Colombia suffers from all the symptoms of a civil war since the mid 1950s. At that time, the agricultural workers who had studied the principles of Communism tried to seize control of the lands that they cultivated and with that goal, they created the "self-defense zones". The movement quickly gave rise to the emergence of an organized guerrilla group created in 1966: the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

In response, conservative president León Valencia declared the state of siege and began, with the help of the United States, a fierce repression. In the 1970s, another group joined the FARC: the M-19, whose area of operations was essentially urban. Ever since, the war between the state and the armed groups have always been intense and it is being used, for a long time now, as a pretext to justify the US interference in the affairs of that strategic country of South America. This interference has two objectives: to eliminate the supporters of Marxism and to maintain a military presence in the region, and all that under the cover of the fight against drugs, even when the United States is the greatest importer of Colombian cocaine.

An Over-100-Year-Old Interference Policy

This strategy of interference is not new in the region. Already in the early 20th century, the United States had favored the secession of the Colombian province of Panama in the face of Bogotá’s reluctance to leave the administration of the Canal in the hands of Washington.

On November 18, 1903, the Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty granted the United States the perpetual use of the Canal, of an 8-kilometer zone at both sides and complete sovereignty of the whole area. The alliance treaty signed in 1926 went even further as it granted Washington special privileges in times of war, making Panama «from the military point of view, a new State of the Union» [1].

It was the exact implementation of the Monroe Doctrine [2] and its «corollary» enunciated in 1903 by President Theodore Roosevelt: «Persistence in a bad behavior or an incapacity that may culminate in a general decline of the ties that are common in a civilized society may eventually make necessary, in the Americas and in other regions, the intervention of any civilized nations. In the Western hemisphere, the commitment of the United States to the Monroe Doctrine may force them, in flagrant cases when they face this kind of bad behavior or this kind of incapacity, to exercise, even in spite of their own reluctance to do it, a police international power» - something that legitimizes many kinds of interference.

It is all a matter of communication. During his presidential campaign in 1998, then future Colombian president Andrés Pastrana promised a "Marshall plan for peace". The reference to the cultural and economic interference plan that the United States implemented in Europe after World War II was not by chance, as it allowed justifying the US intervention making it look like a Colombian petition. The Clinton administration immediately suggested a counter-drug plan that included the deployment of civil and military instructors in the country.

On August 9th, 1999, Pastrana announced that his government concluded the «preparation of program with that goal: the «Colombia Plan»» [3], whose official launching took place on September 20, 1999. This project, aiming at fighting against the cultivation of drugs and the "mafia groups" that benefit from it, is estimated in 7.5 billion dollars in three years.

Bogotá promised to contribute with four billions and requested that the rest be financed by international aid. Clearly, its main foreign interlocutor is Washington and the US Congress granted 1.7 billion dollars. According to Le Figaro French news daily, which quoted international reports, this amount granted by the United States «put an end to some pressure exercised by certain lobbies that were aiming at the suspension of the plan. Who was pressuring? : Some NGOs that took advantage of the opportunity to promote their own falsified version of the Colombian situation and certain media outlets that laughed of the US excessive generosity».

In the meantime, the government of Andrés Pastrana announced a significant increase of the Defense budget in detriment of the social programs of the country, something that brought about actions like the blocking of the Panamericana highway (which connects Colombia and Ecuador) from November 1 to the 25, 199, by more than 50,000 peasants, indigenous people and education workers. The demonstrators were finally removed by the army.

Barry McCaffrey: a Hawk Leading the Anti-Drug Struggle

General Barry McCaffrey

The Colombia Plan is not the result of a Colombian initiative, as Pastrana’s show tried to make everyone believe, but it was drawn up by General Barry McCaffrey, former Commander in Chief of the American military forces in South America and appointed head of the counter-drug struggle by Bill Clinton in January 1996.

