Colombia: A War Conceived in Washington

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President Andres Pastrana has announced the end of the peace process with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (Farc).

His latest declaration to the people of Colombia had a ring of deadly finality as he authorised General Fernando Tapias, head of the Colombian Armed Forces, to retake the demilitarised zone with immediate effect.

Just hours after the proclamation, military planes were overflying the demilitarised zone and dropping bombs of up to 250 kilogrammes. By the morning after the first night's bombing they had dropped more than 200 bombs on military targets they had been planning for months from their zone frontier base at Tres Esquinas. This is Plan B--the small print of Plan A, or Plan Colombia. More than 13,000 troops have been mobilised from different parts of the country to make their way to the zone.

In his public speech, Andres Pastrana referred to his concern for the safety of those civilians who have been resident inside the zone throughout the peace process. He suggested the Colombian army would protect them--however, the evidence of all too recent history casts very serious doubt upon this assertion.

When the army enters the zone, so too will their paramilitary soulmates. Already hit lists are circulating among the civilian populations of the zone warning certain people to leave if they want to stay alive. There is no doubt that we are about to witness a civilian bloodbath with government authorisation.

Under the new Law on Defence and National Security, the demilitarised zone is a major designated 'theatre of operation' in which the army will have total judicial autonomy, unaccountable to any civil judicial authority. In the name of 'public order' they will have complete freedom to detain, torture, disappear, rape and murder with total impunity and without being answerable to any authority but their own. In addition, the new statute actively requires them to form new paramilitary groups from the civilian population.

The reasons given by President Pastrana for the rupture of the peace talks were the Farc's attacks on utility companies and their detention on 19 February of Senator Jorge Eduardo Gechem Turbay. However, much less emphasis is put by the media on the fact that state-sponsored paramilitaries and national security forces have been continuing their rampage of death and devastation in different regions of the country. In the meantime, trade unionists protesting the privatisation of public utilities and their sale to foreign multinationals are being threatened, disappeared and assassinated.

What is strange is that this latest and most final rupture in the process has coincided with the US government agreeing to provide yet more military aid to the Colombian army, and to allow this aid to be used directly against insurgency as part of their 'war on terrorism'.

This was a planned war, conceived in Washington. Its blueprint was Plan Colombia. The peace process was never going to work, because there were powers in the White House making damn well sure it wouldn't.

The international community must open their eyes to the major role that has been and is being played by the US and the Colombian state in the terror and violence that is killing and displacing thousands of innocent Colombian civilians every year.

To deny the integral responsibility of the US and the Colombian state and fail to confront them is just to see the terror, violence, repression and suffering go on ad infinitum.


Liz Atherton writes on behalf of the Colombia Peace Association