FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

COLOMBIA: The Next Guatemala?

by Alexander Cockburn And Jeffrey St. Clair

Anyone wanting a vivid snapshot of the rubble of US policy toward Latin America should glance at Colombia, where the Clinton Administration now has one foot over the brink of a military intervention strongly reminiscent of John Kennedy’s initial deployments in Vietnam.

Colombia is in economic free fall and, as Larry Birns of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs remarks, the only comfort its beleaguered inhabitants can seize upon is that the velocity of this collapse is at least slower than that of neighboring Ecuador, now experiencing its worst economic slump in seventy years. Colombia is currently suffering negative growth, has an official unemployment rate of 19 percent and an actual unemployment rate probably more than twice that figure. Austerity programs imposed by the IMF and World Bank have closed off any hope for that half of the country’s population that lives below the poverty line.

It shouldn’t be this way. With a diversity of exports, Colombia could have one of the strongest economies of Latin America. But it’s the same old story. Down the years every US Administration has sent arms and advisers to prop up Colombia’s elites. US-assisted repression in Colombia has been spectacularly appalling. According to the Permanent Committee for the Defense of Human Rights in Colombia 3,832 political murders were perpetrated in 1998, the bulk of them done by the army, police and right-wing paramilitaries.

To lend a sense of perspective, this is about twice the death toll in Kosovo that prompted charges of Serbian genocide and that helped whip up sentiment for NATO’s war on Serbia. The US government is now preparing to escalate vastly the money and weapons going to the Colombian military, far beyond the $289 million in already scheduled assistance this year, making Colombia the third-largest recipient of American aid, after Israel and Egypt.

Congress has already appropriated another half-billion for the drug war, with much of it going to Colombia. Gen. Barry McCaffrey, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, is asking for a further $1 billion for the drug war over the next three years, said sum to go to the Andean countries, with about half to Colombia alone. The Colombian military is requesting yet another $500 million.

McCaffrey’s request puts an end to any pretense that there is somehow a distinction between US backing of counterinsurgency and of counterdrug activities. A Congressional amendment has forbidden US military aid to go to Latin American army units with a documented record of human rights abuses. But in the pell-mell rush to throw money at Colombia’s military, such niceties are being cast over the side.

The immediate cause of panic is the strength of Colombia’s main insurgency, run by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). In a peace-feeler several months ago, President Andres Pastrana effectively ceded the FARC control over a 16,000-square-mile slab of south-central Colombia, about the size of Switzerland. The Clinton Administration was not entirely unsympathetic to this overture, at least until a FARC commander made the brutal and summary decision in February to execute the three indigenous rights activists-Ingrid Washinawatok, Lahe’ena’e Gay and Terence Freitas-who were working in the eastern Arauca state on behalf of the U’wa Indians. The FARC did admit responsibility but thereafter refused any of Washington’s requests, such as turning over the relevant commander. The FARC says it has to be vigilant against spies and will regard US personnel as legitimate targets.

Pastrana’s decision to cede de facto control of a slice of territory to FARC infuriated the military, which has been increasingly humiliated by guerrilla strength that recently brought FARC forces as close as twenty-five miles from Bogot?. With a nominal force of 40,000 the Colombian Army currently has around 6,000 to 7,000 frontline troops who are paid only a third of what FARC’s fighters receive. FARC can afford such a military budget because of its taxes on drug cultivation and shipments in the zones it controls.

For their part the FARC’s leaders have questioned whether Pastrana has the ability to deliver on any negotiated settlement. Not without reason. Every single guerrilla group agreeing to lay down its arms and enter the conventional political arena has seen its members slaughtered by the paramilitaries controlled by the army and the police.

There is a powerful lobby in Washington for pouring money into counterinsurgency in Colombia. McCaffrey spouts pieties about separating the drug war from counterinsurgency, but says simultaneously that the United States is duty bound to assist the Colombian government to beat off any threat. Colombian police chief Jos? Serrano has forged close links with Senator Jesse Helms and Represetative Ben Gilman, who head the foreign relations committees considering the requests for big new appropriations to the Colombian military.

Already the Pentagon is sending planes and personnel into Colombia. The US Army’s intelligence-gathering de Havilland RC-7 that crashed into a Colombian mountain in the early hours of July 23 was almost certainly monitoring FARC deployments, with such information being relayed to the Colombian military.

