[News] The Continuity of Immunity for Tío Sam in Colombia

Anti-Imperialist News news at freedomarchives.org
Wed Oct 28 13:53:03 EDT 2009

The Continuity of Immunity for Tío Sam in Colombia

Written by James J. Brittain
Tuesday, 27 October 2009

It is not difficult to obtain information related 
to the many social movements and progressive 
political mechanisms working to implement social 
reforms throughout contemporary Latin America. 
Venezuela continues to experience support for the 
presidency of Hugo Chávez [1999-] and the changes 
therein via the Bolivarian Revolution; Bolivia 
has witnessed the successful promotion of 
nationalization projects through Evo Morales’ 
Movement for Socialism (Movimiento al Socialismo, 
MAS) [2006-]; and president Rafael Correa [2007-] 
has garnished significant applause for his 
administrations consistent denunciation of US 
intervention in the region, as shown through 
Ecuador’s disallowance of Washington to resume 
activities at the port and airport in Manta. 
Alongside the aforementioned electoral shifts, 
the on-going civil war within Colombia has, 
contrary to state and popular media reports, seen 
the Revolutionary Armed Forces of 
Colombia-People’s Army (Fuerzas Armadas 
Revolucionarias Colombianas-Ejército del Pueblo, 
FARC-EP) remain a consistent threat to dominant 
political-economic interests in both Colombia and 
the United States (Brittain, 2010). For years the 
FARC-EP have been "the most powerful and 
successful guerrilla army in the world" leading 
it to be seen as "the most important military and 
political force in South America opposing 
imperialism" (Escribano, 2003: 299; Petras and 
Brescia, 2000: 134; see also Petras and 
Veltmeyer, 2003). A testament of their 
consequential Marxism, administration after 
administration in Colombia (and the United 
States) have diligently fought to halt the 
FARC-EP’s struggle of emancipation fearing that 
the country’s elite could lose their entrenched 
class dominance. If such events were to occur a 
further destabilization of domestic and foreign 
interests would subsequently arise within a 
region increasingly moving away from a 
well-entrenched conventional political-economic 
system dominated by the United States. While 2008 
witnessed the insurgency implement a tactical 
withdrawal, the FARC-EP remains to be the largest 
and longest-established insurgency movement in 
Latin American history (Brittain, 2010; Petras, 2008).

To prolong influence over Colombia, every US 
administrations from Nixon [1969-1974] to Obama 
[2009-] has embraced a ‘war on 
or more recently a ‘war on terror,’ as a means to 
deploy counterinsurgency campaigns to silence 
antagonistic sectors of said population. It is 
increasingly clear, when concerning the recent 
actions of Bogotá and Washington to facilitate 
seven fortified bases controlled by the United 
States on Colombian territory, that both states 
have coordinated a strategic alliance to 
militarize the region, not simply one country. 
German Rodas Chavez (2007: 97) suggests that such 
activities are an attempt to enable the US to 
stabilize at least a portion of Latin America’s 
territory. Securing some form of control over 
Colombia – and subsequently using the country as 
a centralized outpost – would assist the US to 
deploy ‘sub-regional military operations’ 
throughout the domestic and regional geography 
(Campos, 2007: 31). From this one can view 
Colombia as a strategic ‘national security’ case 
for Washington on three fronts:
    * First, the country’s influential economic 
and geopolitical placement as the regions gateway 
to South America: bordering on the Panama Basin 
and Caribbean Sea, access to both the Atlantic 
and Pacific Oceans, and neighbouring five 
nation-states (Panama, Venezuela, Ecuador, Peru, and Brazil).
    * Second, Colombia is one of the United 
States’ most important Latin American and 
Caribbean energy suppliers in both present and 
future forms via extensive untapped oil/coal 
reserves and already established pipelines and open-pit mines.
    * Lastly, both states share a dual goal of 
eliminating the ideological significance and 
potential political-military threat of the 
FARC-EP from creating a successful revolutionary shift ‘from below’.

Supporting such a scenario, John Perkins 
describes Colombia as the last bastion of US 
imperial power in Latin America. As a result of 
the country’s tactical location Washington has 
attempted to financially and militarily sustain 
the basis of power in Colombia to ensure that a 
geopolitical opening remains in the grasp of the 
US – hence, the importance of the seven 
If the Colombian state can hold power than 
Washington still has a hope of regaining regional political-economic authority.

Colombia is the glaring exception to the 
hemispheric anti-corporatocracy movements. It has 
maintained its position as Washington’s 
surrogate. Shored up massive U.S. taxpayer 
assistance and armies of corporate-sponsored 
mercenaries, as well as formal U.S. military 
support, it has become the keystone in 
Washington’s attempt’s to regain regional domination (Perkins, 2008: 149).

