With Colombian President Alvaro Uribe's admittance of wrong-doing last Friday, and his promise never to invade another country in South America again under the excuse of its war on the Colombian insurgency, it appears that the so-called "Andean Crisis" is slowly coming to a resolution. Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has reopened his border to trade with Colombia, and the increasing threat of one of the first region-wide military conflicts in decades is quickly residing.
Nevertheless, South Americans are left with a lingering sense of hypocrisy, and a feeling that perhaps this chapter in history is not yet completely written.
As usual, the international media had a field day reporting that Chavez, not Uribe, was pushing the region to the brink of war.
Colombia's Uribe may get off without a scratch while he has called for Venezuelan President Chavez to be brought before the International Criminal Court for the ridiculous claim of "financing of genocide." This, while Uribe himself has been accused of attempting to impede the investigation of several of his top supporters who themselves where recently under investigation for ties to the Colombia paramilitary, which has killed tens of thousands of Colombians.
Meanwhile, the US unilaterally supported Colombia in its invasion of Ecuadoran soil, and its excuse of "legitimate defense" which remarkably resembled the US excuse for its invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq.
The similarity isn't just a coincidence. Nor are reports that U.S. Admiral Joseph Nimmich met with Colombian military leaders in Bogotá two days before the March 1st attack, with the stated purpose of "sharing vital information in the fight against terrorism" (1). Connections between the US and Colombia go much deeper than most Americans realize- connections which were blatantly absent in the stories on the "Andean Crisis," which captured the world's attention last week.
U.S. Support for Colombia
According to reports, there is a very good possibility that it was US intelligence that pinpointed the precise location of the guerrilla base inside Ecuadoran territory, which was bombed on March 1st killing two dozen Colombia guerrilla, including #2 in command of the guerrilla, Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces (FARC) Raul Reyes. Considering that Reyes was the lead international contact in the humanitarian negotiations for the release of the FARC hostages, it is speculated that US intelligence was able to pinpoint the location of the base when Reyes used his satellite phone to arrange the delivery of four FARC hostages to Venezuelan officials the days before Nimmich's trip to Bogotá.
This wouldn't be out of the ordinary. Colombia is Washington's number one ally in the region, receiving more US military aid than another other country outside of the middle east. As verified in the Dallas Morning News article, "U.S. Aid Questioned in Colombian Battle" from August, 1999, the US military is used to providing logistical, administrative and material support for Colombia's military incursions against its guerrillas. This appears to be the case, even if it may result in a relatively large numbers of civilian casualties. While the article is nine years old, it shows long-standing collaboration that has only increased since the passage of Plan Colombia in 2000, which increased US military support to the South American nation. (2)
Since 2000, the US Congress has appropriated $5.5 billion for Colombia mostly in the form of military aid in the memorable name of "fighting drugs"- i.e. attempting to directly attack the source of the cocaine entering the US by fumigating and destroying the coca crops where they are grown. Unfortunately, if that is the case, it's not working. According to a report released last month from the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA), which referred to the results of the program as "dismal", coca is now cultivated in nearly twice as many Colombian states than it was in 1999. If anything, the price of cocaine in the US has dropped, and DEA intelligence chief, Tony Placido verified late last year that the disruptions in the US cocaine supply in 2007 were not a result of decreased cocaine production in Colombia. (3)
Meanwhile, the widespread crop fumigations have caused a veritable environmental and humanitarian disaster, not only in Colombia, but also along the Ecuadoran border where fumigation raids have been common. So, if the program is clearly not working, why does the US continue to fund it?
As the WOLA report points out:
"Plan Colombia was altered in 2002, in the wake of the Al Qaeda attacks on U.S. soil, when Congress approved a request from President George W. Bush to use financial, human and technical anti-drug resources for Colombia to combat organizations classified as terrorist."
This at least partially explains why both the Colombian and the US governments take great care in labeling the more than 40-year-old FARC guerrilla, "terrorists."
US military support doesn't end there. In last week's article from Foreign Policy in Focus, John Lindsay-Poland points out that 1,400 US soldiers are based in Colombia, nearly half of them privately contracted through companies such as Dyncorp, which has received $150 million a year from the US government for operations in Colombia since 2000. (4)
They're not the only ones. According to the US State Department report to Congress on Certain Counternarcotics Activities in Colombia, in 2006 alone US taxpayers paid out a total of well over $300 million to the following defense contractors for services rendered in Colombia: Lockheed Martin, Dyncorp International, Olgoonik, Arinc Inc., Oakley Networks, Northrop Grumman, Mantech, ITT, Lockheed Martin Integrated Systems, Optec, Telford Avaition, King Aerospace, Caci Inc., CCE, Omnitempus, PAE Government Services, and others. (5)
Claims of Chavez connection to FARC
Of the most serious allegations to come out of the March 1st bombing, Colombian officials presented documents last week, allegedly recovered from three computers belonging to Raul Reyes, which they say indicate relations between the Ecuadoran and Venezuelan governments and the FARC. Uribe's calls for Chavez to be brought before the International Criminal Court (ICC) are based on these documents, which Uribe says proves that Chavez is and has been aiding and abetting the FARC terrorists.
