FACING SOUTH EXCLUSIVE - Colombia becomes target of U.S. anti-terrorism war
North Carolina Rep. Ballenger pushes for widening of war; Connecticut and Texas-based military contractors ready to step up weapons production
By Jordan Green Institute for Southern Studies www.southernstudies.org
WASHINGTON, Oct. 19 -- Far from the battleground of the Middle East, the State Department signaled Monday that the United States would escalate military intervention in the nation of Colombia under the auspices of the new war against terrorism.
The new coordinated effort in Latin America and the Caribbean would use all means, including "where appropriate - as we are doing in Afghanistan - the use of military power," said Ambassador Francis X. Taylor, coordinator of State's Office of Counterterrorism.
The announcement marked a dramatic shift in the pretext for U.S. military involvement in Colombia from drug interdiction to eliminating "international terrorists threats to citizens, installations, and other interests," Ambassador Taylor said in statements following a meeting of the Organization of American States (OAS). The new strategy "involves all the elements of our national power as well as the elements of the national power of all the countries in the region."
The new initiative singles out left-wing movements in the region. Ambassador Taylor told Secretary-General César Gaviria, former president of Colombia, and members of the OAS, "We date the advent of modern terrorism from 1968 . when revolutionary movements began forming throughout the Americas." Although 24 of the 28 of the groups the State Department designates as "foreign terrorist organizations" do not have origins in the western hemisphere, Ambassador Taylor made special mention of two "terrorist" groups in the Andes region: Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia, or FARC, and Shining Path of Peru.
The State Department argues that the FARC, which controls over a quarter of the countryside, derives much of its funding from drug trafficking.
These groups join Colombia's leftist National Liberation Army, or ELN, in being designated as a "foreign terrorist organization." The ELN, according to the Center for Information Policy's Colombia Project, is a guerilla force that occupies approximately an eighth of the country and engages in routine attacks on oil pipelines and power lines.
Yet the State Department has also designated the right-wing Colombian paramilitary group AUC a terrorist organization. The AUC, whose longer name is United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, was added on Sept. 10. The AUC carried out two civilian massacres in the departments of Magdalena and Valle de Cauca on Oct. 10, leaving a total of 34 dead.
All these groups, said Ambassador Taylor, will "get the same treatment as any other terrorist group in terms of our interest in going after them and ceasing their terrorist activities."
Even before the Sept. 11 attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon ratcheted up the U.S. rationale for mobilizing its military forces around the world, U.S. military operations have steadily escalated in Colombia.
The $882 million FY 2002 aid package Congress is currently considering for Colombia is significantly less than the $1.3 billion laid out for FY 2001, but the military hardware from the original appropriation has still not been fully delivered. What the Colombian military isn't receiving is offset this year by increased aid to Peru, Ecuador and Brazil in the widening militarization policy known as the Andean Initiative.
That aid has been paying off handsomely for two U.S. defense contractors: Sikorsky Aircraft Corporation in Stratford, Conn. and Bell Helicopter Textron in Fort Worth, Tex. Earlier this year, Sikorsky received $24 million from the Pentagon to maintain a fleet of UH-60 Black Hawk helicopters for the Colombian Army and National Police.
In June, Bell Helicopter delivered the first of 12 UH-1H "Huey II" helicopter kits to Colombia, all of which are supposed to be in the country by the end of this year. Under the Clinton administration, Congress approved a total of 42 "Huey II" helicopters for use in Colombia, made in Fort Worth.
Ambassador Taylor's warning that the administration intends to widen the arena of conflict throughout the Americas put a long-held assertion in jeopardy - that U.S. military involvement in Colombia is assistance in eradicating coca production, not interference in the country's civil war. By targeting FARC and the ELN - the insurgents in the conflict - the U.S. has effectively erased the blurry line between assistance and intervention.
On Oct. 10, Ambassador Taylor spoke before the House Committee on International Relations, suggesting that there is evidence of links between the FARC and the Provisional Irish Republican Army as well as the Basque separatist group ETA. He added that in the tri-border area of Brazil, Argentina and Paraguay, "we see the long-standing presence of Islamic extremist organizations, primarily Hezbollah and, to a lesser extent, the Sunni extremist groups al Gama'at and HAMAS."
The ambassador's move to neatly tie together two interventionist strategies -- the War Against Drugs and counterterrorism -- and therefore open the door for protracted military involvement in the region found echoes on Capitol Hill, suggesting that the plan is gaining currency in Washington.
"Terrorism and drug trafficking cannot be handled as separated issues," Rep. Cass Ballanger (R-N.C.) stated at a House Hearing on Terrorism in Latin America the same day. "They go hand in hand."
Ballenger, a leading member of the Subcommittee on Western Hemisphere Affairs, went on to suggest that the FARC-controlled zone of Columbia is being used as "a safe haven to train and harbor terrorists."
Jordan Green is an editorial and research associate for the Institute for Southern Studies. (c) Institute for Southern Studies, www.southernstudies.org