As Colombia Nears Peace Accord, The Question of U.S. Culpability Looms

By Dan Kovalik

Due to the good journalism of Colombia Reports as well as FAIR, there has been some attention given to the scandal of U. S. military and military contractors sexually assaulting young women and girls in Colombia.

This scandal was ignited by a piece amongst an 800-page joint Colombian government/FARC report on the historical reasons for the conflict in Colombia. In particular, it is based on an article by Renán Vega Cantor, entitled, “Interference of the United States, Counter-Insurgency and State Terrorism.”

As both Colombia Reports and FAIR pointed out, Vega mentions potentially 54 girls who had been raped at the hands of U. S. soldiers and contractors in recent years. However, this appears to be merely the tip of the iceberg. I talked to Gimena Sanchez from the Washington Office on Latin America (WOLA) who explained to me that in trips to just one region of Colombia (Tumaco), “we were informed of sexual misconduct committed by U. S. contractors, however, none of the women or organizations in the area were willing to report these cases due to fear of reprisals. As such, we do not know the full scope of these abuses, but it is likely to be broader in scope than what has been revealed.”

Truthfully, none of this should come as any surprise given the scandal a few years ago at the Summit of the Americas where 11 U.S. Secret Servicemen were found to have been procuring Colombian prostitutes in Cartagena, and in light of the recent scandal with the DEA in Colombia partying with prostitutes procured by the very drug cartels they were supposed to be fighting.

What’s more, the rape and sexual exploitation of Colombians by powerful Americans is indicative of the much greater problem with U. S. involvement in Colombia over the past century, which, as Vega reports, has stoked the war and the conflict in Colombia.

As Vega explains, the U.S. has for decades supported one side of that conflict – namely, the side of the wealthy corporations and landowners in Colombia who continue, with the U.S.’s help, to hold onto an unjust claim of Colombia’s wealth and land. As Vega explains, this in fact is the root cause of the conflict in Colombia. And indeed, the U.S. support for the Colombian economic elite has taken the form of both creating and supporting the right-wing paramilitary groups (a.k.a. death squads) that protect the interests of those powerful forces in Colombia against the rest of the population. These paramilitaries, by the way, are notorious for using rape as a weapon in the conflict.

And so as Vega explains, the U.S., through its 1962 mission led by General William Yarborough, openly called for the Colombian state to organize paramilitary groups to carry out activities, including “sabotage and/or terrorist activities against known supporters of Communism” and called for the U.S. to support these efforts to create these paramilitary groups.

It is important to note, as Vega does in his article, that the so-called “Communists” were people who had organized peasant communes (known as “independent republics”) throughout Colombia and who were not a physical threat to the Colombian state. But nonetheless, the U.S. called for these groups to be destroyed violently through both military and paramilitary means.

The largest of the operations to destroy the independent republics took place in May of 1964 in Marquetalia. There, the state carried out the recommendations of General Yarborough in attacking peasants and native peoples with heavy firearms, including aerial bombings, in the largest counter-insurgency operation in Latin America up to that point. The U.S. delivered half a million dollars as a contribution to that pacification campaign.

As Vega and numerous other Colombian historians have opined, this operation was the precipitating event for the beginning of the current civil war as the peasant guerilla leaders who survived that assault formed themselves into the FARC guerillas which continue to this day and which are now negotiating with the Colombian government in Havana for a peace accord.

Meanwhile, between 1950 and 1970, over 4,500 Colombian military troops were trained in the U.S. School of the Americas, and the main focus of the indoctrination by the U.S. was to encourage the torture and disappearance of the so-called Communists and other opponents of the government. And since that time, the U.S. has intervened to prevent successful peace processes in Colombia.

For example, while the Colombian government and the FARC began a peace process in earnest in 1998, in 1999 the Colombian government became the third largest recipient of the U.S. military aid in the world pursuant to President Clinton’s so-called Plan Colombia which represented a major boost of military support to Colombia to aggressively combat the guerillas while leaving the right-wing paramilitaries alone to carry out their attacks against the population. Vega quotes William Wood, U.S. Ambassador to Colombia between the years 2003 and 2007, who stated that “there is no country including Afghanistan in which we had more activity.”

In the end, Vega concludes that “the interference of the United States in the social conflict has been constant and direct from the late 1940’s and this has been expressed both in military aid and the promotion of policies of counter-insurgency.” He concludes that the U.S. prevented peaceful solutions to structural causes of the social conflict from succeeding in Colombia, and that the result was the prolongation and intensification of the conflict, resulting in the deaths of hundreds of thousands of innocents and the displacement of six million people.

He concludes that the U.S. must accept responsibility for those that it directly and indirectly victimized, just as the U.S. is calling upon the FARC to accept responsibility for the crimes that it committed. I could not agree more.