America’s Colombian Folly
Bogotá, Colombia—To the clash of cymbals, blare of bugles, pounding of drums and trill of glockenspiels, Bogotá’s presidential guard has just marched through the presidential palace gates. It’s the occasion of the daily ceremony of the changing of the guard. A detachment hauls down the gigantic yellow, blue and red tricolor that is Colombia’s national ensign and folds it away for the night as the band plays the Colombian national hymn.
Not far away from the perimeter of this national capital of Colombia, a group of well-armed guerrilla fighters prepares for the night by posting its own camouflage-clad sentries for the evening watch.
Some miles away at a Venezuelan air force base, a U.S. spy plane rotates its motors in preparation for takeoff, destination Colombia, where it will fly over the vast tracts of rural land in the country’s southwest in an effort to pinpoint guerrilla encampments for the benefit of Colombian government troops on the ground.
Tomorrow, crop-spraying aircraft will resume the poisonous task of low flying over thousands of acres of coca and cannabis crops in Colombia’s southwest corner, spraying chemical defoliant on the illicit weed that would normally be destined to blow the minds of young sophisticates in U.S. and European cities. No one has calculated the sum total of the destruction to the atmosphere, soils, water tables, rivers and other water bodies, let alone the toll on animal, bird, insect and human life that this chemical attack is destined to yield. But in the collective estimation of the Colombian government and the advisers to the U.S. government, it’s somehow all worth it. This is Plan Colombia in action.
Colombia gained its independence in 1819, following the defeat of the Spanish at Boyacá that year. Originally established by Simon Bolivar as the Republic of Gran Colombia, incorporating modern Ecuador, Venezuela and Panama, Colombia has been subject to continual political unrest. The revolt of 1840 led to the emergence of two bitterly opposed factions, one liberal and one conservative. In 1849 a liberal uprising sparked the Thousand Days War, which lasted to 1903. A long struggle, termed La Violencia, broke out in 1948, leading to the creation of the National Front in 1958. The resultant coalition led to representatives from each faction being elected as president in rotation. Since 1974, multi-party elections, though helping to lift prosperity, have brought little enduring peace. The power of guerrilla groups, underpinned by the bloodthirsty violence of the drug cartels, has resulted in gunshot wounds to Colombia’s citizenry becoming almost as common a cause of death as heart attacks.
The two main guerrilla factions, murderously opposed to each other, are the powerful Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (farc) and the smaller, radical right-wing paramilitary militias, the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (auc). Another significant rebel group is the National Liberation Front (eln), stationed in the north. farc, the last surviving Marxist-Leninist group in Latin America (with 15,000 armed personnel compared to about 7,000 opposition paramilitaries), derives most of its resources from drugs.
It was Margaret Thatcher who declared, “Never negotiate with a terrorist.” She knew that once a terrorist gained ground through receiving just one concession, he would stick to that gain like a limpet as a platform from which to gain more concessions. This is the vicious circle that enmeshes President Andrés Pastrana. It’s the same vortex into which those who have made concessions to Irish, Palestinian and Albanian terrorists now find themselves sucked.
While traveling with a British and a Colombian assistant for seven days in Colombia, the sole evidence of any prospect of trouble in our visit to three large Colombian cities—the bustling capital, Bogotá, the country’s second city, Manizales, and the more provincial Medalling in the northwest—was having our taxi stopped by the police in Bogotá and a cursory search made of the contents of the trunk. Apart from this incident, to the tourist, those three Colombian cities presented quite a peaceful façade. But appearances can deceive.
The beauty of the Colombian countryside is most impressive. Split by two mountainous, verdant cordillera, the Occidental and the Oriental, running north to south in the country’s west, this is a country rich in mineral and agricultural resources. Step out of the aircraft in Manizales, a mile high, and the bougainvillaea smacks you in the eye with its magenta brilliance contrasting against the lush green of the terraced hillsides. The locals are friendly, warm and hospitable, the food generally presenting a healthier and more balanced diet than in many a North American household.
Yet high unemployment, low wages and long work hours attest to an economy in deep trouble. Although mainly agrarian, the country is becoming increasingly industrialized. A great range of food crops grow in Colombia’s equable climates, which vary between the mainland, highland and coastal periphery. Although coffee accounts for one third of all official export revenue, cannabis and coca provide Colombia’s drug cartels with twice this amount. Herein lies Colombia’s most deeply entrenched economic, political and cultural challenge.
Where the U.S. and Colombian economies meet is in huge sums of cash being laundered through the New York Stock Exchange and the American banks. Stratfor Systems recently reported that the economies of America’s southern states are powerfully underpinned by corporate investment funded via illicit drug transfers.
President Pastrana traded land for time when he conceded a demilitarized zone (dmz) to farc in 1998. He did the same with Colombia’s second-largest rebel group, the eln, in April last year. His strategy of granting a dmz to the eln was to buy time to allow him to put pressure on farc by concentrating government troops in the farc’s southern stronghold.
To be sure, the allocation of the $1.6 billion U.S. aid package has helped Pastrana make some progress in his attempt to crack down on farc. Yet his dmz concession has only served to solidify farc’s hold in the south. As Stratfor Systems reported a year ago, “Satisfied with their jungle sanctuary, making money off the drug trade and crossing the Ecuadorian border for beer and cigarettes, the farc has had little reason to reach a peace settlement now” (www.stratfor.com, April 27, 2000).
