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Colombia-Again Perched at the Edge

Colombia-Again Perched at the Edge of the Slippery Slope

[Notice to the Media: On COHA's staff are researchers who have met with Colombia's president, national security advisor, as well as several of the country's guerrilla leaders.]

Colombia-- Again Perched at the Edge of the Slippery Slope

· End of negotiations marks a pivotal moment for Bogotá and Washington
· "Terrorism" now becomes a dangerous word

Now that President Pastrana has issued an ultimatum giving the FARC guerrillas 48 hours to vacate the 16,000 sq. mile refuge that he granted them three years ago to expedite negotiations, it is imperative that Washington does nothing to enflame the current situation. Regardless of which side is to blame for this most recent breakdown in the long and troubled negotiations, it is incontestable that Pastrana genuinely has sought peace, that the FARC often has been obdurate as well as evasive in its demands, and that the Colombian president has been unable to deliver on his pledge to break links between rightist elements of the Colombian military and the extremist AUC paramilitaries (classified as "terrorists" by the State Department) who Pastrana acknowledges is responsible for 80 per cent of the country's gory human rights record.

Another important fact that Pastrana has acknowledged is that, even if the guerillas demobilize after successful negotiations, the Colombian authorities would be unable to guarantee the personal security of any former guerrilla who decides to reenter civil society. The FARC bitterly recalls that after other guerrilla movements signed agreements in the 1980s with the government, and proceeded to lay down their arms after they demobilized and returned to civilian life, scores of them were assassinated, including many of the candidates of the political party which they earlier had formed.

Now that negotiations have, at least temporarily, halted, the main danger resulting from the impasse between Colombian authorities and the country's guerrilla forces is posed by the increasingly operational role being played by the "terrorist" factor as a function of Bogotá as well as Washington strategy. Just as the drug war replaced the Cold War as the ideological mainspring for U.S. regional policymakers, Washington and Bogotá officials increasingly are referring to the guerrillas as "terrorists," which could serve as a rationale to escalate their military action against the rebel forces. This could effectively erode the firewall between the anti-drug and the anti-guerrilla wars that has long been recognized by the U.S., even as it implemented last year's $1.3 billion dollar contribution to Bogotá's Plan Colombia, which was mainly military in nature. These funds have been allocated to the anti-drug war and not against the guerrillas.

In the wake of the U.S.-led anti-Al Qaeda and anti-Taliban war "targeted against terrorism," the real danger is that the Bush Administration will unwisely decide to transfer its anti-terrorism momentum and odium to Colombia's guerrillas in combating the first of a series of hemispheric dominos which could later include Hugo Chavez in Venezuela, the reviving guerrilla threat in Peru, and ultimately, in Cuba. The last-named country could particularly be in U.S. cross hairs if the White House were to grant a recess appointment to Otto Reich to be assistant secretary of state for inter-American affairs, a controversial figure who is mainly noted for his rabid anti-Havana phobia.


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