There are two faces to US policy towards Latin America, both repulsive. The first is that of economic neoliberalism, preaching the virtues of uninhibited trade, open markets, privatization, structural adjustment. On the ground, across Latin America, we see the consequence: social devastation in thirty-one kleptocracies, all corrupt, many bankrupt.

The alternate face, whose baleful glare is now fixed upon Columbia, is that of military repression. Bolstered with fresh US cash, the Colombian military is probably planning a direct coup unless Pastrana takes a hard-line stance to FARC and other guerrilla insurgencies. For thirty years the United States underwrote genocide in Guatemala. With 30,000 civilians already killed Colombia could become its successor. The US Congress should veto any aid or comfort.

Jeffrey St. Clair is editor of CounterPunch. His new book is Killing Trayvons: an Anthology of American Violence (with JoAnn Wypijewski and Kevin Alexander Gray). He can be reached at: sitka@comcast.net. Alexander Cockburn’s Guillotined! and A Colossal Wreck are available from CounterPunch.

Weekend Edition
February 5-7, 2016
Jeffrey St. Clair
When Chivalry Fails: St. Bernard and the Machine
Leonard Peltier
My 40 Years in Prison
John Pilger
Freeing Julian Assange: the Final Chapter
Garry Leech
Terrifying Ted and His Ultra-Conservative Vision for America
Andrew Levine
Smash Clintonism: Why Democrats, Not Republicans, are the Problem
William Blum
Is Bernie Sanders a “Socialist”?
Daniel Raventós - Julie Wark
We Can’t Afford These Billionaires
Enrique C. Ochoa
Super Bowl 50: American Inequality on Display
Jonathan Cook
The Liberal Hounding of Julian Assange: From Alex Gibney to The Guardian
George Wuerthner
How the Bundy Gang Won
Mike Whitney
Peace Talks “Paused” After Putin’s Triumph in Aleppo 
Ted Rall
Hillary Clinton: the Good, the Bad and the Ugly
Gary Leupp
Is a “Socialist” Really Unelectable? The Potential Significance of the Sanders Campaign
Vijay Prashad
The Fault Line of Race in America
Eoin Higgins
Please Clap: the Jeb Bush Campaign Pre-Mortem
Joseph Mangano – Janette D. Sherman
The Invisible Epidemic: Radiation and Rising Rates of Thyroid Cancer
Andre Vltchek
Europe is Built on Corpses and Plunder
Jack Smith
Obama Readies to Fight in Libya, Again
Robert Fantina
As Goes Iowa, So Goes the Nation?
Dean Baker
Market Turmoil, the Fed and the Presidential Election
John Grant
Israel Moves to Check Its Artists
John Wight
Who Was Cecil Rhodes?
David Macaray
Will There Ever Be Anyone Better Than Bernie Sanders?
Christopher Brauchli
Suffer Little Children: From Brazil to Flint
JP Sottile
Did Fox News Help the GOP Establishment Get Its Groove Back?
Binoy Kampmark
Legalizing Cruelties: the Australian High Court and Indefinite Offshore Detention
John Feffer
Wrestling With Iran
Rob Prince – Ibrahim Kazerooni
Syria Again
Louisa Willcox
Park Service Finally Stands Up for Grizzlies and Us
Farzana Versey
Of Beyoncé, Trudeau and Culture Predators
Pete Dolack
Fanaticism and Fantasy Drive Purported TPP ‘Benefits’
Murray Dobbin
Canada and the TPP
Steve Horn
Army of Lobbyists Push LNG Exports, Methane Hydrates, Coal in Senate Energy Bill
Colin Todhunter
“Lies, Lies and More Lies” – GMOs, Poisoned Agriculture and Toxic Rants
Franklin Lamb
ISIS Erasing Our Cultural Heritage in Syria
David Mihalyfy
#realacademicbios Deserve Real Reform
Graham Peebles
Unjust and Dysfunctional: Asylum in the UK
Yves Engler
On Unions and Class Struggle
Alfredo Lopez
The ‘Bern’ and the Internet
Missy Comley Beattie
Super Propaganda
Ed Rampell
Great Caesar’s Ghost!: A Specter Haunts Hollywood in the Coen’s Anti-Anti-Commie Goofball Comedy
Cesar Chelala
The Public Health Impact of Domestic Violence
Ron Jacobs
Cold Weather Comforts of a Certain Sort
Charles Komanoff
On the Passing of the Jefferson Airplane
Charles R. Larson
Can One Survive the Holocaust?
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail