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Bush in Colombia: An Old War Gets a New Boost

Laura Orlando

Probably few Americans know that by the end of this week the United States may be even more deeply entrenched in the Colombian war. The Bush administration wants to escalate the conflict there, with U.S. soldiers digging in on the new Latin American front in the "war on terrorism."

Two bills that will be considered by Congress this week and next will decide just how deeply the U.S. military will be involved in the decades-old civil war in Colombia.

The first, a Department of Defense authorization bill for fiscal year 2003, includes a House Armed Services Committee waiver that would allow the Secretary of Defense to eliminate the cap on U.S. military personnel in Colombia. The old bill provided $1.3 billion and put a cap of 400 on U.S. military personnel.

The Republican-controlled House Rules Committee did not allow an amendment by Gene Taylor, a Mississippi Democrat, to eliminate the waiver from the bill, so there will be no cap and no debate on how many U.S. military personnel and contractors the Department of Defense sends to Colombia.

The second bill that will impact the war in Colombia is a $30 billion supplemental appropriations request coming before Congress next week. In this bill, the Bush administration expands the rationale for U.S. involvement in Colombia from counter-drug to anti-terrorism.

The language the administration sent up to the House on the supplemental bill also struck out human rights restrictions and controls on the use of the herbicide glyphosate, which is already wreaking havoc on forests, wildlife, food crops, water supplies, and public health in Colombia. But Cindy Buhl, a congressional aide to Massachusetts Congressman Jim McGovern, says that it is "unlikely the restrictions will be lifted." McGovern is co-sponsoring, with Congressman Ike Skelton of Missouri, an amendment to strike the anti-terrorism language.

Colombia, a country rich with gold, silver, copper, and perhaps the largest oil reserve in Latin America, has no good guys with guns. The Colombian military and the right wing paramilitary death squads work comfortably side by side in their no-holds-barred attempt to eliminate rebel forces. Each of the armed participants in this conflict has its own ugly human rights record, while drug dealers grease everyone's wheels, and the locals do what they have to do to stay alive.

The U.S. government should be making a contribution to ending the conflict in Colombia with significant financial and technical assistance to Colombia's civil society, the non-governmental organizations and community groups building a path to peace on a foundation of respect for human rights, economic security, and environmental justice.

Instead of peace, the Bush administration pursues a bellicose "carrot and stick" approach, tying carrots to Blackhawk helicopters and delivering sticks in three-round bursts of .22 caliber rifles.

It is no wonder the Bush policy in Colombia is antithetical to a lasting peace. Gangsters from the old Reagan slash-and-burn days are back at the helm in Latin America.

Elliott Abrams is currently the National Security Council's Senior Director for Democracy, Human Rights and International Operations. He was Assistant Secretary of State for Latin America for most of the Reagan years. He deceived three congressional committees about the Reagan administration's support for murder in El Salvador, Nicaragua, and Guatemala. Facing felony charges in the Iran-contra scandal, he pleaded guilty to two misdemeanors.

Otto Reich, Bush's Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, is an anti-Castro fanatic from way back. During the Reagan years, Reich headed the Office of Diplomacy, a State Department agency that illegally funded pro-contra propaganda.

And to round out the skullduggery trifecta, Bush appointed John Negroponte as U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations. Negroponte was U.S. Ambassador to Honduras when the contras were supplied and illegally armed by the Reagan administration. During his tenure, he consistently denied the existence of death squads and political persecution in Honduras both of which flourished while he was in charge. Negroponte got his start in the diplomatic corps as a political affairs officer at the US Embassy in Saigon and an aide to Henry Kissinger during the Vietnam War.

Sound the alarms: George Bush is upping the ante in Colombia, letting old hands at lying and deceit run the show while the Defense Department spokesman mumbles "anti- terrorism." What will come of it? Endless battles against a phantom enemy that is no threat to you and me. And the end result will be no end at all, just misery, economic and environmental destruction, with no chance for peace in Colombia.

Our work is licensed under Creative Commons (CC BY-NC-ND 3.0). Feel free to republish and share widely.

Laura Orlando

Laura Orlando ( is Executive Director of the Resource Institute for Low Entropy Systems and an Adjunct Assistant Professor at the Boston University School of Public Health.

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