ARE WE AT WAR IN
by Rich Stahler-Sholk
Colombia is currently the #3 recipient of U.S. military aid in the world, after Israel & Egypt. Of the $1.3 billion U.S. aid package approved last year as part of Plan Colombia, 82% consists of military and police aid, including hundreds of millions of dollars for Blackhawk and Huey helicopters. Human rights conditions attached to the aid were waived by the Clinton administration on "national security" grounds.
Colombia’s civil war has been going on for more than 4 decades. In recent years, more than 200,000 have been killed, mostly innocent civilians. Some 2 million Colombians have had to flee their homes, the third largest number of displaced people in the world after Angola and Sudan. Relief agencies estimate that the U.S. military aid package could directly result in another 300,000 displaced. The Colombian government began peace talks with the major rebel groups in 1998, but the massive escalation in U.S. military aid continues to fuel the fighting.
WITH OUR TAX DOLLARS,
IN OUR NAME
The Colombian military, which receives most of the U.S. aid, has one of the worst human rights records in the Americas. Half of the officers cited in a 1993 report of human rights abuse were trained at the U.S. Army School of the Americas. [See page 6.—Ed.] Paramilitary forces which have strong ties to the military are responsible for 78% of the deaths and disappearances, according to the respected Colombian Commission of Jurists. Colombia is the most dangerous place in the world to be a labor union activist, with 1,500 unionists killed since 1991. Other specially targeted groups include journalists, professors, religious and human rights workers.
Current U.S. policy allows up to 500 U.S. military "advisors" and 300 other "private contractors" to operate in Colombia. The U.S. State Department has been hiring mercenaries from DynCorp Aerospace Technologies to conduct not only aerial fumigation in areas of guerrilla strongholds in southern Colombia, but also reconnaissance, search & rescue, troop transport, and "military support." DynCorp in turn subcontracts Eagle Aviation Services & Technology Inc. (EAST), the same company used by Oliver North to secretly run guns to Nicaragua’s Contras during the Iran-Contra scandal of the 1980s. Such private contractors lack accountability, as seen in the April 20 shooting down of a plane in Peru (killing missionary Veronica Bowers of Michigan and her infant daughter Charity), after contractors onboard a CIA-operated surveillance plane mistakenly identified it as a drug flight.
NOT A DRUG WAR
The U.S. government claims it is waging a "war on drugs." Critics of militarization risk being labeled "soft on drugs," just as they were labeled "soft on Communism" during the Cold War. But the Colombian government’s own human rights ombudsman office admits that coca cultivation has actually increased since the U.S. government began supporting expanded aerial fumigation. Lacking viable alternatives for subsistence (56% of Colombians live in poverty, and 0.5% of the population owns 50% of the arable land), poor peasants are displaced deeper into the jungle to clear new land for cultivating illicit crops. Moreover, massive aerial spraying of the Monsanto chemical defoliant glyphosate over the Amazon region is devastating one of the world’s most biodiverse rainforest regions. The spraying is reportedly making people and animals sick, while destroying legal crops that small farmers depend on for survival.
As in the U.S., those who suffer most from the selective punishment of the "war on drugs" are the poor and minorities. These include Afro-Colombian and indigenous communities, whose lands are coveted by global capital. Occidental Petroleum wants to drill oil on ancestral lands of the U’wa people, and paramilitaries are driving Afro-Colombians from the Pacific coastal region that is being considered for the Atrato-Truandó canal megaproject.
NO BLOOD FOR OIL
Oil is Colombia’s main export, equivalent to Kuwait’s production on the eve of the Gulf War. Guerrillas have targeted oil pipelines and personnel, while oil companies have reportedly funded the military and paramilitaries that protect pipelines and kill union organizers. The U.S. imports more oil from Colombia and its neighbors Venezuela & Ecuador than from all Persian Gulf countries combined. Last June, Colombia announced its largest oil discovery since the 1980s.
Colombia’s biggest foreign investor is BP Amoco, which in 1996 joined with Occidental Petroleum (in which Al Gore is a major investor) and Enron Corporation (a Houston-based energy firm) and others to lobby for increased military aid to Colombia. Enron and its employees were the largest contributors to the campaign of George W. Bush. Vice President Dick Cheney is former CEO of Halliburton Company, a Dallas-based oil services company, and National Security Advisor Condoleeza Rice is a former member of the board of directors of Chevron. Stan Goff, a former U.S. Green Beret who trained Colombian military units, told the Bogota daily newspaper El Espectador that the purpose of Plan Colombia is "defending the operations of Occidental, British Petroleum and Texas Petroleum and securing control of future Colombian fields." Contrary to the official story about the war on drugs, he said, "We never mentioned the words coca or narco-trafficker in our training."
WHAT CAN YOU DO?
The Bush administration is proposing to regionalize the war with a new Andean Initiative that will give $1.1 billion in mostly military and police aid to Colombia and its neighbors in 2002.
More constructive alternatives would include debt relief and fair trade for Colombia, aid for alternative peasant crops, and support for human rights and labor rights. Last March, four governors of southern Colombian states—who were never consulted about Plan Colombia— traveled to the U.S. to present an alternative program. We also need to fund drug treatment programs in the U.S., which a 1994 RAND Corporation study found would be 23 times more cost effective than coca crop eradication in other countries.
Tell Congress (Hon. Lynn Rivers, U.S. House of Reps., Washington, DC 20515; Hon. Debbie Stabenow & Hon. Carl Levin, U.S. Senate, Washington, DC 20510):
* NO more military aid to Colombia
* NO more funding for fumigation
* YES to domestic drug treatment and prevention
* YES to good alternative development programs in Colombia
* Support H.R. 1810, introduced by the late Joe Moakley (D-MA) to close the School of the Americas
* Support H.R. 1591, the Andean Region Contractor Accountability Act, introduced by Jan Schakowski (D-IL)
www.colombiapolicy.org (Latin America Working Group; legislative updates)
www.ciponline.org/colombia (Center for International Policy; analyzes U.S. policies)
www.colombiasupport.net (Colombia Support Network; Madison, WI)
www.usfumigation.org (documents effects of U.S. aerial spraying in Amazon)
www.witnessforpeace.org (Witness for Peace; delegations to Colombia, speakers)
Think globally, act locally:
ICPJ (Interfaith Council for Peace & Justice)
730 Tappan St., Ann Arbor, MI 48104
Tel. (734) 663-1870
To get on the mailing list for the monthly newsletter from ICPJ, send your address to firstname.lastname@example.org
Come to meetings of the ICPJ Religious Coalition on Latin America, the 2nd & 4th Tuesdays of each month at 7:30 p.m., in the Memorial Lounge (basement) of First Baptist Church, on E. Washington St. between State & Division, Ann Arbor. [Active, fun group, and you don’t have to be religious.—Ed.]
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