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Powell In Bogotá; The Empire Visits the Satrapy


02.47
For Immediate Release
December 3, 2002
The Powell Trip to Bogotá:


The Empire Visits the Satrapy

* State Department confirms that Reich is not accompanying Secretary Powell on his Colombian mission, a clear indication that Reich's ceremonial position within the Department is threatened.

* Secretary Powell arrives today in Colombia at a crucial junction in its government's 50-year civil war against leftist guerrillas, as the U.S.'s Vietnamization of the Colombian conflict escalates.

* While discussing Human Rights abuse across Colombia - one of his agenda items-, Powell should stress the Bogotá's questionable negotiations with the rightwing AUC.

* U.S. qualifies future economic aid to Colombia on Bogotá only buying Made in USA products when it comes to jet fighters.

* President Uribe, Defense Minister Ramírez and Colombia Army Commander Mora, yield on upholding their country's sovereignty in exchange for U.S. financial and military support.

* Rather than promoting the FTAA, Washington appears intent on proselytizing for a non-free trade agreement on U.S. military sales at the expense of emerging southern economies and their sovereign rights.

* By cultivating narrow economic self-interests, U.S. policymakers all but invite an anti-Yankee slow burn in Colombia which will also spread elsewhere, easing the region back to the epoch of the "Ugly America", and further stoking the populist firestorm that is now blazing across much of Latin America.

The U.S. State Department has confirmed that former Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemispheric Affairs Otto Reich will not be travelling to Colombia today with Secretary of State Colin Powell. This move is a telltale sign that Reich will not remain in his merely ceremonial position as Special Envoy to the Hemisphere, or be re-nominated for his previous position in the State Department.

U.S. Secretary of State Colin Powell arrives in Bogotá today for a two day visit at a crucial time for the Bush administration's policies towards Colombia and the rest of Latin America, most notably Brazil. Colombian President Alvaro Uribe was voted into power on the single-factor issue of crushing the left-wing guerrillas and ending the Colombian civil war. If he is unable to do this in the short-term, his present high level of popularity will plummet to the single-digit one of his immediate predecessor - as the country's massive economic and social problems, as well as its debilitating high levels of corruption, further embitters Colombians. Increasing levels of poverty, coupled with endemic government venality, will undoubtedly increase the already record levels of alienation felt by the citizenry.

On the agenda during his visit, Powell intends to confront the high level of human rights violations racked up by the country's armed forces and by the right-wing paramilitaries group, United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC). The AUC's grim record is partially the result of the U.S. all but ignoring the Colombian military's disregard for the paramilitary's appalling atrocities against civilians, who it believes are sympathetic to the rebels.

It is universally acknowledged that the AUC is responsible for the bulk of Colombia's human rights violations and much of its drug trafficking. U.S. officials have felt that by trying to extradite Carlos Castaño, the AUC's main leader, they will be close to solving one aspect of the drug and rights problems. However, Washington fails to understand that the AUC is a federation of a number of different factions, all financed by large landowners afraid of rebel insurgencies posing threats to their land and the always present danger of abduction. Even if Castaño is brought to the U.S. for trial, a move he is presently trying to prevent through underground talks with the Colombian military and government authorities, the AUC will assuredly revive itself, even if under a new name, with sustained support from its original backers.

The Growing U.S. Involvement

The Bush administration, in now allowing Plan Colombia weaponry and training resources to contribute to the anti-guerrilla efforts, has removed the longstanding firewall between allowing anti-drug assistance but forbidding it for anti-guerrilla activities. The Colombian military is becoming extremely overextended in trying to comply with all of the U.S. military's objectives - a portion of the army is currently being trained to protect the U.S.-utilized Caña Limón oil pipeline near the Venezuela border, under a U.S. Congress appropriation of more than $100 million.

It appears that U.S. troops will eventually be needed if Plan Colombia is to achieve its stated and increasingly ambitious now militarized goals. Secretary Powell will see first hand the escalation of the Colombian conflict. The visit will also provide him with the rare experience of applying "hands-on" attention to Latin American issues, which he by default had left to his controversial former Assistant Secretary of State Otto Reich. The fact that Reich has been forced from office by the terms of his recess appointment without any announcement that he would be re-nominated for the post has provided some of his critics with the hope that he will be replaced by a career foreign service officer less obsessed over Cuba, less radical in his Messianic drive to prevent left-of-center candidates from assuming office, as in recent elections in such countries as Nicaragua and Bolivia, and more sensitive to the issue of the populism which is now sweeping the hemisphere, particularly in Brazil.

