Colombia: U.S. to Increase Involvement in Guerrilla War and Protect Occidental Oil Pipeline
In a major public policy shift, the administration of President George W. Bush is calling for US military aid to be used against Colombian guerrillas. To sell that change and the increased funding for Colombia in the budget for fiscal 2003 to Congress and the US public, the administration has begun a public relations campaign to include the Colombian guerrillas as targets of the "global war on terrorism."
On Jan. 15, just hours after a breakthrough salvaged the peace process in Colombia (see NotiSur, 2002-01-18), The Washington Post reported that the Bush administration was considering a change in policy that would allow US military aid to be used against the guerrillas.
The same day, John P. Walters, director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP) arrived in Colombia for a three-day visit to "review" US anti-drug cooperation with Colombia.
"I can't discuss all of the planning. We're doing a review of policy," Walters told reporters in Bogota. "We remain focused on supporting democratic institutions in Colombia. We remain focused on reducing violence where we can make a contribution to doing that, and, most of all, reducing drug trafficking that contributes to the funding of violence, and anti-government activity."
For some time, Colombian President Andres Pastrana has been asking Washington to expand its help to include participation in the war against the guerrillas. In a Jan. 22 interview with The Associated Press, Pastrana said that "the world changed on Sept. 11. The common enemy is terrorism." He called for US troops to train Colombian soldiers to protect oil pipelines and other infrastructure from rebel attacks. He added that he hoped the recent breakthrough in peace talks would lead to a full cease-fire by April.
Bush administration budget ups funding to Colombia
On Feb. 4, the Bush administration sent to Congress the fiscal year 2003 budget, which included a 14% increase in spending in the Andean region. Of the US$731 million proposed for the regional effort, US$439 million was for Colombia. The budget also requests US$98 million in new Pentagon training and equipment for the Colombian military.
Administration officials said it was the first step in a wider initiative to move US involvement in Colombia beyond counternarcotics assistance.
The US$98 million would come from foreign military financing funds, most often used to provide US military aid to US allies in the Middle East. Since Sept. 11, additional money from the account has been authorized for anti-terrorism activities in Uzbekistan, Turkey, and the Philippines.
In Colombia, most of the money would be used to train troops and provide at least 12 new transport helicopters for a 2,000- to 4,000-member "Critical Infrastructure Brigade" in the Colombian army. The brigade's initial task would be to protect the 600-km Cano Limon-Covenas pipeline, belonging to Los Angeles-based Occidental Petroleum, which transports oil from fields in northeastern Colombia to the Caribbean coast.
The St. Petersburg Times reported that military sources said the White House proposed the new pipeline protection, which initially met objections from Pentagon officials because of the difficulty in defending fixed installations. But when they were told that the plan was part of an attempt to expand the military's role in Colombia, they were won over.
The request for more funding came the same week that CIA Director George Tenet, in a Senate appearance Feb. 6, listed Colombia guerrilla group Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) as a terrorist threat to the US alongside Islamic extremist groups.
The US Congress originally approved US$1.3 billion in mainly military aid for Plan Colombia, the US-designed anti- drug trafficking plan. A year of intensive crop spraying and attempts to wean campesinos from growing crops used in the drug trade have produced few positive results. …