31.10.2002 (By Andy McInerney, Workers World) Before the Clinton administration launched "Plan Colombia," a .3 billion military aid package to Colombia, the U.S. government admitted to having around 200 troops--Special Forces "advisers"--in that South American country. Today, according to an Oct. 12 in the British newspaper The Daily Telegraph, that number has doubled.
Now, with the Bush administration dropping any pretense of fighting a "drug war," these troops are on the battlefield. The Telegraph reported that Special Forces began operations
in Arauca, an oil-rich state on the Venezuelan border, in early October. Their mission is "training local soldiers in helicopter-born operations, night fighting and intelligence operations."
Congress approved this overt military intervention in July as part of the billion "Anti-Terrorism" package. The appropriation included million in new military aid to
Colombia. Of that, million is specifically aimed at protecting oil pipelines for U.S.-owned oil conglomerates like Occidental Petroleum.
According to an report in the New York Times headlined "America's For-Profit Secret Army," an unspecified number of U.S. mercenaries hired by the Pentagon and by oil companies
are also operating in Colombia. The oil pipelines are frequent targets for attack by Colombia's two largest revolutionary armed insurgencies, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia-People's Army (FARC- EP) and the National Liberation Army (ELN). Arauca, where
the Special Forces are beginning their training, is a traditional stronghold of the ELN.
The right-wing president of Colombia, Alvaro Uribe, declared Arauca a "Zone of Rehabilitation and Consolidation." This elaborate title means that the Colombian military has declared martial law: Peasant and union leaders can be arrested without warrant or formal charges, and curfews can be declared at will.
The military head of the zone is Brig. Gen. Carlos Lemus Pedraza. Human-rights groups charge he has close ties to the right-wing death squads working with the army in the region.
Since Uribe's election, fighting between the U.S.-backed Colombian military and paramilitary death squads, on the one hand, and the Marxist insurgencies on the other has intensified. Street battles have taken place repeatedly in poor and working-class neighborhoods in Medellin, Colombia's third-biggest city.
In September, just six weeks after Uribe's inauguration, millions of workers, peasants and students marched in a nationwide mobilization against the government's economic policies.
So the open U.S. military intervention is taking place at the same time that the class struggle--in both its armed and its mass forms--is intensifying in Colombia. This raises the
prospect of the confrontation spilling over the narrow bounds that the Pentagon is trying to delineate. Will the U.S. government be able to fight a growing popular insurgency in Colombia at the same time as a massive military adventure in the Middle East?