In addition, the nomination for this post of a military man full of decorations, a veteran from the Viet Nam War and of the Gulf War in 1991, showed that the military exploit a public health issue, especially considering that it’s about a particularly controversial general: in May 2000, New York journalist Seymour Hers revealed that at the end of the Dessert Storm Operation, an armored division under McCaffrey’s command massacred 350 unarmed Iraqi soldiers on May 2, 1999, that is, two days after the cease of fire was declared.

The general advocated in Colombia for the use of the methods developed by Oliver North in Nicaragua, that is, the use of the paramilitary against the guerrillas [4] .

In practice, it is difficult to know the difference between Barry McCaffrey’s activities as head of the counter-drug fight and those he carried out as head of the Southern Command. The interests in Colombia were purely strategic, although the Clinton Administration insisted in trying to present the ever-increasing import of Colombian cocaine as a hazard for American youth.

The origin of the problem was in Panama as the United States had to hand over the control of the Canal to the Panamanian government in 1999 and had too to dismantle its military bases there. However, Washington wanted to keep its military presence in the region which brought about intense negotiations between the two countries who tried to disguise it as an alleged "multilateral counter-drug center" [5]. Panamanian President Ernesto Pérez Valladares finally rejected the initiative thus forcing the United States to find another country where the presence of its troops could be less controversial [6]. In addition, that was exactly the purpose of the Colombia Plan [7].

Colombia: a Strategic «Domino»

The choice of Colombia was completely coherent: like the Panama of General Noriega, the country was involved in world drug trafficking, which could justify a military intervention at any moment [8]. In short, Washington did not wait for "weapons of mass destruction" to design a communication logic regarding fictitious interests that allowed to justify military interventions in its area of influence.

In addition, for the United States, Colombia is an oil supplier under the "threat" of Marxist guerrillas - all valid reasons to be a privileged target for an intervention.

The rhetoric of the United States and the Colombian military was simple: the FARC are financed by the drug trafficking and, consequently, they ought to be treated as drug traffickers. From that perspective, fighting drugs is fighting the guerrillas. The fight against drugs is, thus, a means of fighting subversion but it also serves to justify the deployment of US troops in the region with a public health operation as a front.

Washington has in Colombia between 300 and 400 military and civil advisors. However, until the mid 1990s, it was precisely the Colombian political and military responsible for the plan and their American counterparts who were involved in several cocaine trafficking scandals. Even today, the paramilitary groups, FARC enemies, are financed by cocaine which provoked the following comment by the FARC leaders: «We do not have the right to plunge peasants into starvation by wiping out illegal plantations. On the other hand, the mafias help the army finance the paramilitary. Why do we have to be only ones to consider this evil from the ethical point of view? It is, above all, a socio-economic problem» [9].

Actually, the FARC only demanded the payment of a tax on coca, that is, the base that constitutes the first stage of the process of transformation of the plant into cocaine. And those subject to the tax are only the intermediaries who sell this base, not peasants. According to experts in drug geopolitics, the guerrillas are not directly involved in the growing of the plant or in the production or sale of cocaine.

Important Petrodollars

More than fighting drug trafficking; the United States seeks to prevent any possibilities that the local oil resources may have of falling under the control of national interests, especially political representatives of the guerrillas. Colombia is the seventh world oil exporter to the United States and the third of Latin America, only behind Venezuela and Mexico. This explains Washington’s concern whenever political negotiations on oil-related matters take place between the power and the Marxist guerrillas. In effect, during the negotiations with the National Liberation Army (ELN) [10], president Pastrana gave the Guevarist guerrillas a demilitarized zone of 4,727 square kilometres in the Bolivar department, in the North, as a proof of good will [11].

This zone is precisely located in front of the oil ports and refineries of Barrancabermeja and Puerto Wilches, in the Magdalena River. When the decision was announced, the workers of the oil sector immediately threatened to go on strike. For their part, the guerrillas chose to keep the pressure on that strategic sector: the day after the announcement, they dynamited the Caño Limón-Covenas oil pipeline [12]. In 1999, the ELN had carried out 70 similar attacks [13].

