Thousands of protesters plan to converge on Washington D.C. from April 19-22 to protest the escalating U.S. involvement in Colombia, including the training of Colombian troops at the U.S. army’s notorious School of the Americas (SOA) in Fort Benning, Georgia. According to School of the Americas Watch (SOAW), a non-profit group seeking to shut down the school, the U.S. army has trained more than 10,000 Colombian troops at the SOA and many of its graduates have been linked to right-wing paramilitary death squads responsible for a huge majority of Colombia’s human rights abuses.
The Bush White House has spent much of the past seven months waging a war against international terrorism that, according to President Bush, “will not end until every terrorist group of global reach has been found, stopped and defeated.” In his post-September 11 speech to Congress, the president also issued his now infamous ultimatum, “Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.”
By February 2002, it had become evident that Washington had no intention of finding, stopping and defeating all terrorist groups it believed to have global reach. Furthermore, the Bush White House has clearly responded to its own ultimatum by deciding that it is “with the terrorists.” At least, this appears to be the case in Colombia where the Bush administration is expanding its war on terrorism by arming and training a military closely allied to a right-wing paramilitary group that is on the U.S. State Department’s list of Foreign Terrorist Organizations.
In February 2002, the Bush administration requested $98 million in aid to create, arm and train a Colombian army brigade whose primary purpose would be to protect the risky business investments of a U.S. corporation in Colombia. Specifically, its mission would be to defend the Caño Limón oil pipeline used by Los Angeles-based Occidental Petroleum from leftist guerrilla attacks.
Last month, President Bush requested that Congress lift all conditions restricting current and future U.S. military aid to counternarcotics operations. The White House is using its war on terrorism to justify Washington’s military escalation in Colombia. The State Department’s Coordinator for Counterterrorism, Francis X. Taylor, recently labeled the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), “the most dangerous international terrorist group based in this hemisphere.”
Secretary of State Colin Powell, U.S. ambassador to Colombia Anne Patterson, Senator Bob Graham of Florida and many others have jumped on the link-the-FARC-to-international-terrorism bandwagon. Washington is using the FARC’s involvement in the drug trade to justify its labeling of the rebel group as an international terrorist organization instead of just a domestic revolutionary movement.
Meanwhile, there has been nary a peep from Washington regarding waging war against Colombia’s largest and most feared paramilitary group, the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC), who are not only more involved than the FARC in the international drug trade, but are also state-sponsored terrorists responsible for more than 70 percent of the country’s human rights abuses. For years, the AUC have been recipients of direct or indirect support from the governments of Colombia and the United States, ranging from logistical assistance and training to arms supplies and the direct participation of U.S.-trained Colombian soldiers in massacres perpetrated by the paramilitaries.
Washington’s FARC bashers rarely mention that many of Colombia’s illegal right-wing paramilitary death squads were formed in the 1980s by either the Colombian military or drug traffickers or both. AUC commander Carlos Castaño was an associate of Medellín Cartel leader Pablo Escobar in 1981 when the Colombian army trained him for paramilitary duty in Puerto Berrío in the department of Antioquia.
Human Rights Watch has repeatedly linked U.S.-trained Colombian army officers to paramilitary groups and the massacres they have perpetrated. Many of these troops received training at the U.S. army’s School of the Americas, originally located in the Panama Canal Zone, but moved to Fort Benning, Georgia, in 1984. According to Human Rights Watch, Colombian officers “were students at the school at the time its curriculum included training manuals recommending that soldiers use bribery, blackmail, threats, and torture against insurgents.”
The School of the Americas evolved during the Cold War as a means of combating Latin American revolutionaries, especially those influenced by the Cuban Revolution. In order to combat these leftist insurgencies, the U.S. army trained (and continues to train) Latin American soldiers in counterinsurgency techniques. In other words, it teaches soldiers how to fight against internal, not external enemies.
