A blog by Luke Akehurst about politics, elections, and the Labour Party - With subtitles for the Hard of Left. Just for the record: all the views expressed here are entirely personal and do not necessarily represent the positions of any organisations I am a member of.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

In defence of Kim Howells

This is one of those posts guaranteed to make me unpopular (including with quite a few of my friends and close political allies on other issues), but I think Kim Howells should be applauded for standing up to Tribune et al over Colombia.

He may have been wrong to claim that Justice for Colombia supports the FARC narco-terrorists, but it's an easy mistake to make as their main campaign at the moment is to end UK military aid and training to the Colombian government, which would directly benefit FARC, the other participant in a civil war, and cuddly old Venezuela, which is busy threatening its neighbour with arms purchased from Russia, China etc.

Justice for Colombia, having clarified their position, ought to drop their biased campaign which would only help one side in the conflict (and would stop aspects of UK military training that are actually about inculcating respect for human rights in the Colombian armed forces) and give as much prominence to atrocities committed by FARC in their website and other materials as they do to those committed by rightwing paramilitaries. In both cases the victims are democratic politicians and trade unionists.

Their other key campaign, for the freeing of political prisoners, is laudable, but again ridiculously one-sided in making to mention of the political hostages - including a former presidential candidate - held prisoner by FARC.

It's a disappointing feature of the British left that otherwise sensible people glamorise or turn-a-blind-eye to the authoritarian left in Latin America - whether Cuba, Venezuela or FARC.

Incidentally, Colombia's President Uribe spent his entire career before winning the presidency as a member of the Liberal Party, which is Labour's longstanding sister party in the Socialist International, and the minority faction in the Liberal Party is in government with him.

I'm glad that the British Government is supporting the democratically elected government in Colombia.


Blogger Duncan Hall said...

How can you ask JFC to stop being 'biased' and then declare your support for the Colombian government? Do you imagine the Colombian government is not biased?

9:57 am, March 25, 2008

Blogger Luke Akehurst said...

You've missed the point - JFC attacked Howells for saying they were pro-FARC, and are saying they are even-handed.

I don't claim to be un-biased.

Unlike FARC, the Colombian government was elected by the Colombian people.

10:05 am, March 25, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Incidentally, to be clear Uribe left the Liberal Party. None of the Liberal Party (even a minority faction) are in his government. While Uribe was progressing up the political ladder, the notorious narco Pablo Escobar was a Liberal deputy for his city. Brave Liberals like Piedad Cordoba are slandered as FARC sympathisers.

The links between the Colombian state and the paramilitaries are so well-documented it is amazing that anyone on the left could fall for the line that Colombia is a democratic country. Don't the words "Union Patriotica" ring any bells with you. Uribe in particular is linked to the paras time after time.

Finally, Howells has apparently back-tracked on his comments and accepted that JFC don't support FARC.

10:10 am, March 25, 2008

Blogger Duncan Hall said...

Oh well, we're both missing the point! My point was that the government is biased in favour of the paramilitaries (and it was a deliberate understatement). Matthew has made the point more forcibly so I shall leave it at that!

12:16 pm, March 25, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Luke, your argument has some flaws in it:

