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US corporate power destroys Colombia

US corporate power destroys Colombia

Colombian union organizer Ramírez Cuéllar has survived seven attempts on his life and is the co-author of a book entitled "The Profits of Extermination: How U.S. Corporate Power is Destroying Colombia." A must-read to fully understand the rapacious U.S. imperialist thirst for Colombia.

07.01.2005 [By Berta Joubert-Ceci, Workers World] Labor unionists around the world know that Colombia is the most dangerous country for union leaders. A recent visit to the United States by Francisco Ramírez Cuéllar, president of the Colombian mineworkers' union, set this fact into clear focus.

Early in the afternoon last Oct. 10, as Ramírez Cuéllar walked from his home to have lunch with two nieces, two men on a motorcycle approached him.

The man on the rear was holding a gun and looked straight into the union leader's eyes. Ramírez Cuéllar was able to take cover behind a pole. Luckily, the traffic light changed, drivers honked impatiently, and the motorcyclists were forced to continue on their way. That was the seventh time there has been an attempt on his life.

This latest incident followed surveillance by the police, intimidation and harassment of Ramírez Cuéllar and other union representatives. Other incidents included the explosion of two bombs in the union's office on May 2, one day after police cars were seen in front of the office.

These episodes have happened during a struggle by the union, Sintraminercol, against an attempt by the government of Álvaro Uribe--on behalf of transnational banks and corporations, primarily from the U.S.--to destroy Minercol, the national mining enterprise.

Groups of lawyers representing transnational mining interests work incessantly to change Colombia's mining laws in order to allow the annihilation of both the state mining company and the peasant, mining, Indigenous and Afrocolombian communities that reside in the mineral-rich territories and present an obstacle to the indiscriminate exploitation of their resources.

Ramírez Cuéllar, like many Colombian union leaders, has been a very visible and outspoken representative for his union, both nationally and internationally. He has written a book with the help of his union and other organizations entitled "The Profits of Extermination: How U.S. Corporate Power is Destroying Colombia." A must-read to fully understand the rapacious U.S. imperialist thirst for Colombia, it will be available in English in February.

Follow the oil pipeline

What makes U.S. corporations so nervous? In a talk in New York City, Ramírez Cuéllar exposed some of the facts. The following summarizes some of the points he raised.

First of all, everything should be placed in the context of the armed conflict in Colombia. For 50 years the gap between rich and poor has initiated and maintained the longest current and continuous civil war on the continent, in which two armed entities have been in conflict--the guerrilla movements and the state. To these, other actors have been involved, on one side the popular sector and on the other, support for the military, particularly from the U.S.

Seven years of research by Sintra minercol and other organizations has focused on several points for detailed investigation: the laws and the international treaties between the Colombian government and transnational financial institutions; foreign military aid to Colombia and its final destination; the protection given to transnational institutions; and the effect of all these policies on the civilian population.

They found that treaties the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank signed with the Colombian government restricted the rights of workers, Indigenous and Afrodescendants. They also have restricted the enforcing of clean environment accords like Kyoto, and others in the areas of mineral exploitation.

To facilitate this systematic affront, disputes between the Colombian state and the transnational companies were taken out of the country's legal jurisdiction and transferred to private arbitration tribunals outside of Colombia.

Another set of findings concerned facts surrounding U.S. military aid under Plan Colombia. The researchers discovered that a priority was given to military actions in regions where transnational companies--mainly from the U.S., but also from Britain and other countries--operated.

This is true in Putumayo to the south, bordering Ecuador and Perú, where Harken Energy Co. has the largest gas reserve in the world. President George W. Bush's family has interests in Harken. It also applies in the north, in both Norte de Santander, which borders Venezuela, and in Sur de Bolívar, where Harken is exploring for oil and where the largest gold mine in the Americas is located.

Other places also have military deployment, but nowhere is Plan Colombia's money as concentrated as in the Arauca region, also on the border with Vene zuela. The U.S.'s Occidental Petroleum operates the oil pipeline Caño Limón Coveñas in this region. Occidental lobbied hard for Plan Colombia.

Some $180 million of the plan is earmarked for the sole purpose of creating an exclusive "oil battalion"--the 18th Brigade, part of the Colombian Army. Its exclusive mission is to guard the pipeline. This brigade is infamous for its systematic violation of human rights. Its members recently killed three union leaders in Arauca.

How have the changes in the laws, designed by the U.S. for the transnational companies' benefit, affected the population? Several provinces were declared exempt from rules regarding human rights, among them Arauca, Norte de Santander, Bolívar and Sucre--all regions the oil pipeline passes through. Since then, human rights violations have increased 220 percent. And in only one year 267 people were assassinated in Arauca near the pipeline zone.

Ramírez Cuéllar explained the connections between drug trafficking, paramilitaries and the Colombian government, on the one hand, and the CIA, U.S. government and Israeli secret service (Mossad). They cooperate to destroy opposition to this savage reaping of resources by finance capital. Nowhere in Latin America is militarization for the purpose of destroying the social movements increasing more than in Colombia.

But the more that transnational finance capital tightens its rope around the progressive movement with massive detentions, threats, tortures, assassinations and massacres, the more vibrant and militant the masses become.

On Human Rights Day, defiant social organizations in Arauca sent a message to the world under the heading of "Resis tance, Autonomy, Sovereignty and Action." It read in part: "We, those kept hostage by the government, find ourselves in U.S. captivity right here in Colombia, ... we call on you Colombians who are aware of the need of an alternative, a change, we urge you to mobilize and defend the most beautiful essence of humans, life, dignity and freedom.

"Let us convert this struggle into a permanent social mobilization that is able to transform the current government scheme imposed by the United States.

"And above all, let us continue showing that in spite of institutional terrorism, the policy of national security or preemptive war, the people are still mobilizing, singing, struggling. And that the people are expressing our ideals, many times behind jail bars; and beyond the threat of death, liberty and social justice will continue in our minds, our hearts and in the ideals of every one of our children."

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