Claudius: How do you define working well? What distinguishes the top category from the bottom? Is present-day Colombia really worse off than Mexico?
Yes. Colombia is much worse than Mexico in our view. Colombia is so fucked up that they murder one civilian every other day or so. It’s deadly to be on the Left in Colombia. Colombia exists for the rich and only for the rich. Why do you think the Left took up arms?
The state has failed in Colombia. Genocidal fascists took over or maybe were running things all along. They never even did a land reform! There is no state in Colombia. Just an army and police structure that exists to support the rich and their dictatorship over the people.
Let me give you an example.
I read about a rural area in Colombia recently. The rightwing death squads (the government) rampaged through the area and confiscated all of the farmers of the small farmers. Just stole them at gunpoint. This goes on all over Colombia all the time. The rich own a lot of the land, but they never own enough, so they are always trying to steal more. A very similar situation was going on in Guatemala and especially El Salvador and was the direct cause of the revolutions there. The Colombian rich already steal every nickel in the country, but that’s not enough. They have to steal even more. At gunpoint.
Any farmers who resisted would be beaten, tortured, arrested, imprisoned, or simply murdered. The state worked hand in hand with the death squads which are just the private armies of the rich. Really the police and the military are just the private armies of the rich too. Leaders and members of farmers’ and peasants’ associations got the same treatment above, usually worse. Many were simply murdered, especially the former. This was a slow process (it always is) but over 10-15 years, the rich had taken over all the land and added it to their latifundias.
More than anything else, Colombia needs a land reform (one could argue that this is the basic underlying cause of the armed Left revolution in Colombia) but the Colombian rich will do anything to stop it, even kill hundreds of thousands of people as D’Aubussion suggested in El Salvador (200,000 in his case to prevent land reform or “socialism” as he called it).
All of the peasants shoved off the countryside moved into nearby large cities. All of these cities quickly developed large slums if they didn’t have them already. The slums were made up on displaced peasants, now relegated to proletarianism in the city. If you study Marx this is a classic method for the development of capitalism, and it is in fact how capitalism developed in England.
Back to Colombia. The seething slums lack water (water must be purchased on large containers in the city below and then carted back to the house), power, sewage systems (the sewage runs downhill in the gutters) or much of anything. The Colombian state of course does absolutely nothing for these people as they don’t want to part with any of the money of the rich to do so. A mysterious crime wave develops in the new slums and the US media is puzzled by what could possibly have caused this strange new crime wave.
In the slums, urban Communist guerrilla cells begin to form. One day you are shocked to see a 12 year old boy walking down a steep street in the slum.
“That’s it,” you think, “The revolution has finally come. I’m outa here!”
You had always known it was building because in a situation like this, how can a Communist revolution not develop? A Communist revolution is almost guaranteed in a situation like this.
There are still plots in the countryside owned by farmers. Guerrillas now invade the abandoned areas and take over a lot of the towns.
“We are the army of the poor,” say the guerrillas. “We are here to protect you from the rich, the death squads, the army, the police, and the state.”
The townspeople are happy to see them. Guerrillas in full uniform walk down the streets of these towns like it’s nothing. There are guerrilla checkpoints all over the countryside at the entrance to every town. The guerrillas recruit in the towns and many of the young people who saw their parents, siblings and relatives brutally thrown off the land or better yet murdered join the guerrilla, mostly out of sense of vengeance.
At night, armed guerrillas show up in large forces at the haciendas of the rich, living on land stolen from the peasants.
“Hello,” the guerrillas say. “We are here to collect war taxes for the revolution.”
“But I don’t support the revolution, the landowner says.
“No matter,” say the guerrillas, “The country needs a revolution, it is having one, it needs to be funded, and as a wealthy man, you are obligated to support the revolution. And if you don’t, we will arrest and incarcerate you for tax evasion or if you prefer kidnap you and hold you for ransom.
The rich landowner agrees. Once a year he and his rich neighbors drive to spots in the countryside where they meet bands of guerrillas. All of this is done in secretly. There they hand over war taxes for the year. Those that do not pay are kidnapped for ransom, but the guerrillas say they are just being arrested and imprisoned for tax evasion and will be released on payment of taxes.