What is being witnessed in Colombia reflects what 
Marx (and Engels) alluded to when concerning the 
activities of ruling powers under ingrained 
capitalist conditions. While not apparently in 
their immediate interests, elites from various 
countries will periodically align when 
problematic conditions arise for the purpose of 
eliminating impediments to expansion. Hence, 
their historical statement, "in political 
 they join all coercive measures 
against the working class" (Marx and Engels, 
1976: 481, 508). In 1847, before a collective of 
workers in London, Marx highlighted how 
capitalists, without fail, would, across borders, 
support one another as a consequence of their class position.

A certain kind of brotherhood does of course 
exist among the bourgeois classes of all nations. 
It is a brotherhood of the oppressors against the 
oppressed, of the exploiters against the 
exploited. Just as, despite the competition and 
conflicts existing between the members of the 
bourgeoisie, the bourgeois class of one country 
is united by brotherly ties against the 
proletariat of that country, so the bourgeois of 
all countries, despite their mutual conflicts and 
competition on the world market, are united by 
brotherly ties against the proletariat of all countries (Marx, 1976: 388).

Recognizing the importance of regaining some form 
of hegemony, the Colombian state is willing to 
provide the United States carte blanch in 
tactics, methods, and campaigns over its 
sovereign territory and those living therein. 
Such immunity was recently witnessed when US Sgt. 
Michael Coen and a private military-based 
contractor César Ruiz were free to leave Colombia 
without trial after warrants for their arrest 
were issued related to the rape of a 12 year-old 
girl at the Tolemaida military base in Tolima 
(Martínez, 2009). Furthermore, upon returning to 
the United States, neither Coen or Ruiz were 
prosecuted for said crime even though Colombia’s 
Prosecutor General’s office concluded the youth 
had been sexually assaulted, had compiled 
evidence related to the sort, and had eye-witness 
testimony that decried the two as the violators 
(Alsema, 2009). Recognizing this as a violation 
of justice, one is burdened with the question as 
to how many more atrocities have gone unpunished 
over the last decade (and Plan Colombia, 1998/2000-2006)?

According to US ambassador to Colombia William 
Brownfield, "only six US soldiers committed 
crimes in Colombian territory in the last ten 
 in other words, more or less three cases 
for 10,000 people" (see Wecker, 2009a). Most 
disconcerting, however, were Brownfield’s adamant 
comments that even if crimes had, were, or are 
committed, "[US] people have a right to privacy" 
(as quoted in Wecker, 2009a). Astonishingly, 
Colombia’s foreign minister Jaime Bermúdez 
furthered this position when referring to US 
state forces operating from the proposed seven 
bases. On national media, Bermúdez commented that 
not only would foreign military personnel receive 
immunity while serving in Colombia but that this 
is a long continued practice (see Martínez, 2009; Wecker, 2009b).

Immunity for US forces in Colombia is not a 
recent phenomena but rather an ongoing foreign 
policy agreement between Bogotá and Washington. 
In 2002-2003, the Colombian state relieved any 
legal barriers to crimes committed against its 
citizens by US military personnel through Article 
98 of the Rome Treaty of the International 
Criminal Court (ICC) and the American 
Service-Members’ Protection Act (APSA) (see 
For the greater part of a decade, officials in 
both Colombia and the United States have made 
sure that Colombian institutions cannot inhibit 
nor intervene in US operations (during or after 
the fact) under the guise of stabilizing the 
country (and region). Former secretary of defense 
Donald Rumsfeld put it best when he said the 
United States’ has "an obligation to protect our 
men and women in uniform from this court [ICC] 
and to preserve America’s ability to remain 
engaged in the world" (as quoted in Stoner, 
2004). John Negroponte, former US ambassador to 
the United Nations (UN), even threatened the UN 
when he stated, "should the ICC eventually seek 
to detain any American, the United States would 
regard this as illegitimate - and it would have 
serious consequences" (Negroponte, 2002: 1). In 
short, through these Immunity Agreements (IAs), 
US state forces have enjoyed relative 
invulnerability from the mayhem they have committed.

The basis for the IAs – and the most recent 
announcement of full-scale future immunity for US 
state forces on the seven bases – has partially 
been to insulate United States officials from 
again being embroiled in scandals related to 
structural human rights abuses. In 1986, the US 
was scolded by the International Court of Justice 
(ICJ) when it determined Washington was involved 
in terrorist activities of war, working with 
paramilitary networks, and approving the mining 
of Nicaragua’s Managua waterways as a means to 
destabilize the Sandinistas while in power (ICJ, 
1986). What is interesting about today, however, 
is that the call from the Obama administration 
for immunity is welcomed by the Colombia state 
under Álvaro Uribe Vélez [2002-]. The reasoning: 
a dire need to prolong domestic sociopolitical 
stability and regain hemispheric economic control 
over a region that has experienced more than 
incremental amounts of economic, political, and 
social change, which could wet an appetite for 
more. As Lenin (1966: 241-242) recognized:

There has been a certain rapprochement between 
the bourgeoisie of the exploiting countries and 
that of the colonies, so that very often­perhaps 
even in most cases­the bourgeoisie of the 
oppressed countries 
 is in full accord with the 
imperialist bourgeoisie, i.e., join forces with 
it against all revolutionary movements and revolutionary classes.

