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Enough! Accounting and Remembering the Long War in Colombia July 29, 2013

Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Drugs, Foreign Policy, Human Rights, Latin America, War.
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US military interventions differ greatly from each other. Some, like the one currently contemplated in Syria or the invasions of Kosovo and Haiti, are publicly rationalized as humanitarian in purpose, while others, such as the long occupation of Afghanistan, are purportedly in self-defense, and still others supposedly fight drug trafficking, as in Colombia and Mexico. Some involve enormous commitments of US troops and treasure, as in Iraq and Vietnam, while others involve a relatively small number of US personnel, as in El Salvador or the Philippines.

 

(Photo: n.karim/ Flickr)

But a constant among all such interventions is the stated belief of those propagating them that they will have a positive impact in the invaded nation. This may be a cynical ploy for US and international support, but the most effective prevaricators are those who have convinced themselves of the lie they tell or the myths they perpetuate. An antidote to such myths is the historical memory of the victims of wars where the United States has played a part.

That is the starting point of Basta Ya! Colombia: Memories of War and Dignity, released last week, and compiled over five years by the Group for Historical Memory. The 420-page report is the culmination of 24 volumes that focused on emblematic atrocities and cross-cutting issues of the war in Colombia since 1958. Basta Ya! overwhelms with statistics: 220,000 killed in the conflict, 81.5% of them civilians; 25,007 people forcibly disappeared; at least 4.7 million people displaced from their homes by the violence – one in every ten Colombians; more than 27,023 people kidnapped; 10,189 injured or killed by landmines; as well as people victimized by military recruitment of children, and sexual violence as a weapon of war.

Of nearly two thousand massacres documented in Colombia since 1980, 59% of them were committed by right-wing paramilitaries (often in alliance with the military and/or local political elites), 17% by guerrillas, 8% by the armed forces, and 15% couldn’t be determined.
But the experiences of victims and survivors are never far from these cold numbers: the absolute impotence of those who couldn’t stop the bloodletting, the silencing caused by the violence – which was one of its objectives, the collective fear after a massacre and the ways that selective killings took even more lives, the high levels of impunity for these crimes.

Last month, I sat with family members of a dozen people killed by army soldiers and police in Arauca, the oil-producing department near the Venezuelan border.  Most of the killings had occurred eight to ten years ago, but their cases are languishing in the criminal justice, with no movement at all. A reform to the military justice system this year increases the chances that these mothers and fathers will never see justice, and their dead children will continue to be stigmatized.

The United States has influenced the doctrine, weapons and operations of the Colombian military for decades, especially since Colombia fought alongside the U.S. in Korea. Washington dramatically escalated its involvement in the war between 1998 and 2002, just as it was generating its worst toll. The terrible synergy produced by the Bush administration’s brutal and cynical use of 9/11 with Colombia’s fatal reaction against failed peace talks created an alliance bent on war and militarization without end, while hypocritically certifying improvements in human rights. As paramilitary groups partially demobilized between 2003 and 2006, some of their perverse practices transferred back to the US-client Colombian Army, which adopted a “body count” strategy that became so mercenary that recruiters were paid to supply hundreds of men who were executed and counted as guerrillas killed in combat.

The authors of Basta Ya! clearly intended it for a Colombian audience. There is only a Spanish version, and comparisons made to show the scale of damage from the war are made to Colombian cities that most non-Colombians are unlikely to know. This could explain, at least in part, why the authors also give little attention to the role of the more than $8 billion in US assistance to the Colombian military and police, multinational corporations that have assisted paramilitary groups, or the international narcotics trade that also has financed much of the armed conflict. The focus is on national actors and relationships, many of them hidden and under-reported.

An accounting of what impact the United States has had on Colombia’s terrible suffering has yet to be made. Washington trumpets the success of its military assistance in Colombia, and is financing the exporting of Colombian military expertise to other nations in Latin America and around the world.

But the Pentagon and State Department are increasingly secretive about just what that assistance consists of. After the Fellowship of Reconciliation published a published a report in 2010 indicating that increased civilian killings were committed by US-aided Colombian Army units, the State Department pointedly classified its list of supported units. Similarly, after School of the Americas Watch began to more effectively use lists of Latin American graduates of the U.S. Army school to show how many had committed atrocities, the Pentagon began to systematically refuse disclosure of those names. With the United States spending $25 billion a year on foreign military and police aid, transparency about what units receive assistance is increasingly important for fiscal reasons, as well as a political and ethical imperative.

As human rights, peace, and solidarity activists work against reflexive US military adventures, the victims of wars where the United States takes part deserve the truth about how the U.S. impacted the conflict. This task of constructing and reconstructing memory will require work not just by projects in the affected countries, like Colombia’s Group for Historical Memory, but by researchers, activists, advocates, legislators, whistleblowers, and ordinary people in the United States as well. It is a necessary prerequisite to the United States’ own transformation.

John Lindsay-Poland is research director and southwestern regional coordinator of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, and author of Emperors in the Jungle: The Hidden History of the U.S. in Panama.

Georgetown University Welcomes Colombia’s Ex-Pres. Uribe September 7, 2010

Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Education, Human Rights, Latin America, Religion.
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Published on Tuesday, September 7, 2010 by CommonDreams.orgby John Dear

Next week on September 14th, thirteen friends and I will stand trial at the Nevada State Courthouse along the Las Vegas strip. Our infraction? Daring to walk on to Creech Air Force Base, headquartered in the Nevada desert, last year on Holy Thursday. We entered the premises to prayerfully call for an end to the U.S. drone fighter bombers.
 
Alas, our call was rejected, and after a tense stand-off with soldiers at the gate, the police arrived and arrested, handcuffed, chained, booked and held us in the Las Vegas jail for the night. Then in March, the government pressed charges against us, hoping to set an example of us and stop others from protesting our “drones.” So the struggle goes on.
 
Meantime, while preparing for trial, I received news of the latest church scandal, this brought on by the Jesuits themselves. Georgetown University has offered the former president of Colombia, Alvaro Uribe, a dictator with blood on his hands, a teaching post at its Walsh School of Foreign Service as its “Distinguished Scholar in the Practice of Global Leadership.” He begins work tomorrow.
 
