19 February, 2010

7 Bases for coming US-War on Liberal Sth America

DIVIDE AND CONQUER
(mix some synthetic terror with a dose of disinformation and resource confilcts, and voila! The USA has new tin-pot dictator allies that will do any crime under the protection of the protectors of big business.

Seven Bases

Written by Diane Lefer and Hector Aristizábal   

U.S. and Colombian officials signed an agreement
granting the U.S. military access to seven Colombian
bases for ten years.

The United States thereby increased its ties to the
military known for the worst human rights abuses in the
Western Hemisphere and is a troubling indication of what
can be expected of the Obama Administration and its
promise of change. Does this agreement (signed in the
fall of 2009) really change anything? We take a look at
the history of each of these bases as well as conditions
in the surrounding communities and the nation as a
whole.

#1: Tolemaida

This base, located in Melgar, Cundinamarca, has been
sending students to the School of the Americas for Army
Ranger training for more than 50 years. The US military
and its contractors already have a long association with
the base where they have enjoyed immunity from
prosecution for such crimes as the rape and sexual abuse
of Colombian girls as young as twelve (documented by
video), and the trafficking for profit of arms to
illegal paramilitary groups. The new agreement will
allow unparalleled access by the US armed forces and
will apparently continue diplomatic immunity for US
personnel, both military and civilian.

In Bogotá, just 43 miles to the northeast, more than
1,000 people arrive each day as they flee violence aimed
at stealing their small rural landholdings usually for
the benefit of paramilitary bosses, narcotraffickers,
transnational corporations and their government allies.
The US-supported Colombian military has done nothing to
protect approximately 4 million internally displaced
people, 75 percent of whom are women and children, left
homeless and impoverished.  

While US policy is to fund the war on drugs and the war
on the FARC, the cocaine trade provides employment and
income to more than one million Colombians and the armed
conflict is one of the nation's largest sources of work.
In Colombia, a minority of the population has steady
employment. Most of the potential workforce consists of
the unemployed, those who've given up looking for work
or who participate in the informal economy of day
laborers, street vendors, armed insurgents, and
criminals. Workers lucky enough to have steady
employment for a 48-hour week at the minimum wage do not
earn enough to purchase a basic market basket of goods
for a family of four.

The Colombian Ministry of Defense has estimated that
more than 4,600 FARC members and more than 1,300 ELN
members are minors and that most guerrilla fighters had
joined the guerrilla ranks as children. Witness for
Peace learned of a school in Bogotá where 80 children
dropped out in a single semester to join the FARC,
motivated not by ideology but because their families
couldn't afford to feed them.

Education and employment opportunities will have more
impact on the civil conflict and the cocaine trade than
more weapons, more military training, and more war.


#2. Bahía Málaga

This naval base in Valle de Cauca department is located
outside Buenaventura which, as the nation's largest
Pacific port, is also notorious for its role in
exporting cocaine--a clear rationale for the base. The
city itself is dangerous and impoverished though it
serves as a gateway to some of Colombia's premier
tourist beach resorts and lies near an essential ocean
ecosystem.

Over the past several years, the workforce of mostly
Afro-Colombian and indigenous sugar-cane cutters and
sugar refinery workers have labored in slavery-like
conditions in Valle de Cauca and neighboring Cauca
department. The 18,000 workers who went on strike in
2008 were, predictably, called FARC terrorists by
Colombia's President Uribe.

The department capital of Cali was the destination that
same year of tens of thousands of indigenous protestors
and their Afro-Colombian and campesino allies who
undertook an eight-day march to focus the nation's
attention on their call for a Life Plan that honors
human development and the environment instead of the
Development Plan promoted by transnationals and the
government that focuses on resource extraction with no
concern for consequences. The development plans that
equal Death Plans for millions are enforced and
implemented by the Colombian military.

