María Fernanda Barreto
Operation Orion Victims marched in 2012 to demand justice for their family members. | Photo: EFE
“We woke up in the night of terror amidst the bullets and the helicopter…”: so begins one of the many terrible stories of the people who lived in the Comuna 13 of Medellin on October 16, 2002, when the sadly famous Operation Orion began, the largest joint military operation of the security forces and paramilitary groups in an urban territory of Colombia, with which the former governor of Antioquia, Alvaro Uribe Velez, inaugurated his first term as president of Colombia.
Of the total number of victims of Operation Orion there are still no exact figures, only that there are hundreds and perhaps thousands because with it the paramilitary groups took control of the territory and imposed their regime over the following years. They fired from helicopter gunships over the population, surrounded it with armored vehicles, raided homes with false orders supported by the Attorney General’s Office and the then intelligence corps DAS, and disappeared more than 100 people in the first week alone.
In the words of the former paramilitary commander known as Don Berna himself, the Cacique Nutibara Bloc, which he commanded, arrived there at the request of the generals of the Public Forces: Mario Montoya, of the Army, and Leonardo Gallego, of the Police. They made previous intelligence by torturing the population with their usual methods: electric shocks, drowning and sexual abuse.
Operation Orion, a (para)military operation carried out between October 16 and 17, 2002 in Comuna 13 (San Javier), Medellín (Photo: Jesús Abad Colorado).
This bloody operation, which covered the sector known as La Escombrera with corpses, also marked the debut of the Minister of Defense that Uribe had appointed since his inauguration just two months earlier: Marta Lucía Ramírez.
With Uribe Vélez, hundreds of men and women of the so-called “parapolitics” came to power and drug trafficking gained new strength within the Colombian State. With him also came the most shameful military agreements that surrendered what little sovereignty the country had to the United States, handing over even the bodies of girls raped by U.S. troops who would never be tried in Colombia.
Coherently, with Uribe also came a new time of strengthening relations between Colombia and Israel. Thus, the social and armed conflict in Colombia became even more acute.
After his election in 2002, Uribe managed with proven trickery to obtain his reelection for the period 2006-2010, and for the following elections, he nominated his most recent Minister of Defense, Juan Manuel Santos.
Then he brought to the presidency an unknown in Colombian politics named Iván Duque, with the result that for two decades the Casa de Nariño has only been occupied by Uribe and his appointees.
Genocide and massacre as policy.
“They killed them because they came in to eat sugar cane”, were the words of Uribe’s own prosecutor when referring to the massacre of five teenagers from Cali who came in to eat sugar cane in a private sugar cane field in front of their neighborhood located in Cali. A few hours later they were found dead and with signs of torture last August.
This massacre known as the Llano Verde Massacre is only one of the 91 registered massacres that took place in Colombia during 2020. A year in which 310 social leaders and human rights defenders were also killed, including 12 people because they were their relatives, and 64 signatories of the 2016 Peace Accord.
These murders constitute a genocide due to their systematicity, similar characteristics of the victims (all opposed to the political and economic interests of capitalism in Colombia), the same modus operandi and perpetrators: security forces, paramilitary and parapolice organizations and hired assassins.
Within the framework of this genocide, we must also detail the execution of an ethnocide against the indigenous and black communities, because of their roots in the territories that the transnationals, including drug trafficking, want to own and exploit, and because of the structural racism of Colombian society.
Racism that this week was expressed in representatives of the government party and media that spoke of confrontations “between indigenous and citizens” when referring to the attack of armed civilians on the indigenous Minga in Cali on May 9, which left nine indigenous men and women with serious injuries from firearms, denying the status of citizens to the indigenous peoples by Iván Duque himself, who that same day urged the indigenous people to return to their reservations as if they were cattle, and stigmatized the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca (CRIC) by blaming it for the violence of which it was actually the victim.
The same characteristics are present in the massacres, assassinations and forced disappearances that are being carried out in the context of the repression of the National Strike, and there are elements to point out that they are part of the same strategy.
First of all, as usual, the discourse of the government and the media corporations accuse President Nicolás Maduro, the National Liberation Army (ELN), the Second Marquetalia or the so-called dissidents of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), and Gustavo Petro himself of manipulating and mobilizing popular organizations and promoting resistance actions, but curiously they do not accuse the Clan of the Gulf, Los Rastrojos or the Black Eagles, despite the fact that they repeatedly say that they are also their enemies.