Apparently, neither the university president nor the faculty nor the Jesuits have been apprised that lawyers are working to bring charges against him at the Hague for human rights violations. Indeed, GU, an ostensibly Christian university, might just as well have invited Marcos, or Somoza or Liberia’s Charles Taylor to teach. Seems to me, inviting Uribe shows how stone deaf GU is to the times. More, it is a complete betrayal of the Gospel of Jesus. The Jesuit mission is summed up this way: “to promote the faith that does justice.” Hiring Uribe shows how much, here in the U.S., the Jesuit mission has become bankrupt. At Georgetown, it’s “the faith that does injustice and makes war.”
 
I shouldn’t be surprised. Georgetown in particular has a long history of supporting U.S. warmaking. It has taken millions from the Pentagon, trained thousands of young Catholics how to kill (in its ROTC program), hired Henry Kissinger, welcomed the person who ordered the assassination of Romero, and supported warmakers from the Shah of Iran to Ronald Reagan.
 
My friends and I have a long history too–of speaking out. When I lived and worked at GU in the early 1980s, setting up the “D.C. Schools Project,” ROTC drilled right under my window in the Jesuit community, so I took my case to the university president himself, then Tim Healy, and exchanged a few heated words with him about GU’s collaboration with the U.S. war machine—a discussion he took none too kindly to. He responded by pulling strings to have me dismissed from the Jesuits. (Providentially, I was spared.)
 
So there’s history between us, the university and I. Still, I’m shocked. After years of campaigning to close the School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia, which these days predominantly trains Colombia’s military officers and soldiers who then participate with paramilitary death squads in killing and torturing tens of thousands of poor people in the last few years alone, I would expect the president, faculty, and Jesuits of Georgetown to know better.
 
“We are looking forward to having President Uribe join our university community,” GU President John DeGioia said recently in a statement. “Having such a distinguished world leader at Georgetown will further the important work of students and faculty engaging in important global issues.”
 
Is this his idea of a world leader? With so many heroes of peace and nonviolence to invite—from Archbishop Tutu to Mairead Maguire, or leaders here at home such as Kathy Kelly and Jim Wallis—I’m stunned that he can look forward to the arrival of one of the world’s most notorious mass murderers. Is this the kind of global leadership Georgetown teaches?
 
“President Uribe will bring a truly unique perspective to discussions of global affairs at Georgetown,” said Carol Lancaster, dean of the Walsh School of Foreign Service. “We are thrilled that he has identified Georgetown as a place where he will share his knowledge and interface with Washington, and I know that our students at the School of Foreign Service will benefit greatly from his presence.”
 
Friends and I have urged Georgetown’s leaders to disinvite Uribe, and have also begun a campaign to protest his presence. I personally asked Dean Lancaster on the phone to do everything she can to prevent Uribe’s arrival. To my chagrin, most everyone I speak with at Georgetown seems to know little about Colombia or Uribe, and refers to the State Department’s respect for him.
 
I say this without hyperbole—that should have been their first warning.
 
We all need to learn about Uribe’s 8-year tenure in Colombia, his corruption, the human-rights violations he sponsored, the widespread impunity—all with the backing of the Bush Administration. Human Rights Watch recently issued an open letter listing some of the human rights violations of the Uribe administration:

• More than 4 million Colombians (out of a population of about 45 million) have been forced to flee their homes, giving Colombia the second-largest population of internally displaced persons in the world after Sudan.
 
• More than 70 members of the Colombian Congress are under criminal investigation or have been convicted for allegedly collaborating with the paramilitaries. Nearly all these congresspersons are members of President Uribe’s coalition in Congress, and the Uribe administration repeatedly undermined the investigations and discredited the Supreme Court justices who started them.
 
• Colombia has the highest rate of killings of trade unionists in the world.
 
• A clandestine gravesite of 2,000 non-identified bodies was recently discovered directly beside a military base in La Macarena, in central Colombia. When the news became public, Uribe flew to the Macarena and said publicly that accusing the armed forces of human rights abuses was a tactic used by the guerrilla. These comments put the lives of those victims who spoke at the event in grave danger.
 
• Starting in 2008, reports came out that the Colombian military was luring poor young men from their homes with promises of employment, then killing them and presenting them as combat casualties. The practice not only served to stack battle statistics, but also financially benefited the soldiers involved, as Uribe’s government had, since 2005, awarded monetary and vacation bonuses for each insurgent killed. Human rights groups cite 3,000 or more “false positives.”

Georgetown’s appointment of Uribe is “shameful,” Jesuit theologian Jon Sobrino said last week in El Salvador. “Uribe is a symbol of the worst that has happened in the tragic conflict in Colombia. There is a great deal of blood involved here, a very great deal. ”
 
“Does this appointment reflect the mission and the Catholic and Jesuit identity of Georgetown?” Fr. Dean Brackley, a Jesuit professor at the UCA in El Salvador, writes. “This will, literally, cause scandal. The U.S. Congress has held up passage of the trade agreement with Colombia because it is a place where the government, under Uribe, has consistently failed to defend labor unionists from death squads. Uribe is widely accused of having had direct links to the paramilitary groups who have massacred countless innocents. Whether or not those charges are true, he has irresponsibly and cruelly accused human rights activists in Colombia of collusion with ‘Communist terrorists,’ endangering their lives.”
 
A few years ago, I traveled to Colombia to see for myself. There I learned about the U.S.-backed war against the poor waged by Uribe under the guise of a “war on drugs.” I learned how the repressive Colombian government, under the democratically elected but dictatorial President Uribe, a drug benefactor and close friend of George W. Bush, killed some ten thousand people a year, leaving 200,000 dead in the last twenty years. This war isn’t about drugs but about expropriating Colombia’s rich land and natural resources, from the indigenous people to the U.S. and multinational corporations.

