcha Patriotica today are direct descendants of this wave of state-terror.
As the Cold War ended, progressive Latin American writers and intellectuals including Gabriel Garcia Marquez urged the FARC and ELN to lay down their arms and pursue reform through peaceful means as the Central American guerrillas had done.
According to the U.S. Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA), the FARC could take power in the 21stcentury unless the armed forces drastically restructured. The same agency identified Colombia’s future president, Alvaro Uribe Velez, as an important drug trafficker linked to the Medellin cartel, whose defense minister was Juan Manuel Santos. Colombia’s current president.
U.S. President Bill Clinton authorized Plan Colombia to fight the war on drugs. President Pastrana described the American penetration of the region as a “Marshall Plan,” which could serve to convene important U.S. aid, as well as that of other countries and international organizations’ by adequately addressing U.S. concerns: the FARC and growing leftist forces in the region. Colombia still ranks second only to the Middle East in US military aid and assistance.
Plan Colombia was a launching pad for future military interventions and destabilization programs in the hemisphere. Within Colombia, it completely militarized the country with the real focus on the FARC rather than drugs. By the end of the millennium, 30 percent of Colombia’s total wealth derived from the cocaine trade according to Colombia’s Central Bank, strengthening a very visible narcobourgeoisie in Colombia.
It is true, that under Uribe’s presidency the FARC was hit hard with the murder of several of its leaders. Uribe represents the narco-bourgeoisie, Santos represents Colombia’s urban, cosmopolitan bourgeoisie closer intertwined to the interests of U.S. finance capital and the Colombian comprador class. Uribe argues that Santos has capitulated to the FARC and criticized him for normalizing diplomatic relations with Venezuela. What we need to recognize, however, is that Santos follows orders from Washington; neither he nor Uribe could defeat the FARC militarily.
In 2008, Hugo Chavez’ announcement that FARC should lay down their weapons and end the armed struggle was welcomed by all Latin American leaders including Fidel Castro. This reconfiguration of the Latin American left reflected a shift in the balance of power which favoured right-wing forces. The urgency to end the Colombian conflict demonstrates many contradictions amongst the left which has strengthened the hand of U.S. imperialism in Latin America. The real urgency is the need to understand the nature of imperialism with its new forms of control and incorporation.
The Colombian peace process is as much about the region and Cuba, as it is about FARC and the Colombian government. In this context of 21st century imperialism, it is not just American imperialism which benefits, but its imperial rivals too, particularly China.
Latin American politics is one shaped by the U.S., the European Union, the rise of China and a re-assertive Russia through competing trade agreements and security arrangements penetrating the entire continent. Meanwhile, Colombia remains ungovernable throughout many parts of the country.
Santos’ promise to return land to the peasants is false. Fifty percent of Colombian land has been licensed to or is pending approval for multinational corporations to develop mineral and crude oil mining projects. If land ‘reform’ is to be taken seriously, it would mean having to reverse decades of neoliberal underdevelopment rivalling Brazil and Guatemala in land concentration. On a scale of 0 to 100, Colombia ranks 86, which according to Colombia’s GINI index is close to complete inequality.
Twenty-first century imperialism is not just military imperialism and psychological operations, it is also cultural imperialism affecting how many of us understand the Colombian vortex as it spreads across the region.
The Obama doctrine in the post-Bush era has developed a targeted killing policy. Leading commanders of the FARC secretariat have been killed. Latin American leaders who have criticized U.S. policies have fallen ill. Venezuela has made frequent allegations of assassination plots against former and current presidents. Paramilitary groups are active throughout the country and supported Santos as the “candidate of peace.”
Those who benefit most from the peace process are the rising business classes as in Colombia, mostly, but not exclusively the agro-mineral, financial and manufacturing elites linked to Latin American and Asian markets.
According to the winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Barack Obama, “helping Colombia resolve war strengthens international order.” If the FARC capitulate, will the ELN become the last standing revolutionary army? The current peace process represents an impasse in the class conflict with 7 million Colombians killed since the end of “La Violencia.” Almost as many Colombians have been displaced as Syrians in Syria. One side is forced to accept a class peace. The other side returns to the past with the war on drugs. We need to develop our own voices on imperialism as its defeat is still possible.
Dr. Oliver Villar is a lecturer in Politics at Charles Sturt University. His book is Cocaine, Death Squads, and the War on Terror: U.S. Imperialism and Class Struggle in Colombia published byMonthly Review Press. His current research investigates the subject of 21st century imperialism and inter-imperial rivalry.