A recent quarrel between Brazil, Colombia and the United States involving the U.S. negation of a purchase by the Colombian military of a number of Brazilian-made aircraft is an indication of the escalating tensions arising from U.S. downgrading of the issue of sovereignty in its regional policymaking during the Reich era. At this point, Powell would be wise to realize that an escalation of the Colombian conflict, to which Washington should instead be trying to negotiate a rapid end, is consuming too much time and resources of an already over-extended State Department. Rather, the Bush administration should concern itself with the reasons behind the emergence of a strong populist current across Latin America and the recognition that Brazil, its foremost exponent, must be dealt with more as an equal than another fledgling economy.

The Modernization of the Colombian Air Force

Since 1997, the Colombian government had been investigating ways to upgrade its air force, finally approving the purchase of 24 fighter aircraft from the Brazilian state aeronautics corporation Embraer. Before the order was placed, Colombian authorities conducted a feasibility study, which established a pressing need for its air force (FAC) to purchase new fighter planes in order to combat the country's decades-old insurgency since the majority of its aircraft were obsolete, or in the process of becoming so. Taking such factors into account, a Colombian agency, the National Council of Public and Social Economy (COMPES), proceeded to approve the release of $234 million in order to enter into a contract to purchase the aircraft from Embraer.

Since its inception, corruption has been a factor in the Brazilian deal. Corruption has been a chronic fact of life when it comes to procurement issues involving the Colombian armed forces. In the case of the Embraer deal, important government personalities participated who fully expected that they would realize sizeable commissions. A taped conversation recorded six month ago between a Colombian senator and a notorious arms dealer, was released to the public in November, confirmed the suspicions of some Colombian officials that significant kick-backs were involved in the approval of the Embraer purchase. Despite the public's desire to prevent the Brazilian transaction from taking place, it was not until the Pentagon intervened that the Colombian government nixed its, illustrating that the U.S. military clearly has more influence over the Uribe administration than the citizens who elected it.

Though the outside study had emphasized that the Brazilian planes were designed specifically for use in non-conventional combat (in line with the situation in Colombia) and would otherwise be ideal for FAC's tactical needs, the deal was terminated. Bogotá justified its decision by saying that it had been decided that budgetary restraints would not allow for such a large expenditure. This is surprising, considering that since taking office, President Alvaro Uribe had specifically acted on a number of different fronts in order to increase revenues by collecting taxes from wealthy individuals, with the revenues specifically being earmarked for augmenting the defense expenditures needed to build-up and reform a military establishment which presently was held in low esteem. A single levy implemented in September, targeted at those in the higher income brackets of society (specifically at incomes above $50,000 per year) is estimated to have generated $815 million.

U.S. Opposition and Colombian Adherence

Last month, General James T. Hill - head of the U.S. Southern Command - sent a letter to General Enrique Mora Rangel - commander of the Colombian Armed Forces - in which he characterized Bogotá's decision to go ahead with the scheduled purchase of the Brazilian aircraft, as "unwise." Hill's attitude, eventually published on November 10 in the Brazilian daily O Estado, stated that the main priority of the Colombian air force should be transport planes; he suggested that instead of seeking to acquire the newly manufactured Brazilian aircraft, as originally planned, Colombia should refurbish its existing squadron of 23 U.S.-made A-37, as well as its OV-10 and Hercules transport aircraft. Although Hill's suggestions seem to be reasonable and cost efficient, they were at odds with a detailed analysis undertaken by a Colombian governmental commission, and, perhaps more importantly, would appear to be well out of the range of Hill's responsibility or jurisdiction. Using the influence of the $1.7 billion dollar Plan Colombia, it appears as if the United States military has undermined that country's sovereign authority by countermanding the purchasing made by Colombian government and military authorities.

Who's Running the Show

O Estado simultaneously published an October 7 letter in which Colombia's Defense minister, Marta Lucia Ramírez writes to the Brazilian Embassy in Bogotá to invite Brazil's Embraer to participate in the negotiations for up to 40 light attack aircraft. Interestingly, in an official statement announced on November 17, Ms. Ramirez pointedly declared that the proposed purchase of new Brazilian jets by her country's air force, totaling $234 million, had been cancelled as a result of U.S. objections. This statement came as a complete shock to the original parties involved in the negotiations, especially considering that less than a month before the declaration canceling the sale, Ramírez had confirmed that Colombia would be acquiring 24 of Embraer's Super Toucan Emb-314 aircraft. In the face of this apparent dramatic about-face in Bogotá's plans, U.S. opposition was undoubtedly the cause for the jet sale being aborted, reinforcing the axiom that in any showdown between Washington and a Latin American country, the U.S. invariably works its will.

General Hill's statement also indicated that the completion of the transaction with Brazil would jeopardize future U.S. backing for Colombian aid measures, by saying that, "The U.S. Congress may not look favorably on this purchase; this could negatively influence the approval of legislation for additional financing."

