[News] Plan Colombia, Permanent War and the No Vote
news at freedomarchives.org
Thu Oct 20 12:25:28 EDT 2016
Plan Colombia, Permanent War and the No Vote
by Laura Carlsen <http://www.counterpunch.org/author/dradat/> - October
The Colombian people voted NO
<http://www.cipamericas.org/archives/19204> to peace. Or to be exact,
50.2% of 37% of the eligible population voted no. In the referendum held
Oct. 2, the majority of voters decided to scuttle four years of peace
talks dedicated to ending 52 years of bloodshed.
The vote came just days after the celebratory signing
<http://www.bbc.com/news/world-latin-america-37477202> of the agreement,
considered exemplary for achieving a bridge between historic enemies and
dealing broadly with the root causes of the conflict. The rest of the
world was stunned.
Most pundits have begun the post-mortem analysis of the referendum
saying something like “Colombians did not vote against peace.” They go
on to discuss factors including people’s ignorance of the accords, or
their mistaken belief that after four years it could simply be renegotiated.
But the fact of the matter is that the NO voters voted clearly and
unambiguously to continue the war. The words on the ballot read: “Do you
accept the final agreement to terminate the conflict and build a stable
and lasting peace?” It’s almost inconceivable that any population would
vote no on this proposition, but they did.
Although even former president Alvaro Uribe, the nation’s lead
warmonger, now makes the politically correct statement that the ultimate
goal is peace, the macho sentiments of total domination and punishment
(of one side), along with a strong dose of Cold War hysteria (yes, in
the 21^st century) won the day.
The NO promoters knew what they were doing. They were not promoting an
alternative peace. As a 32-year old NO voter quoted
the New York Times put it, “If ‘no’ wins, we won’t have peace, but at
least we won’t give the country away to the guerrillas.”
His statement reflects the patriarchal logic that has started and
perpetuated wars since time immemorial–the only good enemy is a dead
enemy, and if I don’t win, nobody wins.
At least some NO voters and many of the leaders are betting on
continuing war until they gain by force their entire military and
political agenda–a prospect that, given the war’s longevity to date
could easily be another half century. Or never.
*The Perks of Permanent War*
For many NO promoters, including Uribe himself, “never” could be the
best-case scenario. Basking in the limelight of a political career
rebuilt on the ruins of one of the most complex and progressive peace
agreements in history, Uribe released proposals for revamping the peace
agreement designed to throw a monkey wrench into any process to salvage
peace in Colombia.
Uribe’s wish list is aimed at “torpedoing the peace accords”. No one
expects the FARC to accept Uribe’s terms, which include being banned
from politics; serving 5-8 year sentences in confinement for crimes,
including drug trafficking; pardoning Colombia’s security forces for
serious crimes, and eliminating the meticulously negotiated Tribunal for
Huge sectors of the population reject them as well, since the proposals
also would wipe out the parts of the Peace Accord that regulate the
return of stolen lands to peasant and indigenous communities and
seriously hamper if not strike plans for reparations to victims.
To pretend that everyone wants peace and the only issue is, how is to
ignore the fact that the war benefits many powerful interests. Those
interests will fight to keep fighting.
On the political front, war assures military control over a population
and justifies authoritarianism and repression through fear. In general,
the most militarized parts of the country are areas where peasant,
Afro-Colombian and indigenous peoples are defending their lands and
resources from the incursions of transnational corporations and mega
development projects. Fear and murder are powerful repressive tools.
War is also a huge business. Thanks to U.S. Plan Colombia and policies
that fanned the conflict, Colombia became the third largest recipient
US aid in the world during the war, behind Israel and Egypt. The budget
for security forces skyrocketed
between 2001 and 2005, it grew more than 30% and by 2006 it was double
1990—some $4.48 billion for military and police.
The U.S. government also has a vested interest in continuing the war.
The conflict justified Plan Colombia, the $10 billion dollar
counterinsurgency, counternarcotics plan that allowed the Pentagon to
establish military presence in Colombia, both physically and by proxy.
With the pretext of the internal conflict, the U.S. government built up
a platform not only for control in Colombia, but also with regional
strike capacity, as leaked in the proposed agreement
establish seven US military bases.
