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Colombia Ð Part One of Two


Noam Chomsky

In

1999, Colombia became the leading recipient of US military and police

assistance, replacing Turkey (Israel and Egypt are in a separate category). The

figure is scheduled to increase sharply for the next two years. Through the

1990s, Colombia has been the leading recipient of US military aid in Latin

America, and has also compiled the worst human rights record, in accord with a

well-established correlation.

We

can often learn from systematic patterns, so let us tarry for a moment on the

previous champion, Turkey. It has received substantial military aid from the

origins of the Cold War, as a major US outpost. But arms deliveries began to

increase sharply in 1984, with no Cold War connection at all. Rather, that was

the year when Turkey began a large-scale counterinsurgency campaign in the

largely Kurdish southeast. Arms deliveries peaked in 1997, exceeding the total

from the entire period 1950-1983 (fiscal years), amounting to about 80% of

Turkish military equipment, including heavy armaments (jet planes, tanks, etc).

By 1999, Turkey had largely suppressed Kurdish resistance by terror and ethnic

cleansing, leaving some 2-3 million refugees, 3500 villages destroyed (7 times

Kosovo under NATO bombs), and tens of thousands killed. A huge flow of arms from

the Clinton administration was no longer needed to accomplish these objectives.

Nevertheless,

despite the great success achieved by some of the most extreme state terror of

the 1990s, military operations continue while Kurdish citizens are still

deprived of even minimal rights (again, a regime much harsher than Kosovo under

Milosevic). On April 1, 10,000 Turkish troops began new ground sweeps in regions

that had been devastated by the US-Turkish terror campaigns of the preceding

years, also launching another offensive into northern Iraq to attack Kurdish

guerrilla forces — in a no-fly zone where Kurds are protected by the US air

force from the (temporarily) wrong oppressor. As these new campaigns were

beginning, Secretary of Defense William Cohen addressed the American-Turkish

Council, a festive occasion with much laughter and applause, according to the

government report. He praised Turkey for taking part in the humanitarian bombing

of Yugoslavia, apparently without embarrassment, and announced that Turkey had

been invited to join in co-production of the new Joint Strike Aircraft, just as

it has been co-producing the F-16s that it used to such good effect in approved

varieties of ethnic cleansing and atrocities within its own territory, as a

loyal member of NATO.

In

Colombia, however, the military armed and trained by the US has not crushed

domestic resistance, though it continues to produce its regular annual toll of

atrocities. Each year, some 300,000 new refugees are driven from their homes,

with a death toll of about 3000 and many horrible massacres. The great majority

of atrocities are attributed to the paramilitary forces that are closely linked

to the military, as documented once again by Human Rights Watch (February 2000).

The Colombian Commission of Jurists reported last September that the rate of

killings had increased by almost 20% over the preceding year, and that the

proportion attributable to the paramilitaries had risen from 46% in 1995 to

almost 80% in 1998, continuing through 1999. Forced displacement in 1998 was 20%

above 1997, and increased in 1999 in some regions according to Human Rights

Watch. Colombia now has the largest displaced population in the world, after

Sudan and Angola. Prominent human rights activists continue to flee abroad under

death threats, including now the courageous head of the Church-based human

rights group Justice and Peace, Fr. Javier Giraldo, who has played an

outstanding role in defending human rights. The AFL-CIO reports (Feb. 2000) that

several trade unionists are murdered every week, mostly by paramilitaries

supported by the government security forces. Hailed as a leading democracy by

Clinton and other US leaders, Colombia permitted a challenge to the elite system

of power-sharing by an independent political party, which, however, faced

certain difficulties, such as the assassination of about 3000 activists,

including presidential candidates, mayors, and legislators. Meanwhile, shameful

socioeconomic conditions persist and may even have intensified, leaving much of

the population in misery in a rich country with concentration of wealth and

land-ownership that is high even by outrageous Latin American standards.

The

president of the Colombian Permanent Committee for Human Rights, former Minister

of Foreign Affairs Alfredo Vasquez Carrizosa, writes that it is "poverty

and insufficient land reform" that "have made Colombia one of the most

tragic countries of Latin America," though as elsewhere, "violence has

been exacerbated by external factors," primarily the initiatives of the

Kennedy Administration, which "took great pains to transform our regular

armies into counterinsurgency brigades," ushering in "what is known in

Latin America as the National Security Doctrine," which is not concerned

with "defense against an external enemy" but rather "the internal

enemy." The new "strategy of the death squads" accords the

military "the right to fight and to exterminate social workers, trade

unionists, men and women who are not supportive of the establishment, and who

are assumed to be communist extremists."

As

part of its strategy of converting the Latin American military from

"hemispheric defense" to "internal security" — meaning war

against the domestic population — Kennedy dispatched a military mission to

Colombia in 1962 headed by Special Forces General William Yarborough. He

proposed "reforms" to enable the security forces to "as necessary

execute paramilitary, sabotage and/or terrorist activities against known

communist proponents" — the "communist extremists" to whom

Vasquez Carrizosa alludes.

In

Colombia, a governmental commission concluded that "the criminalization of

social protest" is one of the "principal factors which permit and

encourage violations of human rights" by the military and police

authorities and their paramilitary collaborators. Ten years ago, as US-backed

state terror was increasing sharply, the Minister of Defense called for

"total war in the political, economic, and social arenas," while

another high military official explained that guerrillas were of secondary

importance: "the real danger" is "what the insurgents have called

the political and psychological war," the war "to control the popular

elements" and "to manipulate the masses." The

"subversives" hope to influence unions, universities, media, and so

on. "Every individual who in one or another manner supports the goals of

the enemy must be considered a traitor and treated in that manner," a 1963

military manual prescribed, as the Kennedy initiatives were moving into high

gear. Since the official goals of the guerrillas are social democratic (whatever

their actual goals may be), the circle of treachery targeted for terror

operations is wide.

The

Kennedy-Yarborough strategy was developed and applied broadly in the years that

followed. Violent repression spread throughout the hemisphere, reaching its

awesome peak in Central America in the 1980s. Colombia’s advance to first-rank

among the criminal states south of the border is in part the result of the

decline in US-backed state terror in Central America. As in Turkey ten years

later, its primary aims were achieved, leaving in its wake a "culture of

terror" that "domesticates the expectations of the majority" and

undermines any aspiration towards "alternatives that differ from those of

the powerful" in the words of Salvadoran Jesuits who learned the lessons

from bitter experience; those who survived the US assault, that is. In Colombia,

the problem of establishing approved forms of "stability" remains, and

is even becoming more severe. The correlation with increasing arms shipments is

familiar.