Meanwhile in Columbia: Bush funds the Death Squads


Richard Moore

To: Jan <•••@••.•••>
From: Jan Slakov <•••@••.•••>
Subject: Colombia (Iraq scenario all over again?)

From: Rycroft & Pringle <•••@••.•••>
To: •••@••.•••
Date: Mon, 10 Feb 2003 13:30:57 -0800

    First it was Reds, then drugs, then terror. So who have
    the US really been fighting in Colombia?
      [...the people, as usual - rkm]
    George Monbiot
    Tuesday February 4, 2003
    The Guardian 

Last week, on the day George Bush delivered his state
of the union address, the Pentagon received a visitor.
A few hours before the president told the American
people that "we will not permit the triumph of violence
in the affairs of men", General Carlos Ospina, head of
the Colombian army, was shaking hands with his American
counterpart. He had come to discuss the latest
instalment of US military aid. 

General Ospina has done well. Just four years ago he
was a lieutenant-colonel in command of the army's
fourth brigade. He was promoted first to divisional
commander, then, in August last year, to chief of the
army. But let us dwell for a moment on his career as a
brigadier, and his impressive contribution to the war
against terror. 

According to Human Rights Watch, the fourth brigade,
under Ospina's command, worked alongside the death
squads controlled by the paramilitary leader Carlos
Castaño. In a report published three years ago, it
summarises the results of an investigation carried out
by the attorney general's office in Colombia. On
October 25 1997, a force composed of Ospina's regulars
and Castaño's paramilitaries surrounded a village
called El Aro, in a region considered sympathetic to
the country's leftwing guerrillas. The soldiers
cordoned off the village while Castaño's men moved in.
They captured a shopkeeper, tied him to a tree, gouged
out his eyes, cut off his tongue and castrated him. The
other residents tried to flee, but were turned back by
Ospina's troops. The paramilitaries then mutilated and
beheaded 11 of the villagers, including three children,
burned the church, the pharmacy and most of the houses
and smashed the water pipes. When they left, they took
30 people with them, who are now listed among
Colombia's disappeared. 

This operation was unusual only in that it has been so
well-documented: among other sources, the investigators
interviewed one Francisco Enrique Villalba, who was a
member of the death squad that carried out the
massacre, and who had witnessed the prior co-ordination
of the raid between the army and Castaño's lieutenants.
The attack on El Aro was one of dozens of atrocities
which Human Rights Watch alleges were assisted by the
fourth brigade. Villalba testified that the brigade
would "legalise" the killings his squad carried out:
the paramilitaries would hand the corpses of the
civilians they had murdered to the soldiers, and in
return the soldiers would give them grenades and
munitions. The brigade would then dress the corpses in
army uniforms and claim them as the bodies of rebels it
had shot.

A separate investigation by the Colombian internal
affairs agency documented hundreds of mobile phone and
pager communications between the death squads and the
officers of the fourth brigade, among them
Lieutenant-Colonel Ospina. On Tuesday, Ospina fiercely
denied the allegations, claiming that they were
politically motivated and that "honest people around
the world know that we are serving our people well". 

In same press conference, however, he also revealed
that this month the Colombian government will start to
deploy a new kind of "self-defence force", composed of
armed civilians backed by the army. Human rights groups
allege that the government has simply legalised the
death squads.

Official paramilitary forces of this kind were first
mobilised by the current president, Alvaro Uribe, when
he was governor of the state of Antioquia in the
mid-1990s. The civilian forces he established there,
like all the paramilitaries working with the army,
carried out massacres, the assassination of peasant and
trade union leaders and what Colombians call "social
cleansing": the killing of homeless people, drug
addicts and petty criminals. They joined forces with
the unofficial death squads and began to profit from
drugs trafficking. They were banned after Uribe ceased
to be governor. One of his first acts when he became
president in August last year was to promote General
Ospina, and instruct him to develop similar networks
throughout the contested regions of Colombia. 

Uribe, a landowner with major business interests, was
the US government's favoured candidate. After he was
elected, but before he assumed the presidency, it
granted Colombia a special package of military aid
worth $80m. Its military funding, through the
programmes it calls Plan Colombia and the Andean
Regional Initiative, now amounts to $2bn over the past
four years. At the beginning of last month, US special
forces arrived in Colombia to help train General
Ospina's troops. One of the two brigades they are
assisting - the 5th - has also been named by Human
Rights Watch for alleged involvement in paramilitary
killings. It has been equipped with helicopters by the
US army.

The United States has been at war in Colombia for over
50 years. It has, however, hesitated to explain
precisely who it is fighting. Officially, it is now
involved there in a "war on terror". Before September
2001, it was a "war on drugs"; before that, a "war on
communism". In essence, however, US intervention in
Colombia is unchanged: this remains, as it has always
been, a war on the poor. 

There is little doubt that the Farc, the main leftwing
rebel group, has been diverted from its original
revolutionary purpose by power politics and the
struggle for the control of drugs money. It finances
itself partly through extortion and kidnap. Whether it
could fairly be described as a terrorist network,
though, is open to question. What is unequivocal is
that the great majority of the country's political
killings are committed not by Farc or the other rebels
but by the rightwing paramilitaries working with the
army. Their task is to terrorise the population into
acquiesence with the government's programmes. 

The purpose of this unending war is to secure those
parts of the country that are rich in natural resources
for Colombian landowners and foreign multinationals.
Colombia has one of the most unequal economies in the
world - the top 10% of the population earns 60 times as
much as the bottom 10% - and there is no room in that
country for both the aspirations of the poor and the
aspirations of the super-rich. One faction has to be
suppressed. The Colombian army is making the country
safe for business. This is why, over the past 10 years,
the paramilitaries it works with have killed some
15,000 trades unionists, peasant and indigenous
leaders, human rights workers, land reform activists,
leftwing politicians and their sympathisers. This is
why it is the world's third largest recipient (after
Israel and Egypt) of US military aid. 

The people funding this programme are Britain's allies
in the war against terror. They are the people who have
awarded themselves the power to arbitrate between good
and evil. They are the people who will, within the next
few weeks, attack Iraq on behalf of civilisation.

"Throughout the 20th century," Bush told the US last
week, "small groups of men seized control of great
nations, built armies and arsenals, and set out to
dominate the weak and intimidate the world. In each
case, their ambitions of cruelty and murder had no
limit." America's continuing adventure in Colombia
suggests that little has changed. 

Guardian Unlimited © Guardian Newspapers Limited 2003 
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    Box 8307, Victoria, BC, V8W 3R9


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