Rightist Gangs Murdering Trade Unionists in Colombia

In the wake of recent mass demonstrations against state and paramilitary violence across Colombia, four trade union activists who helped coordinate the events were brutally murdered.

Convened by the National Movement of Victims of State Crimes (MOVICE), the March 6 mobilization denounced the complicity of the Uribe regime with paramilitary gangsters, aided and abetted by the Bush administration’s on-going sponsorship of rightist atrocities through Plan Colombia.

According to the Center for International Policy, MOVICE organizer Iván Cepeda Castro reported in the Colombian weekly El Espectador, that the assassinated union leaders were:

* Carmen Cecilia Carvajal, teacher. Killed 4 March, in Ocaña, Norte de Santander.

* Leonidas Gómez Rozo, member of the bankworkers union, Unión Nacional de Empleados Bancarios (Uneb), president of the CITY-BANK Branco. Killed on 5 March, in Bogotá.

* Gildardo Gómez Alzate, teacher and activist of the Asociación de Institutores de Antioquia (Adida). Killed 7 March, in Medellín.

* Carlos Burbano, vice-president of the Hospitalworkers Union, Asociación Nacional de Trabajadores Hospitalarios. Killed 11 March, San Vicente del Caguán, Caquetá.

Castro went on to describe how,

Carlos Burbano…was disappeared on 9 March in San Vicente del Caguán. He had led the local March 6 demonstration. His corpse was found at the municipal rubbish dump with his face disfigured by acid.1

That these murders were preceded by provocative allegations denouncing the march by dodgy state figures is hardly surprising. José Obdulio Gaviria, an advisor to president Álvaro Uribe, impugned MOVICE when he declared on February 10 that the demonstrations were being “convened by the FARC,” a virtual death sentence for anyone publicly tarred with the “narcoguerrilla” brush. This, despite the fact that MOVICE leaders had “denounced parallel calls by armed groups” to participate, according to Castro.

Gaviria’s inflammatory pronouncement was echoed, as if on cue February 11, when the paramilitary Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC), a fascist death squad with documented links to narcotrafficking, “affirmed that the march was instigated by the guerrillas.”

This was followed March 12, when a communiqué appeared on the Colombian Indymedia website from the shadowy far-right gang Aguilas Negras or Black Eagles. The anonymous author declared “all those entities, institutions, diplomatic representations and common people who receive this virtual communiqué are declared PHASE A MILITARY OBJECTIVES.”

In the context of contemporary Colombia society, such rhetoric is not taken lightly.

That these union leaders were “disappeared,” cruelly tortured and then assassinated by state-aligned paramilitaries is ironic, given that the U.S. State Department in its annual “Country Reports on Human Rights Practices — Colombia,” last week claimed there aren’t any new paramilitary groups in Colombia. That such mendacity passes muster in an official government report is indicative of the Bush regime’s panic at proverbial “facts on the ground.” As Latin America moves left, rejecting IMF/World Bank “privatization” (resource extraction) schemes, a corporatist façade of “democratic leaders” committed to “market reforms” and “the rule of law,” drive the North American ruling class and their proxies, to create their own hollow realities.

As analyst Garry Leech points out:

In reality, there is a wealth of evidence showing that there are dozens of new paramilitary groups waging a dirty war in Colombia. Numerous human rights groups have shown that new paramilitary groups operating under names such as the New Generation or the Black Eagles do indeed exist and that they are responsible for a significant percentage of the country’s political violence. In 2006, the Colombian NGO Indepaz reported that 43 new paramilitary groups totaling almost 4,000 fighters had been formed in 23 of the country’s 32 departments. Last year, the OAS estimated that there were 20 new paramilitary groups with 3,000 fighters operating in Colombia. According to Alirio Uribe, a leading Colombian human rights lawyer with the José Alvear Restrepo Lawyers’ Collective:

“There are forty-three new paramilitary groups but, according to the Ministry of Defense, these new paramilitary groups have nothing to do with the old ones. But the truth is, they are the same. Before they were the AUC, now they are called the New Generation AUC. They have the same collusion with the army and the police. It is a farce.”2

These are dangerous times for leftists and union organizers in Colombia. Since 1985 more than 4,000 union leaders and rank-and-file members have been murdered, either by the U.S.-backed Army or their paramilitary stand-ins. Often enough, activists have been killed or “disappeared” while organizing workers or during strike actions at giant American-owned firms. U.S. multinational corporations alleged to have collaborated with narcotrafficking rightist gangs include: the Coca-Cola Corporation, Chiquita Brands, Alabama-based Drummond Coal, to name but a few of the well-heeled U.S. companies pushing for a “free trade” deal with the death squad state.

Ironically, while praised by George W. Bush, Uribe was linked to drug traffickers by the Pentagon’s Defense Intelligence Agency (DIA) back in 1991. Citing documents published by the National Security Archive, according to Bill Van Auken,

The confidential DIA report described Uribe in the following terms: “A Colombian politician and senator dedicated to collaboration with the Medellín Cartel at high government levels. Uribe was linked to a business involved in narcotics activities in the US. His father was murdered in Colombia for his connection with the narcotics traffickers. Uribe has worked for the Medellín Cartel and is a close personal friend of Pablo Escobar Gaviría.” It added that Uribe had “attacked all forms of the extradition treaty” that Washington had sought to bring Colombian drug traffickers to trial in the US.