Even more worrying, on May 12, 2000, the president of the local oil company ECOPETROL, officially expressed his concern: «The production of crude oil will drop in around 2% in 2000, with 800,000 barrels a day compared to the 815,000 of 1999». However, he was «optimistic regarding the future. Currently, 44 private companies are interested in 27 exploration and production projects and 37 of these companies participate in a preliminary stage called «Round 2000»». According to the French news daily Le Figaro, «if Colombia does not carry out new drillings before 2005, it takes the risk of becoming an oil importer. The country has confirmed reserves of around 2.4 billion barrels and potential reserves estimated in 37 billion barrels. The problem consists in keeping the companies that have already settled there and attracting others to the oil zones that are common targets of the guerrillas that oppose «the excessive interference of the multinationals in the Colombian oil policy»» [14]. Thus, the way was open for other oil companies who wanted to split the Colombian cake with Occidental Petroleum (OXY), a US company already present there [15].

Restoration of Anti-Terrorist Control

The ascent to power of George W. Bush and the September 11 attacks modified the conditions. In the framework of the world-wide war of the US administration against terrorism, the ultra-right wing Colombian paramilitary forces, regrouped in the United Self-Defenses of Colombia (AUC) were included in the list of terrorist organizations. According to the French monthly Le Monde Diplomatique, the ultra-right wing groups were born, however, «in the late 1960s, as part of a policy recommended by US advisors to ¨
"destroy" any attempts of social transformation»
 [16]. Until them, they were the «military arms of drug dealers since 1985, army substitutes to do the dirty work» [17].

But the paramilitary fell from grace: their proved involvement in drug trafficking, killing of civilians - especially of the opposition (members of the unions, journalists) - turn them into an uncomfortable ally. Washington intended to exploit the September 11 trauma to launch attacks against the Colombian guerrillas but they could not afford to turn a blind eye to one of the three armed organizations. As a result, tempers quickly began to fray. US Ambassador to Colombia Anne Patterson spoke on October 26, 2001, about the "similarity" between the «terrorist groups in Afghanistan and those of Colombia». Ten days earlier, the coordinator of the US State Department for the counter-terrorism fight, Francis Taylor, mentioned the US determination to use "all means" at its disposal, even «like in Afghanistan, the use of its military power, if it were necessary, to put an end to «terrorist activities»».

Washington then asked for the extradition of the main leaders of the three paramilitary organizations: FARC, ELN and AUC.

Meanwhile, the United States managed to find an anchorage point for its troops in South America when in 1999 they established privileged military links with Ecuador, a policy that continues under the administration of Lucio Gutiérrez, although the latter had initially been portrayed as an Ecuadorian Hugo Chávez (Also on this topic see our article devoted to the military occupation of Ecuador) [18].

Then, Washington’s main objective in Colombia was the protection of oilfields and to obstruct any negotiations with the Marxist guerrillas. Owner of "300 sites of strategic infrastructures" in Colombia, in February of 2002, the United States earmarked a 100-million-dollar aid to guarantee the protection of these sites from the guerrillas’ attacks.

Naturally, priority was given to the Caño Limón oil pipeline. It was the first «American direct support to the Colombian military against the rebels» of the FARC and the ELN [19]. A spokesman of the US State Department who was visiting Bogota went even further by saying that «there is no difference between subversion and drug trafficking anymore» [20].

The decision caused uneasiness in the neighboring countries, especially in Venezuela where the president said he was "concerned" over the US military presence in Colombia and described the increase in the number of troops as "very dangerous" for the country «but also for Venezuela». During the following week, the government of President Pastrana launched the "Thanatos Operation" against the FARC, with the secret support of the United States [21].

Three days later, on February 25, 2002, the Marxist guerrillas kidnapped Ingrid Betancourt, the ecologist candidate to the presidential elections in Colombia.

