Colombia’s Counter-Productive Performance
FTA and Plan Colombia the Minefield for Obama
United States Latin American policy
Part 2: Colombia’s counter-productive performance
When analyzing today’s US – Colombian relationship, we should keep the history of this relationship in mind. Let us not forget the internal sentiments of many Colombian people against the U.S. related to the instatement of Panama’s independence. The creation of Panama, that was an adjoined province of Colombia, was only for the U.S. purpose of building the Panama Canal to benefit solely from it. The U.S. did it without a better measure of making Colombia a partner in that endeavor. Colombia gained nothing from it - it just lost a part of its territory. This historical fact made Colombians believe that their country was treated as a banana republic by the U.S.
Incidentally, Colombians also have grievances against the U.S. where bananas are concerned. The “bananera massacre” of two thousand Colombian banana pickers who went on strike on December 6, 1928, was instigated by the U. S. United Fruit Company. The more recent, in the 90s, assassination of the organized laborers by the U.S. fruit company “Chiquita Brands International,” has demonstrated that U.S. treats Colombia, literarily, as its banana republic. These and the other criminal events in which the U.S. participated made many Colombians distrust and hate the U.S. partnership and aid.
Alliance for Progress, an economic development program supported by President John Kennedy 1n 1961, was a brief break from those violent practices. Alliance for Progress improved the U.S. image in Colombia. However, the U.S. reverted to its continuous support of the ruling clans behind the Columbian governments, after Kennedy. This policy exploded with the creation of the “Plan Colombia”, an anti-
narcotics then counter-insurgency plan unveiled in 1999. Under the pretext of fighting against drug traffickers and guerillas, Colombian government used billions of U.S. money to engage in abuses of power, in corruption, and in violation of the domestic civil rights. This plan also unleashed a period of violence by Colombian paramilitary (organized crime of ultra-right wing death squads). The consequences of this plan ultimately blame the direct military and political intervention of the United States in Colombian affairs. Colombia is the largest recipient of U.S. military financing in the Western Hemisphere now.
Alvaro Uribe’s Failures:
In terms of war on narcotics, more coca plants now exist in Colombia than when Álvaro Uribe first came to power in 2002, according to surveys made by the UN, OAS and DEA. During Uribe’s administration, drug cartels mutated into innumerable mini-cartels that expanded the narcotics market to more countries and younger users. With new criminal partnerships in Mexico, Colombia narco-traffickers have now moved to the U.S. border. Judged by its own goals, the Plan Colombia has proved to be an unquestionable failure.
In terms of war on insurgence, Uribe’s sophism is even greater in two directions: paramilitaries and guerrillas.
Paramilitaries continue to be in the same place and expanding. Under Uribe’s rule, the demobilized paramilitaries (former paramilitaries that deposed their arms in negotiations with the government) continue their narco trafficking and other illegal businesses. They now re-armed and divided into the two new powerful organizations: “Black Eagles” in the northern part of the country, and the “Organization New Generation” in the southern part. Álvaro Uribe’s administration provided the demobilized paramilitaries with generous laws and benefits. Even if prosecuted for terrorist crimes, none of them can receive more than eight years of prison, and that with generous parole policy. The demobilized paramilitaries receive government salaries. Their secret activities include access to government intelligence, the military, the police, the business people, as well as their traditional support of the Uribe’s coalition of political parties, known as the Uribeism (the cult of Uribe’s personality, derived from Álvaro Uribe last name).
This blend of paramilitaries, narco-traffickers and Uribeism generated para-politics. Para- stands for paramilitary. And -politics for Álvaro Uribe’s Uribeism. The paramilitaries have land, money, arms and power over half of the country. The Uribeists holds the government, majority in Congress, and constitute a large amount of governors and majors. Para-politicians are dangerous conspirators against democracy. They have been slowly discovered and prosecuted since 2006.
In addition to ultra-right paramilitary, Colombia has another armed force that supports narcotics and exercises terror. It is called the Marxist FARC-EP (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia – People’s Army). This group and the ELN (National Army of Liberation) are known as the guerillas. Colombian government faces an almost half century long armed conflict with the Marxist FARC-EP who protects and tax the narco-trafficking, kidnap people, use landmines, ambush government forces,
attack towns and damage the country’s infrastructure. The ultra-right paramilitaries, part of para-politics, and the Marxist guerrillas are both legally considered terrorists.
