Why the Bush gang wants an offensive against the rebels
January 25, 2002 | Page 8
TRISTIN ADIE explains how the U.S. government is fueling new war threats in Colombia.
GEORGE W. BUSH'S "war on terrorism" is pushing Colombia to the brink of a bloodbath.
On January 9, Colombian President Andrés Pastrana announced that he would send 12,000 troops into territory run by left-wing rebels if they didn't agree to a cease-fire. For four tense days, Colombian soldiers circled the borders of an autonomous zone granted by Pastrana in 1998 to the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC)--the largest left-wing guerrilla organization in the country. Civilian residents of the zone began to flee, terrified of an invasion by the Colombian military--and the murderous paramilitary death squads that work hand in glove with it.
The crisis was temporarily avoided when FARC leaders agreed to drop a demand that they had been pressing for months as a condition for a cease-fire--that the military end surveillance flights over the territory and halt army patrols around the zone's borders. Ten days later, the FARC agreed to a precise timetable for cease-fire talks in the face of another ultimatum from Pastrana.
But the threat of war still looms large. As Adam Isaacson of the Center for International Policy commented, "The next six months are probably going to be the bloodiest we've seen."
That is quite a statement--because the Colombian government's war on left-wing rebels has been horrifyingly bloody. During the last three years, paramilitary thugs have made repeated incursions into the Switzerland-sized territory controlled by the FARC. Their assaults on villages have led to a series of massacres.
What's more, human rights organizations have documented numerous instances where the Colombian military not only knew of paramilitary plans for these massacres beforehand, but provided information, military equipment, vehicles and uniforms. If the FARC withdraws from this zone, paramilitaries and the military alike can be expected to unleash terror on an unimaginable scale.
Likewise, the FARC has good reason to be wary of the government's demand to disarm. The last time a rebel group did so, they were systematically slaughtered out of existence.
When the M-19 guerrilla organization reached an agreement with the Colombian government in the late 1980s to abandon armed struggle in favor of forming an electoral opposition group, its members were killed by the thousands. As one of the few remaining members recalls, "When I see pictures of the rallies we had in the 1980s, they are a roster of people who were killed."
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WHAT'S BEHIND Pastrana's new offensive in the war on the rebels? The answer is clear: The U.S. government's "war on terrorism."
Pastrana first handed over the southern zone to FARC control to get peace negotiations going after more than 30 years of civil war. But Pastrana has looked increasingly weak since then, as the peace process has unraveled in the face of paramilitary terror, demoralization among Colombian soldiers and new offensives by the rebels.
Now, though, the president is feeling confident again--thanks to the U.S. government. In their search for new targets, Bush administration officials set their sights on Colombia along with scores of other countries.
Anne Patterson, U.S. Ambassador to Colombia, held a well-publicized press conference this past October to send the message. Patterson said that the U.S. would begin to train and equip anti-kidnapping and bomb squads in Colombia, assist civilian and military investigations of "terrorism," freeze the finances of rebel and paramilitary groups, and help Colombia guard its oil pipelines.
She also said that the administration would want guerrilla and paramilitary leaders extradited so they could be tried in U.S. courts. Both groups were "deeply involved in drug trafficking," Patterson claimed.
Patterson even compared the FARC and the National Liberation Army (another guerrilla group) to Osama bin Laden.
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PATTERSON'S SABER rattling marked a substantial shift in the U.S. government's policy. The U.S. government has been pumping huge sums of military aid into Colombia for the last several years, but it has always hidden behind the rhetoric of the "war on drugs."
But Washington is using September 11 to push for a more direct role for the U.S. military in Colombia. Many administration officials, for example, have begun to call for "loosening restrictions"--so that U.S. military aid can be devoted toward waging a direct fight against the rebels.
The Bush administration clearly pushed Pastrana to take a tougher stance. Pastrana met privately with Patterson before issuing his ultimatum to the FARC. And to demonstrate U.S. support for the plan, Patterson presided over a public ceremony showcasing the delivery of 14 Black Hawk combat helicopters--just one day before Pastrana sent troops to the borders of the FARC territory.
The U.S. has been pushing for Pastrana to take back the territory for years. The area has provided a crucial base for the rebels to conduct kidnappings and attacks on oil pipelines, police stations, military outposts and even areas close to urban centers.
As the FARC grew in size, confidence and strength, U.S. officials became increasingly concerned about the Colombian government's ability to contain the rebels and maintain stability in a strategically vital region.
Colombia is located at the northwest corner of South America--and it borders Venezuela, which exports more oil to the U.S. than any other country. These concerns prompted the Clinton administration and now the Bush gang to pour ever-greater amounts of money into propping up the Colombian government.
From 1990 to 1998, the U.S. spent more than $1 billion on military aid. Much of this went to strengthening the armed forces with hardware and training, but this was supplemented by the direct assistance of U.S. personnel. Then in 1999, Clinton upped the ante with an aid package of $289 million, pushing Colombia to third on the list of top recipients of U.S. assistance, after Israel and Egypt.
Then came the jackpot--an incredible $1.6 billion over two years for Pastrana's "Plan Colombia." The money went to the purchase of Black Hawk and U-H1 helicopters for surveillance and herbicide spraying in rebel-held areas. It also paid for the training of three so-called "anti-narcotics" battalions by U.S. Special Forces.
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COLUMBIA'S MILITARY has had the worst human rights record in the Western hemisphere for the last decade. More than half of all military officers have been directly implicated in the activities of the death squads.
The death toll only mounted as U.S. weapons and equipment flowed in. More trade unionists are killed every year in Colombia than in all other countries in the world combined--at the hands of the paramilitaries and often with the consent of U.S.-owned corporations.
But none of this has mattered to the U.S. government. In fact, both Clinton and Bush refused to attach human rights conditions to the aid packages. Washington has been only too happy to turn a blind eye to the Colombian government's own terrorism--against workers, farmers, activists and human rights workers.
The civil war in Colombia has claimed 40,000 lives over the last decade. It has forced more than 1.5 million people to flee their homes, giving Colombia the third-largest internal refugee population in the world, after Sudan and Afghanistan. Now Bush and his friends in Washington are fueling a war that can only make these conditions worse.
We have to expose the truth about the U.S. government's war aims--whether they say the war is against drugs or terrorism--and organize against this new Vietnam.