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August 22, 2001

Narco News 2001


of the Empire...


By Danny Morrison

With 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 collar.

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 option....

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 now.

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 London.

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 called América,

Al Giordano, publisher

The Narco News Bulletin



By Danny Morrison

Jim 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 forces.)

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 two friends.

Exploding Media-Manufactured Myths