The United States Makes Its Military Support against the Guerrillas Official

In March, Colin Powell and Donald Rumsfeld successively declared themselves in favor of an increase of the US military assistance to Colombia. They both asked the Congress to consider the breaking-off of negotiations between the FARC and the Colombian government. In April, president Pastrana traveled to Washington to personally ask George W. Bush for military assistance.

Alvaro Uribe, President of Colombia, and George W. Bush, President of the United States, in the White House, October 1, 2003.

For several months, the shipment of weapons to Colombia increased: 60 helicopters arrived on loan and US instructors trained hundreds of Colombian military men while the number of US "military advisors" at the beginning of the "Thanatos Operation" went over 400. Not to mention the sub-contracts: DynCorp, favored by Oliver North at the time of the Iran-Contras scandal, was in charged of the irrigation flights with harmful chemical substances to wipe out coca plantations; Northrup Grumman set up the radars, AirScan offered its air surveillance services, etc. [22].

And, at the end, it turn out that the number of coca plantations increased from 125,000 to 160,000 in two years [23]. Colombia has even become the first world cocaine producer with 580 tons per year.

Alvaro Uribe and George W. Bush

The cooperation increased even more with the assumption of power in May 2002 by Colombian right-wing candidate Álvaro Uribe, supporter of an "iron fist" policy toward the guerrillas. As soon as his victory was declared, Washington announced the arrival in Bogotá of Otto Reich, the Deputy State Secretary for Latin American Affairs, to "speak with the new president about his projects".

Two months later, the US Congress finally granted the military aid so much expected by the Colombian government to wipe out the guerrillas. Ambassador Anne Patterson then announced that, from that moment on, the training of the Colombian army would be in the hands of the US Special Forces.

The assumption of power by Álvaro Uribe is a decisive event in various aspects. On one hand, the very day of his swear-in ceremony marked the beginning of the official military assistance from the United States. On the other hand, several rockets fell over Bogotá in the very moment that the swear-in ceremony was taking place, causing the death of 21 people near the presidential palace.

And, finally, Uribe triggered an escalation of the military confrontation since, far from his own campaign promises of negotiations under the auspices of the United Nations, the new president immediately declared the state of siege and launched a military offensive of great magnitude against the FARC.

At the same time, he appointed retired colonel Alfonso Armas head of the fight against narcotics, thus making him the key man of the Colombia Plan. In November 1985, Alfonso Armas led an attack against the Palace of Justice in Bogotá, occupied by a commando group of the M-19. The offensive, with armored support, left «more than 100 people dead among rebels, judges and civilians and the palace was destroyed by a fire» [24].

Since then, Bogotá and Washington bound their fate in their struggle against "subversive forces", making it clear that they prefer a military solution instead of political negotiations. This suicidal strategy for the country has already caused several disasters like the massacre of several dozens of FARC hostages during an offensive of the Colombian army.

The above-mentioned strategy not only did not resolve the conflict but, on the contrary, it aggravated the already complicated situation and caused an increase of violence. It would be worthy to recall, in this respect, the car-bomb attack carried out on February 7, 2003, very similar to the one "perpetrated in Oklahoma City in 1995" [25]. This attack, for which the FARC did not claim responsibility, left 33 people dead in a club in the capital.

Washington: Guarantor of «Regional Instability»

In this strategy of carrying to its logical conclusion, the United States has more to win than Colombia. Turn into a "regional initiative for the Andean region", the "Colombia Plan", «with the pretext of fighting drug-trafficking, aims at the guerrillas, a process of military intervention and the absorption of sub-regional organizations in the framework of a bigger project: the Free Trade Agreement of the Americas (FTAA), headed by Washington» [26].

The recent attacks by the FARC against the Caño Limón oil pipeline, even as they are currently defended by the US Green Berets, show that it is impossible to control a country only through the use of force. The kidnapping of three American mercenaries by the guerrillas in February 2003 is another example [27].

The country was slowly moving toward the escalation: a US commando that comprised of 150 members of the Special Forces was sent to Colombia while the budgetary increases of Congress continued. All of this represents a threat of "Vietnamization" of the conflict. And even more, it is the stability of the entire region what is at stake.

