Supporting Atrocities in Colombia

Human Rights Watch recently drew our attention to a recent spate of killings by armed groups in Colombia, gone virtually unreported here. On July 2, members of the Marxist guerrilla group Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) murdered seven civilians. FARC is very much against the U.S.-supported government of Colombia and has been wreaking havoc on the people for a very long time, receiving most of their funding from the lucrative drug trade. But incidents like the one on June 25, wherein eight civilians were murdered and some in late June and early July, where armed men shot and killed numerous indigenous leaders, have been attributed to disparate successor groups to right-wing paramilitaries formerly associated with the United Self-Defense Forces of Columbia (AUC). The successor groups to the AUC “regularly commit massacres, killings, forced displacement, rape, and extortion, and create a threatening atmosphere in the communities they control” often targeting “human rights defenders, trade unionists, victims of the paramilitaries who are seeking justice, and community members who do not follow their orders.” Seventeen massacres, “resulting in 76 deaths, were reported between January and May,” according to Human Rights Watch. “Successor groups,” said the report, “contributed to a 34 percent increase in massacres in 2010, the highest annual total since 2005.”

Why are the rising AUC-tied atrocities particularly germane to the concern of Americans? Because they are intricately tied with the Colombian government which is enthusiastically supported by the U.S. government. Plan Colombia, of course, is a U.S. plan to concentrate military and counter-narcotics cooperation and aid to Colombia under the pretext of fighting the Drug War and left-wing guerrilla groups (like FARC). Even if it means supporting equally vicious right-wing terrorists and perpetuating problems with the drug trade.

The most infamous widespread offense as of late regarding the Colombian government’s tolerance of and even collusion with these paramilitary groups was the para-political scandal, summarized well in this Congressional Research Service report (starting on page 15).

Since the scandal broke, numerous Colombian politicians have been charged with ties to paramilitary groups. Former Foreign Minister Maria Consuelo Araujo was forced to resign due to the investigation into her brother’s and father’s connections to the paramilitaries and their involvement in the kidnapping of Álvaro Araujo’s opponent in a Senate election. In December 2007, Congressman Erik Morris was sentenced to six years in prison for his ties to the paramilitaries, the first member of Congress sentenced in the ongoing scandal. In February 2008, the former head of Colombia’s Department of Administrative Security (DAS), Jorge Noguera, was formally charged with collaborating with paramilitaries, including giving paramilitaries the names of union activists, some of whom were then murdered by the paramilitaries.

In April 2008, Mario Uribe, a former senator, second cousin, and close ally of former President Álvaro Uribe, was arrested for colluding with the paramilitaries. On February 21, 2011, Mario Uribe was convicted of aggravated conspiracy to commit a crime and sentenced to seven and a half years in prison.60 Suggesting the widespread fallout from the para-political scandal, the State Department has reported that of Colombia’s 2006-2010 Congress, 128 former representatives (out of the 268 total) were accused of having paramilitary ties.

Virtually the entire government had ties to these terrorist groups, and many powerful elements within the government attempted to obstruct the criminal investigations addressing those ties. But it goes deeper than just ties with corrupt politicians. The Colombian police forces ignore the crimes committed by these groups and allow them to operate freely in various communities.

In Nariño, for example, one man complained that “the Black Eagles interrogate us, with the police 20 meters away… [Y]ou can’t trust the army or police because they’re practically with the guys.” In Urabá, a former official said the police in one town appeared to work with the successor groups: “It’s all very evident… The police control the entry and exit [of town] and … they share intelligence.” In Meta, an official said he received “constant complaints that the army threatens people, talking about how ‘the Cuchillos’ [the main successor group in the region] are coming… In some cases, the army leaves and the Cuchillos come in.”

Which introduces the other terrorist element in Colombia being directly supported by the U.S. government: the Colombian military. Due to an army policy which rewarded high body counts of leftist guerrillas, Colombian soldiers engaged in systematic massacres of Colombian civilians, dressing their dead bodies in the garb of the guerrilla fighters in order to inflate military body counts. The Prosecutor General’s human right’s team investigated “more than 1,200 cases of extrajudicial executions,” prompting the then-U.N. Special Rapporteur Philip Alston to write in 2009 that “the sheer number of cases, their geographic spread, and the diversity of military units implicated, indicate that these killings were carried out in a more or less systematic fashion by significant elements within the military” (CRS report, p 18-19).

The drug war aspects of this U.S. funded campaign of atrocities is similarly troubling. Programs of aerial eradication of drug crops (a crime in and of itself) give the impression this is really about drugs, but the fact that these U.S. supported terrorist groups receive probably a majority of their revenues from the drug trade, being “directly involved in processing cocaine and exporting cocaine from Colombia,” counters against that impression.

There are, however, both military and economic benefits to the U.S. government which apparently outweigh the nightmarish suffering being endured by the Colombian people for well over a decade. Initially, legislation in support of Plan Colombia was passed as part of the Military Construction Appropriations Act of 2001 and

On October 30, 2009, the United States and Colombia signed an agreement to provide the United States access to seven military facilities in Colombia to conduct joint counternarcotics and anti- terrorism operations over a 10-year period. The seven facilities include three Colombian air force bases at Palanquero, Apiay, and Malambo; two naval bases; and two army installations (CRS, p 32).

At the same time, the Obama administration has stepped up efforts to exploit Colombia’s oil production for the benefit of U.S.-based corporations.

The humanitarian situation in Colombia is dire. But not only is it barely reported here in the U.S., but Obama has received exactly zero flack for being a party to these ongoing atrocities. A popular opening phrase here at Antiwar.com has become, “depending on how you qualify a war…” Well perhaps Colombia ought to be tagged on that growing list of countries our interventionist in chief is terrorizing through imperial policy.