Spectre of Int'l Military Intervention Hangs Over Colombia

The spectre of international military intervention has cropped up again in Latin America, in the context of the debate between the region's leaders on alternative proposals for helping Colombia put an end to an armed conflict that has raged for over four decades.

The spectre of international military intervention has cropped up again in Latin America, in the context of the debate between the region's leaders on alternative proposals for helping Colombia put an end to an armed conflict that has raged for over four decades.

Colombian President Alvaro Uribe himself has raised the possibility of a multinational intervention in his country, as a last resort.

The Rio Group, made up of 18 Latin American nations and a rotating representative of the Caribbean Community, opened the door to possible collective action in Colombia during its May 24 meeting in the city of Cusco in southeastern Peru, on the suggestion of Ecuadorian President Lucio Gutiérrez.

On that occasion, the Rio Group -- Latin America's highest- level forum for political consultation and coordination -- agreed by consensus to ask United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan to urge Colombia's guerrillas to declare a ceasefire, in order to restart peace talks.

The Rio Group initiative, known as the Cusco Consensus, earned the backing of the Organisation of American States (OAS) general assembly on Jun. 10, which brought together all of the countries of the Americas with the exception of Cuba.

But the leaders meeting in Cusco also stated that if Annan's efforts failed, ''the Rio Group, along with the U.N. secretary- general, and in coordination with the Colombian government, will seek alternative solutions.''

''What are we talking about here? A military intervention in Colombia?'' Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez asked at the time, according to his own account.

''I was told yes, and I told them 'Don't even bother inviting Venezuela to take part in something so horrifying'. If we are going to unite, it is to wage peace, not war,'' he added.

According to the Peruvian weekly Caretas, Chilean President Ricardo Lagos commented to Chávez, when everyone was getting up to go to a dinner in Lima: ''The only Latin American who organised a multilateral for.MDBO/ce .MDNM/was [independence hero Símon] Bolívar,'' whose ideas and values are frequently cited by Chávez.

Lagos, a moderate socialist, said that if Latin America is incapable of resolving its regional problems -- such as the Colombian conflict -- on its own, it runs the risk of U.S. intervention. But, he added, that did not mean that a regional military force should be set up, reported Caretas.

Chávez signed the Cusco Consensus, but did so reluctantly, he said on his weekly Aló Presidente radio program, because ''never before on this continent has a proposal been advanced like the one set forth by the Ecuadorian president.''

Venezuela's populist left-leaning president said that ''inconceivable international military interventionism, which is sheer madness, is being spoken of very lightly, in a dangerous manner.''

Venezuelan Foreign Minister Roy Chaderton told IPS that ''if it is formally or informally brought up again, our position will be the same -- rejection of any military intervention in another country.''

''As a sister nation and as a neighbour, we do not believe that is the solution. We want to be actors in peace processes, not wars,'' said the minister.

Gutiérrez did not respond to Chávez's criticism, and Ecuadorian Foreign Minister Nina Pacari said Quito ''does not believe in any kind of interventionism,'' and that ''there will be no intervention by any country in the Colombian conflict.''

But the right-wing Uribe said that if the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), the main rebel group, ''does not accept Ecuador's initiative, there could be another way forward, in which all of the countries could help the Colombian government defeat terrorism, militarily and with authority.

''We need support from the international community, because terrorism in Colombia is mainly financed by the international drug trafficking trade, and threatens to destabilize the entire region,'' he argued.

However, when they reported the results of the meeting in Cusco, presidents Alejandro Toledo of Peru and Luiz Inácio ''Lula'' da Silva of Brazil insisted that the request for mediation by Annan ''does not imply intervention by foreign military forces'' in Colombia.

Sources at Brazil's Foreign Ministry said the Lula administration, which took office on Jan. 1, continues to follow the country's traditional policy of non-intervention in the internal affairs of other countries, such as the Colombian conflict.

They also said that Brazil will only support Annan's efforts, if they are requested and accepted by the Colombian government, and will neither propose nor support any other international plan of action.

Plan Colombia, which was launched by Bogota and Washington to increase U.S. military aid to Colombia for combating the drug trade, was expanded last year to the counterinsurgency struggle.

Nearly 400 U.S. military advisers are already working in Colombia, the U.S. Defence Department told Congress.

The increasing U.S. military aid, the growing number of advisers, and Washington's decision to include the leftist FARC on its list of international terrorist organizations has fed fears of a direct U.S. military intervention in Colombia.

Uribe ''has realized that foreign military involvement is heavily criticized both within and outside of his country, and for that reason he is going back to the avenue of U.N. participation, which could perhaps lead to a peace-keeping operation, as occurred in the past decade in Central America,'' Venezuelan expert in international affairs Carlos Romero said in an interview.

He pointed out that the Argentine government of Carlos Menem (1989-1999) had discussed the possibility of taking part in a multilateral force for peace-keeping missions within the framework of the Inter-American Treaty of Reciprocal Assistance, of which the United States is a signatory. ''What worries neighbouring countries, and Brazil in particular, is that the relationship between the United States and Colombia in the fight against terrorism could turn into direct U.S. participation in the conflict,'' said Romero, a professor of international studies at Venezuela's Central University.

Carlos Pérez Llana, a professor of international relations at the University of San Andrés in Argentina, told IPS that ''the aim is to 'multilateralise' a national conflict.''

''The guerrilla movements in Colombia existed prior to the phenomenon of narcotrafficking'' said Pérez Llana, who described Uribe as ''a young man who oversimplifies things.''

Referring to the new regional proposals, Romero underlined ''Brazil's concern for stability and governance in the region, as requisites for economic development, and in particular stability in the Andean area and Colombia.

''Making projections based on the current variables, it is very unlikely that a multilateral force would be set up to intervene in the region,'' he predicted.

Pérez Llana, meanwhile, said the possibility that the United States would commit troops to the conflict in Colombia ''is very remote...especially given the country's geographic characteristics.

''In recent years, Washington has deployed its forces in wide- open spaces, not jungles,'' he noted.

But Víctor Poleo, an economy professor at Venezuela's Central University who specializes in the petroleum industry, said ''the United States aims to control the Andean region for its wealth in hydrocarbons, and, pointing farther to the future, for its water resources and biodiversity.

''In that sense, Colombia is playing the role of a wedge in the region, like Israel in the Middle East.''

[Source: By Humberto Márquez, IPS, Caracas, 12jun03]

DDHH in Colombia

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This document has been published on 19jun03 by the Equipo Nizkor and Derechos Human Rights, in accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.