The Colombian Constitution affirms specific
rights--including land rights--to Afro-Colombians as
well as to the indigenous populations but both minority
groups continue to suffer discrimination. The US State
Department reports that indigenous people are the
country's poorest population and have the highest
age-specific mortality rates and rates of intestinal
diseases, tuberculosis, hepatitis, and malaria.

Valle de Cauca borders the department of Chocó which a
former Colombian president referred to as the "country's
piggy bank" because of the richness of its vast mineral
deposits and other natural resources.Chocó, with the
highest percentage of Afro-Colombian residents in the
nation, also has the lowest per capita level of social
investment and ranked last in terms of education,
health, and infrastructure while suffering some of the
country's worst political violence.

Throughout Colombia, Afro-Colombians are driven off the
land they own and their leaders are targeted for
assassination. Native leaders who resist the degrading
exploitation of their traditional lands and try to ban
military actors from their resguardos (reservations) are
labeled FARC sympathizers and have been assassinated at
a rate that would translate in the US to more than
21,500 elected officials and community leaders murdered
for political purposes each year for the last 10 years.
The Awa people are particularly at risk as their
homeland spans the Colombia-Ecuador border, considered a
strategic military area by the government. Massacres in
February and August of 2009 claimed the lives of 25
people including children.


#3: Palanquero

The base is situated in the heart of Colombia, near
Puerto Salgar on the Magdalena River, the country's
principal inland waterway, notorious for the mutilated
bodies floating downstream or, unseen, confined to its
depths. While the guerrilla movements continue to carry
out killings, kidnappings, sabotage, and other
atrocities--extensively covered by the mainstream media,
the vast majority of murders, disappearances, and other
human rights abuses have been rarely covered in the
press and clearly tied to the Colombian Army and its
paramilitary allies.

Direct military funding from the US for Palanquero was
supposed to stop when courts found it was from this base
that planes dropped a US-made rocket on the village of
Santo Domingo, killing18 civilians. Palanquero was later
"recertified" for assistance. The advanced radar
equipment installed here by a US team was indispensable
in the operation that killed FARC Commander Raúl Reyes.
The bombing of his camp across the border in Ecuador
caused an international incident and is one of the
reasons the US lease on the Forward Operations Base in
Manta, Ecuador was not renewed.

Palanquero has become the most infamous and talked about
of the seven bases because of a US Department of Defense
Air Force document that stated the site "provides a
unique opportunity for full spectrum operations in a
critical sub region of our hemisphere where security and
stability is under constant threat from narcotics funded
terrorist insurgencies, anti-US governments, endemic
poverty and recurring natural disasters."  [emphasis
added] Colombian government documents state the
agreement provides for cooperation against
narcotrafficking, terrorism, and "otras amenazas de
carácter trasnacional" (other threats transnational in
character). Documents were later revised to eliminate
language suggesting the US might mount operations
against any target in the South American continent and
the US administration has offered high-level assurances,
but we've seen revised documents before. Just one
familiar example: Descriptions of torture techniques
were blacked out in the SOA Manual while the practice
continued around the world including by US forces. In
Colombia, during the first six months of 2008,
government security forces were involved in 74 incidents
of torture, a 46 percent increase compared with the
first six months of 2007--and those are merely the
incidents that were noted by the US State Department.


#4: Cartagena

As the home of the country's largest naval base, and
with the omnipresent police and military on the streets,
Cartagena--even during the worst periods of violence in
Colombia--continued to attract tourists with its beaches
and cultural life. Its patrimony of Spanish Colonial
architecture won the city designation as a UNESCO World
Heritage site. The US has conducted joint training
exercises with Colombian sailors here.

Cartagena is also the site of a sprawling shantytown
with thousands of displaced and desperate young people,
prime recruit material for criminal organizations and
illegal armed actors. Rightwing death squads visit these
streets to strike and kill, and the government's
security forces--ever present in tourists areas--do
nothing to make life here secure.  

