Neoliberalism And The Politics Of Violence In Colombia – OpEd


On May 28, 2020 the United States Embassy announced that “a U.S. Security Force Assistance Brigade (SFAB)” will arrive in early June to help Colombia in its fight against drug trafficking.” The SFAB arrived on 1 June and is likely to stay for 4 months. It is the first time that this brigade is working in a Latin American country and for that reason it is important that we understand the US strategy behind this deployment. These military units will operate in Zonas Futuro which constitute 2.4% of Colombian territory and are located in strategic areas such as Catatumbo and Arauca which share boundaries with Venezuela. It is highly probable that in the guise of “Enhanced Counter-Narcotics Operation”, US is planning to orchestrate another military incursion in Venezuela through its access to strategic zones located in Zonas Futuro. What lends credibility to this hypothesis is the history of US-Colombia military interaction whose most recent manifestation was “Operation Gideon”. The confession of Luke Alexander Denman, a member of the mercenary involved in operation Gideon, confirms the active role Colombia played in the subversion of Venezuelan sovereignty by providing training grounds to hired killers and orchestrating the movement of armed vessels. Furthermore, the arrival of the brigade not only signals a danger against Venezuela but also augurs ill for indigenous peasants. The areas in which the SFAB will operate are those where 4 peasants have already been killed by military troops. Because of the wide-ranging effects which a military deployment triggers, it is important that we contextualize USA’s recent decisions in the paramilitarized politics and neoliberalized structures of Colombia. 

 USA has historically intervened in the governance of Colombia through its hybrid wars whose seeds were sown as early as 1947 with the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance and which were later developed through foreign policy initiatives like the 1952 Mutual Defense Assistance Agreement and the 1962 General Agreement for Economic, Technical and Related Assistance. Slowly and steadily, a security infrastructure for American imperialism in Colombia was built through tactics of paramilitarization which included the Plan Lazo of 1965, creation of Convivir (Special vigilance and private security services) in 1994 and Plan Colombia of 2000 (alternatively and misleadingly called the “Plan for Peace, Prosperity and the Strengthening of the State”) . Plan Lazo aimed at establishing a culture of paramilitary by expanding “military public relations and psychological warfare units to improve civilian attitudes toward the military role in public order”. Convivir also followed a similar objective by authorizing “the creation of Private Security and Surveillance Cooperatives, with the aim of making them a mechanism to protect the countryside against the threat of guerrilla groups.”

 Plan Colombia can be considered an augmented version of US-sponsored militaristic tactics which facilitated the growth of parainstitutional formations and paved the way for unbridled capital accumulation. Through this program, US pumped $10 billion into Colombia for a counter-insurgency military package combined with a drug war policy and transferred myriad military equipments such as heavy artillery, radars and 72 helicopters to the Colombian coercive apparatus. Military aid was not only restricted to the supply of high-tech war equipments but also included the deployment of military personnel and partial privatization of violence. In 2005, there were 800 US military personnel and 600 private military contractors on the Colombian soil. As a natural result of unprecedented militarization, Colombia soon witnessed grisly scandals such as “false positives” in which US-backed military killed more than 10,000 innocent Colombians in attempt to inflate body counts and receive benefits and promotions. During the implementation of Plan Colombia, a simultaneous CIA-sponsored multi-billion dollar black budget was being approved which included, inter alia, the protection of US companies’ oil pipelines, supplying GPS equipment “that transforms a less-than-accurate 500-pound gravity bomb into a highly accurate smart bomb” and monitoring radio-telephone communication. As a part of an extra effort to strengthen imperialist US relations with Colombia, the Supplemental Agreement for Cooperation and Technical Assistance in Defense and Security (SACTA) was launched in November 2009 which gave US access to three army bases, two naval bases and two air bases. 