Plan Colombia and its later incarnations kept U.S. contracts for
weapons, espionage and intelligence equipment and military and police
training flowing to the most powerful lobbying industries in the nation.
Billions of dollars have been poured into Plan Colombia and national
security investment that ended up in the pockets of political elite and
defense companies. In the 2010-2017 budgets, the United States has
billion in military and police aid–most of that during the peace talks.
The country was converted into a testing ground for the latest in
counterinsurgency and unconventional warfare techniques and equipment
from the United States. The blood spilled on its soil feeds the global
war machine, to such an extent that Colombia has been groomed as an
exporter of counterinsurgency and “security” training, despite its
reputation as a gross violator of human rights and the disastrous
humanitarian impact of its prolonged war. So very powerful interests saw
the peace agreement as a threat. In addition to Uribe followers who
viewed it as soft on the FARC, the war economy of the nation and its
ally, the United States, was at stake.
In this context, the US government reacted tepidly when peace was voted
down. Bernard Aronson, the special envoy to the peace talks, expressed
a press interview after the vote, stating, “We believe Colombians want
peace, but clearly they are divided about terms of settlement…” The
State Department limited its statement
<mailto:http://www.state.gov/r/pa/prs/ps/2016/10/262703.htm> to support
for Colombian democracy and further dialogue. After four years of
ostensibly supporting the peace talks, neither mentioned the vote as a
by the US Army War College, although it is not an official document,
openly expresses relief at the continuation of indefinite war in
Colombia. Through a mixture of hawkish arguments and lies
the analysis recognizes that the country now enters into a “period of
uncertainty”, but notes that this “presents a strategic situation less
grave and more manageable, than had the accords been approved.”
It goes on to predict that the FARC will likely break the ceasefire,
despite its explicit and public commitment to respect it even in the
absence of the guarantees provided in the peace agreement. This
position, coming from sources close to the US military, which has in
many senses called the shots in Colombia’s war since Plan Colombia began
in 2000, indicates that there is a dangerous possibility of a
provocation to further undermine the peace process that has now been
thrown into crisis by the NO vote.
The writers also advise President Santos to retract his commitment to
the ceasefire following the vote. They note that Santos promised to “not
authorize military operations in the areas where FARC units are located
in order to avoid an incident which breaks the fragile truce. Yet, not
doing so will allow FARC dissidents to operate with almost complete
impunity in these areas. Indeed, within the new background of
uncertainty, such impunity will increase incentives for FARC units to
continue illicit activity, such as drug trafficking, since doing so will
pose relatively low risks.”
*War Engenders More War, Not Peace *
Before the NO vote, the U.S. press hailed Plan Colombia for making peace
possible. President Obama, in his self-congratulatory last speech to the
“helped Colombia end Latin America’s longest war.” The logic of this
bizarre argument went that were it not for the military debilitation of
the guerrilla thanks to the US-Colombian military alliance, the FARC
could never have been brought to the negotiating table.
The NO vote is the classic example of the fallacy of that logic. The war
fomented by Plan Colombia built up a mentality that made peace an
unacceptable solution for many. It revealed the fundamental clash of
perspectives between diplomacy and annihilation.
The lesson couldn’t be clearer: War is a terrible preparation for peace.
Peace depends on much more than a favorable correlation of forces.
Peace, at its core, is a rejection of force as the way to confront
differences, and a search for non-violent solutions to conflict and
With U.S. military theorists openly calling for reopening hostilities,
it is a dangerous myth to assume that at this juncture everyone wants
peace and the only open question is how to do it. Plan Colombia, the
U.S.-sponsored war on drugs and Uribe’s Democratic Security posit
continued militarization. Those who promote peace and reconciliation in
the country must deal with that mentality head on. To second-guess or
justify NO voters with “they-know-not-what-they-do” arguments reflects
the kind of complacency and misreading of the public that created this
dangerous debacle in the first place.