The reason they do not accuse these groups is because they clearly assume that these narco-paramilitary organizations do not conflict with their interests, and moreover, that they act on their side in the violent repression of these and all popular protests.
A second element is that, in the course of the strike and compared to the immediately preceding period, selective political assassinations have decreased. While from 4/28/21 to 5/21/21 9 social leaders and 2 signatories of the 2016 Peace Accord have been assassinated, from 3/20/21 to 4/26/21 4 signatories of the Peace Accord and 22 social leaders were assassinated, which means that these crimes have been reduced to less than half since the beginning of the protests, which establishes a relationship that in our opinion has to do with the identity of the material and intellectual victimizers.
We should also mention that military and paramilitary harassment of Venezuela has decreased during the same period of time.
If, in spite of this, any doubt remains about the Colombian regime’s legitimization of genocides, it is enough to see that, in the midst of these massacres, Uribe and his Democratic Center party publicly expressed their solidarity with the Zionist State of Israel, after its attacks on Palestine this week.
Centro Democrático supports the right of the State of Israel to defend its population, its symbols and its religious temples – Centro Democrático https://t.co/2bEEhpK4Cz
– Álvaro Uribe Vélez (@AlvaroUribeVel) May 14, 2021
Finally, the late and lukewarm reaction of multilateral organizations to the massacres, sexual violations, eye mutilations and other human rights violations that are being executed at this moment is shameful and is evidence of their subordination to hegemonic interests that endorse the massive human rights violations that are occurring in Colombia, both historical and recent, in which despite everything, including the massiveness of social networks in the cities, managed to break the traditional invisibility of the war in Colombia.
The National Strike of April 28, 2021
The historical causes of this situation lie in 200 years of the continent’s most violent and exclusionary oligarchy in power and its decision to mortgage sovereignty as soon as independence was achieved.
However, although there are antecedents of major strikes such as that of 1977, in the last three years popular protests have become increasingly massive and consecutive, which shows that there is a growing number of demands against the system that has turned Colombia into one of the most unequal countries in the world and the one with the greatest territorial inequality in the continent.
The Civic Strike of Buenaventura and the Student Strike of 2018, the National Strike of 2019 and the protests against police violence in September 2020, are immediate antecedents that are united in the just nature of their claims and the massiveness of popular participation, but the current National Strike has an unprecedented level of participation that has been projected to the neighborhoods of the main cities of the country and on intercity highways.
The protagonism of the Indigenous Guard and the legitimacy it has been achieving in the eyes of those who protest, is the expression of the historical and not circumstantial sense of the demands of the Colombian people.
But all the previous strikes, and this one in particular, have received only one response from the State: the increasingly brutal repression carried out by the security forces. The popular protest is being treated as a war, which includes paramilitary actions; both forces have generated and are currently generating massacres and forced disappearances in all parts of the country.
The Colombian historian Renán Vega Cantor describes this National Strike that began on March 28 as the most extraordinary popular mobilization in the last 45 years in Colombia that “has laid bare in all its crudeness before the whole world what ‘Colombian democracy’ is, with its face of death and horror”, a regime “always undercover and protected by the imperialist powers”, and as the professor pointed out, “it has become evident that the Colombian State is counterinsurgent, anticommunist and terrorist, because in our territory, strictly speaking, the logic of the cold war has never ended”.
Uribe and his molecular coup d’état
The pseudo-intellectual arguments of Uribe’s neo-Nazi advisor, the Chilean Alexis Lopez, who with very little intellectual capacity tries to explain the theory of the Molecular Revolution of the French Felix Guattari to design a neo-Pinochet pamphlet, may well have planted the idea of a “molecular coup d’état” in Uribeism.
A Colombian-style coup d’état, full of euphemisms and “a little at a time”. Militarizing the country, substituting local executive powers by military commands as it is happening in Cali, unleashing State terrorism, guaranteeing impunity, activating paramilitary and para-police operations for the definitive territorial control and, of course, legitimizing itself thanks to the discourse of the media corporations in its favor.
