Action Alert: Colombia Military Bases, or South American Peace?
The plan to increase the U.S. military's presence on Colombian bases is the wrong plan, and it is provoking intense opposition in Colombia and the rest of South America. The plan would prolong the failed drug war, expand the war within Colombia that has caused such suffering, destabilize already tense regional relations, create incentives for an arms race, and violate Colombian sovereignty through immunity for U.S. soldiers' crimes. It would also violate the Colombian constitution, which prohibits the presence of foreign soldiers except in transit (and even then only if approved by the Colombian senate).
Opposition in Latin America has surprised the Colombian and U.S. governments, but so far they appear determined to forward with the deal. Colombian officials announced Friday (August 14) they had reached agreement on the bases in Washington, and only need to work out technical issues in the weeks ahead.
Yet the two governments did not sign an accord, and disclosed no information about what was agreed. What's clear is that the U.S. and Colombian governments want to stem the broad opposition that has erupted throughout the hemisphere, and projecting the idea that the deal is sealed says that opposition is futile.
But the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) also learned that the negotiations "encountered some difficulties" on at least five issues, even before South American opposition forced President Uribe to make a seven-nation tour to seek support for the plan.
We need to let Secretary of State Clinton know that this is not the way to address conflicts in the Andean nations or to help our compatriots who suffer from addiction.
Religious and Grassroots Leaders Urge Suspension of Base Talks
Bases deal "presents enormous dangers for entire hemisphere"
Over 100 religious, national, community organizations and leaders and academics called on Secretary of State Hillary Clinton August 13 to "suspend negotiations for expanded U.S. military access or operations in Colombia," a plan that has generated a swell of protest among Latin American countries, including Colombia.
"It is rational for regional leaders to see the installation of several U.S. military sites in Colombia as a potential threat to their security," the groups said, because of U.S. support for trans-border attacks from Colombia, reported violations of the expiring base agreement with Ecuador, a Pentagon statement that it seeks access for "contingency operations" in the region, and the painful history of U.S. military intervention in Latin America and the Caribbean.
"To broaden relationships with South America and value respect for human rights, the United States should not create a fortress in Colombia in concert with the region's worst rights violators, the Colombian military," the letter said.
Signatories included 20 national religious organizations and leaders and 32 U.S. peace and human rights groups, as well as community organizations, academics, and international NGOs. Opposition has come from other quarters in the United States also. The Washington Office on Latin America, Mingas FTA, and the Campaign for Peace and Development, among others, have spoken out against the base deal.
Many South American presidents also have expressed opposition to the increased U.S. military presence in Colombia. Brazilian President Lula da Silva urged President Obama to join presidents from the South American Union to discuss the issue later this month in Buenos Aires, and Venezuela President Hugo Chavez said that "the winds of war are blowing" because of the plan for U.S. troops to operate in seven Colombian bases.
By John Lindsay-Poland
Published by Americas Program, Center for International Policy, 13 August 2009
President Obama was forced to address the growing clamor in South America in opposition to plans for U.S. military use of at least seven bases in Colombia. The base agreement proposes to carry out regional operations with a wide and ambiguous mandate and has raised concerns among governments throughout the region. "We have no intent in establishing a U.S. military base in Colombia," Obama said on August 7.
But the South American presidents who met in Quito on August 10 weren't buying it. They agreed to meet again later this month to discuss the bases in Colombia. Despite a seven-nation tour by Colombian President Álvaro Uribe the previous week, only Peru openly supports the proposal. President Lula da Silva of Brazil-the continent's superpower-called for President Obama to attend the meeting, and several Latin American presidents and Colombian leaders echoed the call. Obama needs to "explain in depth U.S. policy for the region," Lula said.
|Southern Command Chief Douglas Fraser and Colombian armed forces chief Freddy Padilla meet on August 4. (Source: Daylife.com.)|
His declaration came following an explosive exposé of base negotiations between the Pentagon and the State Department, and the Colombian government in the Colombian weekly Cambio. The report generated broad discontent in Colombia and the region. The article noted that the plan would include "filling the gaps left by the eventual cutting of [military] aid in Plan Colombia," according to sources cited in Washington and Bogotá.