If true, the revelations would be a hard blow to Chavez's international image, only days after the Venezuelan President was able to secure the second unilateral release in two months of Colombian hostages held by the FARC. As to be expected, top Venezuelan officials refuted the accusations immediately.
While the legality of the documents can only be verified after a truly objective international analysis, already the validity of the connections they supposedly reveal is coming into question. It appears that for the Colombian government to arrive at their conclusions, they had to extrapolate from the documents in question. As veteran investigative journalist Greg Palast pointed out last week, the mention of the number, "300" in a document dated December 23, 2007, led Colombian officials to infer that Chavez was going to, or had delivered $300 million dollars to the FARC. Was this really a reference to $300 million dollars, or- as Palast points out -"the FARC's previous prisoner exchange (which) involved 300 prisoners." (6)
Why Chavez? The answer is also only an assumption. As the Brazilian paper, Zero Hora, pointed out after their own investigation in to the documents, Colombian officials assumed that the reference to an individual by the name of "Angel" is actually a codename for Venezuela President Hugo Chavez. The connection appears to be a little presumptuous, when only a few lines later the email refers to "President Chavez" directly when speaking about next steps in the humanitarian exchange.
It appears that Colombia's evidence supposedly proving that the FARC was attempting to build a "dirty bomb" is also based entirely on another similar assumption. Zero Hora pointed out that Colombian officials have no proof, and made the assumption from an email that states, "the material for the explosive that we prepared." Colombia says this is a reference to Uranium.
Even if the documents are legitimate, the serious accusations made by the Colombian government were based largely on nothing more than loose assumptions. This too, would not be the first time. It's important to remember that the fight against "terrorism," be it led by Washington or Bogotá, is only half the story. There needs to be an excuse, regardless of wether or not it is fabricated-excuses in the name of self-defense that plague the history of US intervention in Latin America, and the role that Colombia has played at the hand of the US for decades.
It was a US-backed media coup that took President Hugo Chavez from office for a brief 48 hours on April 11, 2002. The reports from Venevision and the other private Venezuelan TV channels fabricated their images and reports to appear as though Chavez supporters were firing in to a crowd of opposition protesters, and Chavez was doing nothing to stop them. The mock images were used as a pretext to take Chavez from office, abolish his institutions and hunt down his supporters.
The scenario has been repeated countless times across the Americas.
In 1954, the US, acting through the CIA, promoted and planned the overthrow of Guatemala's democratically elected leader, Jacobo Arbenz Guzman. The US launched a considerable media campaign in order to fabricate the pretext that he was a communist, in order to build public sentiment against the Guatemalan leader. The US military-backed ousting of Arbenz set off a 40-year civil war in which more than 200,000 Guatemalans would perish. While Arbenz was no Communist, he was threatening the almost monarchical interests of the US United Fruit Company in Guatemala. (7)
A similar model had been tried six years early in 1948, with the assassination of Colombian Presidential candidate Jorge Eliecer Gaitan. The killing of the Colombian President would launch the beginning of the nearly six decade-long conflict that still embroils Colombia in turmoil. Although Washington has refused to release or verify the existence of unclassified documents regarding Gaitan, according to the Washington-based lawyer Paul Wolf and many other investigators, there is little doubt the recently-formed CIA played an integral role in the incident. (8)
The fabrication of a false reality, in the name of our security has been used time and time again to sway public opinion, and to achieve the results in question. The US bombed Iraq in the name of "national security", in order to stop it from acquiring nuclear technology. The same intelligence, which rushed the country to war, was soon also found to be fabricated and planted on the American people through the New York Times, as proof of the need to act quickly and decisively.
Once again, last week the sabers were rattling. This time in Colombia, where the Colombian government invaded Ecuadoran airspace for its own "Nation Security."
But in the mainstream media it was Chavez, not Uribe, who was threatening war. Suddenly, Colombia claimed to have found "proof" that Chavez had been funding the "terrorist" guerrillas, thus leading Colombian President Alvaro Uribe to call for the Venezuelan president to be taken to the International Criminal Court for Crimes Against Humanity and Genocide.
The hypocrisy is stunning.