In other words, the Hill letter represented a clear warning to his Colombian counterparts that Bogotá would pay a heavy price if the Brazilian deal went through. U.S. government officials have been quick to say off the record that it would be insensitive and display a lack of gratitude on the part of Bogotá to move ahead and purchase the Brazilian aircraft, considering that since the year 2000, the U.S. has allocated over $1.7 billion in aid to Colombia, mainly for weapons and training, under the auspice of Plan Colombia. However, this line of reasoning might be said to hold little water, since the funds, which the COMPES had cleared for the purchase of aircraft, would not be coming from the Plan Colombia aid package or involve U.S. funds, but rather from a special tax program concocted by President Uribe. Additionally, the decision to purchase the aircraft, and subsequently, the process of finding an appropriate supplier began in 1997, well before Plan Colombia had even been drafted by then-president Andés Pastrana.

There has been some opposition in the Colombian government to the cancellation of the Embraer deal. Senator Darío Martínez recently stated that, "We are tired of so much U.S. intervention in all our domestic affairs ... I believe that our country deserves more respect." Fellow Senator Gerardo Jumí added to Mr. Martínez's comments saying that, "[the cancellation] proves that the United States wants to monopolize everything. Colombia has to continue with its [military] modernization to maintain its sovereignty ... The government cannot change its trade decisions every time the U.S. negates them."

A Message to Brazil and Lula

The United States' intervention in Colombian-Brazilian bilateral relations follows the election of a left-wing candidate in Brazil who openly has stated his reservations regarding the Free Trade Area of the Americas (FTAA), which he considers "a process of annexation of Brazil to the United States". President-elect Luis Inacio "Lula" da Silva has tended to focus his attention on Mercosur as "Brazil's way to be in a stronger position to negotiate." In addition, Lula has criticized the U.S. attitude towards compensatory import tariffs especially in the steel industry as well as its agricultural subsidies on orange juice, soy beans and sugar, to name a few. As for Brazil's current President, Fernado Enrique Cardoso, he has categorically stated, "I am totally against North American interference...I will fight to guarantee that Embraer's airplanes be bought." He added that, "the Brazilian government has always defended national interest."

Regardless of the economic viability of the Embraer aircraft purchase, the fact remains that according to the study, the U.S.-built airplanes that the FAC possessed were old - in some cases, up to 40 years had passed since their delivery - and eventually would have to be replaced with a newer technology, and that they were not as suitable for their mission as their Brazilian counterparts. In a November 19 article in the Miami Herald, Frances Robles repeats a statement made in El Tiempo, Colombia's largest newspaper, "that the company that would compete for such a purchase is Lockheed Martin, based in Texas, President Bush's home state," and that, "a contract from Colombia with Lockheed-Martin for $240 million would undoubtedly benefit the state and those that represent it." Former Assistant Secretary of State of Western Hemispheric Affairs Otto Reich was previously a leading lobbyist for the giant Texas-based military manufacturer, and risked sparking a possible arms race in the Southern Cone by facilitating a $500 million Chilean purchase of a squadron of state-of-the-art F-16D fighters/attack bombers just before he took office.

Critics of U.S. policy contend that Washington is underestimating the consequences of its actions, focusing far too much attention on Colombian military needs and not enough on the rising populist movement and anti-U.S. sentiment across the region. The latter is being prompted by the high degree of interventionism throughout Latin America that took place during Reich's tour of duty. Any negative opinion pointing to the U.S. as an interventionist could damage future trade negotiations, which could be inimical to U.S. interests, especially if Brazil and its neighbors turn to the European Union as their chief economic engine.

Immediately after the Embraer agreement was cancelled, the Brazilian government expressed its disapproval, highlighting Brazil's right to do business without U.S. intervention. Aldo Rebelo, President of that country's Exterior Relations Commission stated on November 26 that, "Colombia is an independent nation and has the right to make its own decision. If the Colombian government chose to equip its air force with a Brazilian plane, that decision must be respected."

Secretary Powell would be wise to extend his visit to Colombia by one stop, in order to meet with his Brasilia counterparts, to discuss a potentially troubling rift in the bilateral relations between two major western hemisphere nations.

This analysis was prepared by Research Associates Jovana Garzón, Paula Neira, Luisa Rueda, David Isacovici and John Galante of the COHA research group. The Council on Hemispheric Affairs, founded in 1975, is an independent, non-profit, non-partisan, tax-exempt research and information organization. It has been described on the Senate floor as being "one of the nation's most respected bodies of scholars and policy makers." For more information, please see our web page at www.coha.org; or contact our Washington offices by phone (202) 216-9261, fax (202) 223-6035, or email coha@coha.org.

Council on Hemispheric Affairs 1730 M St. NW, Suite 1010 Washington DC 20036 (202) 216-9261 coha@coha.org


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