In Bogota, Colombia, I met one of the world’s leading voices for human rights, Fr. Javier Giraldo, a Jesuit priest whose institute has documented all the killings and massacres in Colombia. For his efforts, he’s suffered countless death threats, especially under the Uribe regime. Last week, my friend Fr. Giraldo wrote to me about the situation, and I share his letter here, so we can all learn about Colombia and the disgrace of Georgetown’s hiring of Uribe:

“I write to you with great concern regarding the fact that Georgetown, our Jesuit University, has hired the outgoing president of Colombia, Álvaro Uribe, as a professor. I am constantly receiving messages from individuals and groups who have suffered enormously during his term as president. They are protesting and questioning the mind-set of our Society, or its lack of ethical judgment in making a decision of this kind.
 
It is possible that decision makers at Georgetown have received positive appraisals from Colombians in high political or economic positions, but it is difficult to ignore, at least, the intense moral disagreements aroused by his government and the investigations and sanctions imposed by international organizations that try to protect human dignity. The mere fact that, during his political career, while he was governor of Antioquia Province (1995-1997) he founded and protected so many paramilitary groups, known euphemistically as “Convivir” (“Live Together”), who murdered and “disappeared” thousands of people and displaced multitudes, committing many other atrocities, that alone would imply a need for moral censure before entrusting him with any responsibility in the future.
 
But not only did he continue to sponsor those paramilitary groups, but he defended them and he perfected them into a new pattern of legalized para-militarism, including networks of informants, networks of collaborators, and the new class of private security companies that involve some millions of civilians in military activities related to the internal armed conflict, while at the same time he was lying to the international community with a phony demobilization of the paramilitaries.
 
In addition, the scandalous practice of “false positives” took place during his administration. The practice consists in murdering civilians, usually farmers, and after killing them, dressing them as combatants in order to justify their deaths. That is the way he tried to demonstrate faked military victories over the rebels and also to eliminate the activists in social movements that work for justice.
 
The corruption during his administration was more than scandalous, not just because of the presence of drug traffickers in public positions but also because the Congress and many government offices were occupied by criminals. Today more than a hundred members of Congress are involved in criminal proceedings, all of them President Uribe’s closest supporters.
 
The purchase of consciences in order to manipulate the judicial apparatus was disgraceful. It ended up destroying, at the deepest level, the moral conscience of the country. Another disgrace was the corrupt manner in which the Ministers closest to him manipulated agricultural policy in order to favor the very rich with public money, meanwhile impeding and stigmatizing social projects. The corruption of his sons, who enriched themselves by using the advantages of power, scandalized the whole country at one time.
 
In addition, he used the security agency that was directly under his control (the Department of Administrative Security) to spy on the courts, on opposition politicians, and on social and human rights movements, by means of clandestine telephone tapping. The corrupt machinations he used to obtain his re-election as President in 2006 were sordid in the extreme, with the result that ministers and close collaborators have gone to jail.
 
He manipulated the coordination between the Army and the paramilitary groups that resulted in 14,000 extrajudicial executions during his term of office. His strategies of impunity for those who, through the government or the “para-government,” committed crimes against humanity will go down in history for their brazenness.
 
The decision by the Jesuits at Georgetown to offer a professorship to Álvaro Uribe is not only deeply offensive to those Colombians who still maintain moral principles, but also places at high risk the ethical development of the young people who attend our university in Washington. Where are the ethics of the Society of Jesus?”

Javier’s closing question leaves me trembling. For years, many of us, including Jesuits and Georgetown students, have protested the U.S. government’s training of tens of thousands of Colombian soldiers at Fort Benning’s “School of the Americas,” derided by the more prophetic among us as the “School of the Assassins.” With the hiring of Colombia’s former president who commanded those death squads, now Georgetown itself has become the “School of the Assassins.” A kind of SOA Adjunct, Mid-Atlantic.
 
I urge people everywhere to call or write Georgetown University’s president and protest Uribe’s presence on campus, and to push Georgetown to cut its ties with dictators, warmakers and the Pentagon. For further information, visit the School of the Americas website at www.soaw.org and the Colombia Support Network at www.colombiasupport.net.
 
As I head to Las Vegas for trial, I grieve that our struggle to end war and injustice is so often stymied by the church itself, and in this case, my own religious order. But I’m heartened by the reaction of so many people, and the organizing that has sprung up around this scandal. I hope someday Georgetown University, and every Jesuit and Catholic institution, will become a school of justice, nonviolence, and human rights.

John Dear is a Jesuit priest, peace activist, and author of twenty five books on peace and nonviolence. His latest book, Daniel Berrigan: Essential Writings (Orbis), is now available, as well as John Dear On Peace: An Introduction to His Life and Work by Patricia Normile. John’s other recent books include, A Persistent Peace (his autobiography, from Loyola Press), and Put Down Your Sword, (Eerdmans) a collection of essays on nonviolence.  He writes a weekly column for the National Catholic Reporter at www.ncronline.org. To follow the trial of the Creech 14, go to www.vcnv.org. To contribute to Catholic Relief Services’ “Fr. John Dear Haiti Fund,” go to: http://donate.crs.org/goto/fatherjohn. For further information, or to schedule a lecture or retreat on Gospel Nonviolence, go to www.johndear.org.

Seven New US Military Bases in Colombia Is Hardly a Move to the Left August 8, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Foreign Policy, Latin America.
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(Roger’s note: more of Obama’s “Plus ca change … you can believe in.”)
 
Published on Friday, August 7, 2009 by CommonDreams.org

by Moira Birss

In a recent edition of the Wall Street Journal, Mary Anastasia O’Grady laments an apparent shift left in the Obama administration’s Latin America policy.  Clearly, O’Grady hasn’t been keeping up to date with current events. If she had been, she would have heard about negotiations underway between the U.S. and Colombia to establish at least seven U.S. military bases in Colombia. Last I heard, folks on the left tend to oppose increased militarization; it’s tough to see seven new military bases as a move to the left.

Why is the Obama administration pushing for these bases, despite having previously criticized Colombia’s human rights record?

