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Pastrana prepares for all-out war on the rebels
U.S. fuels Colombia's dirty war

By Nicole Colson | March 1, 2002 | Page 2

COLOMBIAN PRESIDENT Andrés Pastrana gave the order February 20 for his military to invade territory controlled by left-wing rebels in a deadly escalation of the government's four-decade-old dirty war.

Pastrana broke off talks after four members of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) allegedly hijacked a civilian airliner, taking a senator hostage. He gave the go-ahead for the army to retake an autonomous zone in southern Colombia controlled by the FARC.

Pastrana claimed that he had lost patience with negotiations. But he--and especially his backers in the U.S. government--have been looking for an excuse to openly attack the FARC, the largest Colombian guerrilla group. Taking his cue from the Bush administration, Pastrana used the pretext of fighting "terrorism" as an excuse for starting what could become a bloodbath.

"I still believe in a political solution," Pastrana declared. But hours later, Colombian forces began raining bombs on the autonomous zone, which is home to 100,000 people. James LeMoyne, the United Nations (UN) special envoy to Colombia, said his office had already received "reports of civilian casualties, civilian deaths, wounded people who cannot be attended in outlying areas, and hundreds, maybe thousands, of people being displaced."

While Pastrana and his boosters in Washington denounce the "senseless violence" of the rebels, they have nothing to say about Colombia's paramilitary death squads, which have slaughtered tens of thousands of civilians, leftists and unionists.

According to Amnesty International, the paramilitaries--who have direct and documented ties to the official military--are responsible for most of the killing in Colombia. Now, human rights groups fear that the death squads will go on an even more savage rampage in the autonomous zone.

But the U.S. government couldn't care less. It has fueled the horrific violence in Colombia--by funneling close to $2 billion in military aid there, all in the name of fighting the so-called "war on drugs." The U.S. justifies this with the claim that the FARC are "narcoterrorists," with ties to Colombia's drug trade.

The rebels do raise money by taxing producers of coca, the plant used to manufacture cocaine, in areas that they control--and by carrying out kidnappings-for-ransom of prominent politicians and the rich.

But the death squads have the real ties to Colombia's cocaine traffickers. As Klaus Nydholm, a representative of the UN Drug Control program, said last year, "We do not consider the FARC drug traffickers. We believe that it is still a matter of a guerrilla organization with political objectives."

The "war on drugs" was always a smokescreen to hide a war on left-wing opponents of the Colombian government. And now the Bush gang may drop the smokescreen--with "a proposal to declare the destruction of leftist guerrillas in the South American country an explicit goal of U.S. policy," wrote the Los Angeles Times.

"This is no longer about stopping drugs, it's about fighting the guerrillas," said Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chair of the Senate foreign operations subcommittee, in a rare moment of honesty.

Activists who picketed Colombian diplomatic offices last week know the reality--that the U.S. government is backing brutal killers in a dirty war in which ordinary Colombians will pay the price. We have to send Washington a message: No more Vietnams!

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