March 25, 2002
Narco News '02
By Kim Alphandary
war is being fought in Colombia right now.
A six month war plan is in place. The offensive is called "Operation
Thanatos," named after the Greek god of death and is divided
into three phases.
Colombia is currently fighting its largest
insurgency group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia
(FARC) in its own territory. A 42,139-square-kilometer area
of Colombia was given to them three years ago in an effort to
establish a peace process, known as the demilitarized zone, or
The first phase of the offensive is set
to destroy rebels' logistical positions, together with bombing,
and is to take six weeks. The second stage includes the penetration
of counter-guerrilla troops throughout rural areas occupied by
the rebel group; it is aimed at retaking the territory and will
last for 15 weeks. The third will consist of the permanent installation
of battalions and counter-insurgency units in the five municipalities.
On February 20th, Colombian President
Andres Pastrana made the dramatic decision to rupture the Peace
Talks by ordering the armed forces to retake the neutral zone,
giving only two and a half hours notice before sending planes
and helicopters to bomb the zone. There was virtually no time
to organize protection; civilians in the demilitarized zone were
immediately engulfed in war.
The first day of the campaign, warplanes
and helicopters flew more than 200 aerial bombardments were carried
out that night, dropping 500lb bombs; three civilians were reported
Within hours after the army offensive
began, rebel units struck back, focusing on infrastructure. The
FARC blacked out wide sections of the country by dynamiting electrical
substations and transmission lines, blasting bridges, and blocking
key highways across the country.
The Colombian military bombed targets
to coincide with elite Rapid Deployment Forces, backed by dozens
of Air Force paratroopers sweeping into the zone. Most of the
13,000 ground troops deployed to the region are engaged in war,
in and around the zone.
The zone has been bombed continuously
since February 21st, causing forest fires, and destroying homes,
highways, and bridges throughout the region. Many more deaths
are expected as a result of the bombing.
Hostilities have increased all over the
country. Battles are being fought between Government troops
supported by paramilitaries against guerrilla groups.
Six of the country's 32 provinces have
been affected dramatically, plunging that part of the country
into chaos and fear. The civilian population is increasingly
isolated from the rest of the country; they are without roads
or river communications, or fuel for generators. Residents are
suffering bombardments, fumigations, massacres, forced displacements,
and lack of water and basic foodstuffs.
Most harmful to the region is the fact
that the paramilitaries, the United Self-defense Forces of Colombia
(AUC) have entered the area to hunt down guerrilla sympathizers.
Colombian television aired footage of hundreds of well-equipped
paramilitary fighters amassed at a jungle site entering the southern
Colombian ex-rebel haven.
The military has not allowed the press
into the region, the CAFOD (Catholic Agency For Overseas Development)
reports that, "Because of military control, little information
about conditions in the region is reaching the media."
They have explained that, "Because of the threat of political
violence, residents who can be contacted are careful... a Protestant
pastor who left the zone and reported that civilians were dying
because the military was preventing humanitarian relief from
entering the zone has been murdered on his return, presumably
Currently, the religious communities are
best placed to give account to what is taking place. They are
having conferences, issuing statements, seeking every venue available
to them to give alert regarding this situation. A letter sent
March 13th to all US congress members, from CMSM and LCWR (Women
and Men's Catholic leadership organization) gives testimony,
"Our own people [are] there and are ... informing us that
the worst violence on non-combatants continues to be perpetrated
by the long-standing paramilitary groups throughout the countryside."
According to anonymous sources the number
of civilians to be assassinated and massacred since March number
in the hundreds. "Paramilitary ranks arrive with former
members of the community and former FARC members that have joined
the paramilitaries and are the ones who have been guiding the
cleansing of the population."
response to the escalation of the war in
Colombia, the White House is seeking to expand the "War
on Terrorism" to Colombia by singling out the enemy, the
left-wing rebels or the FARC. And to accomplish this they will
inadvertently be assisting the AUC, a military organization that
is on the United States Terrorist List. International human rights
groups have repeatedly accused Colombia's military forces of
tacitly backing the paramilitaries.
Examine the Afghanistan model: how the
goal of destroying the USSR, led to assisting regional mujahadeen
forces, and their eventual evolution into the Taliban. The US
must reevaluate the state of its allies, revise its objectives.
The CMSM and LCWR letter also addresses
the paramilitary phenomenon, "a group not being referred
to in the current U.S. public debate about the crisis there.
Our people lived and died with the dramatic consequences of
uncontrolled paramilitary groups in the years of the Central
Paramilitary forces have increased their
number and influence dramatically in the last few years, in 1998
they numbered some 4,000 troops, they now number over 11,000.
AUC forces operate in 70% of Colombia's territory. According
to Colombia's Defense Ministry and Human Rights Watch, the AUC
is the country's leading author of civilian massacres. The AUC's
strategy of depriving guerrillas of supplies and intelligence
has contributed to the internal displacement of over 2 million
The AUC's top leaders, Carlos Castaño
and Salvatore Mancuso are narco-traffickers. They now have their
own political party, the National and Democratic Movement of
the Autodefensas. Following recent congressional elections,
Moncuso speaks of their successes, "we celebrate with patriotic
sentiment ... we have largely surpassed our goal of having 35
percent support in Congress." [www.aucolombia.com]
Maneuverings that followed recent congressional
elections indicate that Presidential Candidate Alvaro Uribe Velez
is set to win. Uribe is believed to be a front for the AUC and
has stated that he will create a national civilian militia and
arm a million rural Colombians to patrol the countryside. He
has also pledged to strip Congress to one chamber, to rid it
of corruption. The rise of Uribe and the AUC are in direct relationship
to the amount of military assistance the U.S. has been supplying
to the Colombian government. The increased violence has lead
to increased kidnappings and attacks on the cities by guerillas.
Pastrana has clearly lead his country to war and not to peace,
as he has proclaimed. The peace talks appear to be a front for
gaining time for Colombian military to arm and train.
military involvement in Colombia has been increasing exponentially over the last few years. Congress
approved $1.3 billion for Colombia in 2000, a multiyear appropriation
aimed at halting the cultivation of coca and the production of
Now the U.S. is seeking to increase the
level of its involvement by moving from the "war on drugs"
to include the "war on terrorism". With the U.S. functioning
in a kind of "state of war" mode, priorities placed
on national security and access to oil are the motivations pushing
its role to become more involved.
U.S. Ambassador to Colombia, Luis Alberto
Moreno, recently explained that "In the Western Hemisphere,
Colombia is of the 'highest priority' for the United States,"
explaining that, "the FARC are not a terrorist organization
of global reach but regional, and the United States shares this
region," said Moreno. [El Espectador 03/06]
The administration is seeking another
$400 million for the next fiscal year as part of the war on drugs.
An additional $100 million counter insurgency aid to protect
British Petroleum's Oil Pipeline, $29 million to help Colombia
combat terrorist kidnappings and $25 million to provide "critically
needed training and operational assistance.
What do our military-minded rulers have
in store us? Colombia can return to the peace process. The
United States can support Colombia's return to democracy. Aid
for Colombia needs to support civil society -- not war.
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