Bill Clinton was not about to let anything interfere with his triumphant August visit to Colombia. He had won congressional approval for $1.3 billion in aid to Colombia, with most of the funds earmarked for the murderous military, and he was determined to hand over the money personally.
Never mind that the legislature made the aid package, supposedly designed to combat drug trafficking, conditional on certain weak human rights protections. Clinton simply overturned them.
Never mind that in the two months after the aid was voted on, Colombian soldiers committed at least three massacres, including the killing of six schoolchildren on a field trip.
And never mind that the U.S. dollars will provide this army with a new fleet of attack helicopters and three more battalions of soldiers, trained and armed by Uncle Sam. The increased military activity and toxic chemical defoliation in coca-growing areas will cause enormous injury to Colombia’s workers and peasants, 10,000 of whom will be forced to relocate.
In sum, never mind that U.S. “aid” is a declaration of war on the people of Colombia and a usurpation of their right to self-determination.
A stark choice: suffocation or socialism. When Clinton arrived in Colombia, with an entourage including Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and 11 congressional representatives, he had more than a check to deliver.
Clinton had an unmistakable message for all of Latin America: This is how the U.S. will respond to any country that even considers revolution.
The real U.S. aim is to wipe out not cocaine dealers but leftist guerrillas. At stake are the profitable investments of companies such as Occidental Petroleum and BP Amoco.
Supported by the United States, the Colombian army carries out its campaign of counterinsurgency in cooperation with rightwing paramilitaries, which assassinate more unionists than are murdered anywhere else in the world. Peasants, journalists, and students also die by the thousands.
The two largest guerrilla targets of the official and unofficial death squads are the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and National Liberation Army (ELN). FARC arose in response to fierce repression by the landed oligarchy against a communist-led peasant self-defense movement in the 1950s; its 17,000 troops control much of southern Colombia and a zone around the capital, Bogotá. The 5,000-member ELN, founded in 1964 by intellectuals and clergy inspired by the Cuban revolution, commands territory in the north.
Both FARC and the ELN are essentially armed reformers. They want to see an end to Colombia’s economic travails – including 20 percent unemployment, child labor in the mines, and half the population living in poverty – which have been brought about courtesy of the International Monetary Fund and the powerful nations it represents. But neither FARC nor the ELN is avowedly organizing for socialist revolution.
A look at Latin America as a whole and the U.S. role there, however, shows how keenly this perspective is needed. Nothing short of radical social transformation throughout the hemisphere will end the history of deadly and impoverishing U.S. interference. Since 1848, the U.S. has assassinated a Chilean president, invaded Mexico, Guatemala, Panama, and Grenada, and put down revolution in Nicaragua and El Salvador.
Today, the U.S. State Department defines Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru, and Bolivia as an “arc of crisis.” Strikes and mass protests throughout the area threaten to disrupt the IMF program of privatization and accelerated exploitation.
U.S. hands off! Clinton’s aid initiative, like nearly two centuries of U.S. intervention before it, is designed to protect corporate interests against the super-exploited, desperate and angry citizens of Latin America. Significantly, U.S. policy in Colombia is now being opposed by groups as disparate as Veterans for More Effective Drug Strategies and the AFL-CIO.
Among the demands that opponents of U.S. meddling should raise are cutting off all U.S. money for arms, shutting down the CIA and all U.S. military and intelligence-gathering bases in Latin America, and cancelling the foreign debts owed by the region’s countries.
These are the kinds of measures – not the destructive and phony war on drugs, or judicial reforms forced on Colombia by U.S. imperialism – that could make life more secure for Colombia’s besieged people.