Issue 233 of SOCIALIST REVIEW Published September 1999 Copyright © Socialist Review
When a US army plane crashed in the jungles of southern Colombia in late July, it offered a bird's eye view of the US military's rising involvement in that country's 40 year civil war. The plane carried five US soldiers and two Colombians, and was packed with sophisticated spying equipment to intercept the radio and mobile phone communications between left wing rebel fighters as they carried out their biggest offensive yet, reaching within 25 miles of the capital city, Bogotá, during July. Investigations into the plane crash revealed that more than 300 US military personnel are stationed in Colombia--200 of them soldiers and the rest drug enforcement agents and CIA operatives. Shortly after the crash the Clinton administration announced that it would add $1 billion in emergency military aid to the Colombian government on top of the $250 million already allotted for this year. 'What you have here is a 1964 model of Vietnam,' observed one Congressional staffer.
The model has only one significant difference. Instead of claiming to fight the threat of Communism, today's US army claims to be fighting a war on drugs. The guerrilla fighters from the Marxist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) are claimed to be 'narco-terrorists', who fund their struggle by drug trafficking. In fact, only the Colombian government's side in the civil war has proven ties with drug money. Former President Ernesto Samper received $6 million from the Cali drug cartel during his 1994 election campaign. And US army officials were embarrassed recently when Laurie Arm Hiet, the wife of the colonel in charge of US military operations in Colombia, used the US embassy's special mailing privileges to ship $230,000 of cocaine home to the US.
The allegation of 'narco-terrorism' in Colombia is all the more absurd, given the CIA's own role in drug trafficking to fund its Contra war against the popular Sandinista government in Nicaragua throughout the 1980s. Contra planes flew to the US loaded with cocaine, then returned to Nicaragua loaded with cash.
In Colombia's civil war the US army is acting according to a script that has been played out time and again since the end of the Second World War, intervening on behalf of a corrupt and brutal regime against a popular movement. During the Colombian government's war against left wing rebels more than 35,000 Colombian civilians have been killed. Nearly 10,000 of Colombia's military and paramilitary troops were trained at the US Army's School of the Americas, which boasts in its literature that 'because of active US military engagement... Latin America is today the least militarised and least violent region in the world.' A US State Department spokesman refused to comment recently on the US military's links with Latin American dictators, calling it 'ancient history'. Tell that to the families of the 400 civilians who were killed by or disappeared due to Colombian death squads in the first four months of this year alone, not to mention the hundreds of thousands of leftists throughout Latin America whose deaths were a direct result of regimes armed and trained by the US.
Formed in 1946 in Panama, the School of the Americas (now located in Bennington, Georgia) has trained more than 60,000 Latin American troops in techniques of torture and assassination against their own poverty stricken populations. Its alumni include some of the world's most renowned military dictators, including Chilean General Augusto Pinochet, Panama's General Manuel Noriega, a former CIA informant, and Salvadoran death squad leader Roberto d'Aubuisson. In El Salvador alone, more than two thirds of government officers cited for the worst atrocities in the decade-long civil war that killed 80,000 people were School of the Americas graduates.
The founders of the School were blunt about the aims of US foreign policy. As George Keenan, head of the State Department's planning staff, argued in 1948, 'We have about 50 percent of the world's wealth, but only 6.3 percent of its population... In this situation we cannot fail to be the object of envy and resentment. Our real task in the coming period is to devise a pattern of relationships which will permit us to maintain this position of disparity without positive detriment to our national security... We should cease to talk about vague and unreal objectives such as human rights, the raising of living standards and democratisation... The less we are hampered by idealistic slogans, the better.'
In 1996 the Pentagon was forced to admit the existence of a 'torture manual'. As one School of the Americas graduate said, 'We were trained to torture human beings. They had a medical physician, a US medical physician which I remember very well, who was dressed in green fatigues, who would teach students... [about] the nerve endings of the body. He would show them where to torture, where and where not, where you wouldn't kill the individual.'
A North American nun, Diana Ortiz, described her own torture, for the 'crime' of teaching Mayan children to read, at the hands of School of the Americas graduate General Hector Gramajo, a former Guatemalan Defence Minister. 'They took me to a clandestine prison where I was tortured and raped repeatedly. My back and chest were burned more than 111 times with cigarettes. I was lowered into an open pit packed with human bodies--bodies of children, women and men, some decapitated, some lying face up and caked with blood, some dead, some alive--and all swarming with rats.' Two years after his involvement in Ortiz's rape and torture General Hector Gramajo delivered the School's commencement address.
The US House of Representatives has voted to end federal funding for the School of the Americas, which shows what an embarrassment it has become. The measure is largely symbolic, since 90 percent of the School's funding comes from the Pentagon. Activists have called a demonstration outside the School of the Americas to mark the 20th anniversary of the execution on 16 November 1979 of six Jesuit priests, their housekeeper and her daughter in El Salvador. Last year 7,000 protesters made their way to Georgia in November. This year should be even bigger. The School of the Americas is not 'ancient history'--it is an academy for assassins who are still killing.