Whether the bases are "U.S." in name matters little in practice. The proposal has always been for U.S. military use of national bases in Colombia, which is how the United States works at military bases in Honduras, Ecuador, and many other countries in the world. The Pentagon does not acknowledge having "U.S. bases" in Iraq, for example. In Ecuador, the U.S. government denied it had any military base, though now supporters of the military deal with Colombia claim the U.S. operations in Manta, Ecuador were "truly a gringo presence." Obama's announcement doesn't change the situation that has bothered so many Latin Americans and U.S. citizens who hoped for something better from Obama's government.
The issue is really the missions of U.S. forces at those bases and the message they send to Colombians and others in the region that the United States will respond militarily to every problem, from poverty to bilateral tensions. The State Department says the bases are to address narcotics trafficking and "should be viewed as nothing more than that." But the most recent military budget document and the Colombian government define the purposes much more broadly. The Pentagon seeks sites for "contingency operations, logistics, and training," and plans to deploy C-17 cargo aircraft-not used for counter-narcotics-at Palanquero air base in Colombia.
In fact, the facilities under negotiation appear to be aimed at replacing the former School of the Americas and other U.S. military training sites for Latin American armies. In a July 28 written response to Colombian senators, Interior Minister Fabio Valencia said that the agreement seeks to "deepen cooperation in areas such as: interoperability, joint procedures, logistics and equipment, training and instruction, strengthening monitoring and reconnaissance capacity, combined exercises, and especially exchange of intelligence information."
There will be an attempt to "expand training offered to other countries in the region through instruction of helicopter pilots and in human rights and international humanitarian law." Colombia is already imparting military training to jungle commandos and naval forces of other countries, Valencia says, and "plans to continue doing so with low-cost training of the same quality as that offered by countries such as the United States and the United Kingdom."
To read the rest of "Obama's Choice," click here.
Bogotanians Protest U.S. military bases
By Sofia Larsson
It is easy to ignore things that don't affect us directly. It is easy to change TV channels if they show a war we don't want to see and it is more relaxing to listen to a good music channel on the radio than listen to a program informing us about injustices that make us uncomfortable. And even if we do listen and have opinions, most of us will not try to make the broader public listen to them.
On July 24, some 300 people gathered at the Bolivar Plaza in Colombia's capital city to protest the possible establishment of at least five U.S. military bases on Colombian territory. While negotiations between the U.S. and Colombian governments are taking place regarding the matter, political parties, NGOs, lawyer collectives, and other social movements in Colombia are working hard to inform the public about the risks that such an agreement would create -- risks they argue that many Colombians don't know about.
One of the protesters, a male student in his twenties, takes a break from the unison shouting of "Yankees, go home!" and "Multinationals out of the country!"
"After years of the war on drugs and enormous amounts of military aid from the U.S., there are still no real results," he tells me. "The drug trafficking is still big business in Colombia, so why do some people in this country want the war to continue? Why does the U.S. want the war to continue? Report after report shows that the previous military actions have not worked! As much as the military bases is an attempt to fight the drugs, it is a attempt to control this continent and the leftist governments of our neighboring countries. If this deal goes through, Colombia will end up being the Israel of Latin America!"
Four days later another protest against the American military bases takes place in the center of Bogotá. Many people stop by to look at the crowd that sings and jumps in order to convey their message to the onlookers.
One of the passersby, a middle-aged woman coming out from an office building, receives a flyer from one of the protesters. She reads it, starts shaking her head and asks me as I stand beside her: "Don't they understand that they are asking for the old Colombia back? Don't they understand that we need help to fight the guerrillas?" I don't have time to answer her as some of the protesters have heard what she said and one of them starts talking loudly in her direction: "The U.S. military have tried to help us solve the problem of drug dealing with war for many years already, without results! Why do you want our country to be a slave under the U.S. government? Why do you want to sell our country and worsen our country's relations with the rest of the continent even more? Why do you want to displace more people?" The woman shakes her head in response, says she is late for a meeting and starts walking away.
The protester who had been talking to the woman looks at me and says, "Sometimes people just don't seem to understand that there is more to Colombia than Bogotá. They don't see the war here anymore, so they think that the army and the gringos got rid of most of it, but that's not true."
