Get Red Pepper's email newsletter. Enter your email address to receive our latest articles, updates and news.

×

Colombia’s civil war spills over

In a remarkable interview, Ecuador's president, Rafael Correa, offers a savage evaluation of his Colombian counterpart Álvaro Uribe's recent actions, accusing him of warmongering and hijacking attempts to resolve Colombia's conflict peacefully

June 2, 2008
8 min read

Gorka Castillo: The British writer Richard Gott considers Colombia to be the main element in the region’s instability. Do you share his view?

Rafael Correa: This is nothing new. It goes way back. Colombia is the only country which has paramilitaries, guerrillas, drug traffickers, widespread coca cultivation and large areas of thecountry that aren’t controlled by the state. Paramilitarism and narco-politics don’t exist in Ecuador. Nor do we cultivate coca. Those are exclusively Colombian conditions. I say this with regret because this is a sister country, but Colombia today is the focus of the greatest instability in Latin America and this hurts all of us.

GC: Are you saying that the Colombian government’s image in Latin America is not a good one?

RC: Uribe’s government is completely discredited. We’ve already pointed out his lies; now no one believes him.

GC: In Europe it’s not seen that way.

RC: It’s true that in both the European Union and the United States, the backing of [Uribe’s] lies by some powerful media has harmed us. For that reason I will shortly be undertaking a tour of Europe to let people know about Ecuador and show that we are a decent government and a peaceful land; that the problem lies on the other side of the border; that we’re the victims of the Colombian conflict and not the perpetrators – nor are we accomplices [in the conflict].

GC: You give the impression that a media war has been launched.

RC: It’s not that I’m giving that impression, it’s a fact. We know who we are dealing with: a militaristic country with a president who has a shady past, enormous support from foreign intelligence agencies and an impressive propaganda machine. We have faith that truth and justice will prevail. We’ve already achieved that in Latin America, where Colombia has been comprehensively defeated politically, diplomatically and in terms of information.

GC: What drives Colombia to accuse its neighbouring countries of collaboration with the FARC?

RC: Uribe’s militaristic policies began as soon as he became president. First he reversed the strategy of his predecessor, Andrés Pastrana, who had come to embrace [FARC leader] Manuel Marulanda. But in came Uribe with his hard line and he wanted us all to do the same. He’s like a little emperor who follows his boss’s dictates. It’s obvious that his political and economic power is based on this struggle against the FARC. Peace is not convenient for Uribe because fighting guerrillas gives the Colombian electorate a secure feeling. What is troubling is that this conflict is spilling over the borders.

GC: But before the bombing on 1 March, relations between the two countries were respectful.

RC: Uribe has always shown a lack of respect toward Ecuador. So much so that [Colombia] continues to spray our territory with glyphosate, and frequently violates our airspace with their planes. Colombia’s civil war has now been raging for more than half a century. The conflict has claimed hundreds of thousands of lives and taken on a complexity that few English-speaking analysts have been able to grasp.

It has been fuelled by the active involvement of the US government, for which Colombia is both ally and agent on a continent dominated by progressive governments generally hostile to US economic and political interests. Colombia is the third largest recipient of US military aid (behind Israel and Egypt), and all the evidence points to this financial support being tied to a persistent strategy of destabilisation of the elected governments of neighbouring Venezuela and Ecuador.

The most recent evidence is the regional crisis provoked by the Colombian military’s raid on Ecuadorean territory on 1 March this year. It resulted in the death of the Colombian FARC guerrilla leader, Raul Reyes, who had been involved in negotiations with President Hugo Chávez of Venezuela and representatives of the French government to release hostages and mediate an end to the conflict. The two following articles shed light on this international dimension of Colombia’s civil war. As for the 1 March bombing, there’s a question that still remains unanswered.

GC: What’s that?

RC: They had Raúl Reyes and his group under their control when they could still be found on Colombian soil. Why did they wait until they crossed into Ecuador to kill them? Was it, by any chance, in order to involve Ecuador in a conflict that is not theirs? Was it not an act of intimidation? Could it have been to force us to participate in Plan Colombia [the US military aid programme]? What Uribe didn’t count on was our response, nor the condemnation he received from the countries in the OAS [Organisation of American States]. The plan failed because we didn’t fall for it.

GC: During the meeting of the Rio Group in Santo Domingo, you showed your hands to Uribe and told him to take a good look at them because they are clean and without blood. What were you referring to?