Plan Colombia’s objectives of eradicating drug trafficking and insurgency organizations failed miserably and Colombia continues to be the largest producer of Cocaine and its productive capacity has been steadily increasing since 2013. Significantly, land under coca cultivation increased from 136,200 hectares in 2000 to 157,200 hectares in 2006. Further, in place of old paramilitary organizations, new ones have emerged: Las Águilas Negras, Los de Magdalena Medio, Autodefensas Campesinas del Pacifico, Autodefensas Campesinas Nueva Generación, Autodefensas Unidas de Antioquia, Autodefensas Gaitanistas de Colombia, Los Rastrojos, Popular Anti-Subversive Revolutionary Army of Colombia-ERPAC and Los Paisas are some of the many local paramilitary groups still operating in the ostensibly post-paramilitary age. This implies that USA mindlessly militarized Colombia by using the fig leaf of narco-terrorism and paramilitarism. As will be shown below, the pursuit of these two targets concealed the underlying military motivation which was the imposition of neoliberal globalization and primitive accumulation.  

In lockstep with the militarization of Colombia through US military aid, paramilitary forces such as AUC (United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia) also emerged and they too worked with other actors in Colombia to create a “good investment climate” for capital accumulation and foreign corporations. They did this through the killing of trade unionist, human rights defenders, social activists, Afro-Colombians and indigenous campesinos.  It is important to note that in 2000, with the creation of Plan Colombia, the killings of unionists, civilians and other dissidents by paramilitary also increased. In 2000, the percentage of civilian deaths caused by the paramilitary increased from 18% in 1993 to 79% in 2000. Similarly, trade unionism greatly declined after 1990s and between 2000 and 2010 Colombia accounted for 63.12% of trade unionists murdered globally. This indicates a general pattern of homicides in which both the paramilitary and US-Colombian forces participated to repress, dispossess and kill individuals resisting the continuous brutality of capitalism and neoliberal globalization. The cycle of repression-dispossession-killing helped in the unencumbered development of corporations such as Drummond, Perenco, British Petroleum, Chiquita, Del Monte, Dole, Glencore, Xstrata, BHP Billiton, Anglo American and Pacific Rubiales. In addition, the systematic use of state and paramilitary violence to silence anti-neoliberal protests greatly contributed to a smooth signing of Canada-Colombia free trade agreement and United States-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement. The unhampered development of imperialist-market forces in Colombia propelled neoliberalism to new heights: the number of multi-millionaires in Colombia rose from 292 in 2007 to 435 in 2012 (49% increase), 40% of national territory became devoted to mining and energy exploitation, 20% of the population became homeless, 15% of Colombian children became malnourished and more than 8 million Colombians got displaced. 

In contemporary times, Colombia is suffering because of decades of accumulation by repression and militarized accumulation which have converted it into an exploitable territory for capitalists. Even during the government-enforced lockdown, killings of social activists are going on, the murder of social leaders in Colombia has grown by 53% in the first quarter of 2020 and forced displacement has also increased by 5%. The government too is acting relentlessly through its de-densification drive which is evicting the poor people of Bogota from their makeshift homes amid a lockdown. Moreover, the killing of 199 former Guerilla members and 41 family members till date in the re-incorporation process belies the existence of any peace process. Despite the politico-economic maladies which American neoliberalization is engendering, the US is obsessive about its imperialist aims and is hell-bent on militaristically ravaging Colombia through state-enforced slaughter and paramilitary-supported decentralized violence. This clearly delineates the futility of trying to move to a “post-paramilitary” stage and continuing with the peace process. As long as USA is policing Colombian politics through its lackeys such as Ivan Duque Marquez, no progress can be made. Colombia has to rebel against the imperialist policy makers of USA who are trying to “impose peace” through the extermination of peasant movements and anti-neoliberal FARC guerillas.

Yanis Iqbal

Yanis Iqbal is an independent researcher and freelance writer based in Aligarh, India and can be contacted at [email protected]. He has published more than 250 articles on social, political, economic, and cultural issues. He is the author of the book "Education in the Age of Neoliberal Dystopia".

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