During a meeting with farc leader Manuel “Sureshot” Marulanda last February, President Pastrana made no ground in his efforts to stop farc’s intentions to extend its control over the so-called dmz, which incorporates nearly 17,000 square miles in the south. This may have triggered the president’s initiative to globalize the Colombian “peace process.”
However, inviting the farc’s leadership to sit down at the negotiating table with international representatives from many countries only serves to further legitimize farc as a political entity, as has been the case elsewhere with the homicidal plo, ira and kla. No doubt this latest effort at internationalizing an essentially domestic situation in Colombia will yield similar bitter fruits to those produced by these other cancerous so-called peace processes. The cost in human life, government concessions and billions of dollars will escalate. Further U.S. involvement will result in America becoming, yet again, the pariah.
On March 8, President Pastrana convened a conference of representatives of 24 countries to resume peace talks with farc. The group included a strong delegation from European countries, Japan, Canada, the United Kingdom, nine Latino countries, officials of the European Union, the United Nations and the Vatican. By inviting an international group to participate in his peace plan, President Pastrana raised the profile of the process to place it on a par with similar internationalized peace processes involving the Middle East, Ireland and the Balkans. Pastrana simply took his major domestic political problem and threw it out into the global arena.
This move placed the U.S. in an invidious position. As the major international player in the drive to contain the operations of farc, the U.S. was conspicuous in its absence from Pastrana’s peace conference. President Bush declined the offer to send a representative to the conference.
Yet, three factors will combine to draw the U.S. more deeply into the vortex of yet another seemingly insolvable conflict: 1) the fact of the U.S. being the largest customer of Colombia’s illicit drug barons; 2) the strengthened presence of the U.S. military in support of Colombian efforts to stymie farc; and 3) America’s continuing efforts to advance a wider trade agenda in Latin America through the extension of the North American Free Trade Association (nafta). The U.S. is now the meat in the sandwich as the EU and other national groupings enter the “peace process,” all with their specific agendas to push to their own advantage. Most have an axe to grind against the U.S.
With the U.S. commitment to support the Pastrana regime in Colombia having escalated drastically since launching Plan Colombia last October, the sudden thrusting of the Colombian “peace process” into the international arena poses a real headache for President Bush. In fact, it could lead to a strategic nightmare.
To this point, Mr. Bush has declined direct involvement in President Pastrana’s talks with farc. But as Stratfor again opined, “Internationalization of the Colombian peace talks will make it impossible for Washington to keep the conflict from entangling the U.S. agenda of free trade” (www.stratfor.com, March 7).
The continuing presence of the Vatican, the EU and individual EU member nation representatives, in the continued absence of the U.S. during ongoing negotiations in this “peace process,” may heighten Colombia’s trade prospects with the EU, to the detriment of the U.S. free-trade agenda with Latin America. Failure of the U.S. to involve itself in the peace negotiations will also negatively impact its political influence in the region.
“[Venezuelan] President Chavez and Cuban leader Fidel Castro see their direct engagement in the Colombian peace process as a way of helping to legitimize the farc’s political status, while deepening their joint opposition to what they call the single-power hegemony of the United States…. In pursuit of this goal, the two leaders have built bridges to both Iran and Iraq, while strengthening their economic and military linkages to the People’s Republic of China” (ibid.).
This “peace process” could well provide a forum for nations such as Brazil to expand the South American Customs Union (Mercosur) at the expense of nafta, and exploit trade linkages with the EU. The U.S. also has to consider the position of another participant in the peace process, Venezuela, which remains one of America’s most significant foreign oil suppliers.
Cause and Effect
So! We have yet another “peace process” involving negotiations between a legitimate national government and an illegitimate group of terrorists. Yet again, the U.S. is the largest foreign dollar and military equipment contributor to one side. The U.S. administration is the prime supplier of intelligence, military training and advice to the national government of Colombia. Yet again, political forces are arrayed against the U.S., this time to take advantage of its absence at the bargaining table and position themselves to lay the blame for any failure of the process on American shoulders. Will the Colombian peace process turn into a mini-Vietnam for the U.S.? Another American folly?
Chances are that unless Americans learn to deal with cause rather than effect, their continuing efforts at dealing with the insidious effects of narco-trafficking are doomed to failure. As journalist Denise Dresser opined in one of Mexico’s leading newsmagazines, “It’s up to U.S. society to deal with the addictions of its adolescents. It’s up to Washington to understand that the real enemy is…not the flow of drugs, but human weakness: compulsion, evasion, the search for instant gratification” (Proceso, Jan. 28).
What is really amiss in the whole equation of America’s insatiable lust for narcotics is a deep understanding of human nature, an understanding of what man is, of his unsurpassable destiny, his incredible, God-given, human potential. It is the aching, gnawing void in man, the lack of the spiritual dimension which he needs to fulfill this potential, that leads to his desire for the thrill of the moment. This is what the narco-traffickers take advantage of.
“When man refuses to admit even the very existence of his own Maker, he shuts out of his mind vast oceans of basic true knowledge, fact and understanding. When he substitutes fable for truth, he is, of all men, most ignorant, though he professes himself to be wise.
“When man, in the name of science, denies—or by indifference, ignores—his Maker, he blinds his mind to what he is, why he is, where he is going, and what is the way! No wonder this world is filled with evils! There has to be a cause for every effect” (Herbert W. Armstrong, What Science Can’t Discover About the Human Mind, 1978).
Yes! Eliminate the cause of the lust for illegal drugs, and you simply cut off the demand, starve the line of supply and eliminate the soul-destroying effect. Believe it or not, that will soon happen! If you want to find out how, write for our free booklet Human Nature—What Is It?