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November 5, 2004

Colombia: Bush's Triumph Gladdens Uribe, Scares Others

by Jim Lobe

BOGOTA - Many Colombians have expressed deep concern over U.S. President George W. Bush's reelection, while others share the enthusiasm of right-wing Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, Washington's closest ally in Latin America.

"I want to congratulate President Bush on his victory, Senator [John] Kerry for this beautiful campaign, both of them for this example of democracy, and the people of the United States for the efficiency and efficaciousness of their democracy," Uribe told the press Wednesday.

Merci Viana, a spokeswoman for the governing U.S. Republican Party in Miami, told the Colombian television newscast RCN that the vote of Colombian immigrants weighed in favor of Bush in southern Florida.

An elderly Colombian woman who lives in Miami said she urged her 30 relatives, "all naturalized U.S. citizens," to vote for Bush as a Christmas present to her, "which they all did," she told the cameras, smiling.

Viana also said the aid to Colombia will continue to flow. She was referring to the $2.37 billion in military and police assistance that the Bush administration has sent to Colombia so far, according to the Washington-based Center for International Policy.

Colombia is the third-largest recipient of U.S. military aid in the world, after Israel and Egypt. In the past five years, a total of $4 billion has gone into the Plan Colombia anti-drug and counterinsurgency strategy and, more recently, the Plan Patriot military offensive.

In June, the U.S. Senate voted in favor of doubling the number of U.S. military personnel in Colombia, to a total of 800, and to increase the official number of civilians contracted by the Pentagon (the U.S. Defense Department) for Colombia to 600.

The advisers, soldiers, and contractors are providing military assistance to the Colombian army in the Plan Patriot offensive in southern Colombia, which was launched this year against the rearguard of the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

FARC is a guerrilla group that has been fighting for 40 years. It is classified as a "terrorist organization" by the U.S. government.

According to Uribe, there is no armed conflict in Colombia, but merely "a society fighting against terrorist outlaws."

The Colombian leader identifies with Bush in his "war on terrorism," and went so far as to comment, when the U.S.-led invasion of Iraq began in early 2003, that once "that problem" was solved, the occupation forces could intervene in Colombia to fight the leftist rebels.

"I am going to say something very frank: the hope is that the situation in the Middle East will become so complicated for the United States that it will not focus on the crisis in the Andean region, and in Colombia in particular," historian and political scientist Jaime Zuluaga, with the Institute of Political and International Studies (IEPRI) at the National University of Colombia, told IPS.

"Because if they are able to somehow straighten out the situation in Iraq, I have no doubt that the military pressure will increase greatly" in this region, he added.

The anti-drug and counterinsurgency Plan Colombia was initially designed by members of the U.S. State Department under Democratic President Bill Clinton (1993-2001).

But the U.S. government claims that its military phase, Plan Patriot, for which the United States is providing advisers, was designed by the Colombian military.

Both Bush and his Democratic Party rival Kerry, who was defeated in Tuesday's elections, announced in their campaigns that they would continue to provide Uribe with military support.

But Kerry also pledged that if he won, his government would have less tolerance for human rights violations in Colombia, and he expressed concern over attacks on trade unionists and human rights activists in this South American country.

Kerry further stated that he would demand that the Colombian government sever the proven ties between the armed forces and the rightist paramilitary militias, which are responsible for 80 percent of the atrocities committed in the civil war, according to United Nations and Organization of American States (OAS) bodies.

Zuluaga noted that "the Bush administration certified that the Colombian government was complying with human rights standards," a requirement under U.S. law before military aid can be disbursed.

The U.S. Embassy in Bogota has warned that drug barons, including several who are facing extradition requests from the United States, are taking part in the negotiations between the Uribe administration and the paramilitaries, aimed at achieving the demobilization of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), the paramilitary umbrella.

Nevertheless, Bush is financing the OAS mission led by Argentine sociologist Sergio Caramagna, sent to verify compliance with agreements reached in the talks.

Bush's triumph "demonstrates that a majority of people in the United States are still afraid of the possibility of terrorist attacks, and are willing to sacrifice, as they are sacrificing in the United States, basic rights and freedoms in order to take what they see as a strong stance against terrorism, even though it has not been shown to be effective," said Zuluaga.

"Defeating Bush was one way to repudiate the unilateralist politics of the United States, its disregard for the role played by the United Nations, and its strategy of 'preemptive war,' which was applied in Afghanistan and Iraq."

In Colombia, "what will happen is, first, the Uribe-Bush alliance will be consolidated. I'm sure the American president will somehow reward Uribe's loyalty," he added.

"Second, I believe there will be a 'Plan Colombia II,'" he predicted. "If the United States is at least able to avoid being further bogged down in the quagmire it has found itself in, in Iraq, it will very likely commit itself, as has already been approved by the U.S. Congress, to an expansion of the military intervention in Colombia."

U.S. Ambassador to Colombia William Wood, the head of the U.S. army Southern Command James T. Hill, as well as State Department officials say the situation in Colombia is a threat to the entire region, and that FARC poses a real threat to U.S. national security.

"That has to do with the fact that they see the guerrillas as being financed by the drug trade, and also has to do with the three U.S. [military contractors] that the FARC has held" since February 2003, when they were kidnapped to be held along with the Colombian politicians, soldiers, and other captives that the rebels want to swap for imprisoned insurgents, said Zuluaga.

In the analyst's view, "there is a strategic design to develop new forms of intervention [by Washington] in Latin America, and control over Colombia is very important in order to have an influence over the Andean region, which remains one of the most unstable and politically explosive areas in the subcontinent."

In that scenario, "at least Ecuador and Peru will try to obtain stronger U.S. support to protect themselves from what they consider a threat from Colombia," especially from the flood of Colombian refugees into Ecuador, he predicted.

"In their weakness, and in their need for significant support from abroad, I believe they will continue to lend themselves to trying to seal off their borders with Colombia. What we will see are governments that are more committed to the fight against drug trafficking in line with the U.S. model," he said.

Both countries, which border Colombia to the south, have complained that the civil war is leaking out of Colombia, creating a security problem in the frontier regions.

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  • Jim Lobe, works as Inter Press Service's correspondent in the Washington, D.C., bureau. He has followed the ups and downs of neo-conservatives since well before their rise in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks.

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