Colombia crisis strengthens Venezuela, isolates U.S.

APRIL 7, 2008 – War preparations that might have involved three or more Latin American nations, came quickly to a halt March 7 at the Rio Group Summit in Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic. A Venezuelan-brokered deal ended a crisis that began with a Colombian military incursion into Ecuador. The great fear in Venezuela was that such a war would have ended up pitting Venezuela against U.S.-backed Colombia, the proxy war against the U.S. that has been feared for years. Instead, the resolution of the deal has weakened the hand of the U.S., and strengthened the prestige of Venezuela throughout the region.

The crisis began March 1, when Colombia’s air force attacked a training camp of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC), a camp based over the border in neighbouring Ecuador. According to the Colombian military, the raid killed 17 FARC guerrillas, including Raúl Reyes, a senior FARC leader. Colombian defence ministry spokespeople called it “the most important strike yet” against the FARC.[1]

There are not many countries in the world that can bomb a neighbour, kill and maim dozens, and then boast about it. The fact that Colombian government spokespersons could so boast, gives an insight into the role Colombia plays on the northern edge of the South American continent. Colombia is a military client state of the world’s biggest imperialist power. The U.S. currently gives Colombia more than $600-million a year in military aid,[2] a rate of arms shipments that has been ongoing for years. From 1999 to 2004, U.S. military aid to Colombia totalled $3.6-billion, an average of just under $600-million a year, and the most of any country in Latin America – in the world trailing only Israel, Egypt, Jordan and Pakistan.[3] With good reason, Venezuelan President Hugo Chávez referred to Colombia as the “Israel of Latin America.”[4]

And just like in Israel, this aid does not come without strings. In exchange for these billions (more than $3-billion a year in Israel’s case), both Israel and Colombia are expected to act as “proxies” for the U.S. So in 2006, when the U.S. was testing the waters for an expanded war beyond the borders of Iraq, it was its client state, Israel, which (unsuccessfully) opened a second front in Lebanon.

Colombia plays the same role in Latin America. It is no secret that the U.S. would like to see the back of Chávez, but it is also no secret that, bogged down in Iraq and Afghanistan, it is in no position to carry out his overthrow directly. But, as happened in the 1980s against Nicaragua, a proxy war waged by U.S. allies has always remained a possibility. The most likely proxy has always been Colombia.

So hard in the wake of Colombia’s bombing raid in Ecuador, the war drums were beating throughout North America. Canada’s Globe and Mail did not warn against the attack on Ecuador’s sovereignty. Instead, it talked about “Chavez’s role in terrorism” saying that laptops recovered in the raid showed that Chavez had been a “state sponsor of terrorism.”[5] Chávez denied funding the FARC telling the newspaper El Universal “I would never do it.”[6] The issue of the funding of the FARC is a little wide of the mark in any case. We already know that the U.S. backs Colombia to the hilt, and the terror of the Colombian government’s use of this money is widely documented. As of one year ago, at the time of a state visit by Bush to Colombia, eight congressmen, “all tied to the president” had been “jailed for working with right-wing death squads.”[7]

But the crisis evolved in a direction that caught Bush and his supporters completely by surprise. Ecuador of course cut diplomatic ties with Colombia, but so did Venezuela, joined on March 6 by Daniel Ortega’s newly-elected government in Nicaragua. Ecuador expelled Colombian diplomats, as did Venezuela. Ecuador of course sent troops to the region attacked by Colombia, but again, they did not stand alone – March 2, Venezuela ordered 10 battalions “usually amounting to at least 6,000 troops”[8] to the border with Colombia.

The “Israel of Latin America” suddenly found itself completely isolated, surrounded by neighbours who are increasingly confident to act in defiance of the United States, and unwilling to sit by while a U.S. client-state blatantly violates the sovereignty of a neighbour with a murderous bombing raid.

So it was that, just one week later, a chastised Colombian president Uribe had to agree to a resolution backed by the 20 member Río Group, which “included a rejection of the violation of Ecuadorian territorial sovereignty and an endorsement of the resolution of the Organization of American States (OAS), which had denounced Colombia’s attack.”[9] If this represented a profound humiliation for Uribe, it was even more humiliating for the United States. March 18, the OAS approved the Rio Group resolution by a vote that would have been unanimous except for the United States, which expressed “reservations.”[10] U.S. Deputy Secretary of State John Negroponte said, “we believe they [the Colombians] were acting in a justifiable way.”[11]

Of course Negroponte thought they were justified. As U.S. ambassador to Honduras, he was closely associated with the barbaric violation of Nicaraguan sovereignty in the 1980s, the proxy war carried out by the right-wing “contras”. But twenty years later, the U.S. stands completely alone.

