Clinton Visits Colombia

New Steps in Yankee Intervention Plan

Revolutionary Worker #1071, September 24, 2000

On August 30, Bill Clinton and other top U.S. officials made a one-day trip to the Colombian city of Cartagena to promote the U.S. government’s huge $1.3 billion military aid package to Colombia. In Cartagena Clinton denied that the aid package was "Yankee imperialism." Clearly, the U.S. president felt compelled to make such a statement precisely because many people in Colombia and around the world see this massive injection of military funds as a new escalation of Yankee imperialist intervention in Latin America.

The U.S. aid is aimed at a major buildup of Colombia’s notoriously corrupt and brutal army. U.S. military "advisers" will train and supervise three counterinsurgency battalions for a large-scale offensive in the southern region of Colombia. The biggest portion of the $1.3 billion is earmarked for the delivery of 60 high-tech attack helicopters to the Colombian military.

The U.S. escalation in Colombia is being carried out in the name of the "war on drugs." Colombia is currently the source of much of the world’s coca, the raw material for cocaine. And the goal of the planned military offensive in southern Colombia is advertised as the elimination of coca fields.

But this region of the country is also where the FARC, the largest armed anti-government force in Colombia, has a lot of strength and influence. As part of negotiations with the FARC, Colombia’s Pastrana government conceded FARC’s authority in a zone in southern Colombia the size of Switzerland—or the states of Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Rhode Island combined. (The ELN, the second largest armed opposition force, was also given a zone of its own in central Colombia.)

The new military aid package is part of an aggressive plan to transform the situation in Colombia—by backing the Colombian military’s stepped-up counterinsurgency war.

In Cartagena Clinton also claimed, "A condition of this aid is that we are not going to get into a shooting war…that won’t happen." But no one—including within the U.S. ruling circles—seriously believes this. The New York Times, for example, wrote on August 30: "It is unrealistic to imagine that the $1.3 billion aid package, most of it to supply 60 military helicopters and train a new army anti-narcotics brigade, will only be used against the drug traffickers and not also against the guerrillas…"

The U.S. war planners are not preparing for direct intervention by U.S. ground troops. They say their operations in Colombia follow the "El Salvador model." The U.S. plan calls for expanding the force of U.S. trainers, advisers/commanders, CIA agents, DEA agents, and spy planes. As in El Salvador and other Central American countries in the 1980s, the U.S. intends to act as the overall director of the war—while the local reactionary armed forces are supposed to kill and die for U.S. interests.

On the same day as Clinton’s trip to Cartagena, there were news reports that the Pentagon plans to post an Army general in Colombia to oversee the U.S. military aid. According to the Associated Press, the U.S. pointman in Colombia will be Gen. Keith Huber—"a 25-year Army career officer with a background in special forces and experience in counterinsurgency, including a stint in El Salvador." Huber also participated in the U.S. war against Iraq and in the occupation of Haiti. This is a man with much experience in U.S. intervention around the world—and with much blood on his hands. Huber will be the only U.S. general stationed in South or Central America—an indication of the depth of U.S. military involvement in Colombia.

A Green Light to Colombia’s Brutal Military

The U.S. Congress approved the $1.3 billion aid in June, with the Senate giving its approval unanimously. The aid package passed by the Congress and signed by Clinton included a requirement that the Colombian government and army make improvements in a number of human rights issues before the funds could be released. For example, the Colombian regime was required to suspend and prosecute soldiers guilty of abuses.

The human rights requirement was merely a fig leaf, intended as a thin cover for the U.S. backing of the widely hated Colombian armed forces. But it was obvious that the Colombian regime had not met the requirement, as even some U.S. officials admitted. The CNN network noted in its August 22 report on Colombia: "A State Department official said there are ‘hundreds’ of soldiers suspected of [human rights] violations."

A week before his trip to Cartagena, Clinton "solved" this problem by using his presidential powers and declaring that he was simply "waiving" the requirements that have not been met by the Colombian government. This officially cleared the way for the release of the military funds. He justified this outrageous maneuver by calling Colombia a "national security priority."

Aside from carrying out violence directly against the people, the official armed forces in Colombia also have close ties with the right-wing paramilitary groups. Often working for big landlords, these paramilitaries carry out assassinations of activists and massacres of ordinary peasants. Such a working relationship between the paramilitaries and the government’s armed forces is another aspect of the "El Salvador" model. The U.S. finds it useful to have a death squad network that operates somewhat independently of the regular army.

A bloody example of a paramilitary action was the massacre of over 70 people at El Salado, a village in northern Colombia, in February. More than 300 members of a right-wing group took over the village and, for three days, tortured and murdered people accused of helping the FARC. Colombian army and military units stationed just outside of El Salado knew what was going on but made no attempt to stop the massacre. In fact, the troops set up a roadblock to prevent other people from going to the village to rescue the residents.

The organization Human Rights Watch has documented ties between half of the Colombian army’s 18 brigades and the right-wing paramilitaries. The U.S. government says that part of the new aid package will go to "human rights training" for the armed forces. But the U.S. already trains a large number of Colombian military officers at the School of the Americas—widely known as the "School of Assassins" because so many of its graduates have gone on to carry out assassinations, torture, and massacres for U.S.-backed regimes throughout Latin America. Colombia’s army actually has more officers trained at the School of Americas than any other country’s armed forces.

