Colombia War: "Highest Priority"


                                                                               by Kim Alphandary


 Narco News,  25 March 2002
Centre for Research on Globalisation (CRG), , 5  April 2002

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A war is being fought in Colombia right now. A six month war plan is in place. The offensive is called "Operation Thanatos," named after the Greek god of death and is divided into three phases.

Colombia is currently fighting its largest insurgency group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in its own territory. A 42,139-square-kilometer area of Colombia was given to them three years ago in an effort to establish a peace process, known as the demilitarized zone, or neutral zone.

The first phase of the offensive is set to destroy rebels' logistical positions, together with bombing, and is to take six weeks. The second stage includes the penetration of counter-guerrilla troops throughout rural areas occupied by the rebel group; it is aimed at retaking the territory and will last for 15 weeks. The third will consist of the permanent installation of battalions and counter-insurgency units in the five municipalities.

On February 20th, Colombian President Andres Pastrana made the dramatic decision to rupture the Peace Talks by ordering the armed forces to retake the neutral zone, giving only two and a half hours notice before sending planes and helicopters to bomb the zone. There was virtually no time to organize protection; civilians in the demilitarized zone were immediately engulfed in war.

The first day of the campaign, warplanes and helicopters flew more than 200 aerial bombardments were carried out that night, dropping 500lb bombs; three civilians were reported dead.

Within hours after the army offensive began, rebel units struck back, focusing on infrastructure. The FARC blacked out wide sections of the country by dynamiting electrical substations and transmission lines, blasting bridges, and blocking key highways across the country.

The Colombian military bombed targets to coincide with elite Rapid Deployment Forces, backed by dozens of Air Force paratroopers sweeping into the zone. Most of the 13,000 ground troops deployed to the region are engaged in war, in and around the zone.

The zone has been bombed continuously since February 21st, causing forest fires, and destroying homes, highways, and bridges throughout the region. Many more deaths are expected as a result of the bombing.

Hostilities have increased all over the country. Battles are being fought between Government troops supported by paramilitaries against guerrilla groups.

Six of the country's 32 provinces have been affected dramatically, plunging that part of the country into chaos and fear. The civilian population is increasingly isolated from the rest of the country; they are without roads or river communications, or fuel for generators. Residents are suffering bombardments, fumigations, massacres, forced displacements, and lack of water and basic foodstuffs.

Most harmful to the region is the fact that the paramilitaries, the United Self-defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) have entered the area to hunt down guerrilla sympathizers. Colombian television aired footage of hundreds of well-equipped paramilitary fighters amassed at a jungle site entering the southern Colombian ex-rebel haven.

The military has not allowed the press into the region, the CAFOD (Catholic Agency For Overseas Development) reports that, "Because of military control, little information about conditions in the region is reaching the media." They have explained that, "Because of the threat of political violence, residents who can be contacted are careful... a Protestant pastor who left the zone and reported that civilians were dying because the military was preventing humanitarian relief from entering the zone has been murdered on his return, presumably by paramilitaries."

Currently, the religious communities are best placed to give account to what is taking place. They are having conferences, issuing statements, seeking every venue available to them to give alert regarding this situation. A letter sent March 13th to all US congress members, from CMSM and LCWR (Women and Men's Catholic leadership organization) gives testimony, "Our own people [are] there and are ... informing us that the worst violence on non-combatants continues to be perpetrated by the long-standing paramilitary groups throughout the countryside."

According to anonymous sources the number of civilians to be assassinated and massacred since March number in the hundreds.

 "Paramilitary ranks arrive with former members of the community and former FARC members that have joined the paramilitaries and are the ones who have been guiding the cleansing of the population."


In response to the escalation of the war in Colombia, the White House is seeking to expand the "War on Terrorism" to Colombia by singling out the enemy, the left-wing rebels or the FARC. And to accomplish this they will inadvertently be assisting the AUC, a military organization that is on the United States Terrorist List. International human rights groups have repeatedly accused Colombia's military forces of tacitly backing the paramilitaries.

Examine the Afghanistan model: how the goal of destroying the USSR, led to assisting regional mujahadeen forces, and their eventual evolution into the Taliban. The US must reevaluate the state of its allies, revise its objectives.

The CMSM and LCWR letter also addresses the paramilitary phenomenon, "a group not being referred to in the current U.S. public debate about the crisis there. Our people lived and died with the dramatic consequences of uncontrolled paramilitary groups in the years of the Central American wars."

Paramilitary forces have increased their number and influence dramatically in the last few years, in 1998 they numbered some 4,000 troops, they now number over 11,000. AUC forces operate in 70% of Colombia's territory. According to Colombia's Defense Ministry and Human Rights Watch, the AUC is the country's leading author of civilian massacres. The AUC's strategy of depriving guerrillas of supplies and intelligence has contributed to the internal displacement of over 2 million people. []

The AUC's top leaders, Carlos Castaño and Salvatore Mancuso are narco-traffickers. They now have their own political party, the National and Democratic Movement of the Autodefensas. Following recent congressional elections, Moncuso speaks of their successes, "we celebrate with patriotic sentiment ... we have largely surpassed our goal of having 35 percent support in Congress." []

Maneuverings that followed recent congressional elections indicate that Presidential Candidate Alvaro Uribe Velez is set to win. Uribe is believed to be a front for the AUC and has stated that he will create a national civilian militia and arm a million rural Colombians to patrol the countryside. He has also pledged to strip Congress to one chamber, to rid it of corruption. The rise of Uribe and the AUC are in direct relationship to the amount of military assistance the U.S. has been supplying to the Colombian government. The increased violence has lead to increased kidnappings and attacks on the cities by guerillas. Pastrana has clearly lead his country to war and not to peace, as he has proclaimed. The peace talks appear to be a front for gaining time for Colombian military to arm and train.


U.S. military involvement in Colombia has been increasing exponentially over the last few years. Congress approved $1.3 billion for Colombia in 2000, a multiyear appropriation aimed at halting the cultivation of coca and the production of cocaine.

Now the U.S. is seeking to increase the level of its involvement by moving from the "war on drugs" to include the "war on terrorism". With the U.S. functioning in a kind of "state of war" mode, priorities placed on national security and access to oil are the motivations pushing its role to become more involved.

U.S. Ambassador to Colombia, Luis Alberto Moreno, recently explained that "In the Western Hemisphere, Colombia is of the 'highest priority' for the United States," explaining that, "the FARC are not a terrorist organization of global reach but regional, and the United States shares this region," said Moreno. [El Espectador 03/06]

The administration is seeking another $400 million for the next fiscal year as part of the war on drugs. An additional $100 million counter insurgency aid to protect British Petroleum's Oil Pipeline, $29 million to help Colombia combat terrorist kidnappings and $25 million to provide "critically needed training and operational assistance.

What do our military-minded rulers have in store us? Colombia can return to the peace process. The United States can support Colombia's return to democracy. Aid for Colombia needs to support civil society -- not war.

Copyright ©  Narco News 2002. Reprinted for fair use only.

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CRG's Global Outlook, premiere issue on  "Stop the War" provides detailed documentation on the war and the "Post- September 11 Crisis."

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