Blackhawks, Pirañas,
and Yankee Imperialism
U.S. escalates intervention in Colombia's dirty war
Revolutionary Worker #1057, June 4, 2000
A massive U.S. military buildup threatens the people of Colombia. U.S. intervention is kicking into higher gear.
Hundreds of U.S. Green Beret and Navy SEAL trainers are training Colombian army battalions for war. A fleet of high-tech Blackhawk and Apache helicopters is being readied for shipment. U.S. Coast Guard teams are training Colombian military crews to seize Colombia's rivers in U.S.-made Piraña gunboats. Bases are being built. Spy flights are routinely watching the roads and waterways. Huge amounts of military funding are being considered in the U.S. Congress. And detailed war plans are being drawn up by bilateral U.S.-Colombian teams, all under the watchful eyes of an infamous U.S. war criminal--the officially retired four-star General Barry McCaffrey, who serves as Clinton's pointman on Colombia and who ordered the cold-blooded massacre of fleeing Iraqi troops after the ceasefire ending the 1990 Gulf War.
Colombia is a mineral-rich and fertile country in South America that is gripped by a profound and many-sided crisis.
Economically, capitalism has ruined the life of the vast majority of Colombian people. The country once produced a wealth of food for its people--including a great deal of wheat. But under pressure from the U.S., waves of imported North American grain ruined much of the domestic agriculture. Peasants were forced, more and more, to produce cash crops for export, putting their livelihoods at the mercy of world prices and world markets. Crops have come and gone. One report says that Colombia--the land of coffee!--is starting to import coffee for its own people. Increasingly the cash crop that has produced a living for the impoverished farmers is coca, for the world's huge cocaine market.
This is a land with an extremely wealthy upper class that owns most of the fertile lands and mineral wealth. In the mid-'90s, 48 percent of the land was owned by absentee landowners making up 1.3 percent of the rural population. Peasants, who are over 60 percent of the rural population, own less than 5 percent of the land.
More than half of Colombia's people are poor, and as many as 30 percent of the people live in acute misery. Their conditions are worsening. Unemployment is officially 20 percent, but estimates range as high as 60 percent. The economy shrank last year by 3.5 percent.
The streets of Colombian cities are filled with large numbers of homeless and deserted children who live desperately in the sewers and parks--and the world is outraged by repeated exposure of how squads of police organize to hunt and kill these children.
Through many years of decline and crisis, hatred has grown toward Colombia's corrupt and brutal government. Different armed forces have emerged to contest this weak, isolated central state apparatus for control of the countryside. And the response of the Colombian ruling class--through the Colombian army, national police and the allied rightwing death squads--has been to wage a dirty war aimed at the country's peasants and opposition groups. Death squads have tried to "dry up the sea to catch the fish" by targeting peasant villages and activists. There has been a relentless campaign of assassinations, tortures, abductions and massacres. Thousands--sometimes whole villages--have been killed with machetes, guns and even chain saws.
This campaign of atrocities has forced many peasants to flee the targeted areas. Colombia now has between 1 and 2 million internal refugees crowded into desperately poor urban shantytowns. There are now more refugees in Colombia than in the Balkan area around Kosovo. Their conditions are so desperate that in one recent demonstration three refugees had themselves crucified outside the Red Cross headquarters, with nails driven through their palms, to demonstrate the intensity of their despair and frustration.
Through all this, the U.S. has openly backed and armed the government forces and--in a more hidden way--supported the semi-official network of rightwing death squads and paramilitaries.
In July 1999, the largest anti-government group in Colombia--the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC)--began an offensive that fought government troops to within 25 miles from the capital city, Bogotá. In the year since then, the U.S. government has aggressively escalated its military intervention in Colombia.
The U.S. imperialists have decided that they will make a decisive move--to decide how Colombia's internal struggles are resolved. The heart of this plan is a massive buildup of Colombia's notoriously corrupt and brutal army--preparing them to wage a new war on Colombia's people. On January 11, 2000, the Clinton administration put forward a sweeping plan for remaking Colombia in U.S. interests.
Assistant Secretary of State for the Western Hemisphere Peter Romero announced the $1.6 billion plan which included as its centerpiece a two-year military "Push into Southern Colombia Coca Growing Areas." He said this plan would "increase government presence on the ground in areas that have been virtual vacuums for civilian authority--police civilian authority--and the military."
In the name of "fighting cocaine production," the U.S. government is preparing reactionary armed forces for a two-year invasion into the southern Colombia plains--a California-size area of Amazon basin jungle southeast of Colombia's Andean ridge.

