A war is being fought in Colombia right now. A six month war plan is in place. The offensive is called "Operation Thanatos," named after the Greek god of death and is divided into three phases.
Colombia is currently fighting its largest insurgency group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) in its own their territory. A 42,139-square-kilometer area of Colombia was given to them three years ago in an effort to establish a peace process, known as the demilitarized zone, or neutral zone.
The first phase of the offensive is set to destroy rebels’ logistics positions, including bombing, and is to take six weeks. The second stage consists of the penetration of counter-guerrilla troops throughout rural areas occupied by the rebel group; it is aimed at retaking the territory and will last for 15 weeks. The third will be a consolidation phase, which includes the permanent installation of battalions and counter-insurgency units in the five municipalities.
On February 20th, Colombian President Andres Pastana made the dramatic decision to rupture the Peace Talks by ordering the armed forces to retake the neutral zone, giving only two and a half hours notice before sending planes and helicopters to bomb the zone. There was virtually no time to organize protection; civilians in the demilitarized zone were engulfed in war.
The first day of the campaign, warplanes and helicopters flew more than 200 aerial bombardments, dropping 500lb bombs.
Within hours after the army offensive began, rebel units struck back, focusing on infrastructure. The FARC blacked out wide sections of the country by dynamiting electrical substations and transmission lines, blasting bridges, and blocking key highways across the country.
The Colombian military has been bombing continuously since February 21st. Camps, warehouses, and clandestine runways have been attacked. Targets were bombed to coincide with elite Rapid Deployment Forces, backed by dozens of Air Force paratroopers swept into the zone. Most of the 13,000 ground troops deployed to the region are engaged in war, in and around the zone.
Six of the country’s 32 provinces have been affected dramatically, plunging that part of the country into chaos and fear. Residents are increasingly isolated from the rest of the country. They are without roads or river communications, or fuel for generators; they are suffering power blackouts and water supplies are paralyzed. Water and basic foodstuffs are in very short supply.
Most harmful to the region is the fact that the paramilitaries, the United Self-defense Forces of Colombia (AUC) have entered the area to hunt down guerrilla sympathizers. Colombian television aired footage of hundreds of well-equipped paramilitary fighters amassed at a jungle site entering the southern Colombian ex-rebel haven. According to Colombia’s Defense Ministry, the AUC is the country’s leading author of civilian massacres, killing more than 1,000 civilians last year. The AUC’s strategy of depriving guerrillas of supplies and intelligence has contributed to the displacement of 2 million people.
The military has not allowed the press into the region, the CAFOD (Catholic Agency For Overseas Development) reports that, "Because of military control, little information about conditions in the region is reaching the media." They have explained that, "Because of the threat of political violence, residents who can be contacted are careful… a Protestant pastor who left the zone and reported that civilians were dying because the military were preventing humanitarian relief from entering the zone was murdered on his return, presumably by paramilitaries."
Currently, the religious communities are best placed to give account to what is taking place. They are having conferences, issuing statements, seeking every venue available to them to give alert regarding this situation. A letter sent March 13th to all US congress members, from CMSM and LCWR (Women and Men’s Catholic leadership organization) gives testimony, "Our own people [are] there and are … informing us that the worst violence on non-combatants continues to be perpetrated by the long-standing paramilitary groups throughout the countryside."
In response to the situation, the White House is seeking to expand the "War on Terrorism" to Colombia by singling out the enemy, the left-wing rebels, the FARC. And to accomplish this they will inadvertently be assisting the AUC, a military organization that is on the United States Terrorist List! International human rights groups have repeatedly accused Colombia’s military forces of tacitly backing the paramilitaries.
Examine the Afghanistan model: how the goal of destroying the USSR, led to assisting regional mujahadeen forces, and their eventual evolution into the Taliban. The US must reexamine the state of its allies, reexamine its objectives.
The CMSM and LCWR letter also addresses the paramilitaries, "a group not being referred to in the current U.S. public debate about the crisis there. Our people lived and died with the dramatic consequences of uncontrolled paramilitary groups in the years of the Central American wars."
In 1998 paramilitary forces numbered some 4,000 troops, they now number over 11,000. AUC forces now operate in 70% of Colombia’s territory. Barrancabermaja is the first major Colombian city to have fallen under their control, a year ago it was referred to as the Sarajevo of the Western Hemisphere.
The AUC is very dangerously set to take over the country. Maneuverings following recent congressional elections indicate that Presidential Candidate Alvaro Uribe Velez is set to win. Uribe is believed to be a front for the AUC and has pledged to strip Congress to one chamber, to rid it of corruption. He has also stated that he will create a national civilian militia and arm a million rural Colombians to patrol the countryside.
They now have their own political party, the National and Democratic Movement of the Autodefensas. In a communiquÃ© [www.aucolombia.com] Salvatore Moncuso, the AUC’s top paramilitary leader, speaks of their recent successes, "we celebrate with patriotic sentiment … we have largely surpassed our goal of having 35 percent of supporters in Congress."
Until now involvement has been aimed at halting the cultivation of coca and the production of cocaine. Military aid alone has reached some one and a half billion dollars in the last two years. The US is heavily involved, recently proposing a $100 million in counter insurgency aid to protect British Petroleum’s Oil Pipeline.
And now the U.S. is seeking to increase the level of its involvement by moving from the "war on drugs" to include the "war on terrorism". With the US functioning in a kind of "state of war", priorities placed on access to oil and national security are the motivations pushing its role to become more involved.
US Ambassador to Colombia, Luis Alberto Moreno, recently explained that "In the Western Hemisphere, Colombia is of the highest priority for the United States," explaining that, "the FARC are not a terrorist organization of global reach but regional, and the United States shares this region," said Moreno, (El Espectador03/06).
Now that the concerns of Colombia have melded with those belonging to the U.S. as well – the time has come for all policies to be reexamined!! Colombia can return to the peace process. The United States needs to support Colombia’s return to democracy, the aid for Colombia should be money for civil society — not war.