During the summit of the Andean Pact, in March 2003, Colombia criticized Venezuela’s passivity in regards to the fight against the guerrillas and accused the government of Hugo Chávez of having allowed FARC to use the border zones. As to Panama, an unconditional ally of the United States, it was the only country that described the FARC as a "terrorist organization".

The idea of the US regaining control of the region is becoming established. On April 22, 2003, the vice-president of the Foreign Relations Commission of the Venezuelan National Assembly, Tarek William, stated that «Venezuela «did not exclude» a Colombian invasion with the help of the United States» [28].

In September, 2002, with Washington threatening to put an end to its military assistance, Colombia took a new step toward complete vassalage as they committed not to extradite any American citizen to be judged by the International Court of Justice. In October, the government of Álvaro Uribe managed to pass a law that provided an amnesty for the armed groups that accepted to demobilize, a text that actually only benefits the ultra-right wing paramilitary groups - the only ones involved in negotiations with the government [29].

The military maneuvers have reached a significant magnitude: more than 600 US advisors are already in Colombia; more than 1000 FARC members were killed between August 2002 and July 2003 although a similar amount surrendered. In 2002, 14,000 hectares of coca plantations were destroyed, a record that the Colombian government underlined. Recently, the beginning of a process against Vladimiro Montesinos in Peru, that involves the CIA in arms trafficking with the FARC, represents additional evidence of the similarity between the US practices in Colombia and those previously used in Nicaragua [30]. All of this has progressively isolated Colombia from the international community as it is shown by the boycott mounted by several European parliamentarians against Uribe during a tour of Europe in February 2004.

[1The Monroe Doctrine was named after US President James Monroe who, on December 2, 1823, explained in a message to the Congress the principles upon which this doctrine was based. Monroe suggested rejecting all European attempts to interfere with the Americas’ affairs, and at the same time justifying the direction of the US foreign policy toward the setting-up of a continental bloc under Washington’s control

[2«La volonté de paix sera récompensée», by Marie Delcas, Le Monde, August 9, 1999.

[3«Barry McCaffrey, le faucon», by Gérard Devienne, L’Humanité, January 6, 2001

[4««Multilateral Counter-Drug Center» or Disguised U.S. Military Base?», by John Lindsay-Poland, Fellowship of Reconciliation, Winter of 1997

[5«Counter-Drug Center Negotiations Collapse», by John Lindsay-Poland, Fellowship of Reconciliation, September-October 1998

[6The relationship between the rejection of the «Multilateral Counter-Drug Center» in Panama and the Colombia Plan is mentioned in an excellent master’s degree work by Damien Laplanche, a history student at the University of Nantes, who was supervised by Jacques Marcadon. «La rétrocession du Canal de Panama» in French, by Damien Laplanche, University of Nantes, 1998

[7In 1989, the US army intervened in Panama to overthrow the regime of General Manuel Noriega, then presented as a drug trafficker. Being a CIA agent during the 1970s, the Panamanian leader had effectively «facilitated the drugs and arms exchanges carried out by the Contras of Nicaragua, guaranteeing their military protection, pilots, (...) and very discreet bank accounts», with the consent of the United States, then at war against the Sandinista guerrillas. See the book: «Rogue State», by William Blum, Parangon, 2002

[8«En Colombie, une nation, deux États» (Colombia: one nation, two states), by Maurice Lemoine, Le Monde Diplomatique, May 2000

[9The ELN is a Marxist and Guevarist guerrilla group founded in 1964, one year after the FARC. Many Catholic liberation theologians belonged to its ranks, including Father Camilo Torres, a Jesuit who studied at the Catholic University of Louvain, Belgium, and died in combat in 1965. After a pause, the movement reappeared in the 1980s headed by Father Manuel Pérez, aka «the Priest». The ELN mainly operates in the Northern region of the country while the FARC does it in the South. The movement has around 5,000 men in its ranks

