US Phony War in Columbia

Jose G. Perez jgperez at
Fri Oct 22 07:18:16 MDT 1999

>>Following its attack on the Balkans, the United States is planning a
massive intervention in Colombia. The Clinton administration has decided
to seek congressional approval for $1bn in military aid to the government
of Andres Pastrana in Bogota. This is for a low-level air war,
American-planned and "advised", with Blackhawk helicopters, satellite
surveillance and cluster bombs. "It is the same policy," says Amnesty
International, "that backed, death squads in El Salvador in the 1980s."
It is the policy that started the war in Vietnam. <<

This article is useful but some things need to be added.

It is very doubtful that additional air power alone could be decisive in the
guerrilla struggle in Colombia. Air power is difficult to bring to bear
against irregular forces especially where the terrain provides a lot of
cover. It can be a good tactical asset in a battle, but even there, the use
of choppers has to be judicious, as the most rudimentary shoulder-fired
surface-air missiles can bring a chopper hovering at low altitude down, as
can a .50 machine gun. And in a typical guerrilla action such as an ambush,
the fighting will be over before air support can be called in,

More fundamentally, the problem the Colombian authorities face is not
primarily military, but social and political. It is clear that the guerrilla
movement has a significant social base among the rural toilers, and that the
credibility of the government in the country as a whole is slipping. Having
legitimized the rebels by entering into peace negotiations, the government
is in an even weaker position to seek military victory. The rank and file
soldiers will quite naturally ask, and with reason, why should they die to
improve Patrana's negotiating leverage?

Although unmentioned in this particular article, the massive escalation of
U.S. military aid to Colombia is just part of a plan being promoted by US
drug czar Barry McCaffrey. McCaffrey has been sounding out Latin American
governments on the possibility of a joint intervention in Colombia -- at the
Colombian government's "request," of course.

Although in McCaffrey's fantasies the role of the marines is played by
Latin Americans, there is no way any of the Latin American rulers are going
to commit to such a venture unless the United States is fully committed to
it also. Otherwise, it would simply be too easy for the U.S. to leave the
Latin Americans in the lurch if things went badly.

Direct U.S. force involvement in a ground war in Latin America would be
totally different from the Gulf War or the recent air assault on Yugoslavia.
This would be an irregular war fought at close range on unfamiliar and
unfavorable terrain for the U.S. military. All the marvels of technological
terror which the U.S. rained upon Iraq and Yugoslavia would be of limited
use against irregular forces. Launching million-dollar cruise missiles
against an enemy presupposes that the enemy has targets that are worth a
million dollar cruise missile. The use of F-117 stealth bombers to penetrate
enemy radar and anti-air defenses presupposes the enemy is structured as a
conventional military force. US troops are trained and structured to fight
heavy, concentrated enemy forces, and are even less suited for irregular
warfare today than they were 30 years ago in Vietnam. They don't have the
leadership, the training, the morale, nor the stomach for such fighting.

    The answer of U.S. military doctrine to irregular warfare is simply to
terrorize and massacre the population that serves as the social base of the
irregular forces. This they learned from the British and the French. The
success of such an approach can be judged by the current extent of the
British and French empires compared to those these countries had in the
past. This is the policy the U.S. implemented in Vietnam, and it is the
policy that the U.S.-trained Colombian army officer corps has been trying to
implement for many years with no evident success.

    At bottom the strategy, unless applied with genocidal ferocity, is
counter-productive, as it is likely to drive hundreds and thousands of fresh
recruits into the rebel's ranks.


-----Original Message-----
From: KDean75206 at <KDean75206 at>
To: marxism at <marxism at>
Date: Tuesday, October 19, 1999 9:22 PM
Subject: US Phony War in Columbia

