News from the Next Vietnam

Jay Moore research at
Tue Jun 27 19:17:15 MDT 2000

Published on Monday, June 26, 2000 in The Irish Times
Senators Plunge US Into Colombia's Civil War
US intervention in the conflict in Colombia could have disastrous
consequences for the entire Andean region

by Ana Carrigan

Potomac fever has overtaken US Latin American policy once again - this time
triggered by the failure of Washington's "drug war" in a presidential
election year, and corporate lobbying by US arms manufacturers and oil men.

The result: last week's US Senate vote to approve $1.3 billion in new
military aid for Colombia, which will recklessly propel the United States
into the vortex of Colombia's civil war, burying the fragile peace hopes
with frightening implications for the entire Andean region. The vote was
immediately hailed by the US drug czar, Mr Barry McCaffrey, as "a crucial
step . . . that will greatly enhance counter-drug efforts in Colombia". Mr
McCaffrey should know. It was his announcement of "a drug emergency" in
Colombia last summer that pushed the panic button in the Clinton White

President Clinton commended the Senate vote as showing that the US was
"committed to a democracy and to fighting the drug wars in Colombia, and to
strengthening the oldest democracy in Latin America".

The vote has still to be reconciled in conference with leaders of the House
of Representatives, who passed an even more generous version of the aid bill
last March.

The Republican Senate leader, Mr Trent Lott, who destroyed efforts to reduce
funds for the Colombian military and redirect the money to social programmes
and alternative crop development in Colombia, and to drug treatment and
prevention programmes in the US, said: "To those worried about slipping
toward being involved (in Colombia), where better to be involved? . . . This
is a question of standing up for our children, of standing up and fighting
these narco-terrorists in our part of the world, in our neighbourhood, in
our region." When the roll was called last Thursday, the senators voted 95
to 4 to quadruple current US aid to Colombia.

Another Republican senator, Mr Slade Gorton, who cast one of the four No
votes, disagreed with Mr Lott, saying: "The capacity of this body for
self-delusion appears to this senator to be unlimited. There has been no
consideration of the consequences, cost and length of involvement."

The bill, he said, "let's us get into war now and justify it later. Mark my
words, we are on the verge . . . of involvement in a civil war in Latin
America, without the slightest promise that our intervention will be a

Mr Gorton's efforts to make deep cuts in the package were routed, 79 to 19.

The bulk of this massive escalation in US aid will go to the Colombian army,
at a rate equivalent to $2 million a day over two years, to finance three
new battalions, trained by US Special Forces, and equipped with American
hardware and a fleet of American combat helicopters. With a minimum
training, 2,800 young Colombian soldiers will go on the offensive against
drugs and insurgents in the remote jungles of one of Colombia's most
neglected and lawless regions, the south-western state of Putumayo.

Marine Gen Charles Wilhelm, commander-in-chief of US Southern Command, and
the man responsible for overseeing this joint American-Colombian military
strategy, told the Senate last February that the objective is to "push"
thousands of guerrillas out of their jungle bases to facilitate US spray
planes to fly in and eradicate the region's coca crops. Once they have
dispatched the most powerful insurgent force in Latin America, the new
battalions are expected to "secure" a vast and impenetrable jungle area and
"assist Colombia . . . to reassert its sovereignty over its territory and to
curb growing (drug) cultivation".

In Senate testimony last February, Ambassador Thomas Pickering, State
Department Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, indicated how
this assistance would address Colombia's complex crises: "fighting the drug
trade, fostering peace, increasing the rule of law, improving human rights,
expanding economic development . . . and giving the Colombian people greater
access to the benefits of democratic institutions".
Mr Pickering was Ronald Reagan's ambassador to San Salvador and oversaw the
US's disastrous involvement in the Salvadoran civil war.

Critics note that his testimony is at odds with realities on the ground.
Putumayo's 600 square miles of jungle and river produce 50 per cent of
Colombia's coca leaves. FARC guerillas dominate the countryside, and
right-wing paramilitaries, with the complicity of local police and army
officers, control the towns. Twothirds of Putumayo's 300,000 inhabitants are
small coca farmers and migrant leaf pickers, and many are refugees, already
displaced by the civil war.

In implicit anticipation of the human suffering that will result from the
assault on the coca fields, funds have been allocated to assist up to 10,000
displaced people with emergency relief. However, Ecuador, which shares a
border with Putumayo, has been alerted by the UN High Commissioner for
Refugees to prepare for the arrival of 30,000 people fleeing the US spray

Perhaps, most disturbing, is the hermetic silence of US officials in the
face of persistent reports that the paramilitaries are organising to support
the military operation.

© 2000

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