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Colombia And Einstein's Adage: "You Cannot Simultaneously Prevent And Prepare For War"
Published on Friday, September 1, 2000
Colombia And Einstein's Adage: 'You Cannot Simultaneously Prevent And Prepare For War'
by Justin Delacour

How did Albert Einstein once put it? Wasn't it something like, "You cannot simultaneously prevent and prepare for war"? Perhaps one should relay that little piece of bumper-sticker wisdom to the LA Times staff writer Juanita Darling, who recently wrote a story entitled "Colombia Seeks Peace as It Prepares for War" (August 26th). "In a way," writes Darling, "a new $1.3-billion U.S. anti-drug aid package is also a bid on both war and peace." Darling's concise description of US assistance as "anti-drug aid" is certainly pleasing to the Clinton Administration, which wants to take away the focus from the fact that approximately 80% of US aid to Colombia is of a military nature. Karl Penhaul, a correspondent in Colombia who writes for Reuters news service, is a bit more honest than Darling, calling the US package an "anti-drug and counterinsurgency plan." Darling leaves out the part about "counterinsurgency," knowing full well that the U.S. Embassy in Bogotá would not be happy with the violent images that terms like "counterinsurgency" conjure up.

Aside from contradicting Einstein's insightful adage, Darling is very vague about the facts that she exposes to the American public. She writes of "frequent massacres" in remote Colombian villages by "armed groups disputing territory." While one should readily acknowledge that all sides of Colombia's civil conflict have committed atrocities, it would help for the American public to know which side is most implicated in the increasing number of massacres . The latest human rights report by the United Nations indicates that most massacres have been carried out by right-wing paramilitaries. Human Rights Watch reports that brutal paramilitary activities have been carried out with "the tacit acquiescence or open support of the Colombian Army." Considering that the paramilitaries' own leader, the infamous Carlos Castaño, has openly admitted that his forces garner over 70% of their funds from the drug trade, the portrayal of the Colombian Army as a valiant drug-fighting force is highly questionable. Yet that is exactly how Darling casts the army, frequently quoting a Colombian commander of U.S.-trained "counternarcotics" forces while never even mentioning allegations of links between the army and drug-connected paramilitaries.

Darling cites four observers who don't represent either the guerrillas or the Colombian and American governments. Yet the statements of three observers are solely aimed at the guerrillas' abuses and illegal activities, while the quote of the fourth observer is openly supportive of U.S. policy. Among those cited is Jeremy Thorp, Britain's Ambassador to Colombia who condemns the guerrillas' kidnappings, forced disappearances, extortion and "recruitment of children for 'military service'". Given that the current British Government is one of only two European governments that have openly expressed support for Plan Colombia, it is questionable whether or not a British diplomat can truly be described as an independent observer. But even if the four observers that Darling cites were to qualify as independent, their singular focus on guerrilla abuses and activities would certainly not represent the opinions of all independent observers of the Colombian conflict. As was recently revealed in a Washington Post report by Stephen Dudley, more than 100 Colombian non-governmental organizations have "banded together to resist the Government's 7.5 billion dollar anti-drug plan, complaining that it has been co-opted by a U.S. military strategy that would make their participation unethical and put them in danger if they accept government aid."

Those who strongly oppose Plan Colombia include Colombia's largest labor confederation, the Unitary Workers' Central (CUT). Given that paramilitaries and state security forces are implicated in most of the 3000 murders of Colombian unionists since 1986, it is quite logical that the CUT rejects an analysis that strictly focuses on guerrilla abuses. Yet the opinions of unionists and human rights groups receive no mention from Darling, who writes of only the "many Colombians" who are "discouraged by the slow-moving peace process" and "have begun to turn their hopes to the anti-narcotics base at Tres Esquinas..."

Toward the end of her story, Darling forgoes all pretense of objectivity, writing that "Colombians desperate for peace are clearly counting on that money and, perhaps more important, U.S. interest in their drawn-out conflict." What of the unionists, human rights workers and others who want nothing to do with Plan Colombia? What of the large number of unmentioned Colombians who are also "desperate for peace" and fear that the United States' stepped-up "interest" in Colombia is leading the country into an all-out civil war? In Darling's world, these people don't exist.

And so the United States dives right into the brutal counterinsurgency fight in Colombia, where "war" means "peace", "peace" means "war" and "counternarcotics" means "counterinsurgency." Surely the LA Times' Juanita Darling is receiving high marks at the U.S. Embassy in Bogotá. One hopes that other U.S. journalists won't be so concerned about how government officials grade them.

Justin Delacour is a human rights activist and member of the Seattle Colombia Committee. He will be attending a human rights conference in Bogotá, Colombia in early September.


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