Huge Leap in the Military Buildup

"The Administration proposes to fund $600 million over the next two years to help train and equip two additional special counter-narcotics battalions (CNBN) which will move into southern Colombia to support the Colombian National Police (CNP) as they carry out their counter-drug mission. The package will provide 30 Blackhawk helicopters and 33 Huey helicopters to make the CNBNs air mobile so they can access this remote and undeveloped region of Colombia. It will also provide intelligence for the Colombian CNBNs and assistance to provide shelter and employment to the Colombian people who will be displaced during this push into southern Colombia."

Clinton administration description of
their proposed "Push into Southern Colombia," January 11, 2000

"We will be very heavily involved in air interdiction, intelligence collection, training and equipment delivery. We're gonna help train their judges, the police officers, their navy, their coast guard. There will be U.S. involvement, but the actual employment of up to these nations' own forces."

General McCaffrey, Clinton's "drug czar"
and pointman on the Colombian intervention, CBS January 12

U.S. war planners say their operations follow the "El Salvador Model"--meaning that the Pentagon plans to arm, train and direct Colombian government forces to take back the country. It means they intend to expand the force of U.S. trainers, advisers/commanders, CIA agents, DEA agents, U.S. Air Force spy planes--but not directly use U.S. ground troops. It is Colombian armed forces that are supposed to kill and die on the ground for U.S. interests.
All together, the Clinton administration proposes spending $1.6 billion building up the Colombian government and armed forces. This is envisioned as a one-time injection of military and political funding to reshape the whole internal life of Colombia.
This funding includes:
$600 million for the U.S.-created counterinsurgency battalions called CNBNs (one of which exists and two more are to be created) and a fleet of helicopters.
$96 million for the highly militarized Colombian police. This consists of programs to be administered by the Departments of State, Defense, Justice, Treasury, the Drug Enforcement Administration and the Office of National Drug Control Policy.
$341 million for a massive buildup of military forces on Colombia's waterways and airspace.
$92 million for restructuring Colombia's government system--including for training judges to sentence those opposing the government.
And $145 million for "alternative development" (meaning non-coca agricultural production).
In the 1980s, at the height of U.S. counterinsurgency in Central America, El Salvador's military received $1 million per day from Washington. This Clinton package would provide roughly $2.5 million per day for Colombia's armed forces and police.
This package has been winding its way through the U.S. congressional process since January--and may be close to a final series of votes. Many different political forces, both in Colombia and the U.S., have spoken out strongly against the plan. At the same time, it seems to have strong backing throughout the U.S. ruling class. The White House is pressing hard for its package. In March, the House of Representatives passed a spending bill that included funds for U.S. intervention in Colombia. In April, Senate Majority leader Trent Lott announced his support for the $1.6 billion package.
This U.S. proposal is the military part of an even larger scheme, which includes $1 billion for "social programs" from European imperialists and $5 billion in loans that the Colombian government is supposed to request from the International Monetary Fund and international banks.
This gush of loans is intended to artificially boost the economy in Colombia to create a feeling of improvement--while U.S.-trained forces position themselves to launch a full-scale civil war against zones outside government control. Meanwhile, other funds are assigned to contain the problems and disorders created by any huge explosion in the numbers of refugees--and possibly create programs of bribes to co-opt and "reintegrate" former government opponents into the system.
All in all, this is a $7.6 billion plan for remaking Colombia into a country where the resources, lands and labor can be far more profitably exploited by foreign corporations--and where the countryside and urban shantytowns no longer breed rebellion and resistance. It is a plan that intends to leave Colombia's people even more firmly under the control of exploiters and killers--while burdening them with a whole new layer of debts and payments.

