We're Targeting A Colombia We Don't Understand

We're Targeting A Colombia We Don't Understand
Posted by FoM on April 02, 2000 at 06:36:29 PT
By James C. Jones
Source: Washington Post
Having worked among the peasants who grow drug crops in Colombia, where the continent's longest-running armed conflict continues to seethe, I am troubled by the misguided premise of the Clinton administration's proposed $1.3 billion Colombia aid package.
The declared goal of our Colombia policy is to staunch the flow of illicit drugs. But the aid package, which won House approval Thursday with a few modifications, will not control drugs--because our policy fails to recognize the roots of the conflict. In treating rebels as narco-guerrillas, the policy ignores their 36-year-old political agenda, which focuses on the needs of Colombia's forgotten rural citizens. The rebels come from a population that was forced long ago to colonize remote lands in order to survive; they must be understood first as peasants, then as insurgents. Instead, the package's emphasis on military intervention represents a blind zeal to check the vast spread of drug crops and contain the rebels whom U.S. officials hold responsible. That approach will serve only to prolong the decades of violence. It could even draw us into an ugly civil war, in a land where things are not what they seem.The aid package is directed primarily against the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, the country's major rebel group, which defends both drug traffickers and the legions of peasant coca farmers. The package will provide military support--better reconnaissance and helicopters for greater troop mobility and firepower--for the Colombian National Police in its efforts to eradicate coca by aerial spraying. The crop spraying will begin in Putumayo State, a southern FARC stronghold where about half of the country's coca is grown. The underlying assumption is that fortifying the armed forces will prompt the FARC to negotiate.I challenge this assumption and question the push into Putumayo. Recent history shows why: About four years ago, as the FARC began to deal crippling blows to Colombia's military, it also began to behave more like a regular army, amassing its forces and moving them openly. The aid package, with its promised helicopters and improved surveillance, is more likely to push FARC into its guerrilla mode than to bring it to the peace table. It could also inspire the rebels to launch an urban campaign of sabotage and assassination. If so, right-wing militias would probably retaliate with increased assaults on the civilian rural population that they think supports the FARC. In short, an already dirty war could get a whole lot dirtier.The sweep into Putumayo promises equally dire consequences. In 1996, tens of thousands of southern coca farmers marched in violent protest against aerial spraying and government neglect. Spraying makes refugees of the many who have no food crops and grow only coca. It enrages others who see it as a sign that their government has turned against them. Past experience has shown that these peasants look to the rebels, or drug traffickers, to grubstake them until they can farm coca elsewhere. It was after spraying reduced coca cultivation in Guaviare that the coca frontier shifted to Putumayo. It could shift again, perhaps across Putumayo's long border and into Ecuador, whose rickety government already faces serious rural unrest.U.S. officials are disingenuous when they say we are fighting drugs, not insurgents. The distinction is illusory. There is only one battlefield. The proposed aid will not only ratchet up the violence, it may well derail the ongoing peace process. And what incentive will there be for members of Colombia's extreme right, many of them militia sympathizers, to support that process once they realize they might be able to avoid making the concessions a negotiated agreement would inevitably require of them?That said, there is no doubt about the FARC's capacity for brutality. Its savage murder of three U.S. Indian-rights activists last year, and the death it routinely rains on innocent civilians in attacks on police outposts, are proof enough. The FARC emerged in 1964, when soldiers trained, equipped and supplied by the United States launched a massive land-air attack on Marquetalia, an armed colonist commune. Among those who escaped was the FARC chief, Manuel Marulanda, a seasoned guerrilla fighter who has now been on the run for 50 years. Images from this era dominate the vision and conduct of today's FARC leaders, who remain vehemently anti-American. They see the United States as fighting a proxy counterinsurgency war disguised as a crusade against drugs. They see the militias as an extension of the army. And they have no illusions: They know there is only one battlefield.The FARC's focus is local. Despite its worn Marxist rhetoric, there is little evidence that it seeks social revolution or national power beyond what it needs to bring about local change. Even the group's involvement in drugs reflects its peasant origins; it acts as broker, for example, between coca growers and drug buyers, thereby denying the two groups direct--and potentially