Instead of more military, Cartagena needs more programs
like El Colegio del Cuerpo, a local dance company that
trains young people from impoverished backgrounds.
Through the discipline and expressiveness of creating
beauty, youth at-risk learn not only about the art of
dance, but a new sense of ethics. As the founders
explain, in Colombia, the human body is too often a
disposable thing, made to be tortured, mutilated,
murdered. At El Colegio del Cuerpo, youth once inured to
violence learn to respect the human body--their own, and
the bodies of others.


#5: Apiay

This air base also hosts the Colombian Army and Navy as
well as hundreds of US military personnel and
contractors who have been there since 2004, supporting
the anti-FARC military campaign called Plan Patriota.
Given that oil and gas facilities are often a guerrilla
target, it's worth noting that Apiay is also home to an
oil refinery. A gas pipeline to Bogotá runs from the
nearby city of Villavicencio which has been overwhelmed,
like Bogotá, with internally displaced people who live
in new slums that lack access to clean water. There's no
sanitation in poor neighborhoods and the electrical grid
is insufficient to meet the needs of the city.

Water, sanitation, electricity, city services. Those are
the exact concerns being addressed in the city of
Medellín by the youth organization, Red Juvenil which
offers a positive model for the nation. These young
people--conscientious objectors from the poorest and
most violent neighborhoods--reject recruitment by all
the armed actors. The say no to the guerrilla, the
paramilitaries, the cartels, and the Colombian military
as well, and instead focus their efforts on civic
improvement.


#6: Larandia

This base in Caquetá department is home to Colombian
counter-insurgency brigade No. 89, trained at WHINSEC.
Most of the several hundred US military advisors,
Special Forces, and DynCorp contractors sent to the
country by Plan Colombia have been based here.

In the Spring of 2009, Human Rights First reports that
97 people in Caquetá including prominent and
well-respected activists and intellectuals suddenly
found their names, addresses, and photographs circulated
on a military intelligence list linking them--without
any corroboration--to the FARC just as they were about
to testify about abuses and "extrajudicial killings"--a
euphemism for State-sponsored murders and
lynchings--carried out by the Colombian military. Being
named as a FARC sympathizer is tantamount in Colombia to
having a target pinned to your back.

Throughout the country, such accusations are routinely
made against those who resist war. "Peace Communities"
such as San José de Apartadó, which deny access to all
armed groups, whether legal or illegal, are relentlessly
targeted by the Army, police, and paramilitary forces
and suffer threats, massacres and disappearances.

Larandia's role in Plan Colombia, since 2002, has been
as the takeoff and landing site for the aircraft that
have fumigated the neighboring Putumayo region with
toxic herbicides. Cocaine cultivation has not
diminished, the supply remains unchanged, but local
people have suffered extreme hunger as their food crops
were sprayed and destroyed, toxins impacted people's
health as well as the environment in the Amazon basin,
"the lungs of the world."

Rumors now circulate about a deal: Colombian President
Uribe approves US access to bases in exchange for Obama
supporting a Free Trade Agreement by which the US could
continue to subsidize domestic agribusiness, thereby
threatening the livelihoods of Colombia's small and
subsistence farmers. Their lands are already being
illegally grabbed and transformed to palm oil biofuel
plantations--food for machines rather than people. Under
the FTA, the US could regulate its own financial sector
but Colombia would not be allowed to do so. Colombia
could not give preference to local businesses in
awarding government procurement contracts or in any way
privilege Colombian businesses over transnationals.

Every successful world economy has gone through a period
of protecting and developing its own business and
industrial base. The FTA presents Colombia with almost
insurmountable obstacles to doing so. While the wealthy
would become wealthier through their participation in
multinational schemes, the majority of Colombians would
be trapped in a backwards economy exporting natural
resources, monoculture products such as biofuels, and
raw materials, all of which rely on an exploitable
underclass of workers.

