Saturday, April 05, 2008

Kim's Game goes awry

TIME was we were amused to hear how embarrassed Kim Howells MP seemed at being recognised by a fellow-actor from Roy Battersby's film 'The Body", dating from another time in his career. (I never saw this daring movie so can't say whether he had a big part) .

But as Labour's Foreign Office minister Howells must have developed a thicker skin, because he appeared quite happy to pose for a photograph with a Colombian army unit.

Howells assures those worried about Britain's backing for the Colombian regime and military that the human rights situation there is improving.

"It has been nearly a month since the murder of Leonidas Gomez Rozo, a leader of the National Union of Bank Workers of Colombia", reports Eric Lee of Labourstart. "His murder in early March was one of several violent attacks against trade unionists in that country -- many of which have been highlighted on LabourStart's Colombia news page recently.

"The UNI Global Union -- a global union federation to which Rozo's union was affiliated -- to flood Colombian embassies around the world with messages of protest next week.

Please send off your message by clicking here. And spread the word.


Eric Lee".

Eric Lee, by the way, though a pioneer of labour links on the internet, is by no means what you'd call a revolutionary. He's an American who lived for a time on kibbutz and served in the Israeli army. We've criticised his reluctance to cover Israeli actions, and his calls for solidarity seldom go beyond official union perspectives and messages of protest. But that is better than nothing.

My own union general secretary Tony Woodley protested when Kim Howells echoed Colombian military propaganda linking campaigners for human rights in Colombia with the FARC guerrilla movement.

Now a report by René Lavanchy in the left-wing Labour Tribune throws a further embarrassing light on the policy which Howells upholds. Members of a British-trained Colombian unit have been convicted of murdering policemen to protect a drugs baron.

"Colonel Bayron Carvajal and 14 other soldiers will be sentenced next month for killing 10 anti-narcotics police in 2006. They face jail terms of up to 60 years. But the High Mountain Battalion of which they were members – and which is also accused of killing trade unionists – has received assistance from Britain since its foundation in 2003. The convictions are a blow to British policy in Colombia, which is based around suppressing the export of cocaine and improving the human rights situation.

"The court case over the 'Jamundi massacre' is the latest move in President Alvaro Uribe’s attempt to cleanse the armed forces of groups known to collaborate with drug traffickers.

"In May 2006 a team of police from an anti-drugs unit trained by the United States government were on the trail of Diego Montoya, leader of one of Colombia’s most powerful drugs cartels and one of the FBI’s “10 most wanted” fugitives from justice. They were shot dead near the town of Jamundi, in the west of the country, and the soldiers were arrested soon afterwards.

"All the convicted troops are from the High Mountain Battalion, founded to fight guerrillas. Foreign Office minister Kim Howells, who was hit by controversy after he posed for a photo with battalion members, says they only receive 'human rights training' from Britain.

"Adam Isacson, of the Centre for International Policy in Washington, said the prosecution was a “good sign” but other victims had yet to receive justice: “If you start seeing [court] cases of military officers being employed in the parapolitics scandal, then you’ll know there’s much more effort [being made]. I think the British should be more careful with their training programmes. You could be giving lethal training to people who are not your friends. The US goes thorough a much more through process to make sure they’re not training people with backgrounds of corruption.”

Liam Craig-Best of Justice for Colombia said: 'This is yet further evidence of how confused British policy in Colombia is. The UK is aiding units that work alongside drug traffickers and calling it counter-drug assistance.'

Killing trade unionists is one thing. That's parapolitics.
Clashing with a US-backed team is something else. Perhaps we'll be hearing more about this British "human rights" training and who is carrying it out. Howells after all is just a front man. That's the Labourites' job. But for their readiness to cover up the dirty work they deserve all the embarrassment they get.

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