02/09/2007versione stampabileprintinvia paginasend



In Colombia, a turf war between the FARC and the ELN has caused hundreds of dead in just a few months
War between the guerrillas. For the last ten months the National Liberation Army (ELN) and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) have been engaged in a bloody war. Their tacit 40-year-old alliance, which has never been officially agreed on even though they are fighting for the common goal of overthrowing the present regime in the name of a new Colombia, is collapsing.
 
Militare colombiano, Foto di Matt Shonfeld Towards the abyss. The situation is slowly getting worse. The internal battle that began with a few sporadic assassinations in the remotest regions of the Colombian forests, has now culminated with the murder of   Ramirez, the commander of the “Jose Gonzalo Sanchez” eighth FARC front, who was killed in an ambush by a unit of the ELN commanded by Oscar, in the Barranquilla area between Palomas and La Claera in Cauca. Even though this terrible insult took place on December 1st, it was only made public many weeks later.
What has happened between the guerrilla armies that for years have been fighting shoulder to shoulder against the paramilitary forces and the army, even though they have always maintained their independent identity, is not known. What is known is that the number of assassinations  is increasing and the pleas to stop that initially were made by both sides have now almost ceased.
 
The FARC. In a statement issued seven months ago, the FARC invited the ELN to join them in a “united march” in the name of “the long road travelled up to now, made up of confrontations and shared experiences”. Denouncing the “irregularities” noted in the ranks of their revolutionary “brothers”, they demanded an explanation for the aggression they had been subjected to for weeks and asked for a “response that would help to reconstruct fraternal relations”. Reasserting the “respect of the popular masses”, they ended by calling attention to some ELN commanders in the Arauca region “who treat us like the enemy”. The statement then ended: “We  invite the ELN fighters and commanders who are aware of the gravity of this aggression to use their arms to benefit the revolution and not against their brothers in the fight”. But since then the situation has got worse.
 
Guerrigliero delle Farc, Colombia, Foto di Matt ShonfeldThe ELN. The common feeling in the ELN, however, is that: “They [the FRAC] have a dominating attitude that makes them believe they are the only ones who can legitimately fight for the revolution in Colombia”. In fact according to the ELN, the FARC are the ones who have assassinated three-hundred ELN fighters and sympathisers in five months in the Arauca, Cauca and Narino area. As usual the biggest price is being paid by normal people who now have another source of fear and violence to contend with, as if the battles between the guerrillas and the army and paramilitary forces wasn’t enough. The result is that so many people are being forced to flee that in recent months the Catholic Church has been heavily involved in trying to arrange a agreement.

Four actors. Wherever the truth lies, the result doesn’t change – the situation in that area is disastrous. What is certain, however, is that the area in question is very rich and strategic, partly for control of the drugs traffic, so controlling it is very important for the future. For this reason the situation is even more unclear as there are two other actors in the drama, the paramilitary forces and the army, who are pointing their finger at the guerrillas in an attempt to cover their own traffic, and the fact that the guerrillas are eliminating each other  plays right into their hands.
Despite the well-publicised demilitarisation of  paramilitary forces, which has officially resulted in 30,000 handing in their guns, the death squads still continue to pile up the victims and sow violence, just as before. In every part of the country where there is a guerrilla to shoot, drug traffic to organise or mineral resources to exploit.
 
Cocalero colombiano, Foto di Matt Shonfeld The government. In the meantime, in Bogotá president Alvaro Uribe has re-launched the military offensive and shelved all negotiations for a humanitarian exchange of hostages in the hands of the FRAC. “We’ll free them by force”, he promised in a declaration that caused panic among their families and in particular among the relatives of the 61 political hostages whose fate for some time now has been hanging in the balance. Uribe’s remarks “make me very worried”, announced Yoland Pulecio, the mother of Ingrid Betancourt, the Franco-Colombian presidential candidate kidnapped by the FARC on 23 February 2003. And in fact it’s difficult not to think of what happened in 2003 when military forces failed in their attempt to liberate two political prisoners, the governor of Antioquia, Guillermo Gaviria, and the former Defence Minister, Gilberto Echeverri, who together with eight soldiers were killed in the operation.
 
More money. In the meantime Plan Colombia, the programme for providing the South American country with US military aid, has expired and George W. Bush has already decided to prolong it and has requested new funds of $705 million per year, 90% of which are destined for the military sector. This figure is in line with the previous Plan, the only difference being that $10 million has been taken away from the   military budget and added to the budget for development, human rights and reinforcing the judicial system.
The human tragedy of Colombia cannot be denied. The country’s three million war refugees and the forty-year long war has now been made official with a summit about the problem held in Cartagena de Indias and attended by the UNO.
 
Stella Spinelli