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Colombia’s “Revolutionaries” and Their Helpers By: Michael Radu
FrontPageMagazine.com | Tuesday, January 28, 2003


During the January 19 Stalinist-organized and allegedly "peace"-motivated demonstration in Washington, one of the speakers was described as "representing" a previously unknown and probably nonexistent organization, "Colombian Trade Unionists in Exile." His language and indeed his very presence - together with such old hat pro – Latin American terrorist groups – Nicaragua Network, CISPES (Committee in Support of the People of El Salvador) and other Leninist nostalgic of the Cold War – clearly demonstrated the hard Left’s desperate search of some communist cause, any cause, in the Americas. Indeed the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia–Popular Army (FARC-EP) the speaker implicitly endorsed, is such a dubiously "progressive" cause that even Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, not known for their hostility to the Left, have occasionally felt compelled to complain about its barbarity -which included the murder of three "pro – native" ecologists from the United States – "an error" said FARC – mass murders of Colombian Indians, and indiscriminate kidnappings for ransom – including those of "progressive politicians. All this without mentioning the direct link – admitted by FARC - with massive cocaine and heroin trafficking.

With some 17,000 armed combatants and about 4,000 underground urban "militias," FARC is the world’s largest insurgent group. Established in 1964 as the military arm of the pro-Soviet Communist Party of Colombia , it is also the world’s oldest. And with an annual income of over $600 million (from cocaine and heroin trafficking, kidnappings, and protection rackets), it is by far the wealthiest terrorist group.

Paradoxically, FARC’s real growth in size and strength occurred even as it was losing whatever popular support it may have had at the beginning. Recent polls have shown its public support to be declining, generally dropping closer to 2 percent of late than the 4 percent of a few years ago. The main reason for this is the idiocy and incompetence, often bordering on treason, of large sectors of Colombia’s elites since the early 1980s. But there is also the unwillingness and/or inability of the U.S. Congress and successive administrations to understand the nature and magnitude of the threat FARC poses and FARC’s own successful evolution from Moscow-supported to self-sufficient military organization.

To begin with, ever since the presidency of Belisario Betancour (1982–86) and until last year’s election of Alvaro Uribe, government after government in Bogotá treated the Marxist insurgencies—FARC was never the only one—less as a matter of national security and more as a political issue to be "solved" by negotiations. Negotiations were often accompanied by orders to the military to withdraw at the very moment they were close to eliminating the insurgent leadership. After a middle/upper-class Castroite group decided to lay down arms in 1991, a new Constitution was adopted, in the name of "democracy," which effectively paralyzed the government. Among other things, the new constitution dismantled self-defense forces in the countryside and banned the use of draftees with a high-school diploma for combat—in effect making the war one between the poor and the Marxists.

This pattern of national suicide reached an apogee during the presidency of Andrés Pastrana (1998–2002), who simply "gave" FARC a "demilitarized area" larger than El Salvador in the center of the country in exchange for … discussions about future negotiations. The military, judges, and police were withdrawn from the safe-haven area, and FARC established there what its declared goal is for the country as a whole—a Stalinist mini-state, complete with "revolutionary justice," luxurious houses complete with pools for the "people’s leaders," a place where international figures such as the Chairman of the New York Stock Exchange could meet the Irish and Basque ETA terrorists training FARC in the finer points of urban terrorism: a safe haven for FARC to recruit and train and to keep its hundreds of kidnap victims.

However—and one has to be open and blunt about this—far too many ordinary Colombians were demanding "peace" at any cost—exactly what Pastrana was trying to deliver. These Colombians had been encouraged by the burgeoning human rights NGOs—Colombia harbors half of such groups in Latin America, virtually all leftist and subsidized from abroad, largely by groups in Europe but also by U.S. organizations, and most are infiltrated by or sympathetic to FARC and its smaller Castroite rival, the National Liberation Army (ELN).

The predictable result is that FARC doubled in size, by 1999–2000 reaching a level of military effectiveness that allowed it to defeat large units of the Colombian military in what amounted to conventional battles; to briefly occupy a remote provincial capital; and to threaten the existence of not only Colombia’s imperfect democracy, but the very existence of the Colombian state. The police were always outgunned and outnumbered, and thus deserted huge swaths of territory. The military was too small and demoralized to replace the police, and most of the country became a no-man’s land, where insurgents threatened to replace whatever pretense of national sovereignty Bogotá had.

Meanwhile, Washington under the Bush Sr. and Clinton administrations was alternately asleep or had its head in the sand. The FARC problem was seen as one of drug producing and trafficking, rather than one of a serious communist threat to a major country in the Americas. Hence the opinion expressed even in Congress that since the USSR was dead, there couldn’t be a communist threat anywhere, except in the feverish imagination of reactionaries. The Democratic Left’s customary manipulation of the lingering "Vietnam syndrome," together with the enormous influence of NGOs such as Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, blocked any understanding of FARC, let alone any support for U.S. aid to Colombia in its war against totalitarianism.

Prominent Democrats like Senators Patrick Leahy (D-VT) and Christopher Dodd (D-CT), who have never seen a threat from any self-declared Marxist-Leninist terror group in the Americas, successfully blocked help to the Colombian military by charging human rights violations—as defined by HRW and Amnesty—and forced the separation between anti-drug and anti-insurgency support to Colombia. The fact that by the end of the 1990s FARC had become the world’s largest single cocaine supplier (and the United States’ largest heroin supplier) was pushed under the carpet.

