U.S. policy in Colombia: backing a death squad government?
Norman Balabanian
October 1999

As in many other countries in Central and South America, a significant struggle has been going on for almost four decades in Colombia--a civil war. Corrupt governments, together with paramilitary forces under their control and financing, have been in a struggle against the Colombian people. Both the government and these paramilitary forces, with their death squads, openly collaborate in carrying out gross violations of human rights.

The same kind of killings and disappearances took place in Guatemala, El Salvador and other countries in the region during these same 4 decades. Within the last few years, in both those countries, "Truth Commissions" have investigated the atrocities and issued reports. The Truth Commission report in Guatemala was issued in March 1999; it ascribed the blame for 97% of the 200,000 killed to the Guatemalan government, funded and backed by the United States. In that same month, President Clinton visited Guatemala shortly after the report was released. In reply to a question at a press conference about the US role in these atrocities, Clinton apologized for U.S. complicity in these killings, saying: "It was wrong". (This is the same term he used regarding the Monica Lewinsky peccadillo.) He didn't say it was 'a crime against humanity', 'contrary to all civilized principles, 'a monstrous genocide aided by the U.S.'--but simply 'wrong'!

Colombia is a country rich in natural resources; 3.5% of the world's petroleum and 14% of its coal, for example. Most of these resources are controlled by multinationals (all the usual suspects), in partnerships with local oligarchs.

Every year the U.S. State Department issues a review of human-rights violations worldwide. Its "Colombia Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1998" was issued on February 26, 1999. Among the things this report says is that: "...rampant violence--both criminal and political--persisted. The principal participants were government security forces, paramilitary groups, guerrillas, and narcotics traffickers." Note the order of importance: government security forces and paramilitary groups before any others. Indeed, "... members of the security forces collaborated with such [meaning paramilitary] groups"

To continue with the State Department report: "The government's human rights record remained poor. ...the armed forces and police committed numerous, serious violations of human rights during the year." "The paramilitary groups ... targeted teachers, labor leaders, community activists, mayors, town council members, and peasants whom they accused of supporting the leftist guerrillas."

"The Colombian authorities systematically intimidate and murder those in the media and human-rights organizations that threaten to carry out any exposition of the government's abuse of civilians." "More than 10% of all victims of politically motivated homicides were public school teachers."

The scale of the killing in Colombia--some by rebel forces, but mainly by government security forces, police and paramilitary forces funded and sanctioned by the government--far exceeds that in Kosovo. And the forced removal of people--all by government forces--is comparable with the maximum number of refugees in Kosovo. Yet our government has not proposed bombing Colombia until its government ceases the brutality as it did in Yugoslavia.

On the contrary, Colombia ranks first in Latin America, and third in the world, as recipient of US military aid--the first two being Israel and Egypt--despite the record of human rights violations by its own military and police forces. The objective is not to eradicate cocaine from Colombia but to maintain the economic stranglehold of the multinational corporations on the Colombian economy.

The US State Department Report is not the only source of information on the gross violations of human rights in Colombia. In a June 1999 report regarding Colombia, the US General Accounting Office (GAO) states that "drug-related corruption existed in all branches of the government." And that some paramilitary leaders "have become major drug traffickers."

Andres Pastrana was inaugurated as the new President of Colombia in November 1998. He has taken initiatives to begin negotiations with the rebel forces and has gone so far as to demilitarize a part of Colombian territory in which the FARC is in control. Eventually a peace conference is to take place there. Pastrana may have good intentions but he really cannot depend on the Colombian military; they have cordial relations with many of the paramilitary forces who themselves are heavily involved in the drug trade.

In the same month that Pastrana was inaugurated, for example, a Colombian Air Force plane carrying 6 Colombian military officers landed at Fort Lauderdale. It also carried over 1600 pounds of cocaine and some heroin, concealed in pallets. The wholesale value of the cocaine alone was almost $13 million. Our vaunted "free press" has remained largely silent on the consequences of this amazing story that shows the Colombian military to be heavily engaged in the drug business. There is a lot of evidence that General McCaffrey's "War on Drugs" is just a smokescreen to prevent a solution to Colombia's problems that might be negotiated between President Pastrana and the Colombian FARC.

What else is the US doing in Colombia besides arming the military and "fighting the war on drugs?" American officials say there are 150-200 US military personnel there strictly to assist in the "War on Drugs." Ivan Rios, one of the FARC commanders, told Reuters reporter Tom Brown that the number is more like 2000; that "some of them (US military) are involved in espionage, others serve as delegates to the different security forces or police. Still others are training [military or paramilitary] battalions or piloting spy planes, like the one that crashed in July." (Remember the US "military advisors" in the early days of the US war in Vietnam? They were more than advisors; they were indeed participants in subverting the Geneva Agreements on Vietnam.) This is not to say that we should believe FARC spokespeople any more than we should believe an American general, but rather to weigh all available views.

On September 17 President Pastrana unveiled a plan to restart negotiations with FARC. A major concern of the FARC is the need to address the issue of paramilitary forces that have been supported by the Colombian armed forces. But Pastrana's plan does not deal with this issue; until there is a government plan that settles the issue of paramilitary forces, the FARC will not disarm.

The FARC is also suspicious of U.S. involvement in the "drug war"; the funding and training (including training at the School of the Americas) could just as easily be applied to "counter-insurgency" as to counter-narcotics. The FARC cannot trust the motives of the United States but has stated its commitment to eradicating drug trafficking in Colombia just as soon as a general agreement on rural development is reached with President Pastrana. Some contend that, even if the FARC leadership is committed to such a policy, individuals in FARC may still engage in this lucrative practice. But that has a counterpart on the government side also. Even if the President wants to stop drug trafficking, the military might still find it profitable to continue doing so.

Peace cannot come to Colombia until the United States disengages from the conflict and fights its "war on drugs" on its own territory.

(A briefer version of this article appeared in the Gainesville Sun--with some deletions--on September 30.)
Sources for this article include:

Peter Stavropoulos, "State Department Documents Confirm US Hypocrisy on Human Wants" http://www.wsws.org.

The Progressive: Stop the War in Colombia. http://www.igc.org/csn/199808/progressive0899.html

Eye on the Empire, Alan Bock http://www.antiwar.com/bock/b093099.html

The diminishing Prospects for Peace in Colombia, Global Intelligence Update, http://www.stratfor.com/world/default.htm

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