by Michael Radu
The author notes favorably the Colombian government’s decision, faced with the collapse of the three-plus-year truce with the revolutionary FARC, to confront that group as a terrorist organization. He calls for U. S. aid—not troops—to Colombia in the context of the anti-terrorism war, not just to combat drug trafficking.—Ed.
On February 20, President Andres Pastrana of Colombia, whose term ends in August, finally realized he had no chance of achieving peace with the Colombian Armed Revolutionary Forces (FARC) and garnering the Nobel Peace Prize he seems to have coveted. Giving in to reality and common sense after thirty-seven months of assiduous work on the “peace process” with the communist insurgents, he formally declared an end to the peace discussions that have been the centerpiece of his presidency.
The immediate result was the abolition of the 42,000-square-kilometer demilitarized zone (the size of Switzerland) he granted FARC in 1998. Pastrana purportedly decided to abolish the zone in response to FARC’s hijacking of an airliner and the kidnapping of a senior Colombian senator aboard it earlier that week. Few in Colombia or elsewhere accept this explanation, since throughout Pastrana’s presidency FARC has engaged in kidnappings, hijackings, recruiting, coca cultivation and cocaine trafficking and imposed “Stalinist-style people’s law” in the demilitarized zone, without serious reaction from the “peace president.”
However, it would be unfair to blame Pastrana alone, or even primarily, for the failure of the peace process. Considering Colombia’s dependence on foreign support—military, political and economic— outsiders must share some of the blame.
SPONSORS OF FAILURE
To begin with, the European Union has consistently conditioned any meager economic aid it might give Colombia on the continuation of the “peace process,” a behavior consistent with its insistence on a failed peace process in the Middle East and its present opposition to any military action against Iraq.
Others also contributed to keeping Pastrana on the “peace course.” These included Lutheran churches in Germany, which sponsored and financed similar and equally fruitless “talks” with FARC’s little Marxist brother, the National Liberation Army (ELN). The European Union also implicitly recognized FARC as a legitimate political actor by granting its representatives quasi-diplomatic status while restricting legitimate Colombian military responses to the insurgency by invoking human rights.
Human rights NGOs are also responsible for the bloody course of events, most notably Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, not to mention openly leftist groups such as the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) and their supporters or elected spokesmen in the U.S. Congress, such as Senator Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), all of whom weakened the Colombian government’s ability to establish its authority throughout the national territory.
The pretext used by the rich international NGOs, their Colombian branches and local satellites—Colombia has almost half of Latin America’s “human rights” NGOs, most funded externally and by some FARC fronts—was the activities of Colombian anti-Marxist vigilante groups, now organized, centralized, rapidly growing and led by the Colombian United Self-Defense Forces (AUC). AUC does indeed depend on drug trafficking (as well as voluntary support from FARC’s victims), but less so than FARC; they engage in the killing of “civilians”—usually (but clearly not always) the “civilian” FARC/ELN militants (the classic “peasant by day, guerrilla by night” types). What is different is that the AUC, though using unorthodox guerrilla-type tactics and unsavory funding sources, have never engaged in any form of attack or even rhetoric against the United States (or other foreign) interests, citizens or companies.
On the other hand, the almost total destruction of the pro-Castro ELN is due far more to the AUC than to the Colombian armed forces. The AUC see themselves as (and act like) allies of the state. Hence they are not involved in attacks against the military or police. While certainly often criminal in their behavior, they do not seek to overthrow the democracy or capitalism in Colombia. The AUC problem grows out of state weakness and the resulting citizen demands to take law into their own hands in self-defense.
By contrast, the main target of the NGO-EU-Leahy axis, however good their intentions may be, was always the AUC and the Colombian armed forces and police, rather than the far more deadly Stalinist project of the FARC/ELN. As a result, for years the U. S. Congress, the EU, and associated NGOs have worked together effectively to force the Colombian government to open a third, tactically unnecessary and indeed self-defeating front—against the AUC—at a time when the Colombian military was obviously unable to cope with the main enemy: the Stalinist totalitarian FARC/ELN threat.
Which brings us to the role and responsibility of the United States, both its executive and the legislative branches. For almost a decade, and certainly since the 1990s, the lingering legacy of Vietnam and Central America, as well as sympathy for the Left on the part of influential members of Congress, made Congress leery of supporting effective military aid to Colombia, out of fear of another counterinsurgency, another hopeless imbroglio. On the other hand, no one in U.S. government could deny Colombia’s role as the main provider of cocaine and heroin to the United States.
