Proposal for Latin American NATO has nothing to do with democracy
BY STAN GOFF
NATO's transition from a defensive anachronism to a wider regional enforcer is related directly to investment. The impunity with which Albanian paramilitaries now carry out actions against Serbs and Gypsies under the noses of NATO forces should give the lie to the "concern for human rights." We never heard about debt restructuring or the hunger for privatization, or the roles these concerns played in the Balkan adventure. Now the Clinton Administration is proposing a NATO for Latin America. This, too, is an investment issue. I hope we are paying better attention this time.
Crocodile tears were shed over human rights in Kosovo. Self-righteous sanctimony about drugs are serving the same purpose in Latin America. "Democracy" will be the raison d'etre for the Latin American version of NATO. Pure cover. American military capacity is maintained, as always, for the most cynical economics. I know; for more than two decades I was a member of that military, and I served in an advisory and assistance role in seven Latin American countries.
The latest developments in Colombia are instructive. Drug Tzar Barry McCafrey (no coincidence that he is the former commander for the Theater Command for the U.S. armed forces in Latin America) and Defense Secretary William Cohen are arguing for massive expansion of military aid to Colombia at the urging of the U.S. State Department.
The State Department claims the widened assistance is needed to fight "an explosion of coca plantations." The solution, according to the State Department, is a 950-man "counter-narcotics" battalion. But the request is strangely coincident with the recent military advances of Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionario Colombiano (FARC), the leftist guerrillas who already control 40 percent of the countryside.
When I was training Colombian Special Forces in Tolemaida in 1992, my team was there ostensibly to aid the counter-narcotics effort. Narcotics were the cover story for a similar trip to Peru in 1991. In both cases, we were giving military (not police) forces training in infantry counter-insurgency doctrine. We knew perfectly well, as did the host nation commanders, that narcotics was a flimsy cover story for beefing up the capacity of armed forces who had lost the confidence of the population through years of abuse, and who were suffering setbacks in the field against guerrillas.
There is a transition afoot to prepare the American people. McCaffrey is "admitting" that the lines between counter-narcotics and counter-insurgency are beginning to blur in Colombia. Why? The guerrillas are involved in drug trafficking. This has become such a ubiquitous claim that it is repeated uncritically in the press. There is no differentiation between the FARC and a handful of less significant groups, and no apparent preoccupation with citing evidence. When this construct first began to gain wide currency, former U.S. Ambassador to Colombia Miles Frechette pointed out that there was no evidence to support those claims.
His statement was soon forgotten. We were to be prepared.
In Colombia, it is well-known that those who profit the most by the drug trade are members of the armed forces, the police, government officials and the "big businessmen" of the urban centers. And the big American traffickers on the receiving end stand to make almost twice the profit per kilo than is made by the whole Colombian end of the connection.
But drugs won't justify the scope of the military build-up that the State Department now feels is necessary. It needs to protect the billions upon billions of dollars in markets for American products in Colombia and other Latin American nations, and to secure the peace enough to ensure the continued bleeding of their economies through external debts owed to American-dominated financial institutions. For the size of build-up that is ostensibly needed, we need to defend an ostensible democracy.
In June this year, at a meeting of the Organization of American States in Guatemala, Clinton Administration representatives proposed an American-led multinational Latin American force "to intervene in threatened environments" a new, Latino NATO. This force would "protect democracy." Colombia will be the foothold for this force, because it is under the most immediate threat. The guerrillas are the foes of democracy, of course. And the government of Colombia is the nominal democracy, because they have elections. It matters not that only a tiny fraction of the population has the means to recruit and promote candidates, or that terror stalks the population.
Behind the democratic façade are the most egregious and systematic human rights violations in this hemisphere. Except in the 40 percent of the country where the FARC holds sway, right-wing paramilitaries, supported and coordinated by the official security forces, are involved in a process that would have made Roberto D'Abuisson proud; torture, public decapitations, massacres, destruction of land and livestock, forced dislocations.
In July, Colombian Army Commander Jorge Enrique Mora Rangel intervened in the Colombian judicial process to protect the most powerful paramilitary chief in Colombia, Carlos Castano, from prosecution for a series of massacres. Favored targets were community and union leaders, political opponents and their families. Castano's organization is networked for intelligence and operations directly with the security forces. That network was organized and trained in 1991, under the tutelage of the U.S. Department of Defense and the Central Intelligence Agency.
I was in Guatemala in 1983 for the last coup. In 1985, I was in El Salvador. As an insider on active duty in the armed forces, I saw the deep dissonance between the official explanations for our policies and our actual practices, the murder of school teachers and nuns by our surrogates. I can assure anyone that the billions in profit to be made in Colombia and neighboring nations has far more to do with the itch for stability than any concern about democracy. Or cocaine.
There is a chilling déjà vu in this.
Stan Goff retired from the U. S. Army in 1996. He served in Vietnam, Guatemala, El Salvador, Grenada, Panama, Colombia, Peru, Venezuela, Honduras, Somalia and Haiti. His last assignment was with 3rd Special Forces. He lives in Raleigh, NC.