> World Socialist Web Site http://www.wsws.org
> Republicans, Clinton White House back funding for US military intervention
> in Colombia
> By Patrick Martin
> 5 April 2000
> The US House of Representatives voted March 30
> to approve $1.7 billion in funding for counterinsurgency
> warfare in Colombia which will include a Vietnam-style
> deployment of US advisers and military helicopters against
> peasant guerrillas. The 263 to 146 vote came after a two-day
> debate in which there were frequent comparisons between the
> early stages of the US intervention in Vietnam and the present
> conditions in the Andean region of South America (Peru, Bolivia
> and Ecuador as well as Colombia).
> The center of the aid package is the provision of 30 Blackhawk
> and 33 Huey helicopters for the Colombian Army and police forces,
> together with hundreds of US advisers and technicians to keep the
> equipment in order and instruct Colombian soldiers in its use. In
> addition, some $470 million in training and equipment will go
> directly to the Colombian army and $115.5 million to the police,
> including the establishment of two new specialized
> anti-drug battalions.
> Majorities in both parties voted to support the huge increase in
> military spending in Colombia, which came as part of a $12.6
> billion emergency appropriations bill providing for additional funds
> for US military operations in Kosovo, as well as disaster relief in
> North Carolina and other states. The margin among Republicans
> was 143-61, while Democrats gave their support by a vote of 119-84.
> Both the Republican leadership, headed by House Speaker Dennis
> Hastert, and the Clinton White House supported the bill.
> The immediate prospects for final passage of the bill are unclear
> because of a procedural dispute between Senate and House
> Republican leaders over how much of the additional spending
> contained in the House bill should be loaded onto emergency
> legislation and how much should be included in normal
> appropriations bills, which will go through Congress much
> more slowly. But all of the funding for operations in Colombia
> and neighboring countries is certain of final passage and approval
> by the White House.
> The congressional Republicans more than doubled the Colombia
> funding requested by the White House Office of Drug Policy. The House
> Appropriations Committee added $500 million to the program's budget,
> for assistance to Bolivia, Ecuador and Peru, and $282.5 million for a
> high-tech communications surveillance system for federal drug
> enforcement officials. At the same time they blocked proposals to
> increase funding for drug rehabilitation efforts at home as well as
> a proposed reduction in the crippling debt burdens of the countries
> in the Andean region.
> Bipartisan majorities voted down amendments aimed at reducing
> the scale of the US role in the fighting in Colombia, a civil war which
> has raged for four decades. Only one such limitation was approved,
> an amendment offered by conservative Mississippi Democrat Gene
> Taylor to place a ceiling of 300 on the number of US advisers who
> could be deployed at any one time in the South American country.
> There is no limitation, however, on the total number of US military
> personnel active in the region, including those engaged in electronic
> surveillance and aerial attacks on guerrillas, most of whom operate
> from bases outside Colombia.
> The extent of the US involvement in the Andean region is largely
> unknown to the American public, and the debate over US policy
> there has been confined to elite circles in Washington. The issue
> did not arise in the presidential nomination campaigns in either party,
> and neither Bush nor Gore has made any recent statement on the
> But for nearly a year the Pentagon has been preoccupied with the
> strategic and logistical problems created by the hand-over of Howard
> Air Base in Panama, part of the return of the Canal Zone to Panamanian
> sovereignty. Most US surveillance flights over the Andes originated from
> Howard Air Base, and only a series of makeshift substitutes have been
> found, including the Dutch-controlled islands of Aruba and Curacao
> in the Caribbean.
> The US military had expected to develop an airfield at Manta, a Pacific
> Ocean port in Ecuador within easy range of both Colombia to the north
> and Peru to the south, but the political and economic crisis in Ecuador
> delayed negotiations to obtain base rights and a long-term deal was
> only reached at the end of 1999. The Air Force expects to complete
> installation of navigation and safety equipment by mid-May, in what
> will be the first major US air base on the South American mainland.
