FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

COLOMBIA: The Next Guatemala?

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.

April 24, 2018
Carl Boggs
Russia and the War Party
William A. Cohn
Carnage Unleashed: the Pentagon and the AUMF
Nathan Kalman-Lamb
The Racist Culture of Canadian Hockey
María Julia Bertomeu
On Angers, Disgusts and Nauseas
Nick Pemberton
How To Buy A Seat In Congress 101
Ron Jacobs
Resisting the Military-Now More Than Ever
Sonali Kolhatkar
The Left, Syria and Fake News
Manuel E. Yepe
The Confirmation of Democracy in Cuba
Peter Montgomery
Christian Nationalism: Good for Politicians, Bad for America and the World
Ted Rall
Bad Drones
Jill Richardson
The Latest Attack on Food Stamps
Andrew Stewart
What Kind of Unionism is This?
Ellen Brown
Fox in the Hen House: Why Interest Rates Are Rising
April 23, 2018
Patrick Cockburn
In Middle East Wars It Pays to be Skeptical
Thomas Knapp
Just When You Thought “Russiagate” Couldn’t Get Any Sillier …
Gregory Barrett
The Moral Mask
Robert Hunziker
Chemical Madness!
David Swanson
Senator Tim Kaine’s Brief Run-In With the Law
Dave Lindorff
Starbucks Has a Racism Problem
Uri Avnery
The Great Day
Nyla Ali Khan
Girls Reduced to Being Repositories of Communal and Religious Identities in Kashmir
Ted Rall
Stop Letting Trump Distract You From Your Wants and Needs
Steve Klinger
The Cautionary Tale of Donald J. Trump
Kevin Zeese - Margaret Flowers
Conflict Over the Future of the Planet
Cesar Chelala
Gideon Levy: A Voice of Sanity from Israel
Weekend Edition
April 20, 2018
Friday - Sunday
Paul Street
Ruling Class Operatives Say the Darndest Things: On Devils Known and Not
Conn Hallinan
The Great Game Comes to Syria
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Mother of War
Andrew Levine
“How Come?” Questions
Doug Noble
A Tale of Two Atrocities: Douma and Gaza
Kenneth Surin
The Blight of Ukania
Howard Lisnoff
How James Comey Became the Strange New Hero of the Liberals
William Blum
Anti-Empire Report: Unseen Persons
Lawrence Davidson
Missiles Over Damascus
Patrick Cockburn
The Plight of the Yazidi of Afrin
Pete Dolack
Fooled Again? Trump Trade Policy Elevates Corporate Power
Stan Cox
For Climate Mobilization, Look to 1960s Vietnam Before Turning to 1940s America
William Hawes
Global Weirding
Dan Glazebrook
World War is Still in the Cards
Nick Pemberton
In Defense of Cardi B: Beyond Bourgeois PC Culture
Ishmael Reed
Hollywood’s Last Days?
Peter Certo
There Was Nothing Humanitarian About Our Strikes on Syria
Dean Baker
China’s “Currency Devaluation Game”
Ann Garrison
Why Don’t We All Vote to Commit International Crimes?
LEJ Rachell
The Baddest Black Power Artist You Never Heard Of
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail