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Colombia's bloodbath in the making
Bush backs this dirty war

By Nicole Colson | March 8, 2002 | Page 12

WHEN COLOMBIAN President Andrés Pastrana called off peace talks with left-wing rebels in February, he claimed that he was getting tough against "terrorists." Then the real terrorists went to work.

Pastrana ordered his military--newly supplied with the latest high-tech weapons and equipment by the U.S. government--to retake a rebel-controlled "autonomous zone" in the southern part of the country.

By the end of the next day, Colombian warplanes had flown more than 200 sorties, raining 500-pound bombs on a region with 100,000 residents. James LeMoyne, the United Nations special envoy to Colombia, told reporters that he began receiving reports of civilian deaths within hours.

Meanwhile, in the capital of Bogotá, where 2 million people already live in slums, thousands of refugees from Pastrana's bombing campaign are expected to pour in. "I think that soon, around 15,000 displaced people are going to arrive here," the head of one refugee aid group told the BBC. "It's extremely sad because many innocent people are going to die."

These are the latest victims of the Colombian government's four-decades-old dirty war against its opponents.

That war has claimed the lives of more than 40,000 people in just the last decade. And thanks to the U.S. government, there is more bloodshed ahead.

The U.S. funneled an incredible $1.3 billion in aid--most of it military--under Bill Clinton's Plan Colombia. The cover story for this package--which made Colombia the third-largest recipient of U.S. aid after Israel and Egypt--was the so-called "war on drugs."

But this was always a smokescreen. Colombia's cocaine cartels are tied to the military and the paramilitary death squads, not to the rebels. This is exactly who benefited from Plan Colombia.

U.S. aid handed Colombia's generals some of the Pentagon's most sophisticated equipment, and American "advisers" are training whole battalions of the army. Yet almost no U.S. politician has raised a peep about the Colombian military's horrific human rights record.

According to Human Rights Watch, more than half of Colombia's army battalions have ties to the paramilitaries--who carry out 75 percent of the country's political murders. Union leaders are a favorite target for the death squads--making Colombia the world's most dangerous country for unionists, according to the International Labor Organization.

Last week, Gilberto Torres Martínez, general secretary of the Colombian oil workers' federation, was kidnapped by the main paramilitary group, the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC). In response, 5,000 workers at the state-run oil company Ecopetrol launched an open-ended general strike, demanding that Torres be released.

The AUC's anti-union assassination campaign is so open that, earlier this year, it declared members of the public-sector workers' union in Cali to be military targets--in retaliation for a victorious union occupation that blocked a privatization scheme.

Facts like these underline the hypocrisy of the Bush administration's obsession with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the largest left-wing guerrilla group. According to press reports, the White House is hoping to use the "war on terrorism" as an excuse for asking Congress to end restrictions that require the Colombian military to use its new hardware only in anti-drug missions.

And it's no surprise to find a familiar motive behind the Bush gang's maneuvering--oil company profits. The administration wants to add $98 million to its aid package for Colombia to train soldiers to protect the Cano Limon pipeline from FARC attacks.

Guess who owns the pipeline? The U.S. oil giant Occidental Petroleum.

So far, Colombian troops haven't met much resistance from the FARC in their operations to take over the autonomous zone. Rebel leaders say that their soldiers are falling back to rural camps--and preparing for hit-and-run guerrilla attacks on government forces.

"I smell a war brewing here, and the gringo army with its Ranger force is stoking the fire," a FARC commander told the San Francisco Chronicle. "But I can tell them that this will be worse than Vietnam for them."

Residents of the autonomous zone, meanwhile, fear a stepped-up terror campaign by the death squads--leading to more massacres like the one in the village of Chengue, described last year in the Washington Post. "One by one, [the paramilitaries] killed the men by crushing their heads with heavy stones and a sledgehammer," the Post reported. "When it was over, 24 men lay dead in pools of blood…As the troops left, they set fire to the village."

These butchers are the U.S. government's allies in their dirty war in Colombia--whether they call it a "war on drugs" or a "war against terrorism."

We have to stand up against the Bush administration's plan to make this nightmare even worse.

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