This Marxist FARC-EP was crushed, and some of its leaders were killed by the Columbian government Army, hundreds of FARC-EP militants surrendered to the Army or deserted, since 2003. Before guerillas controlled towns. The Army expelled them from most of the towns. They had to move to the mountains and the jungle. However, the FARC-EP quickly put the new leaders in place, and modified its tactics. FARC then embraced a prolonged war with the government, letting the government army to draw them into the Amazon forest to fight. It turned out that FARC-EP had guerrillas in the forest, while the Columbian Army was never trained to fight under those conditions. So guerillas are better protected now in the forest. Because the Amazon area connects Venezuela, Brazil, Peru and Ecuador, the guerillas now have influence in some areas of these countries as well.
Perhaps there was a chance to have talks with FARC-EP people, but Uribe refused to talk to them. He did not talk to them even to rescue the civilians kidnapped by the FARC-EP. By his policy of ignoring FARC-EP, Álvaro Uribe just helped the FARC-EP to upgrade their military tactics. After the years of Uribe’s refusal to deal with the grievances of FARC-EP against the government, Uribe found Colombia leading in an international conflict that involved Venezuela, Ecuador, and it is involving U.S. itself. This international conflict started on March 1 2008, when Colombian Army and Air Force violated Ecuador’s territory and airspace and killed one FARC-EP leader, and over twenty other people. Ecuador had no chance to avoid that violation, and the Organization of American States (OAS) condemned Colombia’s violation.
Thus, Alvaro Uribe got Colombia into the international trouble because of his war-only policy against the FARC-EP guerrillas. Ironically, Álvaro Uribe just gave the Marxist FARC-EP the geopolitical and tactical horizons it never had before, while he provided a not-so subtle support for the power and expansion of the ultra-right wing paramilitaries. One can only wonder why the U.S. keeps financing Uribe.
Álvaro Uribe fuels insecurity:
Despite the failure of the war on narcotics in Colombia, the U.S. taxpayers’ money continues to pour into Alvaro Uribe’s government.
Regrettably, much of the money is actually being used to finance human rights violations: executions, disappearances of families and individuals from the community, as well as murders of union members and assassinations of opposition leaders.
In 2008 the U.S. decided that crimes against humanity in Colombia would not be of concern to the U.S. Courts when the latter prosecute paramilitaries. The US lawmakers just concentrate on their drug crimes. The U.S. also elected to offer short jail terms to paramilitaries, if they return the stolen assets such as properties and millions of narco-dollars, and provide narcotics trafficking information. However, by concentrating only on drug trafficking, the U.S. gave a virtual immunity to the crimes against Colombian people, committed by paramilitaries, all of whom are Uribe’s followers.
Such U.S. disregard for the crimes against humanity, when prosecuting Colombian paramilitaries, has angered the relatives of the victims of those crimes, and the surviving victims in Colombia. This U.S. approach to legal matters makes Colombians believe that the U.S. is also responsible for the crimes the paramilitaries committed. Deplorably the U.S. is not listening to either Colombian victims nor to the Human Rights NGOs in this matter.
If the U.S. do not seek confessions about the crimes against humanity from paramilitaries, this makes it impossible to start the healing process in Colombia. Ideally, the paramilitaries should talk about their crimes, the victims and the victims’ relatives should talk about their grievances, and then some healing can take place. This will be similar to the process of healing that happened in South Africa after the end of Apartheid. Colombians expect the U.S. now to stand up against those horrendous crimes, if they have any consideration for the Colombian tragedy. There is a little hope that the U.S. will promote and enforce justice in Colombia, but the U.S. is not helping so far.
Caution must be given to the relationship between the U.S. and Alvaro Uribe’s government. Álvaro Uribe went so far as to extradite the majority of the paramilitary chiefs to the U.S. to keep them silent about government involvement in massacres. At the same time, the little paramilitary testimony got diluted in Colombian jurisdiction. Some of these paramilitaries were witnesses or partners in crimes against humanity in Colombia like the one that took place when Uribe was the governor of Antioquia, a Colombian province influenced by paramilitaries. In that case the Army suspected that the civilians were FARC-EP supporters, but many were not. The Army surrounded the town and protected the
paramilitary as they were chopping and killing civilians. This case is known as OAS IACHR case # 12.226, and it involves a massacre in the town of El Aro, Ituango, in 1997. Massacres like this one were the policy to prevent the popular support to guerillas.