The solution was to formally separate the “war on drugs”approach from the anticommunist (after all, is communism not supposed to be dead?), counterinsurgency reality. Hence, the Clinton and Bush administrations, with Congressional support, both represented their aid to Colombia as counter-narcotics efforts rather than as attempts to address the more threatening, and closely related, insurgency problem. Hence the tragicomic decision by the Bush Administration (and the Clinton Administration before it) to make a deal with the Congressional (and Democratic) Left whereby “the U. S. will help Colombians fight drug production and trafficking, but it must remain only an open secret that such aid is actually intended to fight the communist protectors, sellers, and beneficiaries of that production and trafficking. Hence, the U. S. could sell or give helicopters to Colombia under Clinton’s $1.2 billion Plan Colombia (which Bush recast as the Andean Initiative), but only if Colombia somehow distinguished between “real” narcos and FARC’s Stalinists in using it. No counter terrorism, please! On September 10, Secretary of State Colin Powell designated the AUC a “foreign terrorist organization,” putting it officially in the same category as the FARC and ELN whose continued existence—under a government hamstrung from taking strong action against them—had led to the formation of the AUC, to defend against the FARC and ELN.
Presidents Clinton and Bush both made the mistake of confusing matters such as the already vague definition of “international terrorism” the U. S. is at war with in order to obtain help from the Congressional Left, only further confusing the situation for Pastrana.
THE IMPACT OF SEPTEMBER 11
September 11 helped Pastrana see the light, as indeed it similarly helped President Bush, but Washington deserves only secondary credit: the Colombian people also finally realized that “peace” at any price—the slogan of most of their elites, NGOs, and outside helpers—is suicidal. The proof of this is the polling trajectory of the presidential candidates for the May 26 elections.
The year-long front runner, Horacio Serpa, boss of the Liberal Party machine and a strong advocate of Pastrana’s “peace at any price” approach toward FARC, went from leading in the polls in January to running nineteen points behind at the beginning of February to less than thirty percent support at the end of that month. He is now unlikely to even make it to the second round, if one is required, of the presidential election.
Noemi Sanin, a nice successor to Pastrana’s conservative candidacy, is sliding into oblivion.
Ingrid Betancourt, a rebel scion of one of Colombia’s aristocratic families, founder of the Oxygen-Green Party, and favorite of the American and European Left, had only 0.6 percent support before she was kidnapped by FARC this past weekend at a roadblock on the way to the demilitarized zone (a trip that was either motivated by solidarity with townspeople, as her supporters claim, or irresponsible, as government and military officials who had warned Betancourt against the trip assert; see “Colombian Candidate Noted for Flair,” New York Times, Feb. 25, 2002).
So far, the winner would be Alvaro Uribe Velez, a dissident former Liberal governor of Antioquia, Colombia’s most populous province, who, virtually alone and for months, declared Pastrana’s policy morally and politically bankrupt and advocated firmness, law and order, international military and security help, and the arming of civilians against the Stalinist Left. From being irrelevant in 2001, Uribe went to thirty-nine percent support in the polls in January and is now at fifty-three percent. If this support holds, it will eliminate the need for a second round. Uribe’s popularity seems to indicate that the Colombian people have finally recognized the nature and the goals of the FARC.
CHANGING THE CAMPAIGN
The Bush Administration, to its credit, took advantage of Pastrana’s “decision” to discard the pretension of separation between counternarcotics and counterinsurgency U. S. aid and is now supporting aid to Colombia against terrorism. One could only hope that Democrats in Congress, especially in the Senate, will agree. That the FARC/ELN terrorists happen to be Marxist-Leninist, involved in drug trafficking, and internationally connected (with the Irish Republican Army, Chilean Marxist terrorists, and the Spanish ETA Marxist separatists) is no accident: it is natural, and it is why they should naturally be a target in America’s war on terror.
Hence, all the previous artificial requirement that U. S. aid to Colombian military units be restricted to counternarcotics operations should be removed. Indeed, all notions that U. S. help to Colombia’s law-and-order organizations should be conditioned according to standards set by Senator Leahy and assorted human rights NGOs should be rejected in the name of the higher goal of defeating international terrorism wherever it is. Senator Leahy expressed concern in his February 4 reaction statement on the president’s proposed FY2003 budget, which increases aid to Colombia, that “For the first time, the administration is proposing to cross the line from counternarcotics to counterinsurgency. Now, as a matter of our national policy, this is no longer about stopping drugs but about fighting the guerrillas.” One might add “And it’s about time.”
Fortunately, Pastrana’s term in office is virtually over, and hence Washington would gain little from commenting on his actions. Nor does sending U. S. troops to Colombia even need to be considered. Colombians themselves, if properly supported, armed, and politically protected from the European Left and the associated NGOs can and should be able to defeat the FARC/ELN themselves. That, ultimately, is the best contribution Colombia could offer to the war on terrorism.
Published by permission from Foreign Policy Research Institute E-Notes, March 1, 2002, distributed by fax and e-mail. FPRI is located at 1528 Walnut Street, Suite 610, Philadelphia, PA 19102-3684 USA.
For information, contact Alan Luxenberg at 215-732-3774, ext. 105, or email email@example.com.