The Clinton administration therefore implicitly supported Pastrana’s irresponsible schemes, refusing to provide military training or equipment to the Colombian military unless strictly used for drug control, and—here the Republicans proved to be no more serious or helpful—showing an irrational preference for the Colombian police, the least effective counterinsurgency force, over the military. In short, Washington has for a decade gone along with Bogotá’s irresponsibility.

By the beginning of 2002 things started to change, in Bogotá as well as in Washington. To begin with, Colombians in their huge majority realized FARC’s game—to use "negotiations about negotiations" as a tool to advance their totalitarian project. Hence the overwhelming votes for Alvaro Uribe as president, although he ran as an independent and, for the first time, won in the first round. Uribe was and is exactly what previous Colombian presidents were not: clear in his program, realistic in his approach to FARC and ELN, and, most important, wildly popular. This makes the U.S. FARC sympathizers unhappy (see e.g. the article at www.iacenter.org, the website of the International Action Center, founded by Ramsey Clark, "The Election of Alvaro Uribe Velez in Colombia: Why it bodes ill for the people of Colombia"). Evidently what Colombia’s voters think is both wrong and irrelevant—so what else is new?

The events of 9/11/01 changed some minds in Washington, and the Democrats’ loss of Senate control diminished the power of the "there is no enemy on the left" senators, a lá Dodd and Leahy. The false distinction between anti-drug and anti-insurgency in Colombia became less viable, and the Bush administration, with Congressional support, did finally get rid of it. That decision was made easier by newly elected president

Uribe making it clear after his election that any negotiations by his government with FARC would depend entirely upon FARC’s seriousness and, ultimately, its renunciation of arms and terror. Otherwise, it will be war. The Colombian military are better prepared and more effective than at any time since the late 1970s, when Bogotá began its ill-fated appeasement approach. And FARC is back to where it feels most comfortable—killing and kidnapping innocents, occasionally murdering policemen, and destroying the country’s infrastructure.

Finally, the Colombian people and establishment are on the same wavelength—defeat the terrorists, put an end to their country being the place where 70 percent of the world’s kidnappings occur, and support the military. Uribe, who has been the target of at least three FARC assassination attempts, is their vehicle.

And "Human Rights"?

For decades now, the international human rights establishment and the Colombian franchises it subsidizes have used Colombia as an instrument of international activism. It is time to see this for what it is—outsiders with money helping to destroy an important country. It’s not that AI and HRW never condemned the FARC atrocities—they did so repeatedly, but strategically. Their goal in Colombia remains paralyzing the government’s anti-insurgency operations. They therefore condemn the government "equally" with the insurgents. The UN and governments under the human rights establishment’s influence are vulnerable to such lobbying, while irregulars are not—a double standard there for the exploitation.

The human rights’ groups targets are always (and this is quite helpful for the insurgents) the most effective military officers. They are seldom proven to be legally guilty of cooperating with independent self-defense groups, but are always suspended from office before being found innocent, as most are found to be.

And the Self-Defense Groups?

Created by the Colombian state’s inability and unwillingness to protect its own citizens against Marxist terror, the AUC (Colombia’s United Self-Defense Groups) were created by an organizational genius, former FARC victim and narcotrafficker Carlos Castaño. For FARC and ELN supporters, mostly among human rights NGOs, countering Castaño is the perfect cover for helping FARC without being seen to do so. He and his associates, it is claimed, committed atrocities against "civilians" (usually known FARC/ELN underground and informers) and, it is less credibly claimed, were in cahoots with the Colombian military.

That the absence of the Colombian state in large areas was the ultimate cause of the formation of self-defense forces, or that facing the highly organized FARC and ELN those forces had to imitate the Marxists methods—which Castaño proudly admits—does not seem to matter to Bogotá ‘s "human rights" critics. Nor does it seem to count that the AUC does not seek to overthrow the state in favor of Stalinism; that they never fight the legitimate Colombian forces; or that they have been more successful than the army in eliminating communist terrorism (especially ELN) in large areas. The obsession with eliminating the AUC is the ever-present pretext of NGOs sympathetic to FARC for preventing any U.S. support for the war against FARC.

President Uribe has engaged in what amounts to a political and economic revolution and yet still enjoys enormous popular support. He has strengthened the military and, despite the corrupt and inept judiciary, stuck with it; he is limiting the numbers and perquisites of congressional members; and he is serious about actually winning the war against Marxist totalitarians—none of which makes his natural enemies comfortable.

FARC, on the other hand, behaves as if nothing can damage its international image – and is usually correct. Thus they kidnapped Ingrid Betancourt, a marginal candidate to the presidency in February 2002—and made her a martyr in France, where her fashionable citizenship and wooly ideology were popular (her latest book was a best-seller in Paris, ignored in Bogotá). They have murdered Native Americans/environmentalists – and had their friends blame …the United States. The EU did finally declare FARC a terrorist group, but the temptation to negotiate with them or press Colombia to do so, remains strong in Paris, Berlin and The Hague. FARC did manage to get a representative, masquerading as a "trade unionist" to Washington to appear on C-Span on January 18—in which appearance he linked their "revolution" to the efforts of the PLO and Hamas - an accurate association.

There is nothing easy in the war against terror, but it cannot be used by prominent American politicians as a pretext to protect the largest terrorist group in the world. In opposing Colombian popular opinion, these American politicians become responsible for thousands of Colombian deaths in the name of appeasing—or sympathy for—totalitarians.


Michael Radu is Senior Fellow and Co - Chair, Center on Terrorism and Counterterrorism, at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia.


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