by Alexander Cockburn
wanting a vivid snapshot of the rubble of U.S. policy towards
Latin America should glance at Colombia, where the Clinton administration now
has one foot over the brink of a military intervention strongly reminiscent of John
Kennedy's initial deployments in Vietnam in the early 1960s.
Colombia is in economic free fall, and the only comfort its beleaguered inhabitants can seize upon is that the velocity of this collapse is at least slower than that of neighboring Ecuador, now experiencing its worst economic slump in 70 years. Colombia is currently suffering negative growth, has an official unemployment rate of 19 percent and an actual unemployment rate probably more than twice that figure. "Structural adjustment" programs administered by the IMF and World Bank have closed off any hope for that half of the country's population that lives below the poverty line.
It shouldn't be this way. With a diversity of exports, Colombia could have one of the strongest economies of Latin America. But it's the same old story. Down the years, every U.S. administration has sent arms and advisers to prop up Colombia's elites. U.S.-assisted repression in Colombia has been spectacularly appalling.
According to the Permanent Committee for the Defense of Human Rights, in Colombia, 3,832 political murders were perpetrated in 1998, the bulk of them done by the army, police and right-wing paramilitaries. To lend a sense of perspective, this is about twice the death rate in Kosovo that prompted charges of Serbian genocide and that helped whip up sentiment for NATO's war on Serbia.
The U.S. government is now preparing to escalate vastly the money and weapons going to the Colombian military, far beyond the $289 million in already-scheduled assistance this year, making Colombia the third largest recipient of American aid, after Israel and Egypt. Gen. Barry McCaffrey, director of the office of National Drug Control policy, is asking for an extra $1 billion for the drug war, said sum to go to the Andean countries, with about half to Colombia alone.
His request puts an end to any pretense that there is somehow a distinction between U.S. backing of counterinsurgency and counterdrug activities. A congressional amendment has forbidden U.S. military aid to go to Latin American army units with a documented record of human-rights abuses. But in the pell-mell rush to throw money at Colombia's military, such niceties are being thrown over the side.
The immediate cause of panic is the strength of Colombia's main insurgency, run by the Revolutionary Armed forces of Colombia (FARC). In a peace-feeler earlier this year, Colombia's President Andres Pastrana effectively seeded the FARC control over a 16,000-square mile slab of south-central Colombia, about the size of Switzerland. The Clinton administration was not entirely unsympathetic to this overture, though it outraged Colombia's traditional elites and much of the military, which feels humiliated by guerrilla strength that brought FARC forces as close as 25 miles of Bogota in July.
For its part, the FARC's leaders have plainly questioned whether Pastrana has the ability to deliver on any negotiated settlement. Not without reason. Every single guerrilla group agreeing to lay down its arms and enter the conventional political arena has seen its members slaughtered by the paramilitaries controlled by the army and the police.
There is a powerful lobby in Washington for pouring money into counterinsurgency in Colombia. McCaffrey explicitly disavows any distinction between counterinsurgency and the drug-war, and Colombian general Serrano has forged close links with Sen. Jesse Helms and Rep Ben Gilman, who head the foreign relations committees considering these requests for big new appropriations to the Colombian military. Already, the Pentagon is sending planes and personnel into Colombia. The U.S. Army's intelligence-gathering de Havilland RC-7B that crashed into a Colombian mountain in the early hours of July 23 was almost certainly monitoring FARC deployments, with such information being relayed to the Colombian military.
There are two faces to U.S. policy towards Latin America, both repulsive. The first is that of economic liberalism, preaching the virtues of uninhibited trade, open markets, privatization, structural adjustment. On the grounds, across Latin America, we see the consequence: social devastation in 31 kleptocracies, all corrupt, many bankrupt. The alternate face, whose fierce glare is now fixed upon Colombia, is that of military repression. For 30 years, the U.S. underwrote genocide in Guatemala. Colombia, unless the U.S. Congress turns back this evil, is facing more of the same.
August 9, 1999 (http://www.monitor.net/monitor) All Rights Reserved. Contact email@example.com for permission to use in any format.
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