The U.S. funds Uribe’s government, which is lenient with political crime, and this makes Latin-America believe that the U.S. supports those crimes and the paramilitaries.
Again, because Uribe pushed the FARC-EP into the Amazonian multi national territory, he precipitated international conflict, already developing with Ecuador and Venezuela. Uribe has asked the U.S. to join him in the war against the FARC-EP in the Amazonian. This means that the U.S. will eventually have to fight in a Latin American conflict. Right now the U.S. is looking to move a military base from Ecuador to Colombia and the U.S. support the Colombia’s right to defend itself, the same Middle East ill policy. Latin America views it as the U.S. military threat to Latin America's independent governments. Thus Uribe's successes make the U.S. look like the sponsor and participant of a policy of war in the region.
Free Trade Agreement (FTA) in an economic minefield:
When Uribe became the president in 2002, Colombia had a weak national industry, but conflict free commerce with Venezuela and Ecuador (second and third sources of Colombia’s income after the U.S.). Today the national industry is gone, absorbed by global companies from Australia, Spain, Mexico, Brazil and other countries. The investment in Colombia is primarily in the global companies’ own businesses. This created a bubble of progress in Colombia. The economical infrastructure of the country is paralyzed; production is localized sparsely in the mountains while excellent large flat areas near the Atlantic and Pacific oceans are not developed enough. Banking and financing interests are the highest in Latin-America and beyond. When loan and mortgage interests are lowered it usually is a scheme in which common people’s assets end up jeopardized. Energy costs are also the highest in the region. Unemployment, inflation, and social injustice have been on the rise, independently from the international economic crisis.
Álvaro Uribe built an investment oasis where the deserts of quicksand are invisible. In this oasis, Uribe wants an FTA with U.S. There is nothing more dangerous economically and politically to the U.S. than an FTA with these volatile circumstances. The FTA benefits the U.S. because it eliminates export tariffs on American goods sent to Colombia. This
expands gaining a market for subsidized American agriculture and stock American merchandise. But, the Colombian economy includes a large amount of small and family-owned business, in many cases just family entrepreneurial efforts of survival to combat unemployment. These small businesses are likely to collapse in the presence of American competition. This will cripple hopes and resources of millions of people who are now more or less economically stable. This is not a good idea for a country with a powerful organized crime and restless recruitment from terrorist groups. Employment opportunities won’t be enough.
In a different context, the FTA would support the development of infrastructure and stimulate economic prosperity like in Vietnam. But, in Colombia large amounts of cash flow are from money laundering. There are criminal people in Colombia, who will benefit from the FTA. As the Colombian pyramids, swindle schemes uncovered, and finally the financial economic crisis have recently demonstrated criminals’ capital from organized crime and from white collar speculators are waiting for new opportunities for investment and greed. They are ready to welcome the legality that the FTA will provide them to swell business as usual. Narco-paramilitaries also own a high percentage of the best land of the country, land they stole from thousands of peasants and small landowners. The problem is in which hands will fall in Colombia the benefits of the FTA. We
have to remember that the paramilitaries used in their advantage health and education government budgets.
Organized Crime in Colombia has a political apparatus that feeds on corrupt parties, material and human resources, partnership with terrorism, and business connections. All of these will allow Colombian criminals to make the FTA a perfect bonanza for their businesses.
Álvaro Uribe also needs the FTA to pave the way to his third government term, undermining political leverage in the region against Hugo Chavez of Venezuela, who shares with Uribe similar power ambitions. In the hands of Álvaro Uribe, it is unlikely that these new businesses will be used for the good of the Colombian people, instead they will inflate further Uribe’s counter-productive performance.
The FTA initiated by the US will enter into a political and economic minefield in Colombia. As a bonus, it will be followed very closely by the FARC-EP to promote easy recruitment against the ‘yanky imperialism’ taking over Colombia.
While Álvaro Uribe and other Uribeism movement leaders are in power, the FTA will be under the control of Colombian para-politics. As to Columbian people - 60% of them are underprivileged now. And this number will increase after the introduction of the FTA. This will sink the U.S. image and influence in the region even deeper. The Anti-Davos meeting in Brazil, attended by the elites of the most of Latin American countries, agreed that free market should be controlled by the state, when it becomes economically burdensome for the country, and puts its people into disadvantage. In other words, significant part of Latin America is against the FTA, for bad economic experiences. And, it would be wise to listen to them.
José María Rodríguez González
U.S. Foreign Policy Analyst