The catalyst for the seven bases and IAs is due 
to the rise and increasing stability of 
progressive social movements – both within and 
outside Colombia – that demonstrate the 
vulnerability of the United States’ imperial 
project. To lose ground in Colombia would be to 
not only lose the capacity to fiscally gain from 
the nation’s natural resources, cheap labour, and 
exportable commodities but it would further 
signal the ability of those ‘from below’ to 
continue building collective power through a 
united Latin America – a Bolivarian-like region 
that could withstand dominant monetary and 
militaristic imperial pressures. Instead of 
accepting the organic democratic principals of 
foreign countries and the majorities therein to 
create an alternative political model of 
representation and economic methods of 
development, the United States has and will 
continue to consciously work against self-determination.

James J. Brittain is an Assistant Professor 
within the Department of Sociology and 
coordinator of International Development Studies 
at Acadia University. He is the author of 
Revolutionary Social Change in Colombia: The 
origin and direction of the FARC-EP (Pluto Press, 
2010), many peer-refereed publications for 
Controversia, Cuadernos de Sociología, 
Development, Journal for Peasant Studies, Labour, 
Capital and Society, Monthly Review, New 
Politics, Peace Review, Rethinking Marxism, 
Socialist Studies, The Saskatchewan Institute for 
Public Policy, Z Magazine, Zed Books, and various 
articles for Upside Down World.


Alsema, Adriaan (2009) "US military suspects not 
charged in Colombia rape case," September 3 
Accessed September 4, 2009.

Boucher, Richard (2003) "Daily Press Briefing," 
July 3 On-Line 
Accessed August 1, 2003.

Brittain, James J. (2010) Revolutionary Social 
Change in Colombia: The origin and direction of 
the FARC-EP. London, UK: Pluto Press.

Campos, Carlos Oliva (2007) "The United 
States­Latin America and the Caribbean: From 
Neopan-Americanism to the American system for the 
twenty-first century," in The Bush Doctrine and 
Latin America. Gary Prevsot and Carlos Oliva 
Campos (Eds.). New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan. pp.11-47.

Chavez, German Rodas (2007) "Plan Colombia­A key 
ingredient in the Bush doctrine," in The Bush 
Doctrine and Latin America. Gary Prevost and 
Carlos Oliva Campos (Eds.). New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan. pp. 91-104.

Escribano, Marcela (2003) "Militarism and 
Globalization: Conference synopsis," in Another 
World in Possible: Popular alternatives to 
globalization at the World Social Forum. William 
F. Fisher and Thomas Ponniah (Eds.). London, UK: Zed Books. pp. 296-308.

Goff, Stan (2004) Full Spectrum Disorder: The 
military in the new American century. New York, NY: Soft Skull Press.

International Court of Justice, ICJ (1986) 
Military and Paramilitary Activities in and 
against Nicaragua (Nicaragua v. United States of 
America) - Judgment of the Court. Hague: ICJ.

Isacson, Adam (2007) Taking "No" for an Answer: 
The "American Servicemembers’ Protection Act" and 
the Bush administration’s security relations with 
Latin America. Washington: Center for International Policy.

Latin American Press (2004) "How Much the War 
Costs," November 25 On-Line 
Accessed November 26, 2004.

Lenin, V.I. (1966) "Report of the Commission on 
the National and the Colonial Questions July 26," 
in Collected Works Volume 31: April-December 
1920. Moscow, USSR: Progress Publishers. pp. 240-245.

Martínez, Helda (2009) "Colombia: Talking About 
Peace in the Middle of War," October 5 On-Line 
http://www.ipsnews.net/news.asp?idnews=48729 Accessed October 6, 2009.

Marx, Karl (1976) "Marx’s Speech: Speeches at the 
International Meeting held in London on November 
29, 1847 to mark the 17th anniversary of the 
Polish Uprising of 1830," in Collected Works 
Volume 6: 1845-1848. New York, NY: International Publishers. pp. 388-389.

Marx, Karl and Frederick Engels (1976) "Manifesto 
of the Communist Party," in Collected Works 
Volume 6: 1845-48. New York, NY: International Publishers. pp. 476-519.

