Issue # 18 Sign Up for Free Mailing List

March 10, 2002

Narco News '02

Let Us Not Talk

Falsely Now

The US and Colombia

By Ron Jacobs

The suspension of peace talks and resumption of military action in the former FARC safe haven by the Colombian government has the potential to involve U.S. forces directly in a civil conflict that can only truly be resolved when the rich no longer rob the poor.

This recent turn of events seems closely linked not only to a renewed confidence in the ranks of the Colombian military, thanks to the funding provided it by Plan Colombia, but also to increased warmongering in Washington. For years, the Colombian military, its paramilitary allies and certain sectors of the U.S. national security apparatus have wanted to destroy Colombia's revolutionary groups. They now believe their time has come.

The Colombian military and the ruling oligarchy are seeking an escalation of the conflict in order to justify direct U.S. intervention in the civil war. Currently in Colombia, U.S. military forces can only operate as advisors and must leave direct involvement in the conflict to Colombians and the various mercenary forces contracted by the CIA and the State Department. Should the military conflict spiral further out of control, there will be no room for those committed to bringing social and economic justice to Colombia via non-military means. Already, these non-violent forces are taking a back seat to the armed actors, much to the dismay of many progressive Colombians.

For many years the Colombian government's dirty work against popular movements has been undertaken by the various paramilitary organizations. These organizations are similar to the right-wing death squads that ran rampant in El Salvador during the 1980s and the "counterterror" teams that killed thousands in southern Vietnam during the U.S. war there. Although they receive surreptitious funding from various U.S. and Colombian government agencies, these groups are not officially part of any government-sponsored military. This arrangement allows the Colombian military to keep its hands relatively clean by leaving the massacres of farmers, labor leaders and potential reformists to the paramilitaries.

The denial of links between Colombia's armed forces and the paramilitaries has been made possible by Washington's willingness to conspire with Bogotá under the pretense that there is no coordination between the Colombian military and paramilitary groups. In reality, such coordination is part of the government's battle plans. But isn't the government fighting the paramilitaries as well as the guerrillas? The answer clearly is no. An exploration of the history of paramilitary fighters reveals that many of them are former soldiers. Indeed, many paramilitaries are still members of the Colombian military; much like some Klansmen in the United States are off-duty police officers.

As the military action on the ground escalates, increasing numbers of noncombatants will find themselves under fire. These victims of the violence will include indigenous communities, labor union members, human rights and social workers, and many innocent Colombians struggling to make a living in a country where more than 50 percent of the population lives in poverty. Many rural Colombians have already seen their crops destroyed, their bodies poisoned and their land made barren by the aerial fumigation campaign being conducted under the guise of the "war on drugs".

Meanwhile, the FARC has been repeatedly portrayed as a bunch of warmongers because of its continuation of military activities during peace negotiations. What is not apparent to the U.S. public, however--primarily because the U.S. mainstream media ignores the issue--is that the government and paramilitary forces never stopped attacking and killing guerrillas and civilians who lived outside the rebel safe-haven. So, when we heard of a military action by the guerrillas, it was often in response to an offensive by U.S.-supported military or paramilitary forces that had not been reported by the U.S. media.

As a friend of mine recently observed: The United States' attack on Afghanistan provides justification for any Washington ally to forgo diplomacy in order to wage war as long as the attacking government says they are fighting terrorism. It is even handier if they can throw in a phrase or two that speaks of defending democracy. To further this perception in the hopes of obtaining even more US military assistance, the Colombian government recently issued international arrest warrants for the members of FARC's leadership, while in Washington, DC, the Congress passed a non-binding resolution urging the White House to do whatever it takes to preserve Colombia's "democracy". President George W. Bush recently requested $98 million for the training of Colombian troops to protect U.S. oil pipelines. By no longer distinguishing between its counternarcotics, counterterrorism and counterinsurgency efforts in Colombia, Washington has removed the mask that concealed its true intentions in the region.

Many people in the United States are opposed to U.S. intervention in Colombia and are demanding a cessation of all U.S. military, CIA and DEA meddling in the Andean region, regardless of whether it is being conducted under the guise of fighting drugs, the guerrillas, or defending oil pipelines. Several groups are campaigning to raise public consciousness about the U.S. role in Colombia's civil war and an upcoming event in April includes a week of protest and lobbying in Washington, DC. Now that the peace talks have been suspended and Colombia faces all-out war, these efforts to shed light on the truth are certain to increase.

Ron Jacobs lives in Burlington, Vermont and has been involved in antiwar activism since Vietnam. He is the author of The Way the Wind Blew: A History of the Weather Underground (Verso 1997).

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