The beginning of the new year coincided with a new, menacing increase in U.S. hostilities against the Colombian guerrilla movement, particularly against the 40-year-old Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC). A number of signs point to a possible U.S. invasion of that country in the months ahead.

Since 2000, the U.S. government has poured over $2 billion in military aid into Colombia to “combat narco-trafficking.” According to critics of the program, such aid has been a thinly disguised way of fighting one of Latin America’s oldest and most deeply rooted movements for independence and social justice. The FARC commands a rebel army of approximately 18,000.

Under the U.S.-backed “Plan Colombia,” the Colombian military has been equipped with scores of Black Hawk helicopters, armored personnel carriers, drone aircraft, and other counterinsurgency equipment. Colombian troops have been trained by elite, U.S. “special forces” units in anti-guerrilla warfare technique. But it appears that the Pentagon may be readying its own forces for a direct military intervention from outside.

On Jan. 3 the Mexican newspaper La Jornada published an expose by reporter Carlos Fazio describing the Pentagon’s quiet military occupation of Ecuador near the Colombian border. Fazio details the dramatic growth of the Manta naval and air base, located on Ecuador’s Pacific coast, only an hour’s flight from Colombia.

U.S. Orion C-130 spy planes depart from Manta each day and fly over Colombia on reconnaissance missions.

The base “is under the exclusive jurisdiction of the U.S. Armed Forces’ SouthCom (Southern Command),” he writes, and is a “command center directing key mercenary operations under contract to Dyncorp, a Pentagon private subcontractor, conducting the installation of three logistics centers in the provinces of Guayas, Azuay and Sucumbios.” Currently Manta is home to 162 U.S. officers and 231 employees of Dyncorp.

The three logistic centers were authorized last September, Fazio says, by Ecuador’s foreign minister, Patricio Zuquilanda, in a secret agreement with the U.S. military attaché in Quito, Arnold Chacón. The stated purpose of these centers is to serve populations affected by natural disasters caused by El Niño.

Miguel Morán, leader of the Tohalli movement, an organization opposed to the base, said, “Ecuador is already a U.S. base, not only Manta. They inaugurated seven military detachments in Amazonia and are now after key ports. … The construction of the logistic centers is a smokescreen to conceal military activity.”

Fazio reports that Gen. Wendell L. Griffin, SouthCom Planning and Strategy Director, and U.S. special envoy for Western Hemispheric Affairs, Otto Reich, visited Ecuador recently and, in the case of Griffin, toured the border near Colombia. Many see that visit as a sign that “Washington is accelerating preparations to unleash military skirmishes inside Colombian territory” and that Ecuador will serve as a “U.S. aircraft carrier in an undercover war of aggression,” Fazio says.

Launching the invasion from Ecuador, he says, would facilitate giving the action a multinational or multilateral cover, one that Ecuadorian President Lucio Gutierrez would readily vouch for.

Meanwhile, Colombian government repression of trade unionists and right-wing paramilitary attacks on villages deemed sympathetic to either the FARC or the other guerrilla movement, the ELN, continue. Just after New Year’s, a group of 500-800 armed men in the uniform of the “United Self-Defense of Colombia,” a fascist-like group allied to big landowners in the country, reportedly terrorized several villages in the Arenal municipality. Two villagers were killed, many were savagely beaten, and more than 200 families fled the area out of fear.

On Jan. 2, one of the FARC’s top commanders, Simon Trinidad, 53, was seized in Quito by U.S. and Colombian security agents. While initial news reports said that he was in Quito for medical treatment, the FARC said that Trinidad was there for a secret diplomatic initiative, seeking to arrange a meeting with United Nations General-Secretary Kofi Annan, UN Special Adviser James LeMoyne, and representatives of the French government to discuss a prisoner of war exchange.

Trinidad is a distinguished political leader of the FARC, and was a top negotiator in peace talks with the Colombian government in 2002. Those talks eventually broke down.

The FARC leadership sees Trinidad’s arrest as part of a larger picture of “ever-increasing interference of the U.S. government” in Colombia’s affairs, and urges worldwide solidarity with the Colombian people.

The author can be reached at malmberg@pww.org.

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