Don't Count on Washington 

Don't Count on Washington 
Posted by FoM on December 13, 1999 at 22:04:05 PT
By Jorge G. Castaneda, Newsweek International
Source: Newsweek International
Washington's problems are everyone else's, too, and nowhere is this more true than in Latin America. So it should come as no surprise that as debate and concern intensify in the United States over the proper U.S. role in Colombia's unfolding drama, foreign ministries throughout the region are also beginning to fret and think about their own involvement—or lack of it—in what increasingly seems to be an imminent hemispheric crisis.
The coordinates of Colombia's dilemma are clear. Recession, political weakness, some governmental mistakes made in good faith and ruthless guerrillas—especially the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC)—and paramilitary groups, associated in different degrees and ways with the drug trade, have all created a terribly difficult situation for the government of President Andres Pastrana. The crisis could play out in three ways. First, the government successfully negotiates an end to the country's virtual civil war and, eventually, brings the drug trade back under control. Plausible? Not really; though substantive government-guerrilla talks have finally gotten underway, the outlook is not bright. Second, the peace talks fail, but Colombia's armed forces, with moderate doses of U.S. military aid, defeat the guerrillas or at least sufficiently weaken them over the next year or so and force good-faith negotiations. This is more likely; the Army has gained ground recently—the rebels are finally beginning to suffer significant casualties—but the war is not being won. The third alternative: the government faces defeat and must be rescued via significant foreign support, including U.S. advisers, trainers and, perhaps, troops. This last scenario, remote but not unthinkable, generates countless complications for the rest of Latin America.The reason has largely to do with Washington politics. A rescue mission would risk American casualties. As a result, neither Congress nor public opinion would welcome an armed intervention, even in the guise of an anti-drug crusade. On security grounds—i.e., the United States cannot countenance a "revolutionary" regime in Colombia, whatever that means—it is almost an impossible sell in the post-cold-war world. So if the White House—either Clinton's or his successor's—were to decide that Pastrana and the Colombian armed forces cannot survive without outside assistance, Washington would in all likelihood pressure other nations in the region to provide it: the gulf war and Kosovo strategy with a Latin American twist. But which nations? Not Hugo Chavez' Venezuela. It clearly sympathizes—actively or passively, it's hard to tell from one moment to the next—with the guerrillas. Peru and Ecuador are vulnerable to armed-strife spillover. So the main responsibility would fall on Brazil, which would be hard pressed to act without consulting its main Mercosur partner, Argentina.Here the plot thickens and the entire affair becomes more interesting. While it is not inconceivable that the Brazilian armed forces could be persuaded to seal their Amazonian border with Colombia, closing off their territory to guerrilla activity, the government of President Fernando Henrique Cardoso and the Itamaraty Foreign Office will not easily abandon their traditional anti-interventionist stance, much less lead the interventionist charge. Argentina after Carlos Menem will no longer automatically side with Washington; it's doubtful the era of "carnal relations" with the United States, as outgoing Foreign Minister Guido di Tella labeled it, will continue under incoming President Fernando de la Rua. And finally, of course, there is Mexico.The Mexican Foreign Ministry has traditionally opposed U.S. intervention in Latin America. But what really agitates Mexico City is Washington-led "Inter-American Peacekeeping," as in the Dominican Republic in 1965, in Nicaragua in 1979, in Panama in 1989 and even in Haiti in the 1990s. For Mexico, anti-interventionism is a matter of principle, and direct self-interest. Indeed, embracing U.S. involvement, or even passively acquiescing to it, could set a precedent for Mexico itself, a nation increasingly hard-put to control, let alone defeat, its mammoth drug cartels. If Mexico were to countenance an American intervention in Colombia on drug-enforcement/counterinsurgency grounds, it could find itself eating its own words a few brief years from now. So in all likelihood Tlatelolco, the Mexican Foreign Ministry, will resist any attempt to follow the United States on this issue, despite Mexico's obvious alignment with Washington on many other matters, and its diminishing capability to sustain a foreign policy of its own.The lesson: events in Colombia force countries in the region to get down to business. Each country has to define its position and policy not only in view of existing conditions, but also in the light of what it thinks may happen, particularly if it wishes to influence subsequent events. The absence of cold-war certainties makes this process much more arduous. The looming crisis in Colombia makes Central America, the contras in Nicaragua, the FMLN in El Salvador and the international ramifications of the region's convulsions in the 1980s pale in comparison. Colombia is of another magnitude; the headaches and nightmares it can unleash are much more painful and terrifying. And no one can count on Washington to step in and make everything better.If Colombia gets into serious trouble, it will be up to the neighbors to ride to the rescue.By Jorge G. CastanedaNewsweek InternationalDecember 20, 1999 © 1999 Newsweek, Inc. Related Articles:Colombia Rebels Kill 47 On Panama Border - 12/13/99 Rebel Storm Marine Base On Panama Border-12/13/99 
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Comment #1 posted by Roger Christie on December 14, 1999 at 07:32:20 PT:
Oh, the irony of it...
Dear People,Aloha from Doha. I read a while ago that as the U.S. military advances into Colombia it will be required to fight and operate at higher and higher altitudes where the cocaine is produced. Since the most common and safest remedy for altitude sickness in South America is...coca tea... Hmmmmm....Will U.S. soldiers be issued coca, in one form, or another, to fight ... the war against coca?   All the best to you and yours        RogerP.S. Enjoy the LARGEST fullmoon, reportedly since 1866,   this coming Dec. 22nd, also the winter solstice!                          
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