violent--contact. For the time being, the FARC's drug involvement remains subservient to its political agenda. But that could change. Drug money is addictive. Should the FARC overdose on drug cash, which finances its operations, it could splinter into numerous armed bands, at war with each other, with the state and with society. That possibility is all the more reason to end the conflict soon.What also worries me is that our policy largely ignores the right-wing militias, or paramilitaries, which are in the pay of rich landowners, drug traffickers and businessmen--economic and power elites who want protection from the guerrillas. The militias have been torturing, murdering and uprooting peasants they suspect of rebel sympathies and are responsible for most of the refugees and the majority of the human-rights abuses. Since 1995, many of the militias have united in an alliance under the infamous drug trafficker Carlos Castano.The war between rebels and militias is fought in the countryside, where years of violence and poverty have weakened community bonds. There, mistrust and envy prevail. People react to imagined slights, view a neighbor's gain as their loss, and spread malicious rumors. The wantonly violent militias have injected fear into this distrustful atmosphere. This can lead the FARC to overreact, harassing anyone thought to harbor militia sympathies, executing those it believes are spies. I saw terror spread though a remote town in the demilitarized zone established by the government to entice the FARC to negotiate. As militias hovered on the zone's perimeter, the rebels went on high alert, readying locals for an anticipated army invasion, followed by what they felt sure would be a murderous militia spree. Streets emptied, road traffic thinned, a nervous silence gripped the town. The rebels posted pictures of Che Guevara in his starred beret, with one of his poetic calls to arms as the caption. And near each, a bucolic mural conveyed the dearness of home.Castano has promised to assassinate anyone who assists rural communities believed to support the rebels. That threat is a response to the Andres Pastrana government's offer (a cornerstone of its anti-drug policy) to extend rural development to FARC-held areas in return for rebel help in reducing coca. Not by chance did a rebel comandante once tell me not to worry, that the FARC would protect us in his area.Human rights groups rightly protest the ties Colombia's security forces have to these militias. But the state's cooperation with private armed forces has a time-honored legitimacy in Colombia. Already common by the 1950s, it continued alongside the increasing guerrilla threat. Governments in the 1960s passed laws letting the military arm civilians, as U.S. counterinsurgency experts advocated. In the '80s, the military encouraged landowners to create private armies much like those currently allied under Castano. And in the '90s, the government created armed civilian "self-defense" groups.Negotiating with the FARC is a prickly business to be sure. This stems from its isolation borne of long geographic seclusion, an organizational structure geared for war, and Colombia's yawning rural-urban divide and exclusionary class system. The rebels are distrustful and unlikely to abandon their weapons soon. They have already tried a political approach, forming a party in 1985. But its popular support in municipal elections alarmed landowners, who hired militias that killed more than 3,000 party supporters, candidates and elected officials. The most we can realistically hope for from talks at this point is that the FARC agrees to a cease-fire.The Pastrana government's negotiating team has won some credibility with the rebels in current talks. There are two areas in which prompt change might bring peace much nearer: agrarian reform, especially land reform, and neutralizing the militias. The government has long stalled on both fronts. Pastrana's recent cashiering of several military officers for their alleged militia links is far from adequate.The United States, meanwhile, must support the very peace process that our proposed military aid imperils. We should work to provide the assistance that Colombia needs--and needs soon--to carry out reform. We should lower our profile, encourage European assistance, and give more space and resources to the United Nations, which enjoys some credibility among the rebels and could therefore play an important role in the peace process. If Colombia's government can forge the domestic consensus it needs, and if our government can draw more on its intellectual assets and less on its military ones, there is a reasonable chance that peace--and drug control--can come about. Stranger things have happened.James Jones, a Washington-based consultant, served from 1997 until July 1999 as a regional adviser to the U.N. International Drug Control Programme in Colombia, Peru and Bolivia. The views expressed here are his own. By James C. JonesSunday , April 2, 2000 ; B02 2000 The Washington Post Company Related Articles:One Tough Plant Approves $12.7 Billion in Emergency Spending Conquistador, Feds Unveil New Strategy Drug War's Southern Front Is Our Drug Policy Failing? Don't Ask Other Drug War - Newsweek Money - Arianna Huffington - Salon Magazine 
