[News] Indigenous People Troubled by U.S. Military Presence

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Fri Aug 21 10:54:33 EDT 2009

Indigenous People Troubled by U.S. Military Presence

August 21, 2009 By Gustavo Capdevila

GENEVA, Aug 13 (IPS) - The head of Colombia's 
biggest association of indigenous people is 
concerned that allowing U.S. troops to use 
military bases in his country will signal a 
regression to former times when the United States 
exercised control over Latin America, while a 
native activist warned of an increase in the 
number of cases of sexual abuse of young indigenous women by foreign soldiers.

A recent agreement between Bogotá and Washington 
for the U.S. to use seven military bases in 
Colombia, which has caused concern across Latin 
America, was ignored in discussions about 
Colombia's record on racial discrimination, held this week in Geneva.

At sessions of the United Nations Committee on 
the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CERD), 
the effects of militarisation in Colombia, which 
has been torn by civil war by nearly half a 
century, were examined, but the controversial 
issue of the bases was not raised, said Karmen 
Ramírez Boscán, a leader of the National 
Indigenous Organisation of Colombia (ONIC).

"This issue is a focus of broad debate at the 
national level, and of course it should have been 
dealt with here at this U.N. agency," said 
Ramírez Boscán, a Wayuu indigenous woman.

The fact that it was not discussed is because "we 
all know that a very sensitive situation is developing," she said.

The agreement between the two countries provides 
greater access to Colombian territory for the 
U.S. military, which will operate small stations 
known as Forward Operating Locations (FOLs) or 
Cooperative Security Locations (CSLs).

This will create changed circumstances and 
greater difficulties for Colombian, especially 
indigenous, women. "I think that, directly or 
indirectly, this generates violence, and 
obviously its most immediate effects are on 
Colombian women," said Ramírez Boscán.

The indigenous leader recalled cases that have 
been investigated of young single mothers in 
which "the fathers had been stationed at 
Colombian military bases. They became pregnant by 
foreign soldiers, not Colombians," Ramírez Boscán told IPS.

"I believe the greater presence of U.S. troops 
will definitely bring changes to the local areas near the bases," she said.

Wilbert van der Zeijden, an expert with the 
Transnational Institute, told IPS in April that 
"We should not forget that military bases are 
usually inhabited mostly by young men, who get 
bored and frustrated, being far from home, 
family, friends and girlfriends/wives. They seek 
'diversion' in town. "The result has been a steep 
increase in all sorts of crime, including rape, 
drugs, theft and violent abuse," he said. In the 
view of Luis Evelis Andrade, an indigenous elder 
and head of ONIC, the fight against drugs and 
terrorism is being used as a pretext to wind the 
clock back to the time when the United States had 
total control over Latin American countries.

Some of the seven bases are close to villages of 
indigenous or Afro-descendant people, while others are not, Andrade said.

"The Colombian state and the government are 
riding roughshod over what I understand to be the 
feelings and the collective imaginary about the 
meaning of foreign military bases in any country, 
and especially in Latin America," he said.

"Bases commanded, operated and administered by 
the United States are unacceptable, and so are 
bases operated by the Colombian military with the 
presence of U.S. military advisers," he said. 
Neither scenario is acceptable "to us, as indigenous peoples."

Cooperation in the fight against drug trafficking 
cannot mean interference and the covert 
abdication of sovereignty to another country, 
said Andrade, of the Emberá people, who as elder 
statesman is president of ONIC, the national 
authority of indigenous peoples living in Colombia.

U.S. forces at the bases will have immunity from 
the Colombian justice system, and facilities for 
operating C-17 Globemasters, large transport 
planes for troops and weapons with a range that 
extends to half the South American continent. 
With refuelling and provisioning, these aircraft 
can reach every part of the Americas except Cape 
Horn, at the southernmost tip of Chile.

Andrade remarked that the Colombian government 
acts as if the agreement with the United States 
had implications only for Colombia. But experts 
and other governments are well aware that the 
aircraft and technology involved have 
implications far beyond the borders of Colombia, 
and can be used to spy on other countries, he said.

"We're already sick and tired of the internal 
armed conflict. We think (U.S. access to) these 
bases should not be implemented, because we 
believe it will damage relations with bordering countries," he added.

For example, deteriorating relations between 
Colombia and Ecuador and between Colombia and 
Venezuela have repercussions on health care and 
food security for more than 20 indigenous 
villages along the Ecuadorean and Venezuelan borders.

The ill-feeling between the countries arises 
because of the mishandling of the Colombian armed 
conflict, which spreads across national boundaries, Andrade argued.

The issue of the military bases is already 
causing problems for indigenous people, "and I 
would say for all the poor who live on the 
Colombian-Venezuelan border, as Venezuelan 
President Hugo Chávez himself has recognised," Andrade said.

The Chávez administration has frozen relations 
with Colombia - with which Venezuela has close 
economic ties - because of the decision on military bases.

Andrade criticised those involved in the debate 
on the effects of the tension between Bogotá and 
Caracas for only alluding to the crisis 
experienced in the dominant economic sectors, 
such as automobile manufacturers, textile industrialists and beef exporters.

"But no one talks about the problems of the 
border communities, which normally, as in the 
case of the border between Colombia and 
Venezuela, get most of their supplies of food, 
clothing and even medicines from Venezuela," he said.

Ramírez Boscán said Colombian officials had 
portrayed the agreement for the U.S. use of the 
bases as "a necessary evil" in order to combat 
the guerrillas and drug trafficking. "But we 
think that it's all part of a strategy to control 
everything that goes on in Latin America, in 
countries like Ecuador and Venezuela, from a key 
geographical position," she said.

She said it was a good thing that Monday's summit 
meeting of the Union of South American Nations 
(UNASUR) in Quito had decided to hold another 
summit on Aug. 27 in Bariloche, in southern 
Argentina, to examine Latin America's reaction to 
the U.S.-Colombia military base agreement.

"It's important for other countries to hold the 
Colombian state accountable, because we really do 
not know what our government's intentions are," she said.

The plans for U.S. access to the bases have met 
with vocal resistance in Colombia on the part of 
human rights and indigenous organisations, and 
civil society in general. But "the government has 
responded with indifference," Ramírez Boscán said. (END/2009)

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