The Administration’s goals for the military facilities are “filling the gaps left by the eventual cutting of [military] aid in Plan Colombia,” according to sources in Washington and Bogotá. The proposed bases, replacements for the soon-to-closed U.S. base in Manta, Ecuador, would serve to expand the U.S. military’s counter-narcotic operations in the region, deepen involvement in Colombia’s counterinsurgency war, and combat “other international crimes,” according to Colombia’s Foreign Minister.

Despite these hints at the intention of the bases, many serious questions remain.  In fact, even the Colombian Congress has yet to receive detailed information from the Uribe administration, despite repeated official requests.  Nonetheless, on Tuesday Uribe began a South America tour to convince his regional counterparts of the plan, despite not having briefed his own Congress.

Such secrecy is worrisome. Fellowship of Reconciliation’s John Lindsay Poland, who has spent years studying U.S. military bases around the world, writes, “the locations of the bases under negotiation raise further questions. None of them are on the coast of the Pacific Ocean, where aircraft from the Manta base patrolled for drug traffic – supposedly with great success, reflecting how traffic has increased in the Pacific. Three of the bases are clustered near each other on the Caribbean coast, not far from existing U.S. military sites in Aruba and Curacao – and closer to Venezuela than to the Pacific Ocean. Why are U.S. negotiators apparently forgoing Pacific sites, if counternarcotics is still part of the U.S. military mission? What missions ‘beyond Colombia’s borders’ are U.S. planners contemplating?”

Even if we had answers to these questions, however, there exist plenty more reasons to be wary of the bases.

In cooperating with the Colombian army, the U.S. would be demonstrating support for an institution with an atrocious human rights record.  More than 1,000 civilians have been murdered by the Colombian army in recent years, in a criminal attempt to portray them as guerrillas in order to raise the number of guerrillas killed in combat. Proposing these seven bases unmasks Obama’s previous statements calling for the improvement of Colombian’s human rights record as merely lip service.

Colombian forces aren’t the only ones to worry about: U.S. military forces will be not be bound by Colombian law and will potentially get away with all kinds crimes. US negotiators have made it known that “even if they won’t interfere in the exercise of command by Colombian officers on the bases, they will ensure the autonomy of U.S. military forces when operations go beyond Colombia’s borders.” And there is precedent that validates these concerns. In 2007 two U.S. soldiers carrying out a Plan Colombia mission in the small town of Melgar raped a 12-year-old girl, and have yet to be punished.  When confronted by the girl’s mother, the soldiers were quoted as saying, “Yeah, we raped her, so what?  We are in Colombia, the law doesn’t affect us.” An all too accurate depiction of the US military’s mentality in Colombia.

These bases would lack oversight in the financial arena as well.  While Plan Colombia funding has been open for Congressional debate, funding for US military activities has not. Congress would therefore exercise little to no control over the funding – and therefore the actions – of the bases in Colombia.

The many unanswered questions and ominous possibilities that come with seven new US bases have raised alarms among Colombia’s neighbors, fueling serious regional tensions. Venezuela has frozen diplomatic relations, and Ecuador has threatened “increased military tensions” over their concerns about the increased U.S. presence in the region. Brazil’s President Lula said last week he was “not happy” at even one base being handed over for U.S. operations.

Many Colombians are opposed as well, backed up by the fact that such an agreement would bypass Article 173 of the Colombian Constitution, which prohibits the presence of foreign troops except in transit, and then only after legislative approval. Multiple protests have been held in downtown Bogota, and a national day of action is being planned for August 7 – the national holiday celebrating the Colombian armed forces – as opposition to these military bases grows.  

The bases agreement has not yet been signed; there is still time to convince Colombian and U.S. leaders to scrap the idea.  The Fellowship of Reconciliation has compiled a bilingual (English and Spanish) resource page for those opposing the bases: www.forcolombia.org/bases, and asks that you call the White House Comment Line (202-456-1111) today to say NO to military bases in Colombia.

Moira Birss is current serving in Colombia as a Human Rights Accompanier with the Fellowship of Reconciliation. Moira has also worked on researching community-based models of alternative economies, advocating for affordable housing, and promoting environmental protection.

Two Colombian Generals Face Charges June 9, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Foreign Policy, Latin America.
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Sherwood Ross

www.opednews.com

consortiumnews.com
June 8, 2009

Two Colombian generals, both of whom received training at the U.S. Army’s “School of The Americas”(SOA) at Ft. Benning, Ga., have been accused by authorities there of crimes involving narcotics and collaborating with criminal paramilitary groups, according to a report in the June 15th issue of The Nation magazine.

Brig. Gen. Pauxelino Latorre has been charged “with laundering millions of dollars for a paramilitary drug ring, and prosecutors say they are looking into his activities as head of the Seventeenth Brigade,” investigative journalist Teo Ballve reports, noting that criminal probes repeatedly linked Latorre’s unit “to illegal paramilitary groups that had brutally killed thousands” of Colombian farmers in an effort to seize their land for palm oil production.

Another general, Rito Alejo Del Rio, former Seventeenth Brigade leader, is in jail on charges of collaborating with paramilitaries, gangs that have been responsible for widespread atrocities.  He also received training at SOA.

Various firms engaged in palm oil development since 2002 apparently have received $75 million in U.S. Agency for International Development money under “Plan Colombia,” Ballve writes. And some of the firms appear to be tied to narco-traffickers, “in possible violation of federal law.” The writer notes Colombia’s paramilitaries are on the State Department’s list of foreign “terrorist” organizations.

“Plan Colombia is fighting against drugs militarily at the same time it gives money to support palm, which is used by paramilitary mafias to launder money,” The Nation quotes Colombian Senator Gustavo Petro, as saying. “The United States is implicitly subsidizing drug traffickers.”

President Alvaro Uribe has urged Colombians to increase palm production from 750,000 to 15 million acres to cash in on the expected boom in biofuels.

“Oil palm, or African palm, is one of the few aid-funded crops whose profits can match coca profits,” Ballve notes. But human rights groups have long accused palm companies, notably Urapalma, of cultivating stolen lands, he adds.

Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, has attached an amendment to this year’s Plan Colombia funding (for 2010) to ban palm projects that “cause the forced displacement of local people” but in the bill’s current draft, Ballve says, Leahy’s amendment is marked for deletion.

Urapalma submitted a grant application to the Bogota, Colombia, offices of ARD Inc., a rural development contractor based in Burlington, Vermont, which The Nation reports does business in 43 countries and has received $330 million in revenue from USAID.

In January, 2003, ARD began administering $41.5 million for USAID’s Colombia Agribusiness Partnership Program and Urapalma was one of its beneficiaries. Urapalma has been accused of taking land illegally from Colombian peasants.

In July, 2003, just before Urapalma’s USAID application, Colombia’s national daily El Tiempo reported that “the African palm projects in the southern banana region of Uraba are dripping with blood, misery, and corruption.” The region is where Urapalma is active.

The Nation article goes on to report that in 2003, the Inter-American Court of Human Rights singled out Urapalma for collusion with paramilitaries in these words: “Since 2001, the company Urapalma SA has initiated cultivation of the oil palm on approximately 1,500 hectares of the collective land of these communities, with the help of ‘the perimetric and concentric armed protection of the Army’s Seventeenth Brigade and armed civilians’”, i.e., paras.

All of the above, of course, has gone on by fleecing American taxpayers, courtesy of SOA and USAID.  

Sherwood Ross formerly worked for The Chicago Daily News and other major dailies and as a columnist for wire services. He currently runs a public relations firm for “worthy causes”-. Reach him at sherwoodr1@yahoo.com.

Sherwood Ross has worked as a publicist for Chicago; as a reporter for the Chicago Daily News and workplace columnist for Reuters. He has also been a media consultant to colleges, law schools, labor unions, and to the editors of more than 100 (more…)

New Military Base in Colombia Would Spread Pentagon Reach Throughout Latin America May 30, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Foreign Policy, Latin America.
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Written by John Lindsay-Poland  www.upsidedownworld.org  
Friday, 29 May 2009
Source: Americas Program, Center for International Policy (CIP)

The Pentagon budget submitted to Congress on May 7 includes $46 million for development of a new U.S. military base in Palanquero, Colombia.

The official justification states that the Defense Department seeks “an array of access arrangements for contingency operations, logistics, and training in Central/South America.”

The military facility in Colombia will give the United States military increased capacity for intervention throughout most of Latin America. The plan is being advanced amid tense relations between Washington and Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador, and despite both a long history and recent revelations about the Colombian military’s atrocious human rights record.

President Obama told hemispheric leaders last month that “if our only interaction with many of these countries is drug interdiction—if our only interaction is military—then we may not be developing the connections that can over time increase our influence and have a beneficial effect.”1

In this Obama is on point. This base would feed a failed drug policy, support an abusive army, and reinforce a tragic history of U.S. military intervention in the region. It’s wrong and wasteful, and Congress should scrap it.

The new facility in Palanquero, Colombia would not be limited to counter-narcotics operations, nor even to operations in the Andean region, according to an Air Mobility Command (AMC) planning document. The U.S. Southern Command (SouthCom) aims to establish a base with “air mobility reach on the South American continent” in addition to a capacity for counter-narcotics operations, through the year 2025.2

With help from the Transportation Command and AMC, the SouthCom noted that “nearly half of the continent can be covered by a C-17 without refueling” from Palanquero. If fuel is available at its destination, “a C-17 could cover the entire continent, with the exception of the Cape Horn region,” the AMC planners wrote.3

A U.S. Embassy spokesperson in Bogota said that negotiations are not yet concluded for the base.

The SouthCom is also pursuing access to a site in French Guiana that would permit military aircraft to reach sites in Africa, via the Ascension Islands, according to AMC.4 SouthCom apparently sought use of facilities in Recife, Brazil for the same purpose, but “the political relationship with Brazil is not conducive to the necessary agreements,” AMC wrote.

The lease for the U.S. “Forward Operating Location” in Manta, Ecuador expires in November 2009, and Ecuador notified Washington last year that it would not renew the lease. The facility in Manta was authorized to conduct only counter-drug operations. Yet, according to military spokesmen, drug traffic in the Pacific—where aircraft from Manta patrolled—has increased in recent years.5 U.S. forces in Manta also carried out operations to arrest undocumented Ecuadorans on boats in Ecuadoran waters. But public documentation of U.S. operations conducted from Manta does not indicate use of C-17 cargo aircraft, so their use in Palanquero apparently would represent an expanded U.S. military capacity in the region.

The “mission creep” in the proposal for continent-wide operations from Colombia is also evident in President Obama’s foreign aid request for Colombia. While the budget request for $508 million tacitly recognizes the failure of Plan Colombia drug policy by cutting funds for fumigation of coca crops, the White House is asking for an increase in counterinsurgency equipment and training to the Colombian Army.6

Colombian and U.S. human rights and political leaders have objected to continued funding of the Colombian army,7 especially after revelations that the army reportedly murdered more than 1,000 civilians and alleged they were guerrillas killed in combat, in order to increase their body count.8 The Palanquero base itself, which houses a Colombian Air Force unit, was banned from receiving U.S. aid for five years because of its role in a 1998 attack that killed 17 civilians, including six children, from the effects of U.S.-made cluster bombs.9 The United States resumed aid to the unit last year.

