FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Underwriting War in Colombia

by Phillip Cryan

President Bush’s budget proposal includes $98 million in military aid and training to help the Colombian government protect an oil pipeline from guerrilla attacks. The aid is being pitched by the Bush administration and its Colombian counterpart, the government of President Andres Pastrana, as a new and necessary theater for the broadening “War on Terrorism.”

Having recently returned from Colombia, where I and a group of 36 other concerned U.S. citizens investigated the effects of current U.S. aid and met with dozens of community and church leaders, it is clear to me that the proposed counter-insurgency support will create more, not less, terror in the lives of Colombian men and women.

Collusion between the Colombian military and the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC)–the right-wing paramilitary group that is responsible for over 70% of civilian deaths in Colombia’s civil war–is a long-standing and well-established fact. Attempts to bring paramilitaries to justice and to root out members of the military who collaborate with them have lacked the political will to achieve concrete results. A senior U.S. Embassy official in Bogot? told us, on condition of anonymity, that although military-paramilitary collusion no longer exists “at the command level,” lower-ranking officers and solders “have and will continut to have” ties to the paramilitaries. Riding by bus through Putumayo, the Department in southern Colombia where U.S.-funded aerial herbicide spraying campaigns have been focused, we were stopped by members of the paramilitary. They boarded our bus and introduced themselves, confident and even somewhat jovial despite the fact that a Counternarcotics Brigade, created by U.S. “Plan Colombia” funding, was stationed just a mile down the road. It was a shocking confrontation with the persistent complicity, or perhaps collaboration, between the two forces.

The paramilitaries were in fact provided with weapons and training, during their first years of existence (the late 1980s), by the Colombian military. Now the Bush administration seeks to expand support to that military, in defense of U.S. oil interests. There has been consistent and vocal opposition to counter-insurgency aid from many members of Congress since “Plan Colombia” was first proposed in 1999. The Colombian conflict is complex and enduring–now in its 38th year, in fact–and the U.S. should not let itself be drawn into a military and human rights “quagmire,” Congress-members have warned. Yet in the new climate of the “War on Terrorism,” the Bush administration seems to think it can evade those concerns by presenting counter-insurgency aid as a defense of “national security” and a stand against terror. Some of the public relations leg-work needed to justify this bold initiative was kicked off during the SuperBowl, through an ad campaign seeking to equate drug trafficking with terrorism. The “War on Drugs” has been the only politically viable justification for U.S. military aid to Colombia to date–what better way to ease the transition from “War on Drugs” to “War on Terrorism” than by making the two appear identical? “Where do terrorists get their money?,” one of the ads asked. “If you buy drugs, some of it may come from you.” Narcotrafficker equals guerrilla equals terrorist: so the logic goes. A war on any one of these must necessarily, already be a war on them all. So what difference does it make if we extend funds from counternarcotics to counterinsurgency? The difference, of course, is the scale and nature of U.S. support for a military that maintains ties with one of the most ruthless killing forces in the world, the AUC. While two Colombian military brigades defend Ecopetrol’s (the State oil company’s) facility near Barrancabermeja, the paramilitaries openly assassinate, “disappear” and torture labor leaders. A staggering 60% of the union organizers killed in the world last year were killed in Colombia. By a truly uncanny coincidence (if such profound synchronies can indeed be called coincidences), barely a week after the SuperBowl ads and the $98 million aid proposal, “Collateral Damage”–an Arnold Schwarzenegger movie about a U.S. commando’s heroic crusade against Colombian narco-trafficker-guerrilla-terrorists–hit theaters, having been postponed in the immediate aftermath of September 11th.

What frightens me most is that the Bush administration’s proposal may be only a test balloon for far more aggressive U.S. involvement in the Colombian conflict. The exchange of human rights standards for oil access has characterized U.S. foreign policy for decades. It is an indefensible and tragic choice that should not be repeated in Colombia.

Phillip Cryan is a fellow at the Pesticide Action Network. He traveled to Colombia in January with Witness for Peace, a social justice and human rights organization based in Washington, D.C. He can be reached at: phillipcryan@mindspring.com

Weekend Edition
February 12-14, 2016
Andrew Levine
What Next in the War on Clintonism?
Jeffrey St. Clair
A Comedy of Terrors
Ismael Hossein-Zadeh – Anthony A. Gabb
Financial Oligarchy vs. Feudal Aristocracy
Paul Street
When Plan A Meets Plan B: Talking Politics and Revolution with the Green Party’s Jill Stein
Rob Urie
The (Political) Season of Our Discontent
Michael Welton
Lenin, Putin and Me
Pepe Escobar
It Takes a Greek to Save Europa
Gerald Sussman
Why Hillary Clinton Spells Democratic Party Defeat
Robert Fantina
The U.S. Election: Any Good News for Palestine?
Linda Pentz Gunter
Radioactive Handouts: the Nuclear Subsidies Buried Inside Obama’s “Clean” Energy Budget
Manuel García, Jr.
Fire in the Hole: Bernie and the Cracks in the Neo-Liberal Lid
Thomas Stephens
The Flint River Lead Poisoning Catastrophe in Historical Perspective
David Rosen
When Trump Confronted a Transgender Beauty
Will Parrish
Cap and Clear-Cut
Victor Grossman
Coming Cutthroats and Parting Pirates
Ben Terrall
Raw Deals: Challenging the Sharing Economy
David Yearsley
Beyoncé’s Super Bowl Formation: Form-Fitting Uniforms of Revolution and Commerce
David Mattson
Divvying Up the Dead: Grizzly Bears in a Post-ESA World
Matthew Stevenson
Confessions of a Primary Insider
Pete Dolack
More Unemployment and Less Security
Christopher Brauchli
The Cruzifiction of Michael Wayne Haley
Bill Quigley
Law on the Margins: a Profile of Social Justice Lawyer Chaumtoli Huq
Uri Avnery
A Lady With a Smile
Katja Kipping
The Opposite of Transparency: What I Didn’t Read in the TIPP Reading Room
B. R. Gowani
Hellish Woman: ISIS’s Granny Endorses Hillary
Kent Paterson
The Futures of Whales and Humans in Mexico
David Busch
Bernie’s Blinding Light
James Heddle
Why the Current Nuclear Showdown in California Should Matter to You
Michael Howard
Hollywood’s Grotesque Animal Abuse
Steven Gorelick
Branding Tradition: a Bittersweet Tale of Capitalism at Work
Nozomi Hayase
Assange’s UN Victory and Redemption of the West
Patrick Bond
World Bank Punches South Africa’s Poor, by Ignoring the Rich
Mel Gurtov
Is US-Russia Engagement Still Possible?
Dan Bacher
Governor Jerry Brown Receives Cold, Dead Fish Award Four Years In A Row
Jennifer Matsui
Doglegs, An Unforgettable Film
Soud Sharabani
Israeli Myths: An Interview with Ramzy Baroud
Terry Simons
Bernie? Why Not?
Winslow Myers
Looking for America
Christy Rodgers
Everywhere is War: Luke Mogelson’s These Heroic, Happy Dead: Stories
Tony Christini
Death by Taxes (A Satire of Trump and Clinton)
Ron Jacobs
Springsteen: Rockin’ the House in Albany, NY
Barbara Nimri Aziz
“The Martian”: This Heroism is for Chinese Viewers Too
Charles R. Larson
No Brainers: When Hitler Took Cocaine and Lenin Lost His Brain
February 11, 2016
Bruce Lesnick
Flint: A Tale of Two Cities
Ajamu Baraka
Beyonce and the Politics of Cultural Dominance
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail