Plan Colombia’s 15th anniversary will be celebrated in Washington Thursday. But the legacy of the plan is marked by massacres, mass graves, and death squads.
According to Colombia’s Victims Unit, the number of victims of Colombia’s civil war has surpassed 7 million. This number includes those who have been killed, disappeared or displaced since 1956. For a country of under 50 million citizens, these numbers are staggering, and certainly newsworthy, but apparently not for the mainstream media.
Of course, the violence and human rights abuses in Colombia have constituted inconvenient truths for the Western media as the U.S. has been a major sponsor of the violence and abuses in that country.
Indeed, a notable fact in the Colombia Victims Unit report is that “that the majority of victimization occurred after 2000, peaking in 2002 at 744,799 victims.” It is not coincidental that “Plan Colombia,” or “Plan Washington” as many Colombians have called it, was inaugurated by President Bill Clinton in 2000, thus escalating the conflict to new heights and new levels of barbarity. Plan Colombia is a plan pursuant to which the U.S. has given Colombia billions in mostly military and police assistance.
As Amnesty International has explained, these monies have only fueled the human rights crisis in Colombia:
Amnesty International USA has been calling for a complete cut off of US military aid to Colombia for over a decade due to the continued collaboration between the Colombian Armed Forces and their paramilitary allies as well the failure of the Colombian government to improve human rights conditions.
Colombia has been one of the largest recipients of US military aid for well over a decade and the largest in the western hemisphere. . . . Yet torture, massacres, “disappearances” and killings of non-combatants are widespread and collusion between the armed forces and paramilitary groups continues to this day. . . .
“Plan Colombia” — the name for the US aid package since 2000, was created as a strategy to combat drugs and contribute to peace, mainly through military means….
Despite overwhelming evidence of continued failure to protect human rights the State Department has continued to certify Colombia as fit to receive aid. The US has continued a policy of throwing “fuel on the fire” of already widespread human rights violations, collusion with illegal paramilitary groups and near total impunity.
Furthermore, after 10 years and over $8 billion dollars of U.S. assistance to Colombia, U.S. policy has failed to reduce availability or use of cocaine in the US, and Colombia’s human rights record remains deeply troubling. Despite this, the State Department continues to certify military aid to Colombia, even after reviewing the country’s human rights record.
However, what Amnesty International did not explain are two salient facts.
First, the human rights group does not mention that Plan Colombia was initiated in the midst of peace talks between the Colombian government and FARC guerillas, and actually played a key role in derailing these talks, and with them the prospects for peace – prospects which have only been revived recently.
Second, Amnesty International does not mention that the paramilitaries which continue to collaborate with the U.S.-backed military in Colombia were actually a creation of the U.S. Thus, these paramilitaries were the brainchild of the Kennedy Administration back in 1962 – that is, two years before the FARC guerillas were even constituted.
As Noam Chomsky has mentioned a number of times, Kennedy commenced the U.S.’s counterinsurgency program, of which paramilitaries were a key component, in order to combat the scourge of Liberation Theology unleashed by Vatican II. And indeed, as Chomsky has also noted, the U.S. School of the Americas has bragged about how it helped “destroy liberation theology,” which emphasizes the “preferential treatment of the poor.”
Colombia has been ground zero for this plan which has targeted, among others, Catholic clergy for assassination. Accordingly, as documented by the Episcopal Conference of Colombia, over 80 Catholic clergy have been murdered in Colombia since 1984 — including 79 priests and 2 bishops — for the crime of advocating on behalf of the poor.
One brave Colombian Liberation Priest, Father Javier Giraldo sent a letter in September of 2011 to the U.S. Ambassador to Colombia, P. Michael McKinley, imploring him to prevail upon President Barack Obama to reconsider his decision to release millions of dollars in military aid to Colombia in light its abysmal human rights record.
In this letter, Father Giraldo informed the Ambassador that Colombian military’s directive known as EJC 3-10 – a directive based upon General Yarborough’s 1962 recommendation to organize paramilitary groups – is still very much in effect today in the form of paramilitary groups which both the U.S. and Colombian governments attempt to dismiss as mere criminal bands known as “BACRIM.”
According to Father Giraldo, these neo-paramilitary groups, as before, continue to work “in close harmony with the Army and Police” to carry out crimes against humanity, including forced displacement, with the number of internally displaced people in Colombia now at over 6 million; extra-judicial killings which have resulted in the proliferation of mass graves throughout Colombia; and “the systematic crime of forced disappearances, which according to national and international agencies now affects more than 50,000 families.”
And, he also places the responsibility for these continued abuses firmly at the feet of the U.S. Thus, Father Giraldo informs the U.S. ambassador that “[t]he current commanders take part in the same immunity, and impunity and the assistance from your government only reinforces their criminal activity.”
As Father Giraldo explains, the U.S.’s military/paramilitary policy is part and parcel of an unjust economic policy which allows for the unconstrained penetration of Colombia by multinational corporations at the expense of the Colombian people. He states:
The permits issued for mining exploitation to numerous transnational businesses have activated paramilitaries and armed conflict tremendously. They are leaving huge populations of poor people without any land or resources. The destruction of the environment and the destruction of indigenous, campesino and Afro-Colombian communities by these projects are leading to every kind of resistance. This means that the security of these companies and of their destructive projects is only effective with the protection of enormous contingents of paramilitaries secretly co-opted by the armed forces and by the government security agencies, which do not hesitate to murder the leaders of the resistance.
Father Giraldo further describes:
“The permanent genocide that is being carried out in Buenaventura, where the neighborhoods and the Community Councils around the port are being invaded by paramilitaries supported or tolerated by the armed forces. They cut people in pieces with horrifying cruelty throwing the body parts in to the sea, if any of them dare to resist the megaproject for the new port. This included the expulsion of people living in the poorest areas and it includes the expropriation of the plots of garbage dumps where these people, in the midst of their misery, have over decades tried to survive.”
Not surprisingly, Father Giraldo’s prophetic voice fell on deaf ears, and Obama proceeded with the release of the military aid to Colombia. And, it is the deathly silence over the horrifying human rights situation in Colombia which allows the U.S. to continue its destructive military/economic policy in that country.
Daniel Kovalik is labor and human rights lawyer. He teaches International Human Rights at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law.