Roger D. Harris
Staging a vice-presidential candidates debate in the run-up to Colombia’s May 29th national elections was entirely appropriate. Nevertheless, the location of the event in Washington and its promotion by US-state functionaries requires some explanation. Because of its venue and sponsors, the affair had elements of an audition or a vetting process overseen by the US government.
Along with the Washington consensus crowd, members of the Colombian diaspora attended the May 13th event, especially supporters of popular vice-presidential candidate Francia Márquez. Afro-descendent environmentalist Márquez is running with presidential candidate Gustavo Petro. Their frontrunning ticket could be the first administration on the left in Colombian history.
Vice-presidential debate hosts
The debate was hosted by the US Institute of Peace, a federal agency entirely funded by the US Congress. The board of the institute must by law include the US secretaries of defense and state along with the head of the Pentagon’s National Defense University. Activities include spreading “peace” in such oases of made-in-the-USA tranquility as Iraq, Sudan, Afghanistan, and Libya.
If these officials pass for peacemakers in Washington’s inside-the-beltway world, who, one might ask, would be left to lead a military academy? Answer: the very same people, which is entirely the point of a US government “peace” agency.
Co-hosts of the event were the Atlantic Council and the Woodrow Wilson Center. The former is known as “NATO’s think tank.” Its board of honorary directors is composed of four former secretaries of defense, three former secretaries of state, a former head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and a former Homeland Security official.
The Woodrow Wilson Center is a semi-governmental entity, whose current head, Mark Andrew Green, was executive director of the McCain Institute for International Leadership and before that head of the CIA front organization USAID. Rounding out their board are Betsy DeVos, Trump’s secretary of education, and Antony Blinken, Biden’s current secretary of state.
Colombia – US client state
Colombia is the leading client state of the US in the Americas. The South American nation was touted by both Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden in their US presidential campaigns as a model for the rest of Latin America. This so-called model nation was partially paralyzed for four days starting on May 5 when the private paramilitary group Clan del Golfo imposed a national armed strike in retaliation for the extradition to the US of its leader on drug trafficking charges.
Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos, for example, boasted in 2013 in reference to Colombia’s regional role as a US client state: “If somebody called my country the Israel of Latin America, I would be very proud. I admire the Israelis, and I would consider that as a compliment.”
According to the Task Force on the Americas, Colombia has been turned into a regional US military and political staging area. Plan Colombia and Plan Patriota constructed one of the most sophisticated armies in the world even though Colombia has no external wars.
As the US’s leading regional proxy, Colombia is appropriately a land of superlatives. It is the leading recipient of US military and foreign aid in the hemisphere. According to Colombian academic Rena Vegas, the US has approximately 50 military units along with US agencies, headed by the CIA and the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), which “operate daily and freely to intervene in the country.”
Also, not inconsequently, Colombia is the most dangerous place to be a union activist. North American corporations there (e.g., Chiquita, Coca Cola, Drummond) have employed paramilitaries to do their dirty work.
Colombia likewise gets the largest allocation of DEA funds. Also, not inconsequently, it is the world’s largest source of illicit cocaine, according to the CIA. The US war on drugs in Colombia has served as a smokescreen for massive repression against popular movements by the country’s military and allied paramilitary organizations.
In 2017, Colombia became one of NATO’s Global Partners and its first in Latin American. In February, Colombia conducted a provocative joint naval drill with NATO near Venezuela, which included a nuclear submarine. Then on March 10, Colombia became a “Major Non-NATO Ally” of the US, giving the narco-state special access to military programs. Biden explained: “This is a recognition of the unique and close relationship between our countries.”
Summit of the Americas
In short, Colombia is the poster child for the US Monroe Doctrine, an assertion of US hegemony over the hemisphere dating back to 1823. Biden recently made a cosmetic change to the Monroe Doctrine risibly proclaiming that our southern neighbors are no longer in our “backyard” but rather in our “front yard.”
However, many Latin American and Caribbean nations believe that they are sovereign countries. So Biden’s recent call for a Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles on June 6-10, which would exclude Nicaragua, Cuba, and Venezuela, faces significant pushback. Mexican President Lopez Obrador said he’ll shun the meeting along with the heads of state of over a dozen Caribbean countries, Bolivia, Guatemala, and possibly Brazil.
Over half of the chief execs in the Americas have tentatively spurned the imperial summons. Unless Biden makes amends or more likely twists some arms, he’ll find Los Angeles a lonely place.
Meanwhile counter-summits have been organized by social movements in Los Angeles on June 8-10 and followed by another in Tijuana on June 10-12, which may be attended by nationals barred from entering the US.
Colombia’s relations with Venezuela
Colombia has served as the main staging ground for US destabilization efforts against Venezuela. Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro accused Colombian President Iván Duque of plotting to sow unrest through the targeted killing of Venezuelan security forces along their shared border. A year ago, US-backed mercenaries trained in Colombia were caught in Venezuela before they could follow through on their plan to assassinate the Venezuelan president.
Despite tremendous pressure from the US, the leading Colombian presidential candidate, Gustavo Petro, has stated that he intends to restore relations with neighboring Venezuela. Nevertheless, Petro has regularly made critical remarks about Venezuela, a country slated for regime change by Washington. While not mentioning Petro by name, Venezuelan President Maduro has called those who capitulate to US pressures “the cowardly regional left.”
More recently Petro falsely characterized political prisoner Alex Saab of being allied with the far right. Venezuelan diplomat Saab is currently imprisoned in the US even though he should be afforded diplomatic immunity from prosecution under the Vienna Convention. The Venezuelan National Assembly unanimously passed a resolution condemning Saab’s treatment as what its president, Jorge Rodríguez, called an “act of immeasurable hypocrisy” by the US.
Petro/Márquez campaign survives assignation attempts
Given the domination of Colombia by its US-backed military, Petro is concerned not only about winning the election but surviving afterward. Both Petro and his running mate Márquez have already survived assassination attempts on the campaign trail.
Breaking the constitutional requirement for neutrality by the armed forces, the commander of the Colombian army issued a direct attack against Petro. This prompted Medellín’s mayor to warn: “We are one step away from a coup.”
Petro, a former leftist guerilla and onetime mayor of Bogotá, has since shifted toward the center politically. But in comparison to the far-right rule of former President Álvaro Uribe and his successors in Colombia, Petro and Márquez appear relatively left and their election would be a sea change for the better.
Colombia has had leftist candidates assassinated – that is the genesis of the guerilla opposition – but none have survived to assume the presidential office. The win would be a necessary step in the left’s long struggle to free their troubled country from its erstwhile subjugation to the colossus to the north. Then, perhaps, their political candidates won’t feel compelled to audition in Washington.
Roger D. Harris is with the anti-imperialist human rights group, Task Force on the Americas, founded in 1985.
As a close U.S. ally in the region, Colombia’s competitive May 29 presidential elections will undoubtedly have important implications for the longstanding bilateral relationship. The next Colombian administration will face a host of issues, including: ongoing security challenges; the implementation of the 2016 FARC peace accord; opportunities for private sector investment, infrastructure development and poverty alleviation; counternarcotics efforts; urban unrest and strikes; climate change and the environment; and Colombia’s relations with neighboring Venezuela. At a townhall event, Colombia’s principal vice-presidential candidates — who represent Colombia’s rich and dynamic political spectrum — discussed their respective policy plans to address these challenges and visions for the country’s future.