[10President Pastrana also negotiated with the FARC since he assumed power in 1998 in spite of the opposition of his own Defense Ministry, of the Generals and of the United States. Recognizing the legitimacy of both organizations’ struggle, Pastrana set up dialogue mechanisms and demilitarized an area comprised of five municipalities, with an extension similar to that of Switzerland

[11The Caño Limón-Covenas oil pipeline is the second most important in the country. It is 780 kilometers long and it allows the transportation of 105,000 barrels of crude oil a day

[12The movement, which also opposes the privatization of the energy sector companies, Isagenet ISA, destroyed 250 pylons between 1999 and 2000

[13«Les guérillas tiennent l’économie en otage», by Irène Jarry, Le Figaro, May 12, 2000

[14This company is in conflict with the U’wa indigenous community since it carried out exploration drilling in the ancient lands of this tribe

[15«En Colombie, une nation, deux Etats», by Maurice Lemoine, Le Monde diplomatique, May 2000

[16See: «The Ties That Bind: Colombia and Military-Paramilitary Links», Human Rights Watch, February 2000

[17«The SouthCom Advances: Military Occupation of Ecuador >article448]», by Marcelo Larrea, Voltaire, November 2003

[18«Washington envisage de protéger «300 infrastructures stratégiques» en Colombie»,(Washington foresees protecting 300 strategic infrastructures in Colombia) AFP news agency, February 10, 2002

[19«Pour l’or noir, Washington offrirait une rallonge à Bogota» (In exchange for their black gold, Washington would offer an additional sum to Bogotá), by Vincent Taillefumier, Swiss daily Le Temps, February 13, 2002

[20Different testimonies have allowed proving the presence of US military during the «liberation» of San Vincente. See «Deux officiers américains à San Vicente», Le Monde, France, February 26, 2002; «La guerre secrète des États-Unis», by Romain Gubert, French magazine Le Point, May 3, 2002

[21«La guerre secrète des États-Unis» (The secret war of the United States), by Romain Gubert, Le Point, May 3, 2002

[22The air irrigation with defoliants such as the Glyphosate also posed a serious ecological danger as it causes irreversible damage to the environment. In 2002, 6,533 farmers presented judicial complaints against such practices and Colombian mediator Eduardo Cifuentes demanded, and temporarily succeeded in having them suspended. The use of defoliants seemed to have also affected zones in Ecuador, bear the Colombian border. The executives of DynCorp are currently submitted to Congress investigation on this issue

[23«Les faucons l’ont emporté en Colombie avec l’état d’exception», by Jacques Thomet, AFP news agency, August 12, 2002

[24«La croisade «antiterroriste» du président Uribe», (The anti-terrorist crusade of president Uribe) by Pascale Mariani and Roméo Langlois, Le Figaro, February 11, 2003

[25«La révolte anti-Chavez pétro-guidés par la Maison-Blanche», by Bernard Duraud, L’Humanité, January 18, 2003

[26According to a FARC spokesman, the three men were CIA agents and were, at the same time, searching for one FARC leader and for the location of Ingrid Betancourt in order to free her. «FARC: les otages américains sont de la CIA et cherchaient Ingrid Betancourt», by Jacques Thomet, AFP news agency, February 21, 2003

[27(Venezuela «no excluye» una invasión colombiana con la ayuda USA) « Venezuela «does not exclude» a Colombian invasion with the help of the United States », AFP, April 22, 2003

[28(Colombia defiende en la ONU una amnistía para sus paramilitares) «Colombia defends an amnesty for its paramilitary at the United Nations », by Marie Delcas, Le Monde, October 2, 2003

[29During the Irangate, the US intelligence agency was accused of having sold weapons to Iran, a country that was under an embargo, to finance the military right-wing of the Contras in Nicaragua, which opposed the Sandinista guerrillas

[30During the Irangate, the US intelligence agency was accused of having sold weapons to Iran, a country that was under an embargo, to finance the military right-wing of the Contras in Nicaragua, which opposed the Sandinista guerrillas