This coup that Uribism appears to be trying to carry out throughout the southwest, also began to advance towards Medellín with the appointment of an “ad hoc mayor” and could expand towards its national realization through militarization and paramilitarization, or through the declaration of a state of internal commotion or other emergency that would end with the removal of Iván Duque and delegate Marta Lucía Ramírez the president of the country.
Everything seems possible for Uribe Velez and his acolytes, except that his party manages to cleanly win the elections scheduled for 2022.
Of course, nothing happens in Colombia without the guidance and support of the United States, which in addition to its political interference, trains, finances and arms the Colombian security forces, and did not fail to do so during during these days of state violence against the population.
But also, while the Mobile Anti-Riot Squad (ESMAD) massacred the youth in Cali, the German company Bayer proudly announced an investment of 1 million Euros for its plant in the Department of Valle del Cauca, whose capital is Cali. In the same city, the supermarket chain store Éxito of the Casino de Francia Group is being accused by the population of lending its facilities for illegal detention centers, torture and forced disappearance of people protesting in the area with the complicity of its private security. While the companies Anglo American, BHP Billiton and Glencore continue to violate the rights of their workers, who have actively joined the strike at the Cerrejón mine, located in the Colombian Guajira.
The international community must therefore break the silence. The transnational corporations of European, North American and Israeli origin have much responsibility in the economic situation of Colombia, in the determination of the neoliberal policies of Uribism and even in the financing of the genocidal Public Forces, the Military and Private Security Corporations and the paramilitaries.
The labyrinth from which they thought they could easily get out of.
The delegitimization of Uribe in the Colombian youth is evidenced in the most reiterated slogan in the resistance points: “Uribe, paraco, el pueblo está berraco”, in which it is expressed that this generation is fed up with a State that bases its power on fear, death and torture.
The pacification of the people has not been an easy task and they have begun to suffer important defeats. The violence unleashed by the State has been a trigger for indignation and has multiplied resistance.
“Colombia cries but does not surrender” (Photo: Archive).
Uribe, who has publicly expressed his fear of class struggle, has deepened it in his 20 years of direct and indirect mandate, and now discovers that this has found new expressions in a generation that was born expropriated of everything, that is trapped in an unlivable present and that, sensing itself also without a future, feels it has nothing to lose and, on the contrary, much to conquer in the collective struggle with its equals.
The extreme economic, military and police violence have ended up gathering the people in barricades called Points of Resistance, where community kitchens are set up where many people can get some food while participating, weaving ties and discovering that they can make their voices heard if they are part of the collective in Strike.
Also, the extreme exclusion, racism, classism and overexploitation of the system has its expression in the thousands of people living on the streets. Colombia, together with Brazil, is the country in the region with the largest number of people in this terrible situation, and although the major political analyses tend to render them invisible, they are now on the front line in many cities, their voices are finally being heard in a country that is shamefully accustomed to calling them “disposable”.
Decolonization is also advancing symbolically at the hands of the Misak indigenous communities, who opened the strike in the early morning of April 28 by tearing down the statue of the Spanish genocidaire Sebastián de Belalcázar, an action that has been replicated throughout the country and which is advancing until the statue of Francisco de Paula Santander himself is torn down.
The Indigenous Minga, so underestimated and stigmatized, has been consolidated as a moral reserve of the protesting people. Every time during the protests of the last years the Minga has moved to the big cities, they have been received by thousands of people in the streets and the hymn of the Indigenous Guard is, today, the hymn of the national resistance.
A nightmare for those who call themselves “good people” and boast of their strata 5 and 6. Because this stratification that they began to use in the nineties has contributed to the polarization of the country that Uribism has achieved as no other political current had managed in the last 70 years.
To further complicate the picture, many leftist organizations that had dispersed in the years of that decade of disenchantment of 1990 are reconvening in the light of this renewed hope.
Where the Colombian oligarchy will find the way out is the dilemma, and everything seems to point to the fact that it will continue to bet on violence, because in spite of all that has been said, the international community has begun to manifest itself. Solidarity is growing and denunciations through social networks have now flooded the traditional media, forcing some world personalities and even institutions to speak out against the massive violations of human rights in Colombia.
Although so far only the governments of countries not aligned with the United States have dared to take a stand, the peoples of the subordinate countries, and particularly those of the Global North, may end up pressuring them to break the complicit silence and with it some of the businesses that sustain the Colombian oligarchy.