With his national security waiver on the military aid program, Clinton gave a green light to the murderous tag team of Colombia’s armed forces and paramilitary death squads.

Preparing for More Refugees

The $1.3 billion U.S. aid is part of an even larger scheme called Plan Colombia, which includes $1 billion from European imperialists for "social programs" and $5 billion in loans from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and international banks. U.S. and Colombian officials claim that Plan Colombia as a whole will address important social and economic problems in Colombia. In reality, the so-called social and economic parts of Plan Colombia are closely tied to the intensified counterinsurgency war that is being prepared under U.S. direction.

The gush of loans is intended to artificially boost the Colombian economy to create an illusory feeling of improvement—while U.S.-trained forces position themselves to launch a full-scale civil war against zones outside government control. At the same time, these IMF and international bank loans will lead to tighter control over the Colombian economy by the imperialists. As in other Third World countries, the government will have to follow strict conditions to get the loans—for example, allowing foreign investors greater power over the local economy, eliminating price controls on food and other basic necessities, and privatizing state-owned companies.

Other funds are assigned to contain the problems and dislocation created by a major military offensive—especially the increased number of people forced out of their homes. The dirty war waged by the Colombian army, national police, and allied paramilitaries have led to an enormous number of internal refugees—between one and two million people. Many are crowded into the desperately poor urban shantytowns. The streets of Colombian cities are filled with large numbers of homeless and deserted children who live in sewers and parks—and who are hunted and killed by police-organized death squads.

The coming offensive in southern Colombia will further swell the number of people forced to flee the rural villages. The reactionary regimes in Ecuador, Venezuela, and Brazil are very worried that the U.S.-backed counterinsurgency in Colombia will cause a flood of refugees across the borders—and lead to further instability for their own rule.

Within Colombia, the U.S. and Colombian governments are planning what they call "civilian aid programs." In a briefing in May, a top U.S. State Department official said that new refugees will be "moved to places where they can find an alternative living at a reasonable rate with government support." This scheme sounds like the "strategic hamlets" that the U.S. built during the war in Vietnam—to force the people into areas where they could be surrounded, controlled, and prevented from joining the anti-government forces.

Chemical and Biological Warfare

While there are large coca-growing plantations in northern Colombia, coca in southern Colombia is mainly grown by peasant farmers on small plots of a few acres. For these peasants, growing coca is the only way to survive. This is not by choice—they are forced into this situation because of the way the economy and society is organized in this country dominated by imperialism. Colombia is a fertile country that once produced enough food for its people. But under pressure from the U.S., waves of imported North American grain ruined much of the domestic agriculture. Peasants have been forced, more and more, to produce cash crops for export, putting their livelihoods at the mercy of world prices and world markets.

Increasingly, the only cash crop that has produced a living for the impoverished farmers is coca for the world’s cocaine market. The Colombian peasants are not the ones controlling the cocaine industry and benefiting from it. The major drug lords are part of the ruling elite in Colombia—the comprador capitalists and semi-feudal landowners who are closely tied to and subordinate to the imperialists.

As part of their "war on drugs" in Colombia, the U.S.-backed Colombian forces have been spraying the peasants’ fields with herbicides—chemical plant killers. The coming offensive in southern Colombia will mean more such sprayings. The following excerpt from a British Broadcasting Company report gives a glimpse into the devastating effect these sprayings have on people’s lives.

Cecilia Anaya is the president of Puerto Asis’ peasant association [in a town in Putumayo, southern Colombia]. "We have seen what happened in Puerto Guzman where they did the first fumigation tests," she says. "There were people who died because of fumigation, who lived mainly by growing yucca, plaintain and rice. And now there is misery, hunger and displacement. So we are very worried."

Much of the coca grown in Putumayo is grown by peasant farmers with a few hectares of fields carved from the jungle. They grow coca as a cash crop alongside pineapples, maize and other subsistence crops. However, the chemicals dropped by U.S.-supplied planes cannot distinguish between the different crops. This means that the livelihood of peasants—already living well below the poverty line—ends up in ruins.

As well as destroying crops other than coca, Esteban Torres, the local schoolteacher, says there is evidence that the chemicals dumped on Putumayo’s fields are damaging the inhabitants. "There is no running water in Puerto Guzman," he says. "And the people drink water from the streams which pass alongside the fields, so when the planes fly over spraying these toxic chemicals, people are drinking this water or preparing their food with it and falling sick."

The so-called "war on drugs" is really a war on the people.

Yankee Go Home!

The U.S. plan in Colombia is a multi-billion-dollar program for remaking Colombia into a country where the resources, land, and labor can be more profitably exploited by foreign corporations—and where the countryside and urban shantytowns no longer breed resistance and rebellion. It is a plan aimed at forcing Colombia’s people even more firmly under the control of oppressors and killers—while burdening them with whole new layers of debts and payments. The plan is part of the U.S. goal of pacifying all of Latin America—so that it can more tightly dominate and exploit the resources and the people.

The U.S. plan in Colombia is most definitely Yankee imperialism at work.

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