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In his book, Colombia: the Genocidal Democracy, Father Javier Girardo, a Jesuit priest and long-time human rights activist in Colombia, estimated that, between 1988 and 1995, more than 60,000 Colombians lost their lives to the internal conflict in Colombia – most of them at the hands of the state, either in the form of the official Colombian military or the paramilitary forces supported by the state.
As for the Colombian state’s support for the paramilitaries, also known as “death squads,” that is well-known. Thus, as the U.S. State Department has concluded in its annual human rights reports, the paramilitaries have received active support from the Colombian government and from the Colombian military which has provided the paramilitaries with weapons, ammunition, logistical support and even with soldiers. Given that the U.S. has aided the Colombian military with over $7 billion in military assistance since 2000, all the while knowing the military’s close collaboration with the murderous paramilitaries, the U.S. itself is complicit in the paramilitaries’ crimes.
The extent of the Colombian state’s connections with the paramilitaries continues to be exposed, with former paramilitary leaders revealing the heights of the government support for their activities. Within the past days, for example, former paramilitary commander Salvatore Mancuso confirmed that the current Colombian Vice-President, Francisco Santos, and the Defense Minister, Juan Manual Santos, had close ties with the paramilitary forces. Juan Manual Santos is expected to be the next President of Colombia.
Up till recently, the prevailing estimate of civilians killed specifically by the paramilitaries has been around 30,000. Father Girardo, citing new estimates by Colombia’s own Prosecutor General, has now shattered those original estimates, announcing that the Prosecutor General is currently investigating 150,000 extrajudicial killings by the paramilitary groups – killings which took place between the late 1980’s and the current time. Even the prior, more conservative estimates would have made Colombia the worst human rights abuser in South America in recent times, having victimized more than Argentina’s fascist junta and Chile’s Pinochet dictatorship.
The new estimates place Colombia in a category all of its own as the worst human rights abuser in the Western Hemisphere. And, in terms of peoples internally displaced as a result of the conflict in Colombia – over 4 million – Colombia ranks only second in the world to the Sudan. And, not too surprisingly given the U.S.’s usual support for the worst human rights abusers, the Washington Post reported in an article by Juan Forero on April 19, 2010, that Colombia is “Washington’s closest ally on the continent.”
In this same Washington Post article, Forero relates that, even as the U.S. has provided Colombia with massive amounts of assistance – most of it military, of course – Colombia has continued to slip deeper and deeper into poverty, with 43% of its population now living in poverty and 23% living in “extreme poverty.” As the Washington Post explained, Colombia is “the only major country in Latin America in which the gap between the rich and poor has increased in recent years, according to a report by the UN Economic Commission on Latin America.”
Of course, as Father Girardo noted in The Genocidal Democracy – a book which is sadly out of print – this is all according to Washington’s plan to make Colombia a compliant country open to unchecked exploitation by U.S. companies with an endless well of hunger for Colombia’s vast reserves of oil, coal, fruits, flowers and precious metals and gems, as well as for a desperate workforce willing to accept barely-subsistent wages.
With President Obama continuing to solidify the U.S.’s relationship with Colombia through a new deal which will give the U.S. access to 7 military bases, and through a Free Trade Agreement which Obama is now pushing, despite his campaign pledges to oppose it, this deadly game plan continues unabated. Only massive resistance in this country can end such destructive foreign policies.
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As this article was going to publication, we learned that Javier Girardo, and his human rights group, Justicia y Paz, have received death threats in retaliation for the above-mentioned revelations about the paramilitaries. Please take a moment to write a note of concern for the life of Father Javier to Hillary Clinton (Fax 202 647-2283) and President Alvaro Uribe at the Colombian Embassy in D.C. (Fax 202 232-8643).
DANIEL KOVALIK is a labor and human rights lawyer working in Pittsburgh, Pa.