Uribe and his spokesmen rushed to deny the veracity of the document, pointing to factual errors in its findings. … They failed, however, to dispute what many have charged is the key allegation in the document: that Uribe enjoyed a close personal association with Escobar and the Medellín Cartel.3

Today’s plague of violence and mayhem is the deranged offspring of U.S. counterinsurgency doctrines taught in Colombia. Back in 1962, a proposal to organize “irregular” forces in tandem with regular Army units was made by a top-level U.S. Special Warfare team from Ft. Bragg. According to historian Michael McClintock,

General [William P.] Yarborough… pressed for a stay-behind irregular force and its immediate deployment to eliminate communists representing a future threat:

[A] concerted country team effort should be made now to select civilian and military personnel for clandestine training in resistance operations in case they are needed later. This should be done with a view toward development of a civil and military structure for exploitation in the event the Colombian internal security system deteriorates further. This structure should be used to pressure toward reforms known to be needed, perform counter-agent and counter-propaganda functions and as necessary execute paramilitary, sabotage and/or terrorist activities against known communist proponents. It should be backed by the United States. 4

Fast forward more than 40 years and tens of thousands of deaths later: “communists” in the form of union leaders, peasant organizers, human rights workers, or indeed, anyone who dares raise their voice against the oppressive social and economic policies of a narcostate backed by the full weight of the imperialist “Colossus to the North” is a target worthy of “elimination.”

  1. “A Serious Wave of Threats,” The Center for International Policy, March 18, 2008. []
  2. Garry Leech, “Bush Administration Fails to Acknowledge Existence of New Paramilitary Groups in Colombia,” Colombia Journal, Monday, March 17, 2008. []
  3. Colombia’s Uribe: US ally in ‘war on terror’ named as drug trafficker,” World Socialist Web Site, 5 August 2004. []
  4. Michael McClintock, Instruments of Statecraft, New York: Pantheon Books, 1992, p. 222. []
Tom Burghardt is a researcher and activist based in the San Francisco Bay Area. His articles are published in many venues. He is the editor of Police State America: U.S. Military "Civil Disturbance" Planning, distributed by AK Press. Read other articles by Tom, or visit Tom's website.

8 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. Lloyd Rowsey said on March 23rd, 2008 at 7:08am #

    So, tom. if you think you know an organization accepting credit card donations that is legitimate and supports your goals re Columbia, why don’t you email me at lloydrowsey at hotmail dot com. i think i could help. however, nb, i am very wary.

  2. Tom Burghardt said on March 23rd, 2008 at 10:25am #

    A rather strange request LLoyd. I don’t solicit contributions for any group or organization. I’m a researcher not an advocate for any group or faction. My brief is exploring U.S. foreign and domestic policy. Surf the web and find one that you might support.

  3. Lloyd Rowsey said on March 23rd, 2008 at 10:57am #

    A very strange reply, Tom. And I think your admission and advice would be more appropriate for my email than here in the glaring light of DV.

    So, Mr. Objective Researcher Tom Burghardt. Not only do you think the areas you choose to research have little or nothing to do with your politics, but you think you couldn’t give me even one, private tip about where I could contribute to the sort of orgnization I described?

    WTF, man. Or are you just paranoid generally? Or fearful of me personally?

    Whatever. LOL.

    Lloyd Rowsey

  4. Lloyd Rowsey said on March 23rd, 2008 at 11:15am #

    oh, and maybe I was being unclear, Tom. the REASON I suggested you contact me at my email instead of at DV is because I know DV would not look kindly on any article-writer who stooped to “solicit contributions for any group or organization.”

  5. Tom Burghardt said on March 23rd, 2008 at 7:04pm #

    Just to clear things up, I’ve e-mailed the info you requested. I’m under the weather but shouldn’t have been curt. My apologies.

  6. Lloyd Rowsey said on March 23rd, 2008 at 9:52pm #

    Thank you, Tom. I should have left paranoia out of it. Sorry.

  7. Connie said on March 28th, 2008 at 9:36am #

    I’m bookmarking this site. I have finally found someone solidly exploring this issue and making coherent/rational statements . I get it. Everyone is tired of the violence in Colombia, but it’s utterly INSANE to obfuscate the issue further by not recognizing role of the right wing terrorist organizations. I appreciate this point of view and will make sure to share the link to this site. Thank you!!

  8. Tom Burghardt said on March 28th, 2008 at 2:06pm #

    Thanks, Connie I appreciate your comments. Unfortunately, U.S. counterinsurgency strategy since the end of World War II has come to rely on right-wing forces for “special operations.” Even more frightening, and disgusting, these strategies were based on Wehrmacht anti-partisan tactics in Russia and West Europe. Pretty sad, eh?