Pubdate: Mon, 02 Oct 2000
Source: In These Times Magazine (US)
Copyright: In These Times 2000
Author: Ana Carrigan


The President's Seal Of Approval Seals Colombia's Fate

President Clinton is back from Colombia. His decision to waive conditions
imposed by Congress on his $1.3 billion Colombian aid package was an
admission of the human rights disaster in Colombia and U.S. diplomatic
bankruptcy. The Colombian government has failed to comply with six of the
seven human rights criteria Congress demanded. Yet hundreds of millions of
dollars will start flowing to the army anyway.

The waiver was necessary because, like every Colombian government since the
'50s, President Andres Pastrana's administration is unable to make its
generals obey the Colombian constitution and disengage from their
paramilitary allies. Nevertheless, as a White House official told an AP
reporter recently, "You don't hold up the major objective to achieve the
minor." The U.S. government's priority objective, explained Bryan Hittle of
the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, was to "get the aid
flowing" to help Colombian authorities stop guerrilla violence that
interferes with U.S. fumigation of drug crops. Clinton's waiver has achieved
that priority.

Most Colombians do not buy Clinton's "counternarcotics" objective. They
believe the United States has embarked on a long-term strategy to defeat the
guerrillas and impose a "Pax Americana" along the lines of the 10 years of
U.S.-supported carnage in El Salvador. Today in Putumayo, a major
coca-growing area in southern Colombia, U.S. special forces are training
Colombian troops who will soon spearhead an offensive to drive the FARC
guerrillas out of their southern stronghold and make the coca fields safe
for aerial fumigation. Two hundred thousand peasant farmers and coca pickers
also live in Putumayo. They will be caught in the crossfire. The guerrillas
are arming the farmers to defend themselves from anticipated attacks by a
local paramilitary force, 800 strong, which competes with the FARC for
control of the drug crops. The paramilitaries, whose luxurious headquarters
are located in a villa a five-minute drive from the local army base, are
reportedly paying farmers to inform on those planning resistance. Putumayo
is gearing up for civil war. The U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees has
alerted Ecuador, which shares a border with the region, to prepare to
receive 30,000 to 40,000 refugees when the fighting and the assassinations

Clinton's visit put the presidential seal on "Plan Colombia," which mixes
the incompatible aims of counterinsurgency warfare and economic development.
Conceived by the Colombian government to raise funds from drug-consuming
countries for alternative development, Plan Colombia was then co-opted by
the White House and State Department. The redrafted "made-in-the-U.S.A."
version has provided the rationale for military aid and permitted the United
States to enter the war on the FARC under the cover of the war on drugs.

The plan has been less successful in its second objective: to gain
international backing and financial support for U.S.-Colombian policy. The
international community is unenthusiastic about investing in development
schemes that one European diplomat recently described as "cleaning up the
mess that Americans will make." Among EU members, only Spain and Britain are
on board, and in the Western hemisphere, only Argentina's support can be
counted on. Colombia's Andean neighbors are scared. They are militarizing
their borders and buying arms they cannot afford to try to protect
themselves from Plan Colombia's fallout.

Ironically, for a politician as driven as Clinton to enhance the image of
his presidency, Plan Colombia risks leaving a stain on his legacy and
presents a poisoned chalice to his successor. Far from helping Colombia
"strengthen its democracy," as Clinton claims, his policies have done the
opposite. Military aid has strengthened guerrilla hardliners and convinced
the elites they need not worry about the economic and social reforms
necessary for peace. The Pentagon's alliance with an army that retains its
links with paramilitary thugs has encouraged the expansion of the their
alliance. While the U.S. Embassy cites statistics about the number of
Colombian soldiers who have passed U.S.-sponsored "human rights" courses,
Colombian civilians are being terrorized, driven into exile and slaughtered
with impunity.

However appalling the methods of the FARC guerrillas, it is not left-wing
terrorism, but the rapid rise in the political power of the extreme right
and the military heft of the paramilitaries that now present the greatest
risk to the elected Colombian government. Only Washington has the political
clout with the Colombian military to insist that the generals cease
fraternizing with assassins, order their forces to arrest paramilitary
leaders and begin protecting civilians from their savagery. Alarmingly,
Washington appears to be moving in the opposite direction.

According to recent reports in the media, the DEA offered to subsidize
notorious paramilitary leader Carlos Castano in return for his pledge to
combat drug traffickers. This has renewed suspicions that, unbeknownst to
the U.S. Congress and Colombian government, U.S. intelligence is involved in
covert operations in Colombia's civil war. The story, as revealed by Castano
on national Colombian television in July, was confirmed the next day by an
ex-DEA agent, who told the Miami Herald he acted as translator at meetings
between U.S. operatives, Colombian narcos and members of Castano's
paramilitaries where U.S. government support for Castano was discussed.

The Clinton administration claims the allegations are "a fantasy." Yet the
State Department has refused to include Castano's paramilitary group, United
Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, on its official list of terrorist
organizations; the Justice Department incomprehensibly has failed to demand
Castano's extradition, even after he publicly admitted five months ago that
70 percent of his funding comes from drugs. These disturbing facts have
fueled Colombian fears that, as in Nicaragua and El Salvador a decade ago,
the U.S. government has made a strategic counterinsurgency alliance with
drug-trafficking killers to defeat the FARC. Colombians also say it is
inconceivable the army would collude so blatantly with the paramilitaries
without at least tacit U.S. approval. Their conviction has been reinforced
by Clinton's signature on the human rights waiver.

After Clinton grafted military aid onto Plan Colombia, a coalition
representing the 37 Colombian human rights and humanitarian
organizations--the people whose collaboration is crucial for the Plan's
development component--rejected any funding from the U.S. aid package.
Citing "ethical and political difficulties in receiving aid from this
program," they told Clinton his money was tainted. The NGO leaders,
representing the spectrum of the Colombian peace movement, say his policies
will wreck the peace process, escalate an unwinnable civil war and risk
driving Colombian drugs, refugees and violence over Colombia's borders. They
have asked European leaders, who will meet this month in Bogota to finalize
their response to Plan Colombia, to withhold their support and become
actively involved in the urgent search for alternatives.

This is a message that needs to be heard loud and clear by both Gore and
Bush. Their advisers should start paying attention to this major foreign
policy crisis shaping up in the Southern Hemisphere. They need to listen to
other Colombian voices--the burgeoning exile community would be a good place
to start--and, in concert with regional and international allies and the
active involvement of Colombian civil society leaders, begin the search for
saner alternatives. There is still time--but barely--to protect the next
administration from being dragged into a long-term, multi-billion-dollar
quagmire and embroiled in an uncontainable regional war.

Ana Carrigan reports regularly on Colombia for the Irish Times and is
writing a new book of Colombian memoirs for Seven Stories Press.
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