Paramilitaries and the ICC
What is left out of the story is that the very man calling for Chavez to be locked up for genocide, himself has intimate ties to the Colombian paramilitaries, who have wreaked havoc on the Colombian population. Numerous top officials of the Uribe government were recently under trial for their connections to the paramilitaries, including Uribe's cousin, former senator Mario Uribe. Last year, representatives of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) stated their "outrage" at the Colombian President for "fears that the government (was) attempting to hinder the process of the ‘cleaning up' of Colombian institutions." (9)
According to an FIDH report last year, since they first appeared, the Colombian paramilitary has committed approximately, "60,000 crimes against humanity and serious human rights violations."
"This figure does not include the more than one million persons displaced as a direct result of the strategy of terror, threats, and paramilitary action," the report continues. "From January to June 2007 alone, more than 770 civilians were murdered in Colombia or fell victim to forced disappearance. More than 80 mass graves have been discovered; in late 2006 the Office of the Prosecutor estimated that there were still more than 3,000 persons remaining to be found. It is believed, however, that this figure falls far short of reflecting the more than 30,000 forced disappearances that have been reported."
Although the Colombian paramilitaries were officially demobilized a few years ago, Colombians know that the continued violence, and the intimate relationship between the state and the "Paras" (as they are called), means that they are far from gone. In fact, just last week paramilitaries in South-Eastern Colombia threatened to attack any person or organization participating in the March 6th international protests against the continued violence of the paramilitaries and the Uribe government. (10)
Meanwhile, according to FIDH, over 90% of the 30,000 demobilized paramilitaries "have benefited from a de facto amnesty declared by decree." As a result, the FIDH report called on the ICC to investigate and try those guilty of crimes against humanity committed in Colombia since 2002.
Nevertheless, as Venezuelanlaysis reported last week, a diverse group of Colombian political parties took the time to point out that even if they wanted to, it would be technical illegal for anyone to be brought before the ICC for crimes committed in Colombia. Although Colombia ratified the ICC in 2002 (something the U.S. still refuses to do), "Uribe earmarked a seven year waiting period during which international laws against war crimes would not apply to Colombia." (1)
For such a reason, the FIDH has called on the Uribe administration to "withdraw its declaration under Article 124 of the Rome Statute that it does not accept ICC jurisdiction over war crimes committed by all armed groups in Colombia."
Of course the United States supports Colombian policy in the region. Sometimes we easily overlook the fact that the Colombian paramilitaries are a brainchild of the US.
Paul Wolf points out that the paramilitary strategy was developed by the US in the decades following World War II. (11) Stan Goff, ex-officer of the Special Forces of the US army, who trained Colombian troops at the Colombian Tolemaida base in the 1990s, was quoted in M.G. Magil's 2004 expose, Occult Chronicle of the Conflict,
"I assure you that the network of paramilitary, under the command of Carlos Castaño, was organized and trained by the Washington State Department and the CIA after 1991."
Recently released declassified documents offer further documented information linking the US to at least some of Colombia´s paramilitaries. (12)
The issues are complicated, and sometimes nobody gets off without a few scratches. In this case, however, we have to look deeper in to the subtle interests at work. Venezuela and Ecuador are in the process of revolutionary change that is threatening not only the interests of the upper classes, but also U.S. and multinational business interests in the region. Colombia, meanwhile, is the champion of Washington's dying neoliberal dreams.
To make things even more complicated the U.S.-Colombian free trade agreement is now stalled in the U.S. congress, part of the reason why President George W. Bush took the time last week to specifically address the "Andean Crisis" and ask that Congressional representatives show their support for Colombia by passing the agreement quickly.
Again we are reminded of how to play the game. If you can make Ecuador and Venezuela look bad- real bad, perhaps you can at least isolate their influence in the region. The best way to make someone look bad nowadays is to find links between them and terrorists. Never mind the fact that the Colombian and U.S. governments support their own paramilitary terrorists. Those aren't the terrorists they are looking for. Those are the Miami terrorists: Luis Posada Carriles, Orlando Bosch, Alpha 66, etc. Those are the ones fighting the good fight against the Cuban regime. Those are the right-wing terrorists. Terrorists, who George W. Bush thanked for their support in a letter on June 2, 2005. (13) Terrorists, like Posada Carriles, the former CIA agent who is wanted in Venezuela and Cuba for the murder of dozens, and who walks the streets of Miami freely.
The world is full of hypocrisy. And Washington is often a lot closer than you think.
4. http://www.fpif.org/fpiftxt/5042 & http://www.commondreams.org/archive/2008/03/07/7541/
9. http://www.fidh.org/_news.php3, http://www.fidh.org/IMG/pdf/Colombiejustice481-32007.pdf, & http://www.fidh.org/spip.php?article5177
11.http://www.icdc.com/~paulwolf/colombia/colombiawar.htm, & http://www.icdc.com/~paulwolf/colombia/counterinsurgency.htm