Robert Gates joins PR offensive for Colombia FTA

US Defense Secretary Robert Gates and his Colombian counterpart Juan Manuel Santos share a joint op-ed in the New York Times July 23, “Colombia’s Gains Are America’s, Too,” shamelessly trading off the apparent hostage rescue operation to shill for the pending US-Colombia free trade agreement. Let’s deconstruct this exercise in sinister propaganda:

The dramatic rescue of 15 hostages this month by Colombia’s special forces underscored how far Colombia has progressed — with the strong support of the United States — from a nation under siege by narcoterrorists and paramilitary vigilantes to one poised to become a linchpin of security and prosperity in South America…

The remarkable transformation of the security situation in Colombia can be credited in large part to the improvement in the capacity of its military and police — an improvement in which American security assistance has played a key role. The governments of both nations agree that this assistance should continue until the job is finished. Furthermore, we should also increase trade and investment by moving forward on the United States-Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement that is now before Congress. Growing prosperity and better standards of living are indispensable to achieving lasting stability in both countries.

Over all, our two nations should take care not to squander the investment we have already made — some $5 billion on the part of the United States plus significantly more in Colombian resources — now that these efforts are showing such promising results.

Consider that eight years ago, illegal armed groups involved in cocaine and heroin production controlled more than 70 percent of the Colombian countryside. Today the most dangerous and vicious of the groups — the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC — has seen a sharp drop in its strength and status. Once 18,000 strong, the group has lost half its forces along with whatever credibility and following it had elsewhere in Latin America. The other major militias, the National Liberation Army and the United Self-Defense Forces, no longer pose a serious threat.

Actually, human rights groups agree the prize for “most dangerous and vicious” of Colombia’s armed groups goes to the right-wing paramilitaries. They have by far the most blood on their hands. This op-ed of course does not mention the “parapolĂ­tica” scandal, in which several leading Colombia politicians—including key allies of President Uribe—have been jailed on charges of collaborating with the paras. It also fails to mention that a new paramilitary network known as the Black Eagles—successor the ostensibly “demobilized” United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC)—is active across the country. In but the latest incident, the human rights network DHColombia reported July 13 that two Afro-Colombian community leaders in Santiago de Cali, Nariño department, were kidnapped by a local Black Eagles bloc unsubtly dubbed “Nueva GeneraciĂłn.” The two community leaders, JosĂ© Arcos and Maria Antonia Amaya, are co-directors of the Concejo de Comunidades Negras de la Cordillera Occidental de Nariño, one of several civil initiatives in Colombia that demand the right of local peasants not to collaborate with any of the country’s warring armed forces. Their lives are believed to be in grave danger. But this sort of thing never makes the headlines in the US.

Since 2002, Colombia has doubled the size of its security forces. Last October, the two of us observed Colombian troops conducting drills at their training base in the western city of Tolemaida. These brave men and women have pushed terrorists and drug traffickers into the farthest reaches of Colombia’s mountains and jungles. Mayors and police officers are now at their posts in every municipality.

This is the same Tolemaida which is notorious in Colombia for horrific cases of torture and rape—in which US military advisors were directly implicated. But the grisly affair barely rated a mention in the US media, so New York Times readers can be forgiven for knowing nothing about it.

Military pressure, combined with incentives for those who lay down their arms under Colombia’s demobilization program, has encouraged thousands of narcoterrorists to turn themselves in and share information with the government. Children once forced to serve in armed groups can now take advantage of reintegration programs that offer hope for a decent future. Violence has declined significantly — kidnapping, terrorist acts and attacks against trade unionists are down by approximately 80 percent.

Convenient to talk about “terrorist [meaning guerilla] attacks” rather than human rights abuses. Amnesty International‘s 2008 annual report on Colombia finds: “All parties to the 40-year-old conflict committed violations of international humanitarian law (IHL), including war crimes and crimes against humanity… Fewer people were killed by paramilitary groups than in previous years. However, reports of killings of civilians by the security forces rose. Paramilitary groups remained active in many parts of the country despite the fact that they had supposedly been demobilized. The number of people forced to flee their homes by the conflict also rose.” Not such good news after all, eh?

While the cultivation and export of narcotics continues to be a problem, Colombia has eliminated two-thirds of its opium production and more than 500 traffickers have been extradited to the United States. In 2007, half a million acres of illicit coca crops were eradicated.

They don’t mention that the United Nations reports a “shock” rise in Colombain coca production this year—in spite of the earth-poisoning chemical eradication program. Once again, figures can’t lie but liars can figure.

Even so, there are challenges ahead. The Colombian government must strengthen its authority in areas previously controlled by terrorists. Remnants of these bandit armies could continue their murderous ways as smaller, independent groups. That is why it is so important that American security assistance not be reduced — at least not until Colombia has control of its borders, and police departments, municipal governments and other government services are firmly established in all areas…

Very important to say “terrorists” rather than the more accurate term “guerillas.” Even more important to ignore the grave human rights toll of US military aid to Colombia.

Finally, to achieve lasting peace and stability, Colombia must have more foreign investment and free trade. Congress’s approval of the trade promotion agreement would establish a commitment to open markets that would increase growth and investment. Moreover, it would allow American products to enter Colombia duty-free.

Colombia’s hard-won freedom from violence can be sustained only through economic prosperity. Together, as partners, we must see Colombia’s transformation to completion. In winning the war, we must also consolidate the peace.

Right, that’s just what Colombia needs—a free trade agreement which will force peasants from their lands and into the narco economy. In the years since NAFTA was passed, the narco economy and attendant violence have exploded horrifically in Mexico—leading the US to develop a “Plan Mexico” military aid program modeled on Plan Colombia. Now the empire wants to apply the economic model that led to the Mexican disaster to Colombia. Can you say “vicious cycle”?

See our last post on Colombia.