There is no doubt that a massive campaign of misinformation
<mailto:http://www.cipamericas.org/es/archives/19160> and scaremongering
played a role. Voters were bombarded with alarmist messages that spun
out wild scenarios, from a legislative takeover by the former FARC to a
“Chavez-Castro style dictatorship”. CNN’s footage of the NO celebration
showed the crowd chanting “The NO won, now we won’t have a Cuban
dictatorship”. It didn’t seem to matter that there was no logical
relationship between voting for the peace agreement and the nation
becoming a dictatorship. For followers of Uribe, who led the massive
campaign against the negotiations and the acceptance of the agreement,
the vote was ideological and personal. It represented the right against
the left, and Uribe against Santos. For many people stuck in bitter
partisan politics, to vote for peace was to vote in favor of the latter.
It is also likely that many people did not have a clear understanding of
the accords or their implications, which is a failing of the negotiators
and SI (yes) promoters that left a fatal opening for NO propaganda. Some
voters also apparently believed that four years of arduous negotiations
with the technical support of scores of international experts and
mediators could simply be reopened and “fixed” to their liking, despite
that the president made it clear there was “no Plan B”. Some NO voters
quoted in the press even expressed dismay that they had won, believing
they were merely casting a protest vote.
Despite these factors, the NO vote reveals a major obstacle: Society has
been trained over years of conflict—one of the longest-running internal
conflicts in the world–to acquiesce to war as the only response, to
dehumanize the enemy and overlook the obvious fact that it takes two
sides to sustain hostilities. A society that believes that the only
solution is to drive the enemy into the ground–even when they are men
and women from your own country and a reflection of serious social
problems, into the ground.
This is the patriarchal mentality that the war industry thrives on. Plan
Colombia has fomented this mentality since it began. It conflated a war
on drugs with a counterinsurgency war to justify foreign intervention
and broaden the war. The U.S. government knew that military funding was
going directly to paramilitary groups. A 2010 empirical study
demonstrated a measurable relationship between increases in US security
funding and paramilitary homicides. War propaganda presented the FARC as
the sole culprit, when terrible atrocities were being committed on both
With the exceptions of Arauca and Norte de Santander, the departments on
Colombia’s borders that have suffered most in the war voted to end it.
They know what it’s like to feel their houses shaken by bombs, to risk
life and limb walking through minefields, to lose their loved ones in
crossfire. They know that to stop the violence in their day-to-day lives
is far more important than the political games of how punishment and
power are dished out.
War as a policy is almost always favored by those farthest from the
*The Road to Peace*
Understanding the very real and perilous obstacles is not the same as
being pessimistic or defeatist at this point in the Colombian peace—it’s
a process. It’s important not to minimize the enormity of this
setback–President Santos’ Nobel Peace Prize may be deserved but it’s a
sorry consolation prize for having gotten so close only to be slapped
down. But it’s also important to acknowledge that there is still room to
The peace accords opened up a dialogue and allowed the nation to
envision peace. Grassroots organizations are mobilizing in defense of
this vision and the possibility of a new reality.
This is the hope on the horizon. Since the NO vote, thousands have
support the peace process in Bogota and also in Cali and cities across
the country. The marches have awakened and united groups of indigenous
peoples, Afro-Colombians, victims, students, human rights defenders,
peasants, women and the LGBT community in defense of peace.
The international community should openly and actively support the call
for a broad grassroots dialogue for peace. It must continue to be firm
and vigilant, because there /will be/ a serious attempt to force a
return to the model of military annihilation of the left-wing guerrillas
while leaving in tact rightwing paramilitaries and other militarist
International organizations committed millions of dollars to support
peace implementation and it must be clear that those funds will only be
released when the process is back on track. Part of creating adequate
conditions is to deny any new funding to militarism– including the war
on drugs, which acts as a thinly veiled excuse for militarization.
The NO vote unexpectedly flipped the political situation back in favor
of the rightwing hawks. This uprising could not only flip it back in
favor of peace, but also create a social movement capable of going
beyond the accords in terms of establishing social justice and human
rights and addressing the enormous backlog of demands from below.
/*Laura Carlsen* is the director of the Americas Program
<http://www.cipamericas.org/> in Mexico City and advisor to Just
Associates (JASS) ./
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