SOMEDAY, PEOPLE will look back and ask, ``What were they thinking?''
Why, indeed, is the United States entering a 40-year-old civil war
The situation is turning surreal. The United States is about to
plunge into an undeclared war, yet Colombia barely registers on the
political radar and has been mostly ignored by the major-party
candidates for U.S. president.
Yet the war in Colombia is heating up. Even before Congress voted
$1.3 billion in military aid to the Colombian government last month,
a precarious peace process was floundering. Elected two years ago
with a popular mandate, President Andres Pastrana had stepped-up the
spraying of the country's coca farms and even gave the country's
major armed guerrilla force, the Revolutionary Armed Force of
Colombia, known as FARC, a demilitarized zone the size of
Now, his popularity has sunk to an all-time low and Americans are
left to prop up a terminally weakened government.
Within the year, the United States will fund, train and equip
three shiny new mobile battalions to fight leftist guerrillas. Aware
that American aid, soldiers and helicopters will irreversibly alter
the military landscape, all those involved in the civil war appear
intent to expand whatever territory they now control. In the words of
one rebel leader, Ivan Rios, the stepped-up U.S. involvement is like
``throwing fuel on the fire.''
Since 1990, 35,000 people have died in Colombia's civil war.
According to a report released in April by the U.S. Committee for
Refugees, violence committed by guerrilla and paramilitary forces,
accompanied by multinational attempts to clear land to mine gold and
extract oil, have turned tens of thousands of rural people, mostly
women and children, into displaced refugees.
And that was before Congress passed legislation to fund the
so-called war on drugs in Colombia. Since then, FARC has launched a
series of attacks on isolated police headquarters, killing more than
200 people. As they await for American military intervention,
they are also carving up corridors to other regions they control.
They also have the resources to endanger both soldiers on the ground
as well as those in military helicopters. Make no mistake: American
soldiers are going to be engaged in combat.
To protect the nation's capital, the Colombian government has put
7,000 troops on alert. Emboldened by the prospect of increased U.S.
military aid, paramilitary forces entered the tiny village of La
Union just a few weeks ago, ordered all 63 families into a village
square, and executed six people suspected of guerrilla sympathies.
Meanwhile, a government military helicopter hovered above.
The Senate's final package cut funding for and conditions on human
rights, removed restrictions on the use of herbicides, and decreased
aid for displaced Colombians. ``You don't hold up the major objective
to achieve the minor,'' said Brad Hittle of the White House office of
National Drug Control Policy.
Once again, the United States is committing huge sums of money,
military aid and advisers to a foreign civil war.
But only a political solution will end this civil war, which is
what a large contingent of European nations is trying to broker. It
has requested that the United States and Colombia end their ties with
paramilitary troops, call a military cease fire with guerrilla troops
and bring all warring parties to Costa Rica in September to forge a
democratic reconstruction of Colombia.
From the United States and Colombia, however, there is only
In March 1999, President Clinton apologized to the Guatemalan
people for America's support of a military that ``engaged in violent
and widespread repression'' that resulted in the death of 100,000
civilians. ``That policy was wrong,'' the president said. But that
war, as well as the one in El Salvador, only ended when the United
States acknowledged that both conflicts were unwinnable and
threatened to cut off aid to government forces.
When will we ever learn?
©2000 San Francisco Chronicle