> Passage of the Colombia aid package was hailed by Barry R. McCaffrey,
> the White House drug policy director. The retired general declared, "This
> program will strengthen democratic government, the rule of law, economic
> stability and human rights in that beleaguered country." If history is any
> guide, however, McCaffrey is wrong on every count.
> The huge influx of US aid will intensify the social inequality in the South
> American country, as a narrow stratum at the top of Colombian society
> enriches itself and the masses of poor peasants face a rain of destruction
> from the newly mobile armed forces. The Colombian economy, already
> mired in debt and facing a drastic decline in earnings for commodity exports
> other than cocaine, will not be able to withstand the shock of increasing US
> penetration. As for human rights and the rule of law, these simply do not
> exist in a country where right-wing death squads act with virtual impunity
> against opponents of the financial oligarchy which controls the two parties,
> Conservatives and Liberals, that have alternated in power since World
> War II.
> The major rebel group in Colombia, the Revolutionary Armed Forces
> of Colombia, or FARC, has conducted guerrilla operations in the rural
> areas, with greater or lesser success, since the 1960s. The politics of
> FARC is an eclectic mixture of nationalism, Castroism and peasant
> radicalism, and the group's leaders have engaged in a constant search
> for bourgeois allies, from narcotics traffickers to officials of the New York
> Stock Exchange, who at one point traveled to Colombia to give the
> guerrillas lessons in capitalism.
> After an attempt at rapprochement with the political establishment
> in the 1980s, in which it established a legal political party whose
> elected officials and leaders were systematically murdered by the
> death squads, FARC returned to guerrilla warfare and has won
> significant support in the past four years. Entire provinces of the
> country, including much of the south and the trans-Andean region,
> where most peasant coca farmers live, are controlled by the
> For a period the US government seemed inclined to approve an
> agreement between FARC and the government in Bogota, along
> the lines of similar settlements with peasant-based guerrilla groups
> in El Salvador and Guatemala. But in the past year the Clinton
> administration, under heavy pressure from congressional Republicans,
> has shifted towards a policy of seeking the military destruction of the
> FARC, in the name of fighting "the war on drugs."
> It is indicative of the politics of official Washington that both parties
> embrace the notion that the problem of drug abuse in the United
> States, a byproduct of the social decay of American capitalism, can
> be dealt with by bombing and strafing impoverished peasants
> thousands of miles away.
> Behind the rhetoric of fighting drug abuse, long-time operatives for
> American imperialism are casting a more cold-eyed look at the
> military, economic and political significance of northwestern South
> America. According to one analysis published last month in the
> Washington Post, "The greatest difference between Colombia and
> Vietnam is, paradoxically, that Colombia matters strategically and
> immediately to the United States. It is the keystone in an arch of
> troubled countries in the Western hemisphere, from the turmoil
> of Venezuela on one end, through the Panama Canal, the fragile
> Central American states and lawless Mexico on the other. It is at the
> forefront of northern Latin America's backward plunge into caudillo
> politics, institutional decay, resurgent corruption and murder as a
> business tactic. Drugs that originate in or pass through Colombia
> have done far more harm to Americans and our society than
> the Vietnam War. Oil from Venezuela and Colombia is crucial
> to our economic welfare."
> This column, written by Ralph Peters, a retired army counterinsurgency
> specialist, acknowledges, "The current Bogota government lacks any
> moral weight beyond a drab incumbency. Its 'democracy' is little more
> than a tool of the rich and empowered." He suggests that US policy be
> directed towards producing "a regional consensus for intervention"
> which would avert the stigma of unilateral US military action if the
> Colombian regime collapses.
> In other words, the "drug war" is rapidly becoming a real war, not
> only in Colombia, but throughout the Andean region, a territory far
> larger than Vietnam in area and with jungles and mountains even
> more forbidding, and at the same time vital to the profits of American
> multinational corporations and to the wider strategic interests of
> American imperialism.