[fla-left] [news] Clinton begins final push for passage of Colombia aid bill (fwd)

Michael Hoover hoov at SPAMfreenet.tlh.fl.us
Fri May 5 11:29:36 MDT 2000

forwarded by Michael Hoover

World Socialist Web Site http://www.wsws.org

Clinton begins final push for passage of Colombia aid bill

By Patrick Martin
4 May 2000

In a speech May 2 to the Council of the Americas, a lobbying group for
corporations with investments in Latin America, President Bill Clinton
called on Congress to approve a huge $1.6 billion plan to boost military
and economic aid to Colombia. The measure would set the stage for broader
US military
intervention throughout the Andean region of South America.

The United States would make the largest contribution to the $7.5 billion
"Plan Colombia" drawn up by Colombian President Andres Pastrana. European
and other Latin American countries would be expected to contribute lesser
amounts once the US portion is approved.

The House of Representatives passed an aid bill in March, by a lopsided
bipartisan margin. Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, in a face-to-face
meeting with Pastrana in Washington two weeks ago, agreed to bring the
legislation to a vote in May. A spokesman for Lott said only procedural
issues were
holding up passage of the bill, which would make Colombia the third largest
recipient of US military aid, after Israel and Egypt.

In his speech Tuesday, Clinton portrayed the conflict in Colombia between
the Pastrana government and several guerrilla groups as a struggle for
democracy against terrorism and drug trafficking. He warned in apocalyptic
terms of the possible consequences of the collapse of the Colombian regime,
saying, "Make no mistake about it. If the oldest democracy in South America
can be torn down, so can others."

Clinton told the assembled corporate executives and think tank officials
that defeat of the guerrillas in Colombia was essential for the realization
of a Free Trade Area of the Americas that would stretch from Alaska to
Argentina by 2005. "We have to win in Colombia. We have to win the fight
for the free trade area in the Americas," he said. "We have to prove that
freedom and free markets go hand in hand."

Reuters News Agency described the purpose of the aid package in unusually
blunt terms, in a dispatch reporting Clinton's speech. The goal, the agency
said, was to "dent the rebels' military power and force them to moderate
radical socialist demands at year-old peace talks and to negotiate a swift
end to their uprising that has claimed more than 35,000 lives in just 10

The political goals of the two main guerrilla groups, the Armed Forces of
National Liberation (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN), can
hardly be characterized as socialist. Both groups espouse an eclectic
ideological mixture of Maoism, Castroism and nationalism. But the
long-running conflict is clearly seen by Washington both as an obstacle to
its plans to establish a US-dominated hemispheric trading bloc, and a
significant strategic threat.

The latter issue concerns not only Colombia's key geographical position as
the land bridge between Central America and South America, bordering on
Panama, but its importance in US oil supply calculations. The oil factor
was spelled out most explicitly by Paul Coverdell, a Republican senator
from Georgia, in an op-ed commentary published in the Washington Post last
week. He wrote:

"The destabilization of Colombia directly affects bordering Venezuela, now
generally regarded as our largest oil supplier. In fact, the oil picture in
Latin America is strikingly similar to that of the Middle East, except that
Colombia provides us more oil today than Kuwait did then. This crisis, like
the one in
Kuwait, threatens to spill over into many nations, all of which are allies ...

"Let me restate the crisis: We import as much oil from this hemisphere as
we do from the Middle East; more Colombians than Kosovars have been forced
to flee their homes; 35,000 Colombians are dead. That's why the situation
demands our immediate attention."

>From 1990 to 1999 Colombia's oil production rose by 78 percent, the bulk of
it going to the United States. Colombia is the seventh largest US oil
supplier, while neighboring Venezuela is number one. Colombia's proven oil
reserves are tiny compared to Venezuela's 73 billion barrels, but its
reserves are believed to be substantial, as much as 25 billion barrels.

It is these material interests, not concerns for "democracy", which impel
US ruling circles toward military intervention in the region, in which all
five nations-Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia-are
increasingly wracked by political instability and violence.

As for Clinton's remarks on terrorism, it is a well-established fact that
the principal terrorist force in Colombia is not the guerrillas, but
right-wing paramilitaries closely linked to the military. According to
reports by human rights groups, right-wing death squads accounted for 78
percent of all human
rights violations and political murders last year.

A United Nations report released April 14 said that members of the military
participated in the paramilitary groups, organizing massacres and spreading
death threats. "The security forces also failed to take action, and this
undoubtedly enabled the paramilitary groups to achieve their exterminating
objectives," the report added.

The threat of right-wing terror is so pervasive that President Pastrana's
chief representative in talks with the FARC and ELN, Victor G. Ricardo,
resigned April 26 after receiving numerous death threats from the
paramilitaries for alleged concessions to the guerrillas. Ricardo stepped
down two days after
announcing the terms of an agreement with the ELN, the second armed
guerrilla group to sign a cease-fire with the regime.

Under the agreement the government will pull troops out of 1,800 square
miles, comprising three counties in the states of Bolivar and Antioquia.
But the ELN, which has an estimated 5,000 men under arms, agreed to much
more restrictive terms than those accorded FARC in the latter's base area
in southwest Colombia. It agreed not to impose its own government in the
demilitarized zone or to use the zone as a base for more extensive military

The accord also establishes an "international verification commission" of
four or five nations to assure that both sides are abiding by the
agreement, the first time that outside countries have been given a formal
role in the civil war and the first time that countries other than the
United States have been
involved in any way. Press reports mentioned Norway, Spain, Venezuela and
Germany as likely candidates for the commission, as well as Cuba, which has
past ties with the ELN leadership.

Pastrana announced the agreement in a speech to the nation in which he
declared, "In no way will there be any impact on the rights and obligations
established for all residents in accordance with the national Constitution
and the reigning legal order. That means all of the civil authorities
established in
the area will continue in the exercise of their functions with no
alteration whatsoever."

Colombian radio networks broadcast a parallel statement by Nicolás
Rodríguez, the ELN's top commander, pledging "to take serious steps toward
the construction of a solution to this conflict by methods other than war."

The likelihood, however, is not peace but a more irregular and savage form
of civil war, since the right-wing paramilitary groups have heavily
infiltrated the demilitarized area, encouraged by local landlords.
Moreover, the ELN zone is far more important strategically to the Colombian
military, since it sits astride the country's main waterway, the Magdalena
River, and highways leading from Bogota to the coast. The area is also rich
in gold and oil, and is adjacent the oil center of Barrancabermeja, home of
the country's main oil refinery.

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