Plan Colombia exposes U.S. military arm-twisting
April 13, 2001 | Page 13
THE FTAA is one part of Washington's strategy for protecting and extending Corporate America's power across the globe. But if economic power isn't enough to keep other countries in line, the U.S. has another method. It's called the Pentagon. For the last 100 years, the U.S. government has used military might to serve the interests of American corporations--from regular invasions around the hemisphere during the early part of the 20th century to the quarantine of Cuba after its revolution of 1959 to the CIA's more recent dirty wars in Central America.
Today, the U.S. is stumbling toward a Vietnam-like war in the South American country of Colombia. TRISTIN ADIE shows why Washington's "Plan Colombia" has nothing to do with its stated aim of stopping drug trafficking--and everything to do with fueling a bloody war against left-wing rebels.
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WHEN GEORGE W. Bush met with Colombian President Andres Pastrana in February, Bush declared that it was his "honor to welcome...a courageous leader who is dealing with very difficult problems." But it's ordinary Colombians who have the real problems.
Pastrana's government oversees a military that has the worst human rights record in the hemisphere. And the military has documented links to right-wing death squads that carry out massacres of dozens of civilians on a weekly basis.
But none of this has stopped the U.S. government from plunging ahead with "Plan Colombia." The politicians want us to believe that U.S. support for Plan Colombia is targeted at destroying drug production in a country that produces about 80 percent of the world's cocaine.
But the reality is quite different. Plan Colombia is designed to prop up the Colombian military, which has been losing ground and momentum in its decades-old war against left-wing rebels.
Some 35,000 civilians have been killed as the war has intensified over the last 10 years. Almost 2 million people have been displaced from their homes--making Colombia host to the world's second-largest internal refugee population after Sudan.
And the war has grown increasingly dirty as the military has turned to using death squads to carry out campaigns of terror against civilians in rebel-held areas. Human rights groups estimate that 85 percent of human rights abuses are committed by the paramilitaries.
Clinton's $1.6 billion aid package last year helped to sink the U.S. deeper into Colombia's war. More than four-fifths of the aid was military in nature.
The U.S. is committed to sending troops and advisers to train elite battalions of Colombian soldiers and to deploy sophisticated Blackhawk and Huey helicopters for surveillance and combat efforts. This is money in the bank for the defense contractors that rely on the Pentagon gravy train. "Most of the money will not make it to Colombia," journalist Garry Leech wrote. "It will enter the profit columns of numerous defense contractors that lobbied hard for passage of the aid bill in Congress."
But U.S. support for Colombia's military has another role for Corporate America. Colombia is located in a strategically important area for U.S. business--where Central America meets South America. And it borders on Venezuela--the largest source of foreign oil imports to the U.S.
The bosses can ill afford instability in Colombia--or for the civil war to spill over Colombia's borders. That's why nonmilitary U.S. corporations such as Occidental Petroleum and Coca-Cola leaned heavily on Congress to pass the aid bill last year.
But Washington's "Plan Colombia" is haunted--by the uncanny parallels to the U.S. disaster in Vietnam. "If you take the drugs war as a whole, the similarities are overwhelming," wrote Britain's Guardian newspaper. "Washington has committed vast quantities of resources to an unwinnable contest against a far more committed, hydra-headed enemy. And as in Vietnam, many of those resources seem devoted to kidding themselves, visiting senators and the public about operational successes."
Even some of Bush's own Cabinet officials have voiced hesitations about U.S. involvement in Colombia. But the White House appears determined to strengthen ties to the Pastrana government.
In fact, Bush has said that he will use this month's Summit of the Americas as an opportunity to lobby the leaders of other countries in the region to get with his program. But the countries that border Colombia--Ecuador, Venezuela, Brazil and Panama--have so far refused to endorse Plan Colombia for fear that it will strengthen U.S. domination over the region and lead to more violence that will spread to their own countries.
The protests against the FTAA in Quebec City and other cities in April will be important in challenging Washington's attempt to extend Corporate America's influence in Latin America. We need to highlight how U.S. economic arm-twisting is tied to its military adventures--as shown by Plan Colombia.