U.S. Willing to Deploy Combat Troops to Colombia


While the U.S. mainstream media widely-reported the U.S. Department of Justice’s recent indictment of 50 rebel leaders belonging to the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), an announcement by the State Department the next day received surprisingly little coverage. On March 24, Assistant Secretary of State Anne Patterson told Colombia’s Radio Caracol that, while the United States would not initiate any unilateral military action to capture FARC leaders, it would intervene if invited by the Colombian government. Given that the U.S. government’s intervention in Colombia already involves everything but the deployment of U.S. combat troops, it is clear that Patterson’s comments were intended to illustrate the Bush administration’s willingness to deploy U.S. troops to Colombia to combat FARC guerrillas.

The indictment of the FARC leaders further illustrates the Bush administration’s strategy to portray the FARC as the greatest perpetrator of violence and drug trafficking in Colombia. The reality, however, is very different from the Bush White House’s fictitious portrayal. The U.S. indictment provided no evidence to support its claim that FARC leaders have earned $25 billion from drug trafficking and are responsible for 60 percent of the cocaine shipped to the United States.

Meanwhile, most Colombia experts agree that the country’s right-wing paramilitaries are far more deeply involved in drug trafficking than the rebels, a fact supported by the numerous drug busts in which the seized cocaine was traced back to paramilitary groups. In fact, former associates of Pablo Escobar, the notorious leader of the now-defunct Medellín cartel, established some of Colombia’s most prominent paramilitary groups.

At the same time that the Bush administration is making the FARC the focus of its drug war propaganda, it is becoming increasingly evident that the U.S.-backed paramilitary demobilization is nothing more than a charade. Last week, demobilized paramilitary leader Ivan Roberto Duque confirmed publicly on Caracol Radio what Amnesty International, the United Nations and many analysts had been alleging for more than a year: that demobilized paramilitaries are taking up arms again. According to Duque, ex-militia fighters are offering their services to drug traffickers or “private justice” groups, also known as paramilitaries. As a result, the number of killings by paramilitaries in 2005 more than doubled that of the previous year.

After more than five years and $4 billion in funding, Plan Colombia has failed to significantly reduce the price, purity and availability of cocaine in U.S. cities. Meanwhile, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe’s three-year U.S.-backed military offensive has failed to seriously diminish the FARC’s military capacity. Given that Washington has already made Colombia the third-largest recipient of U.S. military aid in the world—providing intelligence, weapons and training—the only remaining escalation available to the Bush administration is to deploy U.S. combat troops to the South American nation under the guise of the war on drugs.

Such a U.S. military intervention is not likely to involve a massive deployment of troops to Colombia, a strategy that is not possible at the moment given the Pentagon’s commitment in Iraq. Instead, it would most likely involve the deployment of U.S. Army Special Forces units to track down FARC leaders in Colombia’s remote jungle regions. In other words, the U.S. military would replicate the strategy it is currently utilizing to find al-Qaeda leaders in the remote and mountainous Afghanistan-Pakistan border region.

Ironically, Plan Colombia has actually shown that its principal target—the FARC—is not heavily dependent on the drug trade. According to analysts James Brittain and James Sacouman, Plan Colombia has caused a dramatic decrease in coca cultivation in the FARC-dominated southern regions, displacing it to other parts of the country. At the same time, Uribe’s security policies have resulted in a massive decline in kidnappings over the past three years. If the FARC were heavily dependent on these two sources of income to fund its insurgency, then the rebel group’s military capacity should have been seriously diminished over the past five years. But as Brittain and Sacouman have noted, FARC attacks against the Colombian military, the country’s infrastructure and the operations of foreign corporations have dramatically increased over the past two years.

A direct U.S. military intervention in Colombia clearly would have little to do with combating drugs. After all, if that were the true objective then the Bush administration would be targeting the country’s paramilitary leaders who, under the demobilization agreement, have been allowed to maintain their drug trafficking organizations while avoiding extradition to the United States—instead serving as little as 22 months of jail time on luxurious ranches in Colombia.

The real objectives of a U.S. military escalation are rooted in ideology and economics. The Bush administration is intent on eliminating a leftist insurgency that is proving to be a persistent threat to U.S. economic interests and to Washington’s closest ally in the region. Colombia has become an increasingly important source of oil and coal, most of which is situated in rural regions where the operations of multinational companies remain vulnerable to rebel attacks. Furthermore, it is no coincidence that the Bush administration has announced its desire to escalate U.S. military intervention in Colombia less than a month after the two countries signed a bi-lateral free trade agreement. The economic policies have been established, but many of them need to be militarily implemented in Colombia due to the FARC’s persistence.

There is unlikely to be any deployment of U.S. combat troops to Colombia prior to May’s presidential election. Anti-U.S. sentiment is already running high among Colombians following the signing of the unpopular free trade agreement in February. Consequently, any deployment of U.S. troops to wage war in Colombia prior to May would likely hurt Uribe’s chances of re-election. If it does indeed occur, the deployment of U.S. combat troops to Colombia will likely begin shortly after Uribe is sworn in for his second-term. Such a U.S. military escalation would help the Colombian president intensify the so-called democratic security strategy he initiated almost four years ago.

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