[News] The Continuity of Immunity for Tío Sam in Colombia
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
Ecuadors 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-Peoples 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-EPs struggle of emancipation fearing that
the countrys 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 Americas
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 countrys 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 countrys 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 Washingtons
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
Washingtons attempts 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 Colombias
Prosecutor Generals 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 Brownfields adamant
comments that even if crimes had, were, or are
committed, "[US] people have a right to privacy"
(as quoted in Wecker, 2009a). Astonishingly,
Colombias 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 Americas 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 Nicaraguas 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
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 nations 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.
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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 administrations 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) "Marxs 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.
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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.
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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.
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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 Colombias expected 2004 aid was contingent on
the Bogotá governments 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:
Its 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. Thats 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
dont 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
wont 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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