Colombian Defense Ministry sources said that Colombia was attempting to obtain increases in U.S. military aid as part of the base negotiations.10 Palanquero offers the U.S. military a sophisticated infrastructure—a 10,000-foot runway, hangars that hold more than 100 aircraft, housing for more than 2,000 men, restaurants, casinos, supermarkets, and a radar system installed by the United States itself in the 1990s.11

Colombian activists also point out that a new base at Palanquero would reinforce the existing U.S. military presence at other bases in Colombia, such as Tres Esquinas and Tolemaida. “The militarization of Palanquero is an obstacle to effective and visionary peace initiatives such as those promoted by communities throughout the country, as well as to the humanitarian exchanges developed by Colombians for Peace,” says Danilo Rueda of the Intercongregational Commission for Justice and Peace.12

“Colombian military bases where there are foreign—especially U.S.—soldiers, provide tangible evidence that in this country there is neither sovereignty, nor autonomy, nor independence,” says the Medellín Youth Network. The Palanquero base, the Youth Network says, “is the political lobby, is the payment and the legal lie so that the armed conflict generated by social inequality may be turned over to others.”13

U.S. law caps the number of uniformed U.S. soldiers operating in Colombia at 800, and the number of contractors at 600. Until last year, a significant number of them were intelligence personnel assigned to the effort to rescue three U.S. military contractors kidnapped by the leftist FARC guerrillas. With the rescue last year of the three contractors, many U.S. intelligence staff left Colombia, leaving space for soldiers to run operations in the prospective new U.S. base or bases.

Former defense minister and presidential candidate Rafael Pardo opposes the base. “That the Colombian government asks for a U.S. base now would be a serious error,” he says.14

Replacing one military base that was set up for the failed drug war with another base to intervene in South America and to support the abusive Colombian army would be a serious error for the United States as well.

End Notes

  1. CNN, “Obama: Summit of the Americas ‘productive’,” 19 April, 2009, at: http://www.cnn.com/2009/POLITICS/04/19/obama.latin.america/.
  2. “White Paper, Air Mobility Command, Global En Route Strategy,” p. 22, preparatory document for Air Force Symposium 2009—AFRICOM, at http://www.au.af.mil/awc/africom/documents/GlobalEnRouteStrategy.pdf.
  3. Ibid.
  4. “Global En Route Strategy,” p. 22.
  5. Chris Kraul, “Cocaine Culture Creeps into Ecuador,” Los Angeles Times, October 5, 2007, http://articles.latimes.com/2007/oct/05/world/fg-ecuadrugs5.
  6. Adam Isacson, “First Peek at the Obama Administration’s 2010 Aid Request,” 7 May 2009, http://www.cipcol.org/?p=848; see also: http://www.state.gov/f/releases/iab/fy2010/index.htm.
  7. In February 46 national and regional U.S. organizations urged Obama to terminate military aid to Colombia, while a letter from more than a hundred Colombian leaders urged a reformulation of policy, putting promotion of a negotiated end to the armed conflict at its center. See http://www.forcolombia.org/monthlyupdate/march2009#president.
  8. Nadja Drost, “In Colombia, Suspicious Deaths,” Global Post, 11 May 2009, at: http://www.globalpost.com/print/1280781. See also “426 militares han sido detenidos por ejecuciones extrajudiciales,” Semana, 11 May 2009, at: http://www.semana.com/noticias-justicia/426-militares-capturados-falsos-positivos/123701.aspx.
  9. Congregación Intercongregacional de Justicia y Paz, “Masacre en Santo Domingo, 13 de diciembre de 1998,” at: http://justiciaypazcolombia.com/Masacre-en-Santo-Domingo-Arauca.
  10. “Con traslado de base de Manta,” El Tiempo, 18 April 2009, at: http://www.eltiempo.com/colombia/justicia/con-traslado-de-base-de-manta-eu-tiene-en-la-mira-varias-pistas-del-suroccidente-del-pais_4877714-1.
  11. “De Manta a Palanquero?” Cambio, 2 November 2008, at: http://www.cambio.com.co/portadacambio/779/4234729-pag-2_3.html.
  12. Statement by Danilo Rueda, May 2009, at: http://www.forcolombia.org/rueda.
  13. Statement by Medellín Youth Network, May 2009, at: http://www.forcolombia.org/PalanqueroRed.
  14. “De Manta a Palanquero?”

 

John Lindsay-Poland co-directs the Fellowship of Reconciliation Task Force on Latin America and the Caribbean, in Oakland, California. He can be reached at johnlp(at)igc(dot)org.

Obama’s Real Plan in Latin America April 30, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Barack Obama, Colombia, Cuba, Latin America, Mexico, Venezuela.
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Written by Shamus Cooke   

 

Wednesday, 29 April 2009, www.towardfreedom.com

 

At first glance Obama seems to have softened U.S. policy toward Latin America, especially when compared to his predecessor.  There has been no shortage of editorials praising Obama’s conciliatory approach while comparing it to FDR’s “Good Neighbor” Latin American policy.

It’s important to remember, however, that FDR’s vision of being neighborly meant that the U.S. would merely stop direct military interventions in Latin America, while reserving the right to create and prop up dictators, arm and train unpopular regional militaries, promote economic dominance through free trade and bank loans and conspire with right-wing groups.

And although Obama’s policy towards Latin America has a similar subversive feeling to it, many of FDR’s methods of dominance are closed to him.  Decades of U.S. “good neighbor” policy in Latin America resulted in a continuous string of U.S. backed military coups, broken-debtor economies, and consequently, a hemisphere-wide revolt.

Many of the heads of states that Obama mingled with at the Summit of the Americas came to power because of social movements born out of opposition to U.S. foreign policy.  The utter hatred of U.S. dominance in the region is so intense that any attempt by Obama to reassert U.S. authority would result in a backlash, and Obama knows it.

Bush had to learn this the hard way, when his pathetic attempt to tame the region led to a humiliation at the 2005 Summit, where for the first time Latin American countries defeated yet another U.S. attempt to use the Organization of American States (O.A.S.), as a tool for U.S. foreign policy.

But while Obama humbly discussed hemispheric issues on an “equal footing” with his Latin American counterparts at the recent Summit of Americas, he has subtly signaled that U.S. foreign policy will be business as usual.

The least subtle sign that Obama is toeing the line of previous U.S. governments — both Republican and Democrat — is his stance on Cuba.   Obama has postured as being a progressive when it comes to Cuba by relaxing some travel and financial restrictions, while leaving the much more important issue, the economic embargo, firmly in place.

When it comes to the embargo, the U.S. is completely unpopular and isolated in the hemisphere.  The U.S. two-party system, however, just can’t let the matter go.

