The double-standard in our government's language and policy of the "War on Terrorism" has become increasingly overt in Colombia these last months. It is a double-standard that claims to promote security in "the oldest democracy" in Latin America. But in fact it jeopardizes human rights, the opportunities for building civil society, and the lives of those who are most vulnerable.
In August Congress authorized the administration's request for an additional $374 million in military aid to Colombia for 2003. This authorization allows 2003 funds to be used for counter-insurgency as well as counter-narcotics initiatives. This military assistance, which brings the total US aid to Colombia to almost $2 billion over three years, signals an even clearer mission shift from "a war on drugs" to "a war on terrorism."
On the day before the Pentagon and World Trade Center attacks last September, the US State Department placed Colombia's paramilitary forces on the list of international terrorists. This list already included Colombia's two main guerilla forces: the FARC (the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) and the ELN (the National Liberation Army). There is ample evidence that the Colombian military _ which the US trains, equips and with whom it shares intelligence _ continues to collaborate with these same paramilitaries. Yet the State Department gave human rights certification to the Colombian military this past spring, clearing the way for more aid.
We're told that all this US support is to promote security and democracy. But across Colombia it is those organizing for workers' rights, church leaders seeking to organize for peace, indigenous people struggling to retain their land, campesinos trying to feed their families, and Afro-Colombians asserting their constitutional right to collective land, who are being assassinated, tortured and displaced. Forcing the real agents for democratic society off the land and out of communities clears the way for development by multi-national interests in Colombia and the entire Andean region.
This policy subtly targets deacons and campesinos, women's leaders and soft-drink workers as the "terrorists." At the same time US training in counter-insurgency, commando tactics, and psychological war continues to be called "defending democracy."
Craig is co-pastor at Plymouth Congregational UCC in Syracuse and was part of an ecumenical Witness for Peace Delegation to Colombia in July.