>origianlly posted to SocialistsUnmoderated at
>Phoney war
>The US is planning a massive intervention in Colombia under the pretext
>of fighting the 'narco-guerrilla'
>John Pilger
>Tuesday October 19, 1999
>The Guardian
>Following its attack on the Balkans, the United States is planning a
>massive intervention in Colombia. The Clinton administration has decided
>to seek congressional approval for $1bn in military aid to the government
>of Andres Pastrana in Bogota. This is for a low-level air war,
>American-planned and "advised", with Blackhawk helicopters, satellite
>surveillance and cluster bombs. "It is the same policy," says Amnesty
>International, "that backed, death squads in El Salvador in the 1980s."
>It is the policy that started the war in Vietnam.
>Colombia receives more US arms and equipment than any country in the
>world, apart from Israel and Egypt. Last May, the Washington Post
>disclosed that 200 American military personnel were playing key parts in
>the war against the guerrillas of Colombia's popular resistance, who
>occupy an area the size of Switzerland. Justifying a frontal attack on
>the resistance presented difficulties for Washington until the War on
>Drugs replaced the Soviet Threat, and a new enemy was conjured: the
>The hypocrisy of American anti-drug campaigns in Colombia dates back to
>the 1970s when congress cut back US aid to repressive Latin American
>police forces while increasing so called anti-narcotics aid by about the
>same amount: a sleight of hand barely acknowledged at the time. "To keep
>the aid coming," wrote Peter Dale-Scott in his book, Cocaine Politics,
>"corrupt Latin American politicians helped to invent the spectre of the
>drug- financed narco-guerrilla, a myth." He quotes a senior US military
>officer who says the way to counter "those church and academic groups
>that have slavishly supported the insurgency in Latin America" is to put
>them "on the wrong side of the moral issue".
>Because coca was grown by the poorest peasants as their sole means of
>survival, the guerrillas they supported were attacked, in a bogus "war on
>drugs" - while the drug cartels and their allies in the military were
>strengthened. This has been US strategy since the 1960s, when a secret
>American-led "Force X" infiltrated the guerrillas, carrying out
>atrocities that would then be blamed on the insurgency. Pioneered in
>Vietnam by the CIA's infamous Colonel Edward Lansdale, it was also used
>in Indonesia during the CIA-assisted bloodbath that brought Suharto to
>What Washington fears most in South America is not drugs, but losing
>control of the critical north-east corner of the continent when the US
>military reluctantly withdraws from the Panama Canal at the end of the
>year. Compounding this is the popular nationalism of the reformist
>government of Hugo Chavez in oil-rich Venezuela. So far, the Americans
>have been able to control Panama by the open threat of an invasion
>similar in ferocity to that ordered by President Bush in 1990 on the
>pretext of arresting General Noriega, the head of state, drugs dealer and
>former friend of George Bush when he ran the CIA. At least 20,000
>Panamanian civilians were killed in the American assault. If the popular
>resistance in Colombia can be "pacified", Venezuela may be restored to
>its traditional submissiveness.
>In Colombia, however, matters are getting out of hand. Last month, a
>general strike all but stopped the cities and towns. Ten thousand Indian
>people blockaded the south; the majority of high school and university
>students walked out of their classes. Like most of Latin America,
>Colombia's economy is prescribed by the International Monetary Fund.
>Almost half the gross domestic product goes on paying off an unrepayable
>debt, while the Pastrana government is selling off most of the
>infrastructure, from telecommunications to the water supply, at well
>below its true value but at too high a price for domestic capital. The
>beneficiaries are, as ever, US and other western multinationals. In that
>respect, it is simply globalisation at work, a war of the rich versus the
>V iolence is a constant, with more than 2,000 trade unionists
>assassinated, and thousands "disappeared" and killed by drug- trafficking
>paramilitaries who, like their counterparts in East Timor, are often
>indistinguishable from a military trained for civil repression - many in
>the US. A Human Rights Watch report says that army officers who planned
>and took part in paramilitary violence, "have been promoted and rewarded
>and now occupy the highest positions in the Colombian military".
>The British are flying the flag. The Blair government has approved
>weapons sales to the Colombian military - ammunition, grenades. British
>Petroleum, whose former chairman, Lord Simon, made the smooth transition
>to Blair's minister for competitiveness, "is the most aggressive oil
>company in Colombia", says the national workers' union. An investigation
>by ITV's World in Action in 1997 revealed that BP had contracted former
>British SAS soldiers to train paramilitaries. The company denied the
>When the suffering of the East Timorese was finally ordained news and the
>force of world opinion brought a glimpse of hope and freedom, it was too
>late for the thousands of victims of policies materially supported, even
>formulated, by Faustian partners in Washington and London. They ought not
>to get away with more of the same in Colombia.
>© Copyright Guardian Media Group plc. 1999


Free computers.  Free Internet access.  I don't pay -- why should you?
Click on to get started today!

More information about the Marxism mailing list