RC: Uribe has tried to involve us, not only my government, but also [Ecuador’s] armed forces, as supporters of the FARC. Later he alleged that my presidential campaign had been financed by the guerrillas. It’s disgraceful. Where does this gentleman get off, after having violated every international law, accusing us of support for guerrilla groups whose actions we’ve said a thousand times we reject? It’s insulting.

That’s why I told him to look at my hands. Just to highlight the contradiction with Uribe’s position, which has been so scandalously related to drug trafficking. There are many books which detail this. There are also videos which show him meeting with paramilitaries. His warmongering policy is not going to end the [Colombian] conflict. Instead it will exacerbate it and he’s going to leave thousands dead as a result. My hands are clean and bloodless. That’s something President Uribe cannot say.

GC: However, they continue to claim that you were aware of the FARC’s activities in your territory. They say that you were warned as many as 16 times of guerrilla bases in your territory, and you ignored this. Is this true?

RC: This is an unbelievable infamy. All my orders are on record. It’s all so coarse and ridiculous that we’ve decided it’s not worth answering … We don’t know why he does it. Just when relations improve with him, something strange happens and you get stabbed in the back. Something in his head is not working right.

GC: How is it possible that this climate of tension has been reached if at the end of the Rio Group meeting, you managed to shake hands?

RC: That’s Álvaro Uribe Vélez. Something’s wrong with him. His behaviour is terribly psychotic.

GC: Is it true that Reyes had contacted the French in order to negotiate the liberation of Ingrid Betancourt, when he was bombed?

RC: Uribe doesn’t want peace, nor does he want hostages released, because Betancourt is a potential presidential candidate. It’s true that we’d known that contact would be made in a neutral third country in order to liberate them later on Ecuadoran soil. President Chávez also asked me if we could receive hostages in our territory because a transfer over the Colombian-Venezuelan border had become very dangerous. We were in the middle of that process. Those moves towards securing the release of the hostages held by the guerrillas were entrusted to Reyes and it’s precisely Reyes who they destroy.

GC: Ecuador has just denounced Colombia to the Hague tribunal for illegal spraying on its territory.

RC: The verdict will still take many years but we hope that a stiff sentence will be handed down to force Bogotá to suspend the aerial glyphosate spraying they’ve been doing since 2006. These fumigations have caused Ecuadorean farmers on the border to leave their homes, lose their crops, their income, and have caused serious illnesses, even death. But do you know what the Colombian government’s reaction has been up until today? It’s to say that our demand that the spraying cease coincides with the FARC’s pleas. It’s shameful.

GC: The crisis has revealed huge cracks in the Ecuadorean intelligence system that have caused the military leadership to be relieved of its duties. What reforms should it undertake?

RC: Something serious is going on with our intelligence services. We still don’t have all the concrete information but we can say that we have been infiltrated by the CIA and this agency works for Colombia.

GC: There are some who criticise you for being naive in having waited so long to change the military leadership, whose loyalties lie with the previous regime.

RC: They’re probably right. And also for having trusted Bogotá. You might say that we underestimated the threat of external attack, as things with Peru have been resolved and we had good relations with Colombia. But we underestimated the fact that Uribe was there.

The original interview by Gorka Castillo was first published in the Spanish newspaper Público. The English translation by Machetera was revised by Pablo Navarrete. Machetera is a member of Tlaxcala, the network of translators for linguistic diversity

Red Pepper is an independent, non-profit magazine that puts left politics and culture at the heart of its stories. We think publications should embrace the values of a movement that is unafraid to take a stand, radical yet not dogmatic, and focus on amplifying the voices of the people and activists that make up our movement. If you think so too, please support Red Pepper in continuing our work by becoming a subscriber today.
Why not try our new pay as you feel subscription? You decide how much to pay.

The ‘alt-right’ is an unstable coalition – with one thing holding it together
Mike Isaacson argues that efforts to define the alt-right are in danger of missing its central component: eugenics

Fighting for Peace: the battles that inspired generations of anti-war campaigners
Now the threat of nuclear war looms nearer again, we share the experience of eighty-year-old activist Ernest Rodker, whose work is displayed at The Imperial War Museum. With Jane Shallice and Jenny Nelson he discussed a recent history of the anti-war movement.