The US State Department itself had to pronounce itself against the police excesses almost two weeks after the beginning of the National Strike, while the Russian Embassy was obliged to state its position after the inappropriate accusations of Iván Duque who continues looking for external culprits.
“We regret the acts of violence that occurred in Cali and express our sincere condolences to family and friends of those who died in the midst of them. The US reiterates the call for calm and our support for dialogue to address the current situation.” – PSG
– US Embassy Bogota (@USEmbassyBogota) May 10, 2021
After the almost null management of Claudia Blum at the head of the Colombian Foreign Ministry, whose most famous action was the meeting with Francisco Santos in which the latter explained to her that her main task would be to continue attacking the Venezuelan government, Duque has opted to replace her with Vice President Marta Lucía Ramírez.
By assuming the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, it is clear that she will no longer be the candidate of Uribism for the next elections, even though she was the only Uribist candidate with any chance according to the polls.
The most arduous task of the Colombian government in the international arena at this moment consists in trying to justify the massacre it is committing against the people and which is finally beginning to generate some international pressure.
Most likely, in spite of the political cost it may generate for them, they will try to avoid reaching the 2022 elections and this will only be achieved with that “molecular coup d’état”, which has not yet been dissipated.
Successes of the National Strike open the way to Peace
There is no doubt that what is happening today in Colombia is, in Gramscian terms, an organic crisis in which the old has not finished dying and the new has not finished being born, and which will leave deep traces in its history.
It is evident here the dispute between a State subordinated to the interests of the United States and led by the most violent oligarchy of the continent that intends to deliver the final blow for the “pacification” of the country and the people who have bravely kept fighting for Peace, that which the former abhor because it implies the loss of their control and privileges for the sake of the construction of a social justice that has not existed in Colombia for at least the last five centuries.
Today, more than three weeks after the beginning of the National Strike, the strength demonstrated by the popular resistance has achieved the withdrawal of the infamous Tax Reform and Health Reform, as well as the resignation of the Minister of Finance and his cabinet. One of the first announcements of his successor in the portfolio is the cancellation of the purchase of 40 war planes announced in March, which would cost close to 14 trillion pesos, and which was one of the arguments used to justify the announced reform.
Moreover, the main Asian shipping companies have now announced the suspension of shipments to the Port of Buenaventura due to the fact that protests have prevented the disembarkation and transfer of goods, the ships that were already sailing the Pacific will go to the Colombian Caribbean ports, which means that they will have to cross the Panama Canal, increasing time and costs and, finally, CONMEBOL announced the suspension of Colombia as host of the Copa America 2021, with which they intended to increase their profits and continue to hide the terrible reality of the country behind closed doors.
The most violent oligarchy of the continent has been accustomed for two centuries to respond with bullets to the just claims of the people, and has only sat down to dialogue with little success with the armed organizations, making it clear that it is not willing to recognize the belligerence of the unarmed popular organizations, thus guaranteeing the continuity of the war.
At this point it is clear that there is no military solution possible, and the only way to find peace is through a political and negotiated solution to the social and armed conflict.
If in addition to these victories mentioned above, which although they may seem small, strongly affect the economic interests that define the politics of the country, the Colombian people succeed in getting the State to sit down for the first time to dialogue with them to negotiate a solution to the terrible reality with all the popular sectors that have sustained this strong resistance in the streets and highways, we will then be talking about the greatest popular victory of the last two centuries and, at last, a true advance towards Peace in Colombia, which is the peace of Venezuela and of the whole region.
The peace of Colombia is the peace of Venezuela, by @ernesto_cazal https://t.co/tlA2ljPfGZ pic.twitter.com/1vIX9gqChX
– MV (@Mision_Verdad) April 7, 2021
This will not be simple because now, in addition to resuming the dialogues with the ELN, the State must open spaces to negotiate with all the popular sectors that participate in this National Strike that continues to be active.
The National Strike Committee, in turn, has been surpassed by the immense number of local popular expressions which have become protagonists of the resistance and which must also be heard. To embrace this diversity demands a process of national dialogue that requires a great deal of political will from all parties and that would open the way to structural changes that the Colombian political class has always refused to negotiate.
What can be said without a doubt is that, whatever happens, these events will represent a before and after in the history of Colombia, and their historical legacy will inevitably be expressed in the struggles to come.
Translation by Internationalist 360°