MARK THOMAS OPEN LETTER TO BILL RAMMEL
IN THIS WEEK'S NEW STATESMAN MAGAZINE
11 October 2004
Is the British government helping to train Colombian military units suspected of killing trade unionists and campaigners against privatisation?
"Open letter to Bill Rammel, Parliamentary Under secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs (responsible for human rights).
Choosing to be a politician is a weird and odd career path, so much power, so much state prestige, so much responsibility and yet you couldn't really call it a proper job. Few children see the Chamber of the House of Commons on TV and say "When I grow up I want to do that." And if I ever heard one say that I would seriously consider calling social services.
However, let us for a moment suspend disbelief, fly in the face of public opinion and experience and assume that MP's go into politics with good intentions. I am sure that David Blunkett didn't start on Sheffield council thinking "If I play my cards right one day I could introduce internment without trial". Nor did a young Charles Clarke dream of saddling students with so much debt that Bono would have to campaign to get it cancelled. And you, dear Bill didn't go into politics thinking "I shall defend human rights abusers, provide them with military aid and encourage murder and torture." But that, dear Bill, appears to be what you are doing.
The UK government provides military aid and training to one of the worst human rights abusers in the world, the Colombian armed forces. Everyone from the US State department to Human Rights Watch have documented the atrocities committed by the UK's pupils. Indeed the latest UN report on human rights in Colombia notes a significant increase in reports of violations attributed directly to the Security Forces. And only a few months ago three men, trade unionists and social activists, were publicly executed on the streets in Arauca by the army. Did Britain help train these murderers?
Until you, Bill, tell us what Colombian Army Brigades the UK trains and what mechanisms there are to prevent known or suspected human rights abusers receiving that training, we must assume that the UK could well be aiding state terrorism in Colombia.
Until you can explain Britain's role in military intelligence training, we have to assume that the UK could have aided, what is becoming known in Colombia as 'Operation Dragon'.
Weeks ago a police raid in Cali netted an army Colonel in possession of various documents. One of them was an analysis of a hugely popular and effective campaign against the privatisation of the municipal water and power company lead by Sintraemcali (a public sector trade union). It listed organisations and individuals who supported the campaign, including various British sounding groups like War on Want, Unison Manchester, Justice for Colombia and Mario Novelli (a UK academic and Colombia Solidarity Campaign organiser). That a company would wish to analyse what happened during a campaign or a strike against it is perfectly normal. Were a similar document to appear in France or indeed the UK, we would not find it surprising. However, this document was with an army Colonel in Colombia, the country where 4,000 trade unionists have been killed since 1987. And although it is extremely unlikely that there is any threat to UNISON Manchester or War On Want it is of concern.
It is more alarming for Colombians who appear in these reports. Other documents found with the Colonel were on the headed notepaper of the army's Central Military Intelligence and marked SECRETO. These list Colombian trade unionists, politicians and activists, including Alexander Lopez (a left wing Congressman), Luis Hernandez (President of the trade union) and human rights activist Berenice Celeyta. The document provides photos of many of those named, details of their cars, addresses of campaign HQ's and their employment registration numbers.
Another document stated its primary objective as , "to change the leadership of the union to a more favourable one."
When the Colombian army has documents with these objectives alongside Military Intelligence documents listing trade unionists and Congressmen, I think we can jettison the phrase 'conspiracy theory' and stick with the word 'conspiracy'. Some of those listed believe that this is a plan to target, harass, detain or kill opponents of privatisation. Indeed the recent murder of two body guards working with the ex-trade union leader and governor of the Valle de Cauca Department Angelino Garzon, who is listed in the Military Intelligence documents, has lead to a belief that 'Operation Dragon' has already begun.
Military intelligence work plays an important and vital role in the assassinations of trade unionists and activists. The United Nations human rights report to the Colombian government (made last year) recommended a wholesale reform of military intelligence. The monitoring these recommendations is detailed in a report by 80 Colombian NGO's, in which they state "Many of the human rights defenders whose names appeared registered in those [military intelligence] documents have been murdered"
The time to stop UK military aid and training to Colombia has long past, but unless you detail the work the UK military does and the army units it does it with, you Bill, will be seen as an ally to barbarism.
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