Put public purpose at the heart of government
Victoria Chick stresses the need to restore the public good to economic decision-making

Don’t let the world’s biggest arms fair turn 20
Eliza Egret talks to activists involved in almost two decades of protest against London’s DSEI arms show

The new municipalism is part of a proud radical history
Molly Conisbee reflects on the history of citizens taking collective control of local services

With the rise of Corbyn, is there still a place for the Green Party?
Former Green principal speaker Derek Wall says the party may struggle in the battle for votes, but can still be important in the battle of ideas

Fearless Cities: the new urban movements
A wave of new municipalist movements has been experimenting with how to take – and transform – power in cities large and small. Bertie Russell and Oscar Reyes report on the growing success of radical urban politics around the world

A musical fightback against school arts cuts
Elliot Clay on why his new musical turns the spotlight on the damage austerity has done to arts education, through the story of one school band's battle

Neoliberalism: the break-up tour
Sarah Woods and Andrew Simms ask why, given the trail of destruction it has left, we are still dancing to the neoliberal tune

Cat Smith MP: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has authenticity. You can’t fake that’
Cat Smith, shadow minister for voter engagement and youth affairs and one of the original parliamentary backers of Corbyn’s leadership, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali

To stop the BBC interviewing climate deniers, we need to make climate change less boring
To stop cranks like Lord Lawson getting airtime, we need to provoke more interesting debates around climate change than whether it's real or not, writes Leo Barasi

Tory Glastonbury? Money can’t buy you cultural relevance
Adam Peggs on why the left has more fun

Essay: After neoliberalism, what next?
There are economically-viable, socially-desirable alternatives to the failed neoliberal economic model, writes Jayati Ghosh

With the new nuclear ban treaty, it’s time to scrap Trident – and spend the money on our NHS
As a doctor, I want to see money spent on healthcare not warfare, writes David McCoy - Britain should join the growing international movement for disarmament

Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India
Inglorious Empire: What the British Did to India, by Shashi Tharoor, reviewed by Ian Sinclair

A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour
A Death Retold in Truth and Rumour: Kenya, Britain and the Julie Ward Murder, by Grace A Musila, reviewed by Allen Oarbrook

‘We remembered that convictions can inspire and motivate people’: interview with Lisa Nandy MP
The general election changed the rules, but there are still tricky issues for Labour to face, Lisa Nandy tells Ashish Ghadiali

Everything you know about Ebola is wrong
Vicky Crowcroft reviews Ebola: How a People’s Science Helped End an Epidemic, by Paul Richards

Job vacancy: Red Pepper is looking for an online editor
Closing date for applications: 1 September.

Theresa May’s new porn law is ridiculous – but dangerous
The law is almost impossible to enforce, argues Lily Sheehan, but it could still set a bad precedent

Interview: Queer British Art
James O'Nions talks to author Alex Pilcher about the Tate’s Queer British Art exhibition and her book A Queer Little History of Art

Cable the enabler: new Lib Dem leader shows a party in crisis
Vince Cable's stale politics and collusion with the Conservatives belong in the dustbin of history, writes Adam Peggs

Anti-Corbyn groupthink and the media: how pundits called the election so wrong
Reporting based on the current consensus will always vastly underestimate the possibility of change, argues James Fox

Michael Cashman: Commander of the Blairite Empire
Lord Cashman, a candidate in Labour’s internal elections, claims to stand for Labour’s grassroots members. He is a phony, writes Cathy Cole

Contribute to Conter – the new cross-party platform linking Scottish socialists
Jonathan Rimmer, editor of Conter, says it’s time for a new non-sectarian space for Scottish anti-capitalists and invites you to take part

Editorial: Empire will eat itself
Ashish Ghadiali introduces the June/July issue of Red Pepper

Eddie Chambers: Black artists and the DIY aesthetic
Eddie Chambers, artist and art historian, speaks to Ashish Ghadiali about the cultural strategies that he, as founder of the Black Art Group, helped to define in the 1980s

Despite Erdogan, Turkey is still alive
With this year's referendum consolidating President Erdogan’s autocracy in Turkey, Nazim A argues that the way forward for democrats lies in a more radical approach

Red Pepper Race Section: open editorial meeting – 11 August in Leeds
The next open editorial meeting of the Red Pepper Race Section will take place between 3.30-5.30pm, Friday 11th August in Leeds.

Mogg-mentum? Thatcherite die-hard Jacob Rees-Mogg is no man of the people
Adam Peggs says Rees-Mogg is no joke – he is a living embodiment of Britain's repulsive ruling elite