While Colombia needs a Fair Trade program that
encourages the development of a competitive 21st-century
economy, Uribe's government remains tragically committed
to neoliberalism. A better model is being tried
elsewhere on the continent: ALBA (Alianza Bolivariana
para los Pueblos de Nuestra América) is based on the
idea of social, political, and economic integration
between the countries of Latin America and the Caribbean
and a vision of social welfare, barter and mutual
economic aid.


#7: Malambo

Air Force officers from Malambo, located on Caribbean
coast in Colombia's Atlantic department, have trained at
WHINSEC. In the 80's, in addition to its anti-narcotics
operations, the base was charged with defense against a
presumed Sandinista threat. No wonder South and Central
American countries are not reassured by US statements
that all operations will be confined to Colombian
territory.

At the end of 2009, at the Second International
Conference for the Abolition of Foreign Military Bases,
delegates from twelve Latin American countries pledged
to cooperate on a campaign that seeks to have other
nations follow the lead of Bolivia and Ecuador, two
countries that have a ban on foreign bases written into
their respective national Constitutions.

In recent years, US military joined with the Colombian
Air Force to bring disaster relief to the departments
flood zones. They have also garnered favorable press by
participating in joint medical missions.

Flooding is common along the coast and regularly creates
disaster and disease in Barranquilla, the largest city
of the department, which has no rainwater drainage
system or flood prevention plan. If infrastructure needs
were addressed, the military wouldn't have to respond to
frequent disasters. If the department had sufficient
clinics, hospitals, and health care personnel, the
population wouldn't have to wait for the infrequent
arrival of medical missions.

In 2009, the mayor of Barranquilla faced a disciplinary
investigation by an anti-corruption agency after his
sudden dismissal of 2,300 municipal workers who were
members of trade unions. Union leaders and journalists
who voiced opposition to the mass firings received death
threats. Threats and actual killings are nothing new for
union leaders at the local Coca-Cola plant.

Violence against trade unionists in Colombia increases
every year with multinationals linked again and again to
the hiring of assassins.  

In Argentina and Chile, people are now being held
accountable for crimes against humanity committed during
their Dirty Wars. In Colombia, when arrested
paramilitary leaders begin to testify about their
connections to high ranking government officials and US
and transnational corporations, they are quickly
extradited to the US to face drug charges, putting them
out of reach of Colombian prosecutors, human rights
organizations, victims and their families. Not only do
Colombian perpetrators continue to enjoy impunity for
their past crimes, the abuses are ongoing.


Conclusion:

When funding for the SOA was threatened, the Department
of Defense renamed it WHINSEC. The agreement on bases
represents one more example of sleight-of-hand: As
Congress loses faith in Plan Colombia after investing
more than six billion dollars, the DOD taps the military
budget to keep the failed policies going with even less
Congressional oversight.

The Obama Administration's decision to extend US
military muscle to an extent previously unknown
threatens to destabilize the entire region. Yes, South
American countries have had their border skirmishes and
brief armed conflicts, but American bases create a
scenario for what could potentially be a major war on
the continent. At the same time, the US presence will
lead Colombia's neighbors to respond to this anxiety by
buying more weapons and raising more national armies.
Colombia, Venezuela, Brazil, Ecuador, and Peru will
spend on their militaries the money that could and
should go to improving the quality of life for all their
citizens.

The agreement represents more of the inevitable failure
that comes from policies that rely on the military
paradigm. In Colombia, as in Afghanistan, military might
has failed and is destined to fail. In neither country
can the military put a dent in drug trafficking. In both
countries, a weak central government has little or no
presence--except for military presence--in much of the
country and fails to provide even basic services.
Military action inspires insurgency and resistance,
while warlords and corrupt government officials continue
to profit from war.

Social justice is the road to peace.



Hector and Diane have co-authored The Blessing Next to
the Wound (to be published Spring 2010 by Lantern
Books), his story of surviving torture and civil war in
Colombia and how he now seeks a path to healing for
himself and others through engaging the imagination in
works of activism and art.

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posted by u2r2h at Friday, February 19, 2010

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