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Comment #5 posted by dddd on April 02, 2000 at 23:34:14 PT
"Slight ommission"
 Kaptinemo hits the nail on the head. We dont hear much about big oil interests in Columbia.I'll bet that the first areas that our brand new helicopters decimate,and secure,will be where the oil is. Actually this should not be that surprising.Most of the recent military actions taken recently have been for oil. I think this one is the most covert,devisive,and notorious yet. Look at the way that the puppet media has spoonfed the public building up to this. I think this was a carefully planned thing,and the "spin doctors",will be scrambling to cover up the atrocities to come. It's ridiculous,and obvious how the "news",subverts the attention of the public from important issues. A good example is this Elian Gonzales thing.This story has been so idioticly blown out of proportion,it's sickening.May Jah Shine on You......dddd
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Comment #4 posted by kaptinemo on April 02, 2000 at 14:05:09 PT:
A slight omission makes all the difference
The FARC emerged in 1964, when soldiers trained, equipped and supplied by the United States launched a massive land-air attack on Marquetalia, an armed colonist commune. Among those who escaped was the FARC chief, Manuel Marulanda, a seasoned guerrilla fighter who has now been on the run for 50 years. Images from this era dominate the vision and conduct of today's FARC leaders, who remain vehemently anti-American. They see the United States as fighting a *proxy counterinsurgency war disguised as a crusade against drugs. They see the militias as an extension of the army.* (Emphasis mine) And they have no illusions: They know there is only one battlefield.' Not entirely correct, Mr. Jones.You forgot to mention who the main targets of the FARC are. Oil Companies. Where are the oil companies headquartered? The US. Do the oil companies interfere with Colombian national sovereignty? Yes. Do the Colombian people like that? No. 
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Comment #3 posted by smithy on April 02, 2000 at 14:00:13 PT
I think McCrappie is correct.
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Comment #2 posted by Tom Paine on April 02, 2000 at 11:25:30 PT
More Democrats than Republicans resist WAR fever!
Colombia Drug War bills in Congress. Resisted more by Democrats than Republicans. Section of webpage called: U.S. Rightist Republican DRUG WAR. Huge LINKS list! GOP Holy War. Revised edition.*Colombia SHORTCUT URLs for CannabisNews searches; set to search for Colombia-related newspaper, magazine, activist, press release articles, etc.. and click: following is an excerpt from a March, 2000 DRCnet ezine article. Note in the last paragraph the preponderance of Democrats voting (unsuccessfully) to strip out the military drug war aspect of the bill. Thursday, March 29, [2000] the House of Representatives was expected to vote on and pass an Emergency Supplemental Appropriations bill (H.R. 3908), including a $1.7 billion anti-drug assistance package to Colombia and its Latin American neighbors, championed by drug czar Barry McCaffrey and some conservatives in Congress. Amendments that would have eliminated the Colombia package, or stripped out the military component, were rejected on the House floor on Wednesday [March 29, 2000].The Colombia package has been more controversial that its proponents expected, however, and human rights, Latin America and drug policy reform advocates were encouraged by the degree of opposition shown on both sides of the Congressional aisle. Rep. Jim Ramstad (R-MN) held a press conference with Sylvester Salcedo, a retired Navy Lt. Commander who has come out against the drug war, and Ramstad presented an amendment to eliminate the Colombia package (see interview below).The Ramstad amendment received 158 votes in favor, 89 Democratic, 68 Republican and 1 independent. (Visit to see who voted for and against.) An amendment by Rep. David Obey (D-WI), eliminating the military portions, received 186 votes, 127 Democratic, 58 Republican and one independent (results at ).Drug War, Death Squad LINKS worldwide. Revised. Huge LINKS list. Please forward. So far, various versions of the webpage are found in a few places. Click: --latest revised webpage.
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Comment #1 posted by Puritan on April 02, 2000 at 10:01:55 PT
How many must die?
Clinton and McCrappie (or is it McCaffrey? I am not sure so feel free to choose the most appropiate) how many thousands of lives are you willing to sacrifice in order to continue this utter insanity called the War on Drugs? Or is it that since these are Columbians that are dying (read: less than human foreigners) and not red blooded Americans it is ok? And to think that Clinton was a anti-war prostestor during the Vietnam War - what an absolutely astounding hypocrite. Sirs, the blood of thousands, ten of thousands, maybe even more will be on your hands for this ghastly inappropiate policy that has absolutely zero chance of success.
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