August 22, 2001
Narco News 2001
Introduction by The Narco News Bulletin
Narco News Commentary: Remember the "necklace bomb"?
Last year, the Colombian and international
press was in an uproar over the video-taped violence in which
a Colombian woman lost her life and a police officer lost his
arms as a "necklace bomb" exploded on the victim's
Colombian President Andrés Pastrana
immediately blamed the FARC - the Revolutionary Armed Forces
of Colombia - and this message shot around the world in parroting
press reports. Later, it was proved that the FARC was not involved,
that the necklace bomb had been set by common criminals in an
attempt to extort money from the victim. Still later, Narco News
translated the memoirs of the former national police chief in
Colombia, José Serrano, as he recounted the pressures
by Pastrana (and, presumably, the United States government that
he serves) to heap false blame for this tragedy on the guerrilla.
As the clock ticks toward the October
9th deadline for cancelling or extending the peace talks in Colombia,
the mass media - eager for a war to cover - is up to the same
old tricks. This time, the fingerprints of British and U.S. spy
agencies and their media networks are all over the story, in
which three Irish republicans were arrested in Colombia and charged
with giving "terrorist" and "bomb-making"
lessons to the Colombian rebels.
This two-for-one propaganda campaign serves
a dual purpose: scuttling the peace processes in Colombia and
in Northern Ireland. It's the same script, driven by the same
powers, in different parts of the world.
The Washington Post editorial of August
16th inadvertently reveals the agenda:
The IRA's excuse for withdrawing
its disarmament offer is that the British government suspended
Northern Ireland's power-sharing assembly for one day. But Britain
did this with the tacit support of the Irish government, and
it did so because there was no better alternative. The IRA's
foot-dragging on disarmament had driven David Trimble, the Protestant
leader of the assembly, to resign in protest. This left the British
government with an unpalatable choice between calling new elections,
which would probably have been won by anti-peace extremists,
and temporarily suspending the assembly. It chose the better
If the IRA cared about
the peace process, you might expect its political wing, Sinn
Fein, to be working overtime on finding a way forward. But Gerry
Adams, Sinn Fein's top man, is planning a trip to Latin America.
He will visit Fidel Castro, a longstanding ally, and stop by
in other undisclosed countries. This week three IRA members were
arrested in Colombia, having apparently assisted that country's
drug-trafficking terrorists in mastering explosives. Mr. Adams
used to have friends in Washington, but their band is dwindling
The Post endorses the British state's
suspension of democratic legislative government in Ireland because,
says the Washington daily's editorial scribblers, the alternative
of having elections "probably would have" led to a
democratic victory by forces that London and Washington seek
to block in Ireland. So much for democracy. The real goal here
was not to demonize the Irish Republican Army, but, rather, its
peaceful allies in Sinn Fein: to neutralize the peaceful and
democratic options, thus justifying state repression. Sinn Fein's
alleged crime is a coming peaceful visit to Latin America, including
to see Castro in Cuba. (Members of the New York Stock Exchange
or Hollywood producers can visit Cuba or even the FARC without
being demonized, and have done so. But it is apparently anathema
to the system that a political leader might do the same.)
The same script is at play in Colombia:
U.S. government support for paramilitary thugs, corporate mercenary
soldiers-of-fortune and, most recently, the imposition of sweeping
military powers that cancel out legislative and judicial authority
cuts off the paths of peaceful and democratic opposition, leaving
armed revolt as the only option. Then, once that situation is
created, the forces of power stall peace efforts and blame the
rebels (a third example of this tired script occurs today in
the Middle East, where Arafat is blamed for everything, practically
including the weather, by the hawks who have always preferred
war to peace with justice.)
As with the "necklace bomb"
incident of the year 2000, the "facts" cited by the
corporate media in the Irish-Colombian scare are beginning to
fall apart. The alleged "satellite photos" of the three
Irishmen allegedly holding bomb-making classes in the jungle
never materialized. The supposed "test data" of explosives
and drugs on their clothes has somehow disappeared. Now a magazine
claims to have audio tapes of a guerrilla commander speaking
of "the three blondies," but the magazine doesn't make
the tape - if it even exists - available for testing.
And the story, as told by power, keeps
changing. They began by claiming that the Irishmen were training
the Colombian rebels in explosives. But the Financial Times of
London, with that story coming apart, has just proposed the opposite
spin: now it's that the Colombian rebels were supposedly training
the three Irishmen in how to vaporize office buildings in downtown
It's the necklace bomb scam all over again.
And that the United States and British press falls for it speaks
more about their hidden agendas than it does about the 16,000
insurgent rebels in Colombia or the three Irish political activists
who visited them.
Narco News thus republishes an article
by an old friend of one of the three Irishmen that we found circulating
on email mailing lists, as we offer, once again, the other side
of the story.
From somewhere in a country
Al Giordano, publisher
The Narco News Bulletin
Monaghan is a sound man, a former republican
prisoner, who I met in the 1980s after his release from prison
and who sat on the Ard Comhairle of Sinn Fein for a time. He
and two others were arrested in Colombia last week with false
passports, which in itself is a fairly minor offence. However,
the Colombian military authorities claimed that the three men
had been training FARC (the 16,000-strong, Revolutionary Armed
Forces of Colombia) in "terrorist acts, the handling and
manipulation of explosives and the fabrication of non-conventional
weapons." A spokesperson claimed that traces of cocaine
and numerous types of sophisticated explosives had been found
on their clothing.