Forces Already in Place

Even without the huge new proposed escalation, Colombia is already the largest recipient of U.S. military aid outside the Middle East. U.S. military aid to Colombia has grown explosively under Clinton--from $65 million in 1996, to almost $300 million in 1999, with $1 billion proposed in 2000. The focus of the intervention has shifted too--from the Colombian national police to the building of a war-ready, U.S.-led Colombian army.
U.S. military personnel and covert action operatives are present throughout Colombia. Estimates suggest that 300 U.S. agents are active in the country at any given time. These U.S. agents reportedly include forces from the Pentagon, Defense Intelligence Agency, Central Intelligence Agency and Drug Enforcement Agency.
U.S. agents are concentrated in the town of Tres Esquinas at the new "Joint Task Command" headquarters which now oversees Colombian military and police operations in southern Colombia. Tres Esquinas is located at the strategic junction of the Caquetá and Orteguasa rivers in an area where guerrilla forces have repeatedly defeated the Colombian army in battle.
Tres Esquinas is now also the headquarters of the first new, counterinsurgency battalion. The creation of this prototype 950-man CNBN unit was decided in December 1998, and training started in April 1999. This new "Rapid Deployment Force" includes mobile, helicopter-based counterinsurgency brigades, an artillery unit and units patterned on U.S. Green Berets. It is already being tried out in sweeps, backed by U.S. aircraft, radar, ground movement sensors and satellite systems. Everything about it is "Made in the USA"--its uniforms, equipment, transportation, spare parts, tactics, and strategic plans. The training was carried out by the U.S. Army's 7th Special Forces.
It is a major experiment in U.S. counterinsurgency, a new type of neocolonial fighting force for the Empire. When the battalion went on parade for the first time last December before a ruling class audience, the band played the theme from Star Wars.
U.S. General Wilhelm, of the U.S. Southern Command (Southcom) told a Senate committee that the new battalion is designed for "taking the fight" into southeastern Colombia. The Southcom has added that its goal is to "transition the Colombian army from its defensive mind-set."
Meanwhile, U.S. military surveillance planes carried out 2000 flights in Colombia and other countries of the region in 1999. Five U.S. radar facilities are installed on Colombian soil to keep a close watch on the skies.
In addition, the Riverine War School was opened in Puerto Leguizamo, where Colombian troops are trained in river warfare by U.S. trainers from the Coast Guard, Army, Marines and Miami police.
The next big leap planned now in U.S. intervention will be the development of two more CNBNs--based on the pattern and experience of the first one. The key piece of equipment needed to make them fully combat-ready is the fleet of helicopters proposed by the Clinton administration in January 2000. Sixty-three state-of-the-art combat choppers are slated for Colombia--divided between 33 Bell UH-1N models and 30 more modern Sikorski UH-60L Blackhawks (equipped with night vision and special armor). Within the ongoing ruling class debate in the U.S., some forces have proposed substituting somewhat cheaper helicopters for the Blackhawks.
The construction of hangers and the training of Colombian pilots in the use of this helicopter fleet is expected to take at least until the end of 2000. This means that, if the funds are approved and the buildup goes as planned, the U.S. trained force of three Colombian battalions would be combat-equipped shortly after the U.S. presidential elections. Thomas Pickering, the U.S. Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs, said at a recent conference in Colombia, "The timetable is one that clearly foresees a beginning of major activity . . . early in the new year."

