The recent suspension of peace talks in Colombia by the Colombian government has the terrible potential to bring US forces openly into a war in that country that can only truly be resolved when the rich no longer rob the poor. This turn of events seems closely linked not only to a renewed confidence in the ranks of the Colombian military thanks to the funding provided it by Plan Colombia, but also to the new warmongering in Washington. As even a casual reader of the news probably knows, both the Colombian military and certain elements in the US national security apparatus have wanted to destroy the revolutionary elements in Colombia for years. These same elements had hoped that this was their time.
Up to this point in the civil war, much of the government’s dirty work against the popular movements has been undertaken by the various paramilitary organizations. These organizations are comparable to the death squads that ran rampant in El Salvador during the 1980s and the various “counterterror” teams that killed thousands in southern Vietnam during America’s war there. Although they receive surreptitious funding from various US and Colombian government agencies, these groups are not officially part of any government-sponsored military. This arrangement works out nicely for the official militaries in that they can keep their hands relatively clean by leaving the massacres of farmers and laborers and their leaders to the paramilitaries. In turn, once the massacres are complete in a particular area, the regular military can come in and take the territory, all the while denying any knowledge of the bloodshed that preceded them.
This deniability is possible primarily because the United States military overseers conspire with the military in the pretense that there is no coordination between the military and the paramilitary groups-a coordination that is not merely due to circumstance, but is part of the government’s battle plans. But isn’t the government fighting the paramilitaries, as well, you may ask? The answer is no. If one explores the history of these organizations, s/he will discover that most of them grew out of individual soldiers’ dissatisfaction with the limitations placed on them in the regular military. Indeed, many members of the paramilitaries are members of the regular military as well, much like many Klansmen in some parts of the United States are also members of police forces. It is very likely that the lines between the paramilitaries and the regular military will become blurred even further as the battle between the Colombian government and its opposition intensifies.
In addition, as the military action on the ground intensifies, particularly between the anti-government FARC and the military, more and more noncombatants will find themselves under fire, whether they be indigenous folks, labor union members, human rights and social workers, or just people trying to make a living in this country where close to 50% of the population lives in poverty. Many of these same people have already seen their crops destroyed, their bodies poisoned and their land made barren by the fumigation going on in the country under the guise of the “war on drugs.” Should the military conflict spiral out of control, there will be no room for those committed to bringing social and economic justice to Colombia via non-military means. Already, these forces are taking a back seat to the armed forces, much to the dismay of many progressive Colombians. This is what the Colombian military and the ruling oligarchy want. Why? Because then the US can justify an open intervention in Colombia’s civil war–something it would have a difficult time doing even in today’s warmongering climate. Right now, uniformed US forces can operate in an advisory manner only and must leave any fighting up to the Colombians and various mercenary forces contracted by the CIA. This is why it is very important for all those opposed to US intervention in Colombia to band together and demand a cessation of all US military, CIA, DEA and other meddling in the Andes region, whether it is under the guise of fighting drugs, guerrillas, or defending oil pipelines.
Like a friend of mine said over the holidays as we watched the news: the United States attack on Afghanistan has made it okay for any country that the US supports to forgo long bouts of diplomacy and go straight to war as long as that attacking government says they are fighting terrorism. It’s even handier if they can throw in a phrase or two that speaks of defending democracy. Indeed, GW recently asked for another $100 million to train Colombian forces to protect US oil pipelines and provide US air support for these troops. This means that the US has taken the mask off and will no longer distinguish between its counternarcotics and counterinsurgency efforts in Colombia. Indeed, from the North American perspective, it seems like the FARC wants war as much as the Colombian government, especially in light of the plane hijacking on February 20, 2002. What is not apparent to us, however, (primarily because the US media does not report it), is that the government and paramilitary forces have never stopped attacking and killing the guerrillas and the civilians who live in the areas held by the FARC. So, when we hear of a spectacular action by the guerrilla forces, it is usually in response to an action by the US-supported forces that is not reported in our media.
There are several groups in North America working against the US presence in Colombia. In recent weeks some of them have stepped up their work and are asking individuals to join them at their meetings. Current projects include mobilizing for a week of protest and lobbying in Washington, DC in April and organizing a variety of actions around the continent to raise people consciousness about the war in Colombia. Now that the peace talks are suspended and all-out war seems to be on the horizon, these efforts are certain to increase. Please consider joining them.
Mr. Ron Jacobs is the author of “The Way the Wind Blew: A History of the Weather Underground” (Verso, 1997).