History of U.S. Intervention in Colombia

(March 17, 2002)

All this century, U.S. imperialism has supported and organized the Colombian military, which is notorious as one of the most violent and repressive regimes in the world. In turn, the Colombian military serves to protect the strategic and economic interests of U.S. monopoly capital such as domination of the entire Andes region, including its vast mineral and oil wealth as well as control over the Panama Canal. In addition, Colombia itself is a source of super-profits for the U.S. monopoly capitalists. U.S. agric-business interests have long bolstered the power of the Colombian landed oligarchy and, in turn, dominated the market for Colombian coffee, beef, and other products (40% of Colombia's import and export trade is with the U.S.). U.S. multi-national corporations are also the biggest foreign investor in the country, and, in recent years, have been dramatically increasing their investments in Colombia's growing oil industry as well as other sectors.

Of course, the economic domination of Colombia by U.S. imperialism, in alliance with Colombia's landlords and capitalists, means super-exploitation and national oppression for the Colombian people. For decades the Colombian people have been fighting to rid themselves of this monster with 3 heads - foreign imperialism, the landed oligarchy and the fascist military. In recent years, the workers have developed a highly politicized and militant movement which has repeatedly come out against the domination of the country by U.S. and international finance capital while the growing peasant insurgency today controls 40% of the country. The response of the U.S. government has been to bolster the Colombian military and step up its war against the people.

U.S. Arms and Training

Throughout the 1990's Colombia has been the biggest recipient of U.S. military aid and training in Latin America. From 1990-98, Colombia received $830 million in military assistance; hundreds of millions more were provided for Colombia's police. (Today the Colombian government has 250,000 people under arms - 145,000 in the military and 105,000 police).

The massive quantities of U.S. arms shipped to Colombia have equipped the army for counter-insurgency war and included helicopter gunships and counter-insurgency jets which have been repeatedly used to bomb guerrilla-controlled areas as part of "softening up" civilian population centers. U.S. funds and U.S. military "advisers" have also been used to build a network of military bases with "the goal to increase the battlefronts gains the guerillas.. . . . (former U.S. Ambassador Morris Busby).

Since 1984, Colombia has also had the largest International Military Education and Training program (run by the U.S. military) in Latin America. From 1984-92, 6,844 soldiers were trained through IMET and used to form the core of various "elite," counter-insurgency units. In addition, special urban police units were set up to suppress the trade unions and other urban movements. Colombian units organized and trained by the U.S. included the notorious "Mobile units" composed of professional soldiers and used as the primary counter-insurgency strike force. The tactics of these "Mobile units" are similar to the "strategic Hamlet" program used by U.S. imperialism in Vietnam. International human rights have documented repeated bombings of civilian areas, wholesale arrest, torture and massacre of civilians, burning and destruction of entire villages, etc. The terror unleashed by these "Mobile units," combined with the terror of the para-military forces (see below), have turned 1.3 million Colombians into internal refugees - forcibly displaced from their homes and left to wander the country with no means of livelihood, no shelter, etc.

Colombia's counter-insurgency war is directed, in person, by U.S. military "advisers" and "trainers.. Several hundred U.S. military personnel are already stationed in the country. They are mainly Green Berets and other elite units which are part of U.S. Special Operations Command directed by the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Special Operations and Low-Intensity Conflict.

Under a special law (Section 2011, Title 10) most of the U.S. military personnel in Colombia operate under the "Joint Combined Exchange and Training" program which places them outside of any Congressional oversight. In fact, even during the years 1995-97, when U.S. law banned aid to the Colombian military due to its human rights record, the Special Operations forces continued to train Colombian soldiers in "shoot and maneuver tactics," intelligence gathering and counter-insurgency warfare. U.S. "trainers" regularly took part in operations against the guerrilla forces. One senior U.S. military officer in Colombia admitted. "We decide on the ground how far we can go. We can call anything counter-drugs. If you are going to train to take out a target, it doesn't make much difference, if you call it a drug lab or a guerrilla camp. There's not much difference between counter-drugs and counter-insurgency. We just don't use the [language] much anymore because it is politically too sensitive.. (quoted in the "Washington Post," July 13, 1998). The U.S. Southern Command admitted that Special Operations forces, numbering several hundred, took part in 28 joint operations with Colombian forces in 1996 and 29 operations in 1997.

U.S. Support for Paramilitaries

As part of its operations in Colombia, the U.S. government has helped set up an extensive network of paramilitary death squads as a shock force in its counter-insurgency war. Such paramilitary groups include off-duty and retired soldiers as well as civilian spies and mercenaries. They are often partially funded by big drug-dealers as well as by U.S. corporations. There are thousands of armed paramilitaries operating in Colombia, directly linked with the Colombian military and its U.S. "advisers." Over the last several years, paramilitary groups have murdered 30,000 Colombians.

Paramilitaries became a key component of U.S. counter-insurgency especially during the Cold War when in Colombia (and throughout the world), the U.S. army organized civilian "self-defense forces" as part of its strategy against the national liberation movements. In 1955, Colombia was the first Latin American country to set up a U.S.-initiated counter-guerrilla center and begin training such "self-defense forces." In 1962, a U.S. Army Special Warfare team recommended that Colombia "select civilian and military personnel for clandestine training . . . to be used to perform counter-agent and counter-propaganda functions and as necessary executive paramilitary, sabotage and/or terrorist activities against known communist proponents. It should be backed by the United States.. (from U.S. Army report, quoted in "Colombia's Killer Networks," published in 1996 by Human Rights Watch). These U.S.-authored tactics were adopted by Colombia army in its "Plan Lazo." Human Rights groups have documented innumerable instances of how such paramilitary groups were used not only against guerrilla movement but also against the political opposition and civilians generally. In fact, U.S. and Colombian military training manuals instruct the "paras" to target all social protest movements, on how to test the loyalties of civilians. Those with "suspicious" loyalties are blacklisted, terrorized or killed by the paras.

In 1991, on the recommendation of a U.S. team including representatives from the CIA and U.S. Southern Command, the Colombian military re-organized its paramilitary operations on the basis of Order 200-05/91. This order authorized the army to set up thirty paramilitary networks in urban and rural areas. In the words of a retired Colombian army major the paramilitaries "principal action. . . . is to collect intelligence, in addition to serving as an extermination group." All the networks set up under Order 200-05/91 were placed under the direct command of the army which also took responsibility for selecting the targets.

The paramilitary groups are equipped with arms diverted from the Colombian military which, in turn, is aided by the U.S. The U.S. has given direct military aid to such units as the first and second mobile brigades, and dozens of other divisions and brigades involved in organizing the paras and implicated in major human rights violations. In fact, many high-ranking Colombian officers who are implicated in the terrorism of the paras are graduates of the U.S. army's infamous School of the Americas.

While the U.S. and Colombian governments both try to hide their connections to the paramilitaries, the truth is that these death squads are directly organized by U.S. imperialism and part of its war against the Colombian people.