Colombian paramilitaries are bloodying U.S. aid dollars

Colombian paramilitaries are bloodying U.S. aid dollars, by Mansur Johnson, July 31, 2002 op-ed for The Arizona Republic

During a recent visit to Colombia with a Withness for Peace delegation, I was reminded of Chalmers Johnson's book Blowback.

Blowback is a CIA term referring to the unintended consequences of U.S. interventions abroad. My trip convinced me the United States should stop military aid to Colombia.

The Colombian military has more graduates of the infamous School of the Americs located at Fort Benning, Ga., than any other Latin American country. Col. Gilberto Ibarra, spokesman for the Grenada Battalion that guards the oil fields in Barrancabermeja, told our delegation that he studied at School of the Americas when it was located in Panama.

Ibarra studied from Spanish-language texts provided by the U.S. military. These texts labeled as subversives all kinds of people--community leaders, teachers, doctors, unionists, journalists, priests and human rights workers. The textbooks taught that subversives support guerrillas. Thus, Latin American officers learned to kill subservisves. This is how the U.S.-supported genocide occurred in Latin America in the 1980s.

Our delegation visited a neighborhood where displaced people have settled.

According to Amnesty International, there are 1.7 million displaced people in Colombia.

This is a nation of 42 million  Colombian mCoCoC.

Aurora is one such survivor.

A small woman who directs a one-room factory, Aurora lost her husband and two sons in a massacre by Colombian paramilitaries at a nearby soccer field on May 16, 1998. The paramilitaries were part of the United Self-Defense Groups of Colombia, which is listed as a terrorist organization by the U.S. State Department.

On that day, according to human rights groups, the paramilitaries were allowed to pass through a Colombian military roadblock, and then to depart after the massacre.

Seven were killed and 25 others disappeared that day. They have never been accounted for.

The State Department acknowledges ties between the Colombian military and the paramilitaries, who serve as proxies for the military. Yet the United States has recently certified that Colombia meets human rights requirements. This despite Human Rights Watch's report documenting the egregious lack of Colombian compliance with congressional conditions.

There are far better ways to spend U.S. dollars.

Barrancabermeja's budding shoe industry, and other industries, are assisted by the Middle Magdelana Peace and Development Corporation.

This agency, under the direction of a local man, German Plata, is helping 40,000 families in 29 towns in this resource-rich region, where 70 percent of the residents are too poor to satisfy basic needs for food, clothing, health, shelter and educatin.

The agency's $5 million budget is provided by the World Bank. And it's doing good. It is less than 4 percent of the $1.3 billion mostly military aid package that the United States has allocated for Plan Colombia in 2001.

Despite its good work for so many Plata's Peace and Development Corporation has been declared a "military target" by the paramilitaries, who control Barrancabermeja. Eight associates of Plata's were killed last year by the ruling paramilitary group. Graffiti near the Middle Magdelana Peace and Development Corporation building reads: "The heads of the military are responsible for the massacre."

Believing this to be true, I delivered a message to the members of the Arizona delegation earlier this year in Washington, D.C.: Stop funding the Colombian military.

Yet, two months ago, the House voted 225-192 to expand U.S. aid to the Colombian military.

It should be clear now why they hate us.

Mansur Johnson lives in Tucson. He is a member of the Inernational Alliance of Theatrical and Stage Employees.