The purpose of the embargo is not to pressure Cuba into being more democratic: this lie can be easily refuted by the numerous dictators the U.S. has supported in the hemisphere, not to mention dictators the U.S. is currently propping up all over the Middle East and elsewhere.

The real purpose behind the embargo is what Cuba represents. To the entire hemisphere, Cuba remains a solid source of pride.  Defeating the U.S. Bay of Pigs invasion while remaining fiercely independent in a region dominated by U.S. corporations and past government interventions has made Cuba an inspiration to millions of Latin Americans.  This profound break from U.S. dominance — in its “own backyard” no less — is not so easily forgiven.

There is also a deeper reason for not removing the embargo.  The foundation of the Cuban economy is arranged in such a way that it threatens the most basic philosophic principle shared by the two-party system: the market economy (capitalism).

And although the “fight against communism” may seem like a dusty relic from the cold war era, the current crisis of world capitalism is again posing the question:  is there another way to organize society?

Even with Cuba’s immense lack of resources and technology (further aggravated by the U.S. embargo), the achievements made in healthcare, education, and other fields are enough to convince many in the region that there are aspects of the Cuban economy — most notably the concept of producing to meet the needs of all Cubans and NOT for private profit — worth repeating.

Hugo Chavez has been the Latin American leader most inspired by the Cuban economy.  Chavez has made important steps toward breaking from the capitalist economic model and has insisted that socialism is “the way forward” — and much of the hemisphere agrees.

This is the sole reason that Obama continues the Bush-era hostility towards Chavez.  Obama, it is true, has been less blunt about his feelings towards Chavez, though he has publicly stated that Chavez “exports terrorism” and is an “obstacle to progress.”  Both accusations are, at best, petty lies.  Chavez drew the correct conclusion of the comments by saying:

“He [Obama] said I’m an obstacle for progress in Latin America; therefore, it must be removed, this obstacle, right?”

It’s important to point out that, while Obama was “listening and learning” at the Summit of Americas, the man he appointed to coordinate the summit, Jeffrey Davidow, was busily spewing anti-Venezuelan venom in the media.

This disinformation is necessary because of the “threat” that Chavez represents.  The threat here is against U.S. corporations in Venezuela, who feel, correctly, that they are in danger of being taken over by the Venezuelan government, to be used for social needs in the country instead of private profit.  Obama, like his predecessor, believes that such an act would be against “U.S. strategic interests,” thus linking the private profit of mega-corporations acting in a foreign country to the general interests of the United States.

In fact, this belief that the U.S. government must protect and promote U.S. corporations acting abroad is the cornerstone of U.S. foreign policy, not only in Latin America, but the world.

Prior to the revolutionary upsurges that shook off U.S. puppet governments in the region, Latin America was used exclusively by U.S. corporations to extract raw materials at rock bottom prices, using cheap labor to reap super profits, while the entire region was dominated by U.S. banks.

Things have since changed dramatically.  Latin American countries have taken over industries that were privatized by U.S. corporations, while both Chinese and European companies have been given the green light to invest to an extent that U.S. corporations are being pushed aside.

To Obama and the rest of the two-party system, this is unacceptable.  The need to reassert U.S. corporate control in the hemisphere is high on the list of Obama’s priorities, but he’s going about it in a strategic way, following the path paved by Bush.

After realizing that the U.S. was unable to control the region by more forceful methods (especially because of two losing wars in the Middle East), Bush wisely chose to fall back a distance and fortify his position.  The lone footholds available to Bush in Latin America were, unsurprisingly, the only two far-right governments in the region: Colombia and Mexico.

Bush sought to strengthen U.S. influence in both governments by implementing Plan Colombia first, and the Meridia Initiative second (also known as Plan Mexico).  Both programs allow for huge sums of U.S. taxpayer dollars to be funneled to these unpopular governments for the purpose of bolstering their military and police, organizations that in both countries have atrocious human rights records.

In effect, the diplomatic relationship with these strong U.S. “allies” — coupled with the financial and military aide, acts to prop up both governments, which possibly would have fallen otherwise (Bush was quick to recognize Mexico’s new President, Calderon, despite evidence of large-scale voter fraud).   Both relationships were legitimized by the typical rhetoric: the U.S. was helping Colombia and Mexico fight against “narco-terrorists.”

The full implication of these relationships was revealed when, on March 1st 2008, the Colombian military bombed a FARC base in Ecuador without warning (the U.S. and Colombia view the FARC as a terrorist organization).  The Latin American countries organized in the “Rio Group” denounced the raid, and the region became instantly destabilized (both Bush and Obama supported the bombing).

The conclusion that many in the region have drawn — most notably Chavez — is that the U.S. is using Colombia and Mexico as a counterbalance to the loss of influence in the region.  By building powerful armies in both countries, the potential to intervene in the affairs of other countries in the region is greatly enhanced.

Obama has been quick to put his political weight firmly behind Colombia and Mexico.  While singing the praises of Plan Colombia, Obama made a special trip to Mexico before the Summit of the Americas to strengthen his alliance with Felipe Calderon, promising more U.S. assistance in Mexico’s “drug war.”

What these actions make clear is that Obama is continuing the age old game of U.S. imperialism in Latin America, though less directly than previous administrations.  Obama’s attempt at “good neighbor” politics in the region will inevitably be restricted by the nagging demands of “U.S. strategic interests,” i.e., the demands of U.S. corporations to dominate the markets, cheap labor, and raw materials of Latin America.  And while it is one thing to smile for the camera and shake the hands of Latin American leaders at the Summit of the Americas, U.S. corporations will demand that Obama be pro-active in helping them reassert themselves in the region, requiring all the intrigue and maneuvering of the past.

Shamus Cooke is a social service worker, trade unionist, and writer for Workers Action (www.workerscompass.org).  He can be reached at shamuscook@yahoo.com

Colombia: Paramilitary Chief Says He Helped Finance Uribe’s Campaign April 29, 2009

Posted by rogerhollander in Colombia, Latin America.
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Written by Constanza Vieira   
Tuesday, 28 April 2009
 (IPS) – Former Colombian paramilitary chief and drug lord Diego Murillo, alias “Don Berna”, testified in a U.S. court that he helped finance President Álvaro Uribe’s first election campaign, in 2002.

