Powell Releases $34 Million to FTAA- and 'War on Drugs'-loving Colombia

In The Nation, Bill Weinberg writes, "On March 5, Colombia's President Alvaro Uribe... pledged that lawless armed groups are being dismantled, that stability for foreign investors is around the corner--and that bilateral talks can ensue on his country joining the FTAA. On January 21 the US State Department certified Colombia's compliance with human rights conditions, officially releasing $34 million in military aid... Just ten days before State's declaration, paramilitaries killed three campesinos. One elderly man was publicly tortured and a woman was raped... Throughout the country, the armed forces are carrying out mass arrests of campesino and labor leaders, even municipal government officials, on trumped-up charges of guerrilla collaboration... Making matters worse, peasants report that the paramilitaries are forcing campesinos to grow coca--which then results in their communities being sprayed with toxic chemicals by US-piloted aircraft as part of the 'war on drugs.'"

US Lawmakers Back Increase in Military Presence in Colombia

"Colombian President Alvaro Uribe won backing from US lawmakers to extend Plan Colombia, with many willing to increase US military and civilian contractors employed in the Andean nation. The Senate's leader of minority Democrats, Tom Daschle said lawmakers were 'very pleased' with Uribe's efforts to reduce drug trafficking and 'impressed' with his fight against leftist rebels the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and terrorism. 'I don't think there could be a better partnership than the one we have with Colombia in assuring that stability and security today, and this is part of it,' he said. 'We talked about raising the military cap and many of us support it,' he said... Hyde said he supported Daschle's view that the military cap be raised." The article fails to mention a few pesky related details; namely, the use of US taxpayer dollars by the repressive Colombian paramilitaries and the devastating environmental and social effects of US-backed crop eradication. Whodathunkit?

The Forgotten Hostages in Colombia

CBS News: "At this moment, three Americans are being held hostage under heavy guard in the jungles of Colombia, hoping for a miracle. Their story is probably one you don't know much about. But after hearing from them, it is one you will never forget. They are hostages of a narco-terrorist group known as FARC, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia -- guerrillas with a violent history and a penchant for holding kidnap victims for years, and then, often, killing them. The Americans fell into the group's hands when their plane crashed in the jungle more than eight months ago. The families of the hostages say the men they love have been forgotten."

Colombian Trade Unionists Involved in Organizing Coca-Cola Employees Murdered with Chainsaw

"The bodies of three trade union activists who were taken away by a paramilitary death squad earlier this month have been discovered in a communal grave. They had been murdered with a chainsaw.... According to Sinaltrainal the attack is almost certainly linked to the current struggle that the union is involved in against the Coca-Cola company." From Global Exchange: "Over the years, US companies in Colombia have respected their rights to profit over workers' rights to organize. In so doing, several companies have maintained open relations with murderous death squads as part of a program to intimidate trade union leaders. In several cases workers were subjected to torture, kidnapping, and/or unlawful detention in order to encourage them to cease their trade union activities. Coca Cola is currently being sued in federal court for its role in such violent attacks on labor and other large corporations are being investigated." Check out www.globalexchange.org/countries/colombia/

Counternarcotics, the 'War on Terror,' and South America

Matthew Riemer writes for PINR: "The reasons for Washington's extreme interest in Colombia has always been explained by its desire to fight the flow of cocaine into the United States, but Colombia has geopolitical and strategic significance that make it a keystone state in the Americas. Perhaps the most pressing concern for Washington right now is the proliferation of leftist governments that threaten its economic interests in the region. The most prominent of these is the fiery Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who represents a significant obstacle to massive Western privatization and investment in the country, especially concerning the national oil company -- Petroleos de Venezuela (PDVSA)."

Call for the U.S. Senate to Cut Military Aid to Colombia

"Senate debate on the 2004 foreign aid bill could take place within the next week. Included in the bill is $500 million in aid - largely military and police aid - to Colombia. However, the Senate appears set to approve the Colombia aid portion of the bill with no debate. More than $2.5 billion in taxpayer dollars has gone to Colombia in the last 3 years, and there is no indication that the broad and vague goals of Plan Colombia have been met. Drugs are just as available on U.S. streets. 19 civilians are killed each day in the violence between the paramilitaries, guerilla groups and the Colombian armed forces, up from 12 per day in 2000. The fumigation aimed at destroying the coca fields has displaced farmers and left them with no economic alternative, while simply moving coca production to other countries in the region. Contact your senators and ask them why they are not talking about Colombia policy. Express your concerns about the policy of continued military funding for Colombia."

Tell Congress to Sign Letter on Human Rights in Colombia - Action Needed Before September 12!

On September 4, Rep. Tom Lantos sent a message to other members of Congress asking them to sign a letter to Colombian President Alvaro Uribe, urging Mr. Uribe to address the links between sectors of the Colombian military and paramilitary groups. It also highlights the need for accountability for human rights abuses as an element of the current peace talks with paramilitary forces. Members of Congress will have until September 12 to sign on to the letter, at which time it will be sent to President Uribe.... Please call your representative's office, ask to speak with the foreign policy aide, and let him or her know that you are a constituent. Then tell him or her that you would like your representative to sign the dear colleague letter to Colombian President Alvaro Uribe that is being circulated by Rep. Lantos. Please note that this letter is only being signed by House members, not senators. To read the letter, and find your representative's phone number, click below.