Some of Latin America’s most notorious dictators are SOA graduates, including Manuel Noriega of Panama, Leopoldo Galtieri and Roberto Viola of Argentina, and Hugo Banzer Suarez of Bolivia. The SOA was also instrumental in training the brutal Guatemalan military that was condemned by the United Nations for committing genocide against Guatemala’s indigenous population during a forty-year civil war that killed more than 200,000 Mayan Indians. At the same time, during the civil war in neighboring El Salvador, former SOA students were involved in countless human rights abuses including the assassination of Archbishop Oscar Romero and the massacre of some 900 civilians in El Mozote.
School of the Americas Watch was established in response to U.S. taxpayer dollars being used to fund a Salvadoran army that was massacring thousands of innocent civilians during the 1980s. It claims that U.S. aid and training supports Latin American militaries that slaughter anyone they claim to be subversives, a classification that often includes unionists, human rights workers, religious leaders, civic groups, and thousands of impoverished peasants who just happen to live in conflict areas.
In response to SOAW’s lobbying of Congress for the passage of a bill calling for the closure of the School of the Americas, the Pentagon renamed the school last year. It’s new label, the Western Hemisphere Institute for Security Cooperation, is nothing more than a cynical attempt to improve the school’s dismal public image. Meanwhile, the institution’s mission remains the same: to train Latin American soldiers, not to defend their country against foreign aggressors, but to wage domestic warfare against “suspected” subversives.
Not surprisingly, Colombian officers and soldiers are currently among the School’s leading recipients of training. According to SOAW, two million Colombians have been killed or displaced by SOA graduates who used violence that targeted the civilian population. The number of Colombian SOA graduates who have been linked to human rights abuses by human rights organizations, the Colombian government and the U.S. State Department is staggering.
Below is a list of some of the most notorious army officers among the more than 150 Colombian SOA graduates who have been linked to human rights abuses and paramilitary death squads during the 1980s and 1990s:
- General Farouk Yanine Diaz, involved in 1988 massacre of 20 banana workers in Uraba and the expansion of paramilitary death squads.
- Colonel Jesus Maria Clavijo, currently under investigation for collusion with paramilitary forces in 160 social cleansing murders from 1995-1998.
- General Jaime Ernesto Canal Alban, established and supplied weapons and intelligence to a paramilitary group known as the Calima Front, which is responsible for more than 2,000 forced disappearances and at least 40 executions since 1999.
- General Carlos Ospina Ovalle, accused of maintaining extensive ties to paramilitary groups and whose troops massacred at least 11 people and burned down 47 homes in El Aro in 1998.
- Lieutenant Pedro Nei Acosta Gaivis, ordered the 1990 massacre of 11 peasants, then had his men dress the corpses to look like rebels and dismissed the killings as an armed confrontation between the army and guerrillas.
- Major Carlos Enrique Martínez Orozco, implicated in the 1988 massacre of 18 miners in Antioquia. Martínez Orozco was subsequently promoted.
- Major Luis Fernando Madrid Barón, implicated in the activities of a paramilitary group that killed 149 people from 1987 to 1990. Also accused of being the intellectual author of many of the assassinations.
- General Mario Montoya Uribe, has a history of ties to paramilitary violence and is believed to be the military official responsible for Plan Colombia.
- Lieutenant Carlos Acosta, accused of executing a group of federal prosecutors and dumping their bodies in a river. According to his brother, “He used to say that a soldier in Colombia has to fight not only guerrillas, but also the human rights groups and prosecutors.”
On the morning of April 22, four days of protest will culminate with a march from the Washington Monument to the U.S. Capitol where thousands of protesters will call on Congress to end U.S. military aid to Colombia, stop the aerial spraying of illicit crops, and close the School of the Americas.
The United States has a long history of supporting state-sponsored terrorism in Latin America, which the Bush White House intends to continue. For those of us unwilling to tolerate the use of our taxpayer dollars to support state-sponsored terrorism in Colombia, the time has come to issue our own ultimatum to lawmakers in Washington: Either you are with us, or you are with the terrorists.
For more information about the protest, visit Colombia Mobilization
For more information about SOAW, visit School of the Americas Watch
This article originally appeared in Colombia Report, an online journal that was published by the Information Network of the Americas (INOTA).