Mondragón, Héctor (2007) "Democracy and Plan 
Colombia," NALCA Report on the Americas, 40(1): 42-45.

Murillo, Mario A. (2005) "Presidential 
Re-Election in Colombia Good News for 
Paramilitaries," October 24 On-Line 
www.colombiajournal.org/colombia220.htm Accessed October 24, 2005.

Negroponte, John (2002) "John D. Negroponte, U.S. 
Permanent Representative to the United Nations: 
Remarks at stakeout following UN Security Council 
vote on Resolution 1422, including text of 
explanation of vote," July 12 On-Line 
http://www.amicc.org/docs/Negroponte_1422.pdf Accessed October 9, 2009.

Perkins, John (2008) The Secret History of the 
American Empire. London, UK: Plume.

Petras, James (2008) Homage to Manuel Marulanda. Personal correspondence.

Petras, James (2001) "Dirty Money" Foundation of 
US Growth and Empire: Size and scope of money 
laundering by US banks. Montreal, QE: Centre for Research on Globalization;

Petras, James and Michael M. Brescia (2000) "The 
FARC Faces the Empire," Latin American Perspectives, 27(5): 134-142.

Petras, James and Morris Morley (1995) Empire and 
Power: American global power and domestic decay. London, UK: Routledge.

Petras, James and Henry Veltmeyer (2003) System 
in Crisis: The dynamics of free market 
capitalism. Halifax, NS: Fernwood Publishing.

Scott, Peter Dale (2003) Drugs, Oil, and War: The 
United States in Afghanistan, Colombia, and 
Indochina. New York, NY: Bowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.

Stoner, Eric (2004) "The International Criminal 
Court and U.S. Militray Aid to Latin America," 
March 31 On-Line Accessed April 1, 2004.

United States Department of State (2003) 
Agreement Between the Government of the United 
States of America and the Government of the 
Republic of Colombia Regarding the Surrender of 
persons of the United State of America to the 
International Criminal Court. Washington, DC: Department of State.

Wecker, Katharina (2009a) "Only six US soldiers 
committed crimes in Colombia," September 3 
Accessed September 3, 2009.

Wecker, Katharina (2009b) "US military enjoy 
immunity, not impunity: Colombia," September 1 
Accessed October 7, 2009.


Former US Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey expressed how 
the war against drugs in Colombia has, in fact, 
been a campaign to demonize Marxist-Leninist 
guerrillas rather than induce an attack against 
coca production (see Goff, 2004: 32). It has been 
argued that the United States has no intentions 
of curbing the global drug-trade due to the 
economic spin-offs created from it (Campos, 2007: 
38-9; Scott, 2003: 89; Petras, 2001; Petras and Morley, 1995: 86).

During Plan Colombia [1998/2000-2006], the US and 
Colombian state invested just under $9 million 
(USD) a day in counterinsurgency efforts 
(Murillo, 2005; Latin American Press, 2004). By 
the mid-2000s, the United States had provided 
over $7 billion (USD) in ‘aid’ (Campos, 2007: 38; 
Chavez, 2007: 96; Mondragón, 2007: 42).

Under Article 98 and the Agreement Between the 
Government of the United States of America and 
the Government of the Republic of Colombia 
Regarding the Surrender of persons of the United 
State of America to the International Criminal 
Court, criminal immunity was given to any US 
"official, employee (including any contractor), 
or member of the military, or any United States 
person" (United States Department of State, 2003: 
2). This was, in part, possible through the ASPA 
where any US president has the capacity to 
suspend military aid to any country that does not 
exempt state forces from alleged or proven crimes 
committed on foreign soil (see Isacson, 2007; 
Stoner, 2004). For example, "nearly $112 million 
of Colombia’s expected 2004 aid was contingent on 
the Bogotá government’s signing of an Article 98 
agreement. Faced with the possibility of losing 
this assistance, the government of President 
Alvaro Uribe signed in September 2003" (Stoner, 
2004). Richard Boucher (2003), spokesperson for 
the State Department, justified this position by arguing:

It’s an important principle for the United States 
that those who want to adhere to the Rome Treaty, 
who want to participate in the International 
Criminal Court, can do so. That’s their sovereign 
decision to do so. But they cannot implicate 
others and pretend to carry out prosecutions 
against others who may not be participating, 
especially since we have our own legal system 
that deals with the same kind of crimes, and that 
we do deal with the same kind of crimes. We hold 
our military to the highest standards, and we 
don’t think that we need to rely on prosecutors 
under this court to decide when that needs to be 
 So this has been a matter of principle to 
the United States and has been an important 
element of national policy. We have a law that 
was passed by our Congress that says that we 
won’t provide military assistance to countries 
who put American officials and military personnel 
and others in jeopardy of this kind of 
prosecutorial discretion under this court.

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