Deadly Tag Team: Death Squads and Army

As part of their "dirty war," U.S. agents and the Colombia ruling class have developed a network of paramilitaries--parallel to the army--that carries out vicious assassinations and massacres. These paramilitaries are often tied to local landlords, police and army units--and execute rebels, activists and ordinary peasants to terrify potential supporters of the opposition movements.
The Colombian prosecutor's office estimated that rightwing death squads killed nearly 1,000 people in more than 125 different massacres during 1999. In the past two years they have reportedly forced more than 300,000 people to flee their homes using such tactics.
Some of these attacks lasted several days. Paramilitary units would invade a village, hunt down its inhabitants, chop them up and dump their bodies in rivers and mass graves. The true number of people being killed in this intense anti-people war will never be known.
Over and over again, it has been documented that these massacres happen with Colombian army support. The killer squads often travel on army trucks, wear army uniforms, are led by former army officers, and are often protected from retaliation on government bases. Fully half of the 18 battalions in the Colombian army have been directly connected with significant death squad atrocities by various human rights observers--who often have to flee after making their reports.
The U.S. backs both the military units and their allied death squad networks. NACLA magazine (March/April 2000) reports that one of the men who planned the notorious massacre at Mapiripan (where at least 30 people were killed ) was Colonel Lino Sánchez of the Colombian army's 12th brigade--a man who had received U.S. Green Beret training only weeks before this massacre. Colombia's army has more officers trained in the notorious U.S. School of the Americas than any other country.
Officers connected with massacres are almost never punished--many stay at their posts, some simply switch over and become officers in the paramilitaries. In some notorious cases, the battalions are "reorganized," given a new name and then continue receiving U.S. arms and training.
In another revealing incident, the mountain headquarters of the AUC paramilitary forces came under attack by FARC. The Colombian army rushed to the rescue, guided by information from U.S. intelligence-gathering RC-7b aircraft.
The Colombian Commission of Jurists reported in September 1999 that political killings had increased by almost 20 percent over the preceding year, and that almost 80 percent of the deaths in 1999 were attributed to rightwing paramilitary groups.
For the U.S., it is useful to have a network of assassins and killers that operates somewhat independently of the main army. This too is part of the "El Salvador model" --patterned after the U.S. counterinsurgency war in El Salvador in the 1980s.
The record of Colombia's paramilitaries gives a sense of what it would be like in the areas of southern Colombia if they were conquered by the new U.S.-trained CNBNs.

In the Name of War on Drugs

"We are working with the Colombian government on counter-narcotics programs. We are not in the counterinsurgency business."

Brian E. Sheridan,
Defense Department Coordinator for
Drug Enforcement Policy and Support,
in testimony to U.S. Congress

From the beginning the U.S. has justified and explained intervention in Colombia as a war on drugs--as it has done in Peru. Colombia is the source of most of the world's cocaine. The U.S. government spokespeople claim they are developing armed forces that can protect the Colombian national police as they move in to prosecute cocaine production and trafficking. General McCaffrey is officially the head of the U.S. Office of National Drug Control Policy.
However, it is disinformation to claim that the U.S. is preparing for war in order to take on the narco-traffickers. In a recent statement, representatives of the FARC said: "The narco-traffickers have no military force. So what are the helicopters, the ships and the anti-narcotics battalions for?" This military buildup is being created to threaten, and perhaps invade, the areas of Colombia currently controlled by the FARC and others.
General Fernando Tapias, head of the Colombian high command, said as the new CNBN was deployed: "The task of this battalion is to confront the armed groups on land and water."
In a June 1999 report, the U.S. General Accounting Office reported that "U.S. embassy officials have decided to routinely provide intelligence information related to the insurgents to Colombian units... however they do not yet have a system to ensure that it is not being used for other than counter-narcotics purposes." Satellite pictures and aerial reconnaissance (supposedly taken of coca fields and processing centers) are in fact used to detect guerrilla troop movements and bases. On July 16, 1999 General McCaffrey responded to these revelations by insisting it was "silly" to make a distinction between anti-drug activities and counterinsurgency--because, he said, the traffickers and FARC work closely together.
But what is truly ridiculous is the attempt by the U.S. imperialists to portray themselves as the champions of "anti-drug" efforts. This is the same U.S. ruling class that used heroin money from the Golden Triangle in Southeast Asia to run their secret war in Laos in the 1970s; the same ruling class that backed the pro-U.S. forces in Afghanistan in the 1980s who were deep into the heroin trade.
It was revealed in great detail a few years ago that during the U.S.'s 1980s covert war against Nicaragua, the CIA offered to help protect new cocaine trafficking routes into the U.S. from Colombia--in exchange for help in smuggling arms to the rightwing Nicaraguan contras. The "crack epidemic" and the growth of Colombia's big cocaine corporations (called "cartels") were closely connected with these U.S. efforts to tighten its control over Latin America. (See the RW series on the cocaine-CIA connection posted on
FARC is active and influential in almost half the countryside of Colombia, including coca-growing areas. And FARC has at times colluded with the drug trade and gained funds from this collusion. But FARC and other opposition forces certainly are not the cause of the drug problem or the main factors in it.
The major drug lords are part of the ruling class in Colombia-- they are part of the comprador capitalists and semi-feudal landowners who are closely tied to and subservient to imperialism. The narcotics trade deeply permeates the Colombian economy, and drug money flows through the veins of the Colombian ruling classes as a whole. There is widespread government corruption and complicity in the drug trade. In just one notorious scandal, it was revealed in 1994 that then-President Ernesto Samper had received $6 million from some of Colombia's drug cartels.
Huge profits from the drug trade have gone into investments in cattle ranching, real estate and the tourist economy. And the drug money also flows to the U.S. where it is laundered through major banks and "legitimate" investments. This flow of drug money only benefits a small section of society. The exploited and oppressed masses in Colombia are the victims of this setup.
In short, it is absurd for the U.S. to claim they are "fighting drugs" by propping up the Colombian government, fighting the guerrillas, and consolidating their hold on Colombia.