The British media jumped on the claims
and unionist representatives heralded the arrests as evidence
of republican deceit with regards to the peace process. By the
next morning the BBC was reporting that the authorities had satellite
photos of the three men training FARC in the making of barrack
busters. Sinn Fein was called to account for the men's presence
in South America. The media reported that the investigation could
take up to eighteen months and that the men were facing possibly
twenty years in prison.
By the next morning there were, eh, no
pictures and a lot less talk of traces of explosives or cocaine
on the men's clothes. Now, I haven't a clue what Jim and his
company were doing in Colombia. I do know, however, to be skeptical
and suspicious of news agencies, especially given our own experience
of the chasm between the presentation of Irish republicans in
the British media and the actual truth.
Jim Monaghan is well-read and is very
much into revolutionary politics. But he's not the sort of guy
to be interfering in the internal affairs of another country
in the way of Tony Blair, for example. Blair supports "Plan
Colombia", a $1.3 billion programme organised by the USA,
aimed at defeating FARC; a programme that has caused immense
suffering to the peasantry. Blair and former US President Bill
Clinton, not that long ago, also authorised a bombing campaign
in Kosovo and Serbia, which resulted in the deaths of hundreds
of civilians. Of course, they killed some of "the enemy"
as well and brought Serbia to heel, so that must make it okay.
Ulster Unionist MPs supported this bombing campaign whilst simultaneously
questioning the commitment of republicans to the use of exclusively
peaceful means for achieving their objectives.
So what about FARC. Founded in 1964 it
has its roots in decades of peasant revolts against repressive,
oligarchic governments in a country where 1.5% of the people
own and control 80% of the land that is fit for agricultural
development. Hundreds of thousands have died over fifty years
in an intermittent civil war that continues to this day.
Displaced peasants who were driven from
their farms by large landholders sought out inhospitable areas
such as the foothills region of the various Amazonic departments
where they established agricultural production. It is in these
areas that FARC enjoys most support and from where it launched
its guerrilla war.
In the 1980s FARC supported the Patriotic
Union (UP), a coalition of left-wing forces that attempted to
establish a popular political party. In its first electoral intervention,
UP elected 14 Congress members to the Senate and House, eighteen
deputies to departmental assemblies and 335 counsellors. In reaction
to this the Bogota government unleashed a "dirty war".
By 1988, 30% of UP's candidates were assassinated. Trade union
leaders were also murdered, popular protest criminalized and
the media continues to be controlled by big business.
The extermination of the UP threw FARC
back into armed struggle. The peasants, particularly in the wake
of agricultural recession, found coca to be the only product
that was both profitable and easy to market. Today, 300,000 people
are directly dependant on the coca economy. FARC derives its
income from imposing a revolutionary tax on rich businessmen.
But it, undoubtedly, also derives significant taxes from medium-
and large-scale coca producers, which is where I must part company.
FARC is thus in conflict with the US government,
millions of whose citizens' lives are being devastated by illegal
drugs, mostly trafficked from Colombia. However, FARC claims
the main reason it is opposed by the USA is because it is a revolutionary,
socialist organisation resisting US imperialism. Washington claims
that the guerrillas are major drug traffickers (a claim repudiated
by even the US Drug Enforcement Agency in a 1997 report) and
that counterinsurgency and counternarcotics operations are one
and the same. (Incidentally, this is a separate war from that
against the likes of the late drug baron Pablo Escobar's Medellin
cartel with its corrupt links to government, judiciary and armed
FARC argues that the way to eradicate
the drugs trade is for peasant farmers to be given aid to develop
and plant alternative crops, but the government has shown no
interest in this offer and instead murders farmers, attacks villages
and, advised by US experts, destroys the peasant crops through
aerial fumigation of coca and poppy fields which has damaged
the health of children and poisoned water supplies, as well as
driving an army of unemployed youth into FARC.
Several years ago, as a result of a peace
process Colombia's President Andres Pastrana conceded almost
40% of Colombia to FARC. The area is known as the "demilitarised
zone". Last month FARC released 300 captured soldiers in
an exchange of prisoners but just this week Pastrana signed a
controversial new law giving the military sweeping powers of
detention and the right to set up martial law in specific places,
despite international opposition, the army's abysmal human rights
record and its proven links to right-wing death squads.
In the demilitarised zone FARC has built
250km of new highways, twenty bridges, paved streets in the towns
so that people can walk free of mud and mire, built water mains
and carried out a massive vaccination programme. In the June
edition of their magazine, "Resistencia", FARC mentions
the volume of international visitors to its demilitarised zone,
ranging from "government envoys, ambassadors, parliamentarians,
journalists and personalities, etc."
In its "capital", San Vincente,
it has held festivals of theatre, dance and music in the central
square to which it invites those in solidarity and foreign tourists.
People just like Jim Monaghan and his