I think to myself that he is right. I have worked in the field, where war and coca cultivation are very much present and cause immense problems and fear among the people living there. But that seems very far away when we're standing in the middle of a city where another kind of every-day life is taking place. So, regardless of whether one agrees or not with the message that the jumping loud crowd wants the rest of us to engage in, they remind us of problems we know exist, but can choose to ignore. They remind us of that this country needs us to stay informed and share our opinions, thoughts, and concerns.
The Western hemisphere, and Colombia in particular, has recently come back into focus in British politics, culminating with a resolution in the House of Commons calling for an end to all British military aid to Colombia.
Over recent months, Britain's Foreign Office has appointed a new minister with responsibility for Latin America, Gillian Merron, and a new ambassador to Bogotá, John Dew. The changes in personnel have prompted several calls to transform British foreign policy towards Colombia, coinciding with the fallout from the so-called "false positives" scandal, whereby the Colombian army is suspected of killing over 1,000 civilians and dressing them up as guerrilla fighters killed in combat. The special envoy for the United Nations has called the practice "cold-blooded and premeditated murder" carried out in a "systematic" fashion.
These various currents converged at the end of March, when Foreign Secretary David Miliband announced the slashing of military aid to Colombia. In a letter to Liberal Democrat peer Lord Eric Avebury, Under-Secretary Merron said "our bilateral UK military project on human rights has ceased." The official British stance had previously been that military aid was destined exclusively for human rights training and assistance with de-mining. British-based NGOs such as Justice for Colombia and ABColombia had already cast doubt on this assertion. It appears that cabinet ministers now share their concerns.
Nonetheless, questions remain about the new British position. The principal reservation centres on the secretive nature of the assistance that London provides to support the "war on drugs," which has not ceased. The government will not even release the financial figures in question, such is the level of sensitivity surrounding the program. However, investigations carried out by Justice for Colombia concluded that some of the funds get mixed up in "counterinsurgency" efforts of the kind leading to the false positives.
There is pressure from within Westminster, too, to further revamp the position. A parliamentary Early Day Motion - used by backbench and opposition members of parliament (MPs) to influence and shape policy and legislation -- "calls on the Government to freeze UK military assistance to Colombia until the Colombian regime fully implements the repeated human rights recommendations made by the UN." This has attracted a large number of signatures from all sides of the House of Commons (242 at the time of writing), amounting to over one-third of all MPs.
It remains to be seen whether or not this continuing pressure will manifest itself in further changes to British foreign policy towards Colombia. It is conceivable, given the "ripe moment" for change that appears to have presented itself. The substantial further alterations called for also point the way for U.S. policymakers, since U.S. contributions to the Colombian military dwarf those of any other country, including Britain.
President Álvaro Uribe's official approval ratings may be high, but what the media tends not to report are the equally high numbers of social protests in Colombia, which undermine the claims of unwavering approval for Uribe. According to a report by the Center for Investigation and Popular Education (CINEP), social mobilization has increased during Uribe's mandate, in 2007 reaching the highest levels since 1975, amounting to an average of two protests a day.
Much of the social unrest is targeted at the president himself. CINEP's research, based upon an extensive database it has maintained since 1975, found that the national government has been the target of the majority of recent protests. The second most common target has been armed groups - military, paramilitary, and/or guerrilla - which CINEP interprets largely as protests against the failure of the government to solve the problem of the armed conflict.
Not only have numbers risen, but the motives for protests have changed in recent years. In departments (geographic regions) like Antioquia, which has one of the highest levels of social unrest in the country, the cause of the protests has changed in recent years from labor unrest to issues of human rights, justice, and reparations. Along those lines, recent years have seen a rise in protests by nontraditional social actors, like indigenous communities, afrocolombians, women, and the LGBT community. The Indigenous and Popular Minga in October of last year, a nationwide mobilization of hundreds of thousands of participants from the south department of Cauca all the way to Bogota, exemplifies the strength of such actors.
These increases are exciting, impressive, and inspiring given the Uribe administration's constant campaign to smear any opposition to his policies with the accusation of collaboration with the FARC, thus making protestors targets of retaliatory violence and unfounded legal persecution. Despite such oppression, these Colombians are bravely demanding a more just, secure, and democratic Colombia.
By Peter Cousins
Colombianos, las armas os han dado la independencia, las leyes os darán la libertad.
"Colombians, arms have given you independence, laws will give you freedom."
(Francisco de Paula Santander)
On the front of the Supreme Court of Justice in Bogotá's Boliva Plaza, are carved these words of General Santander, a hero of the independence era and later President of Gran Colombia. Colombia celebrates its "Proclamation of Independence" on July 20 each year. As in most countries, this sort of occasion turns into a day for the "great and the good" of State -- president, mayors, generals, flags -- to take center stage, with the added factor that, last month, the country commenced its take-off towards the bicentenary of the "Proclamation of Independence" in 2010. But in the midst of all this, Santander´s words transcend the years and have for a Colombia that is 199 years young a certain resonance, whose truth is in danger of being eclipsed. What do I mean by this? The historical and contemporary contexts will help us arrive at some sort of understanding.
To read the rest of Peter's essay, click here.
"Witness" paid to testify against Peace Community
by Moira Birss
The demobilized paramilitary chief known as "HH" testified that he gave money to Colombian army Colonel Nestor Duque to in order to bribe demobilized guerrillas into claiming that the FARC was responsible for the February 2005 massacre in which eight members of the Peace Community of San José de Apartadó were brutally murdered.
Read Moira Birss' blog post.
Pacifists Without Borders, with support from the Bogotá mayor's office, will trail blaze the pathway towards the World Summit for Peace, which will occur in the city of Bogotá, October 1-4, 2009. This citizen-led and -promoted initiative is a collective effort towards global peace and against violence, militarization, and injustice. The objective is to collectively construct a favorable setting for reflection, to exchange ideas and dialogue about peace as a social construction, derived from a system based on the principles of social justice and peaceful coexistence.
The World Summit for Peace will have two dimensions:
- The global dimension: It is crucial to lead a cultural process from Bogotá, Colombia and the Andean Region which is comprised of basic values such as nonviolence and pacifism. Bogotá will be converted into a stage from which a worldwide peace process will be constructed, promoted, and led within a global context. Moreover, the global dimension to the Summit will further permit the world community to be informed about the particular dimensions of the Colombian armed conflict.
- The local dimension: this proposed process looks to foster spaces for dialogue about the Colombian conflict and to develop strategies with the help from all international participants in order to search for a solution to the Colombian armed conflict. Furthermore, we look to provoke a collective reflection through an ample process of participation that will permit us to create the atmosphere for a solution and a post-conflict strategy.
During the summit, Bogotá will be the arena for artistic expressions. A host of such artistic expressions will permeate throughout the city, including concerts, dance presentations, theatrical performances, painting exhibitions, and alternative films from all reaches of the world. You too are invited to inundate the city with art in the name of the Global Peace!
The summit will produce five strategic documents. Three of them will be elaborated by well-known internationally recognized figures. These documents will be presented in the summit by their authors and they will be discussed in three large public assemblies. The three documents will address the central themes: justice, culture, and democracy, and their relationship to peace. We will make the effort to establish these documents as the basis for dialogue in the preliminary stages of the summit.
The fourth document is what we call the Bogotá Manifesto 2009. This will be a proposition that will emerge from the summit and will be elaborated by the promoting group and the facilitators of the event. The first draft of the manifesto will be presented and discussed through a permanent virtual online forum for a period of six months. Furthermore, the World Summit for Peace will project a strategy for the implementation of the Bogotá Manifesto as a post-summit strategy.
The fifth document will be the Pathway to Peace in Colombia: Conflict and Post-Conflict. This will be a collectively elaborated project with the wide participation of international and national participants. It will be signed by all participants as the first stage of a work in progress in order to achieve a political solution to the Colombian conflict.
There is no charge for participation in the Summit in Bogotá. To register, send an e-mail to: cumbredepaz@
The organizers want curiosity for the Summit to increase as the main event draws closer and likewise aspire to generate interest among the worldwide citizenry and institutions. Moreover, they hope to unite global support and commitment for this global cause. We hope to create strong alliances with the international media in order to promote the city's image as a city committed to Peace in Colombia and in the World.
World Peace Conference • www.pacifistassinfronteras.org • 011(571)368-1999
Please note new office address for FOR Task Force on Latin America:
Fellowship of Reconciliation • P.O. Box 72492, Oakland CA 94612 • Tel: 510-763-1403 Fax: 510-763-1409 • Web: http://www.forcolombia.org