US efforts to stunt the growth of anti-imperialist resistance across Latin America through the export of counterrevolutionary terror to Colombia are only helping the liberation movements to mature faster. In Colombia itself, neither the slaughter of trades unionists by Uribe’s death squads, nor the military efforts to reimpose imperialist proxy dictatorship over the liberated areas, are showing any signs of putting the genie of social revolution back in the bottle.
As crisis-stricken imperialist confidence gets shaken from Baghdad to Bogotá, the propaganda cover starts to get shaky too. So it is that from the July issue of the National Geographic magazine (of all places) comes a story which, perhaps unintentionally, blows a hole right through the whole ‘narco-terror’ black propaganda with which reactionaries seek to defame the FARC-led liberation struggle in Colombia.
True, itinerant photojournalist Carlos Villalos cannot resist exploiting the cheap and sensational ‘drugs exposure’ angle of his story, thereby playing along with the usual red-baiting agenda. The front cover sports a photo of a guerrilla, over which is superimposed the crass legend: “Cocaine Country: the Colombian Villages where Coke is King”. But the story he actually winds up telling turns out to be very different.
It seems that Villalos spent a number of years researching coca-cultivation in liberated areas. Just why he confined his scrutiny of Colombia’s national monoculture solely to these areas is a moot point. Perhaps there is a clue in his admission that Uribe “is cracking down on cocaine production in FARC territory, though right-wing paramilitaries linked to the armed forces are profiting from the drug elsewhere”. Had he ventured to take his camera and notebook “elsewhere”, he might have had a very different reception. When the same regime that pretends to be fighting ‘narco-terror’ in the liberated areas itself relies crucially upon drug revenues to supplement the more direct US funding for its counterrevolutionary thuggery, then it ill behoves stray journos to show too avid an interest in coca operations in government-held areas!
Discretion proving the better part of valour, Villalos instead approached “one of the FARC’s top commanders” to ask permission to do research in a liberated area located in the Amazon Basin of southern Colombia. The response he got clearly took him aback. “As I explained that I wanted to document the whole cocaine culture here, he listened thoughtfully — and then he caught me by surprise. ‘That’s a great idea,’ he said. ‘Do it.’” Villalos was duly issued with a signed letter allowing him to photograph whatever he wanted.
FARC’s decision paid off. In amongst the predictable shock-horror pictures of big bags of cocaine, and some routine cynical commentary, other images and another story start to emerge. There are photos of forest training camps, including field hospitals, in which, we are told, the FARC surgeons will undertake virtually “anything except brain surgery”. And there are photos which reveal the well-organised, bustling life in the fields, villages and market towns of this liberated area.
In one picture, a young woman in fatigues, a gun slung over her shoulder, chats to another woman about the same age, dressed in football strip. A young couple sit on the step to the side of them, unconcerned. A child plays in the foreground, finding more novelty in the photographer than in the presence of this armed guerrilla on patrol. This is clearly a scene of relaxed, everyday life, where the authority of the revolution is a settled fact. Villalos explains that the regional FARC leader “has assigned a female commander to each town — because, he believes, women relate to the locals much more warmly than the men”.
This revolutionary order contrasts tellingly with the way things were before. “Before the FARC laid down the law,” as Villalos puts it, “this region was like the Wild West, where going into town meant risking your life … Alcohol flowed, gamblers crowded the cockfights, and customers kept the brothels busy around the clock.” The corrupting influence of the cartel-run drugs business left FARC with a vast legacy of social demoralisation to overcome.
Yet overcome it they did, even in the middle of fighting a revolutionary war, at the very moment they were being defamed by imperialist propaganda as “narco-terrorists”. Says Villalos: “The FARC had produced a strictly enforced code of conduct: No drinking from Monday to Saturday. No brawling. And, ironically, no drug use. These days, anyone caught breaking a rule is sentenced by the FARC to work on a development project in the trackless interior of the forest – building a bridge, for instance, or opening a road – things that a government would usually take care of.” Sure enough, there’s an accompanying photo of half-a-dozen lawbreakers, looking decently clothed and well fed, busy building a bridge to connect Penas Colorado with a nearby village.
There is in fact no ‘irony’ or double standards in FARC combining a rigorous suppression of the destructive social evils of alcoholism and drug abuse with an equally businesslike regulation and taxation of those areas of the national monoculture which have been wrested from the control of organised crime, which goes on in cahoots with the Uribe regime and its imperialist backers.
As Villalos himself recounts: “Agriculture took root in Caqueta in the 1960s as the government steered landless Colombians [ie, expropriated peasants] to what was then a sparsely populated region. Slashing and burning the rain forest to clear fields, … [they] planted subsistence crops such as corn, rice, and yucca, but the land yielded limited rations. Market crops such as plantains and papayas failed because there were no roads to get produce to customers quickly.”
So the peasants were chased from the best land, could not feed themselves on inferior land, and were deprived of the infrastructure to bring commodities to market (though building roads is supposedly something “that a government would take care of”!) So when agribusiness monoculture showed its face in the 1980s, the effect was instant. “The drug cartels based in distant Medellin and Cali [servicing degenerate imperialist drug habits in yet more distant Manhattan and California] enticed the region’s farmers to grow coca. The cartels bought the farmers’ semiprocessed output, refined it, and sold the end product, cocaine.”
It was imperialism that enslaved Colombia’s national economy to coke production, accelerating the bankruptcy of small commodity production and leaving the landless peasantry to rot. It was imperialism that offered the Colombian peasantry the stark choice: grow coca or starve. Yet, lo and behold, now that imperialism and its stooges have been kicked out of Caqueta and the other liberated zones, these self-same gentry now turn around and brand FARC as ‘narco-terrorists’. Why? Because FARC is not attempting to close down coca production overnight; because it is not reading the peasantry moral lectures on how to ‘Say No to coca-cultivation’ — and thereby say Yes to starvation!
America’s admonitions might ring a little less hollow were it not for the fact that the biggest demand market for cocaine right now is precisely the culturally degenerate metropolitan heartland of US imperialism itself! Against this degeneracy, the truly mature, civilising character of the FARC-led liberation struggle shines out like a beacon — even through the sober and stolid pages of the National Geographic!