The president’s campaign chief denied the allegation.

“Don Berna” was sentenced Wednesday to 31 years in prison and fined four million dollars for conspiring to smuggle cocaine into the United States.

Murillo, 48, was extradited in a surprise move by Uribe on May 13, 2008, along with 13 other heads of the far-right paramilitary United Self-Defence Forces of Colombia (AUC), which formally disbanded in 2007 after engaging in demobilisation negotiations with the government from 2003 to 2006.

They were wanted by the U.S. justice system on drug trafficking charges.

During the trial in a New York courtroom, one of Murillo’s lawyers, Margaret Shalley, read out a statement depicting her client as a victim of Communist violence, a patriot who was left disabled – he has a prosthetic leg – and nevertheless continued generating money to help his people.

The lawyer asked federal U.S. District Judge Richard Berman to take into account, before sentencing her client, that he and the AUC backed Uribe’s presidential campaign in 2002, to which he contributed “large sums of money.”

When she was finished reading the declaration, the judge asked Murillo if he had any objection to what his lawyer had read out, and he said no.

Murillo said that using the money that he derived from drug trafficking was the only way to block the advance of the Communist guerrillas in Colombia.

This South American country has been in the grip of a civil war since 1964, when the leftwing guerrillas took up arms.

Murillo was sentenced to 375 months in prison on drug trafficking charges.

After the trial, Murillo’s Colombian defence attorneys approached Iván Cepeda, spokesman for the Movement of Victims of Crimes of the State (MOVICE), and told him that their client had asked that his support for Uribe be explicitly included in the statement read out by Shalley.

They also told Cepeda that Murillo was prepared to elaborate, before the Colombian justice system, on his allegations that incriminated Uribe, and to present proof, and said they hoped that this could be done as soon as possible.

The manager of Uribe’s 2002 and 2006 campaigns, Fabio Echeverri, said in Bogota that Murillo’s declaration was “false.”

Echeverri, who has been the spokesman for the National Association of Industrialists for 18 years, said the campaigns were financed by donations from companies and individuals, whose checks were deposited in a bank account after the origin of the funds was checked, a process that took between 15 and 20 days.

The Colombian government has not responded to Murillo’s statement.

The U.S. court did not agree to hear the testimony of any of Murillo’s victims.

At the time, the Colombian government promised that the extraditions would not interfere with the legal proceedings carried out under the so-called Justice and Peace Law, which was approved by Congress to facilitate the demobilisation of the far-right militias.

To that end, under an agreement with the U.S. authorities, Colombia’s attorney-general’s office and ministry of the interior and justice were to arrange for judicial cooperation with the U.S. courts.

Under the Justice and Peace Law, which laid out the rules for the demobilisation process, the maximum sentence was eight years for those who gave a full confession of their crimes.

The extradition agreement states that the sentences handed down to Colombians in U.S. courts could be no longer than the maximum penalties they would have faced in Colombia.

The opposition Liberal Party expressed strong concern over Murillo’s declaration. “At this point we cannot make a judgment, but we need to know the whole truth,” said its spokeswoman, Senator Cecilia López, who aspires to become her party’s presidential candidate.

The declaration implicating Uribe “in a U.S. court is extremely serious, and cannot be ignored,” Gloria Flórez, the head of the Minga Association, told IPS.

“The Colombian state has the obligation to open an investigation into the declaration made by Don Berna, in which he openly refers to financing the president’s campaign,” she said.

The constitution establishes that any investigation of the president has to be carried out by the lower house of Congress, and then the Senate. In case the charges involve criminal wrongdoing, the process is to be referred to the Supreme Court.

But Uribe’s supporters have a majority in both houses of Congress.

In any case, said Flórez, “the justice system has to move on this issue.”

“If it is true, he (Murillo) has to show the evidence. If it’s not true, it has to be clarified before society that the presidential campaign was clean and that there was no involvement by drug traffickers,” the human rights defender said. And in order to do that, she added, “legal proceedings must be initiated, to show society the truth.”

Flórez expressed “concern because there are no guarantees in the United States that action will be taken to find out the truth. Failing to listen to the victims of human rights violations in Colombia is part of that lack of guarantees.”

“All the United States is interested in is the drug trafficking issue. So where does that leave the question of reparations for the victims?”

During the demobilisation negotiations with the government, Murillo went by the name “Adolfo Paz”, portrayed himself as an AUC inspector, and wrote to journalists criticising their reports.

Before he became a leader of the AUC, which is accused of committing tens of thousands of human rights crimes, “Don Berna” was a leftist guerrilla in the Popular Liberation Army (EPL), which broke off from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) – the main rebel group – in the 1960s and barely exists today.

In the 1980s he became involved in the Medellín drug cartel, headed by the late notorious kingpin Pablo Escobar. But he then turned on his boss.

“Don Berna” was active in and around the city of Medellín where, according to Verdad Abierta, the biggest Colombian on-line archive on the paramilitaries, “he brought in votes for the candidates he backed.”

His henchmen in the area, who belonged to the Cacique Nutibara Bloc of the AUC, were the first to demobilise, in November 2003, when the government was still doubting whether to recognise “Don Berna” as a paramilitary leader, instead of just a drug lord.

A year earlier, in October 2002, in Operation Orión, troops allegedly acting in collusion with “Don Berna’s” men seized control of a poor Medellín district known as Comuna 13 to “cleanse” the area of FARC and National Liberation Army (ELN) guerrillas.

After the paramilitary demobilisation, some of the members of the Cacique Nutibara Bloc managed to get elected to Juntas de Acción Comunal, neighborhood councils that play the role of interlocutor with the state.

Verdad Abierta cites the case of William López, alias “Memín”, who was elected in October 2007 as a representative of Comuna 8, another Medellín neighbourhood, but was later arrested and sentenced for forced displacement and aggravated intimidation of voters.

 

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