Negotiations and Threats

The escalating U.S. military buildup takes place in the context of a complex series of stalled negotiations and deals between the Colombian government and the two major guerrilla groups, FARC and ELN.
In 1998, the new Colombian president Pastrana came to power with U.S. support and started the negotiation process that included recognizing FARC's authority in a "demilitarized zone" in southern Colombia--about the size of Massachusetts, Connecticut and Rhode Island. FARC has now administered this region for almost two years. More recently, the ELN was given a zone of its own--in a central Colombian area where they emerged. Guerrilla leaders have been taken on tours of Europe to meet heads of imperialist corporations and governments. And even the founder of AOL flew into FARC's zone to explain to FARC's leaders that they should get onboard the "computer revolution"!
These zones have served to concentrate the core guerrilla forces in specific areas, bring about ceasefires, and bring their leadership into the open. It serves the twin strategies of co-opting some of them into the ruling elite and defeating the rest in all-out war. In other words, the military buildup and threat have accompanied a major campaign to draw the guerrilla forces into a "historic compromise" of some kind. This too is part of the "El Salvador Model."
There is some basis for the imperialists to hope for a deal. FARC has always combined its armed activities with a program of political and economic reforms. FARC is associated with the Communist Party of Colombia, a revisionist (phony communist) party that was closely tied to the imperialist Soviet Union. With the collapse of the Soviet bloc, many pro-Soviet parties openly gave up armed struggle. FARC has not put down their guns--but at the same time, its strategy and politics are very different from the Communist Party of Peru, which is leading a Maoist people's war.
The FARC has never carried out revolutionary politics aimed at developing a new-democratic revolution that mobilizes the masses through agrarian revolution to overthrow the old rotten state and defeat the U.S. imperialists.
The negotiations between the government and FARC have broken down repeatedly. And the U.S. has escalated its buildup of the Colombian military--clearly intending to give FARC "an offer they can't refuse." The U.S. goal is to impose a final solution to Colombia's decades-old civil war--either forcing the guerrilla forces to capitulate or defeating them through an all-out attack.

U.S. Out of Colombia

The U.S. ruling class has hoped to keep its buildup low profile. They insist that no U.S. troops will face danger. And they talk of succeeding in two years (while the Colombian military officials openly talk about a six-year campaign.)
There is reason to believe that these U.S. plans may lead to new defeats, new crisis and new resistance--and not to the victory they seek. A quick infusion of weapons and cash are unlikely to provide the glue for a stable new order. The Colombian government and military are hated by the people. Providing them with new choppers and Piraña gunboats won't change that. The countryside of Colombia is vast, with huge areas far from the towns and roads. The people of Colombia have been quite stubborn in their refusal to accept rule from the corrupt officials of Bogotá.
It is important to oppose and expose this U.S. aggression--especially within the U.S. itself. The U.S. has no right to dictate the internal affairs of other countries. Its interests in Colombia and Latin American have nothing to do with the interests of the masses of people. Its goal is to pacify all of Latin America--so that it can more profitably exploit the resources and people of the whole region.
The people of Colombia need genuine all-the-way revolution--the U.S. is giving them counterinsurgency and a promise of more oppression.

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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