Most just pay their taxes to keep the guerrilla off the land so they can live in peace. A few hold out, refuse to pay taxes, and are kidnapped for ransom. The rich usually pay to free their people, but the offspring of these rich men are furious at these taxes and kidnappings. They move to the city and become part of the fascist Right. Some even join the death squads to “kill the Communists.” If you ask them why they joined the fascist Right, they will say, “Well, it all started when the guerrillas kidnapped my father for ransom. At that point, I had finally had enough of them. We need to exterminate these delinquents with a heavy hand!
Outside the city there is a military checkpoint. This is symbolic. It is there to keep the landless peasants in the slums holed up in the slums so they don’t try to take their property back. There are army checkpoints at the entrances of every city in the area. The military checkpoints start to be attacked by mysterious guerrillas who seem to appear out of nowhere, and the army takes casualties.
Interactions between the local urban poor and countryside peasants become at these checkpoints become increasingly hostile, as the soldiers suspect with good reason that these people are supporting and harboring guerrillas in the areas where they live. New death squads form in the cities, slowly murdering and torturing to death random poor people and especially leaders of community organizations which they army had now labeled as organizations of the guerrillas. In fact, a lot of them are the unarmed aboveground formation of the guerrillas.
Death squads return to the countryside, now picking off random peasants and leaders of community organizations on the basis of support for the guerrillas. In most cases it’s true. The people killed do in fact support the guerrillas. Hell, just about everyone out here does. The few that don’t are suspected to be army and police spies and are closely watched. Occasionally the guerrillas execute one of these people for the crime of spying for the enemy. In fact, they were usually doing just that, spying on the guerrillas for the army.
Intelligence shows that the guerrillas are coming from the urban slums and countryside towns, which are now full of guerrillas.
Back at intelligence headquarters, urban guerrillas have infiltrated this military structure and are busy giving fake intelligence to the army and especially telling the guerrillas what the intelligence knows and about any upcoming operations.
The army launches operations only to find nothing but peasants and small towns full of civilians without a guerrilla in sight when in fact the guerrillas were seen everywhere there a few days ago. It is as if the guerrillas had vanished into thin air.
The army begins to suspect that the guerrillas always seem to be one step above them and seem to have precognition about the army’s behavior. The army suspects spies in its midst and conducts internal sweeps but finds nothing. Commanders grow increasingly frustrated and angry and begin to take it out on the locals in the guerrilla zones.
The officers look up and the cloud-covered jungle mountains surrounding the area of their operation and begin to wonder if the guerrillas are up there somewhere, hiding in the misty rainforest.
They are correct. That is exactly where the guerrillas are. Difficult operations are launched in these jungle mountains of Colombia but nothing is found. Soldiers get injured, bitten by insects, and come down with strange diseases during these jungle operations.
The operations end and the army retreats back to the valley. Now not just officers but rank and file soldiers are getting even more angry, and they take it out even more on the locals. Down in the valleys, mysterious new guerrilla formations with names no one has heard of seem to show up out of nowhere in response to the army’s abuse of the civilians. These formations start attacking the army, and the army takes casualties. The soldiers get even more furious and take it out on the people even more.
After every crackdown on civilians, more and even more young people join the guerrillas. When asked why they join, they say,
Well it all started when the army invaded our home and killed my father at his dinner meal. He was a simple peasant. He wasn’t part of any armed guerrilla. I am here to get my revenge.
In some areas, deals are cut with the rebels. The army gets to control the city below but the guerrillas get to the control the towns above eight miles up the road. This is exactly where the guerrilla checkpoints start. In the other direction as you head towards the valley, army checkpoints start. The army and the guerrilla have cut a deal to let each control a bit of territory on the basis that they sign a ceasefire and stop killing each other. After a while of this, the army starts running short of weapons. It turns out a number of officers have been selling the army’s weapons to the guerrillas.
The revolution in Colombia has many causes but this is a good overview of some the main issues that are driving this civil war more than anything else. At the end of the day, it’s just another fight over land and bread. Ever heard that one before?