'Strangelove' Rumsfeld Says Colombia Can Resume Flight Shoot-Downs

"Sec. Rumsfeld said today that the U.S. would support Colombia in resuming a policy that allows Colombian fighter pilots to shoot down planes suspected of ferrying drugs or force them to land. Such a policy was suspended after a Peruvian jet fighter mistakenly shot down a private plane carrying American missionaries, killing two people, one an infant, in 2001.... Officials said orders to shoot down a plane could come only from Colombia's air force commander, Gen. Velasco.... Human Rights Watch officials say the program violates U.S. law-enforcement principles on use of force, which are limited to imminent threats. 'To use force is equivalent to an extra-judicial execution,' said Jose' Miguel Vivanco, director of the Americas division of HRW. Mr. Vivanco also criticized Gen. Velasco's role. Some American officials have been prodding Mr. Uribe to dismiss Mr. Velasco because of the air force's role in the 1998 bombing of the village of Santo Domingo, in which 18 civilians were killed."

Colombia: Another Front in Broader U.S. War

Matthew Riemer writes for YellowTimes.org: "With the deployment of additional U.S. military personnel twice this year in response to various crises, Colombia is a fourth front in the broader post-9/11 doctrine of global preemptive policing loosely known as the 'war on terror.' Now the mere presence of a 'terrorist organization' can cause an 'emergency' deployment of troops or hardware to anywhere in the world. However, Colombia differs from other conflicts because of the pervasive presence of the 'war on drugs,' which takes the form of a massive spraying campaign against coca and poppy crops led by the U.S. as part of 'Plan Colombia.' Over the years of spraying, as one might expect, this has led to considerable controversy as the region is repeatedly saturated by chemical showers that permeate the environment and drift on to unintended crops; farmers have taken BBC reporters into regions where crops have been destroyed and other areas deforested due to errant spraying."

US Special Forces Search for CIA 'Contract Workers' Taken Hostage in Colombia

"A huge military operation was underway in the jungles of southern Colombia yesterday in an effort to rescue three US intelligence officers taken hostage by leftist guerrillas. But with every passing hour yesterday the chances of finding them grew less. 'They fell straight into the wolf's mouth,' said one of the officers leading the search. About 4,000 men, including both US and Colombian special forces, supported by helicopters and spy planes, were scouring the jungles of Caqueta for some trace of the three Americans. Their capture by the 18,000-strong FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) three days ago is a potentially damaging blow both for the US military operation here and the credibility of the hard-line Colombian government.'"

Bush is Lying about Safety of Aerial Coca Eradication in Colombia

A coalition of scientists representing several respected social and environmental groups are blasting the Bush administration for its disastrous drug control strategy in Colombia, which relies on dumping tons of herbicide on coca fields from planes. Not only has Whitman's EPA failed to even TRY to determine the dangers posed to humans, it has ignored any potential effects on the rainforest, endangered species, and the already desperate economic situation in these areas. Worse yet, the EPA has failed to report key information: Ted Schettler, Science Director at the Science and Environmental Health Network reports, "In each of the categories for risk assessment, EPA's analysis fails to provide essential information. Most notably, the toxicity of the herbicide mixture is never fully assessed, and the analysis of human exposure is based on unwarranted assumptions about compliance with safety protocols." Sure sounds like a cover-up to us!

Bu$h's War in Colombia Is All About - You Guessed It - OIL

After years of insisting that our military involvement in Colombia will be limited to fighting the drug trade, why has the administration suddenly decided to thrust America deeper into a 38-year civil war -- a war that took an explosive turn when President Andres Pastrana broke off peace talks...? Could it be the over $9 million that Occidental has spent on lobbying since 1996 -- much of it used to push for more and more U.S. military aid to Colombia -- and the $1.5 million the company donated to federal campaigns between 1995-2000?... The reckless decision to elevate corporate interests above the public good in Colombia risks dragging American troops into a military quagmire. Imagine a mother getting the following notice from the Defense Department: 'We regret to inform you that your son was killed in the line of duty while in Colombia. Secretary Rumsfeld and Occidental Petroleum wish to extend their deepest sympathies.'" So writes Arianna Huffington.

Colombia - It's Deja Vu All Over Again

The US backs a Latin American military that aids and abets bloody right-wing paramilitary forces, including death squads that slaughter scores of innocent villagers. At the same time, drug cartels work hand-in-hand with these counterinsurgent forces. Think we are talking about El Salvador, Guatemala or Nicaragua in the 1980's? Guess again...this is about modern-day Colombia. The reports from the field are horrifying. "During the first 18 days of January alone, paramilitary groups committed 26 massacres; in one incident paramilitary thugs beat more than 20 people to death with sledgehammers and stones." The writer argues that nobody wins, but modern history shows that one side does win in the game of counterinsurgency warfare - the cartels and the US intelligence community that siphons off the profits. We still want to know what Bush Daddy's CIA is doing down there under "Plan Colombia". Already Congress wants a whopping $1 billion more to fund this scary policy that includes spraying herbicides that kill not only coca (not cocoa!) plants, but also essential food crops. And as with the Reagan administration, we have a "President" who can easily be manipulated by an ambitious and ruthless cabinet. (See the eerie parallels at "Back to the Future: GW Bush and the Iran-Contra Affair" http://www.bushwatch.com/foreign.htm).