a) The campaign to end UK military assistance to Colombia has nothing to do with the FARC. It is simply about saying that Britain shouldn’t aid human rights abusers (the Colombian Commission of Jurists attribute some 75% of abuses perpetrated in Colombia each year to the state). The campaign makes the point that aid should be suspended until there has been an improvement in the situation (the UN has reported for the past five years in a row that army abuses are getting worse). Continuing to give aid to army units that abuse human rights is simply a green light for the abuses to continue – especially as UK aid to Colombia apparently comes with no conditions attached (the Colombian military know that whatever they do the aid will keep flowing). If the UK gave military aid to the FARC I am sure that JFC would campaign against that aid too. The fact is it is wrong to give military assistance to units that assassinate trade unionists, journalists, priests, local councillors, student leaders, human rights defenders, etc. The UK should not be involved with an army implicated in that sort of stuff.
b) You say that JFC support for FARC “is an easy mistake to make as their main campaign at the moment is to end UK military aid”. Taking into account “a)” you are basically saying that it is easy to think that JFC supports the FARC because they think it is wrong to abuse human rights. It is a nonsensical argument.
c) The single biggest event arranged by Justice for Colombia last year was with the family members of FARC kidnap victims – including the mother of Ingrid Betancourt. Others who participated were the head of the Catholic Church in Colombia, the General Secretary of the Colombian Liberal Party and various trade union and political leaders. JFC brought them all over to London and Brussels and arranged numerous high profile meetings for them, one with Lord Triesman, Howells’ predecessor. Their visit was to promote a release of the hostages. This combined with their work to free political prisoners held by the Colombian regime does not seem particularly one-sided.
d) The very fact that trade unionists and others opposed to the Colombian regime are held for many years in jail in Colombia without trial is not a very good advertisement for Colombia ‘democracy’.
e) As I understand it JFC want to replace military assistance to a brutal army with humanitarian assistance to the victims of the Colombian conflict. This is already a policy being increasingly followed by Democrats in Congress who have drastically cut aid to Colombia due to human rights concerns. Britain should also join EU partners like France and Spain (as well as other like the Vatican and Switzerland) who are playing a key role in trying to promote a negotiated settlement to the Colombian conflict. So far the UK has played no part, instead following the misguided policy outlined above. This is a huge shame, especially considering the unique experiences that we have from Northern Ireland.

You, like Howells, should do a little more research before blurting silly things out!

8:52 pm, March 25, 2008

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Luke,

Thanks for linking to the article I wrote for Tribune (whose views I am not representing here, etc etc.) I agree with two of the factual points the last poster made.

Loss of military aid to Colombia would not benefit the FARC at all. It would - if it is being used for the intended purpose - only benefit the trade unionists and aid workers who do continue to get killed with monotonous regularity every year. It is purely intended to train troops in discipline, how to respect human rights and the rules of engagement, e.g. by not carrying out extra-judicial killings. Kim Howells himself makes that point very firmly, and credibly, in a letter to JFC president Brendan Barber, which I read today. He also raised the point of those killings, which he branded unacceptable.

As for FARC victims, yes, JFC do talk about them too, and hold events in memory of them. It was JFC, and nobody else, who brought the plight of Ingrid Betancourt to my attention. PLP chairman Tony Lloyd told me last week that JFC is not biased to the FARC.

Btw, I should point out that one of the reasons this thing blew up in the first place was another curious and unsubstantiated remark by Mr Howells, namely that most trade unionists are FARC victims. Not even the Colombian government says that; killings of trade unionists by paramilitaries are well documented.


Rene Lavanchy

P.S. In that same letter, Howells has indeed effectively withdrawn his JFC comment, as a poster noted. (There'll be another story in Tribune this week...)

9:14 pm, March 25, 2008

Blogger JS.Ray said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

3:24 am, March 26, 2008

Blogger JS.Ray said...

meanwhile, Uribe denounces a demonstration against state and paramilitary violence and 4 trade union leaders pay with their lives

As to supporting 'democratically elected governments', well, it's funny how we pick and choose them isn't it? I mean, how exactly are elections in Colombia any freer or fairer than Belarus or Zimbabwe? Except that one of our allies always wins?

3:25 am, March 26, 2008

Blogger Unknown said...

I am intrigued. In what way is Venezuela 'authoritarian'?

8:34 pm, March 26, 2008

Blogger Merseymike said...

No-one could possibly describe Uribe as anything other than of the political Right

Sounds as if he has at least one thing in common with the UK Government!

11:23 am, April 05, 2008

Anonymous Manuel Cardenas said...

Justice for Colombia criticizing FARC or being "even-handed"?


I imagine that they did say something about Ingrid's situation, when it was a hot issue in Europe for obvious reasons, but what about everything else?

Even a couple of years after the fact, spending over 60 minutes looking over their website and its archives shows that to be hilariously and tragically false.

Justice for Colombia has almost no criticism of FARC anywhere I've looked, even in places where a reasonable person would hope to find it.

You'll find more criticism of the Colombian government in the Colombian press than criticism of FARC in Justice for Colombia's website materials and event information, that's for sure.

1:43 am, April 06, 2010


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