We know from the long and bloody history of imperialist intervention into Latin America, that there are two big dangers facing any government attempting to break imperialism’s grip – coup d’état and invasion. In 2002, one million of the poorest in Caracas took to the streets and prevented a right-wing, U.S. supported coup against Chávez. Now in 2008, a proxy war with Colombia has been averted by solidarity between Venezuela, Ecuador and Nicaragua, backed ultimately by every country in the Americas except the United States.

The reach of the U.S. in Latin America has weakened, and the new movements towards sovereignty and independence, without question led by Venezuela, are gaining strength.

© 2008 Paul Kellogg

Publishing History

This article was published as Colombia crisis strengthens Venezuela, isolates U.S.Axis of Logic, 8 April.

References

[1] Cited in Simon Romero, “Colombian Forces Kill Senior Guerrilla Commander, Official Says,” The New York Times, March 2, 2008, www.nytimes.com
[2] According to Romero, “Colombian Forces Kill Senior Guerrilla Commander”
[3] The Center for Public Integrity, “U.S. Military Aid Before and After 9/11,” www.publicintegrity.org
[4] Associated Press, “Chavez: Colombia has become the Israel of Latin America,” Haaretz.com, Marcy 7, 2008, www.haaretz.com
[5] Editorial, “Chavez’s role in terrorism,” The Globe and Mail, March 7, 2008
[6] Cited in Alexei Barrioneuvo, “U.S. Studies Rebel’s Data for Chávez Link,” The New York Times, April 7, 2008, www.nytimes.com
[7] Juan Forero, “Colombia’s Uribe Faces Crisis on Death Squads,” All Things Considered, NPR (National Public Radio), March 16, 2007, www.npr.com
[8] “Venezuela troops ‘move to border,’” BBC News, March 5, 2008, http://news.bbc.co.uk
[9] James Suggett, “Venezuela and Ecuador Resolve Differences with Colombia at Regional Summit,” March 8, 2008, Venezuelanalysis.com – The Rio Group “was created in 1986 to be a political forum for Latin American heads of state.”
[10] Kiaraz Janicke, “OAS Rejects Colombia’s Military Incursion into Ecuador,” March 18, 2008, Venezualanalysis.com
[11] DPA, “OAS rejects Colombian military incursion in Ecuador,” Thaindian News, March 18, 2008, www.thaindian.com

Democracy spells trouble for U.S. in Pakistan

When John Negroponte travels abroad, he expects to be listened to. The current U.S. deputy Secretary of State, formerly Director of National Intelligence (appointed in 2005), made a name for himself in the 1980s, as ambassador to Honduras from 1981 to 1985. He was intimately involved in the brutal war against Nicaragua conducted by the “contras” as a proxy for Negroponte’s boss, Ronald Reagan.[1] But when Negroponte and assistant secretary of state Richard Boucher landed in Pakistan March 24, they were given the cold shoulder.

The visit came just after the spectacular election defeat for dictator (and U.S. ally) Pervez Musharraf, whose party received just 20 per cent of the vote.[2] Two anti-Musharraf parties – one led by Asif Ali Zardari (widower of Benazir Bhutto) the other by former prime minister Nawaz Sharif – are in the process of forming a coalition government.[3] But Negroponte and entourage arrived “before the new government had a chance to form itself” with key positions like foreign minister and interior minister still vacant. The Prime Minister, Yousuf Raza Gilani, was only sworn in March 26. A U.S. visit coming in this context fuelled “paranoia in the country about being ruled from Washington.”[4]

“ ‘To my mind, it seems ham-handed insensitivity that brought Negroponte and Boucher to Pakistan. Because certainly no one has welcomed their visit here,’ said Pervez Hoodbhoy, a professor of physics at Islamabad’s Quaid-e-Azam University and one of the country’s leading political commentators. ‘It’s a sign of panic, anxiety, of things slipping through their hand.’”[5]

The Pakistani press was full of outright hostility to the U.S. delegation. A March 26 editorial in The News, one of the most widely read English dailies, was titled “Hands Off Uncle Sam.” It was a reflection of what was going on behind the scenes. “Nawaz Sharif was unable to give him [Negroponte] ‘a commitment’ on the war on terror, stating it was unacceptable that Pakistan had become a ‘killing field.’” Husain Haqqani, a Pakistani government adviser who attended the meeting with Negroponte described their content this way: “If I can use an American expression, there is a new sheriff in town.”[6]

The new anti-Musharraf coalition government is forcing Negroponte to scramble to reposition the U.S. attitude. As recently as November 7, 2007, Negroponte described the dictator Musharraf as an “indispensable” ally in what the U.S. administration calls their “war on terror.”[7] But when he left Pakistan March 27, he said, “Any debate or any disposition as regards his (Musharraf’s) status will have to be addressed by the internal Pakistani political process.”[8] That’s diplomats’ talk for “we’re throwing him overboard.”

The U.S. is in trouble. Its intervention in Iraq has been a disaster for the Middle East, and its intervention in Afghanistan has been a disaster for Central Asia. Now it no longer has in Pakistan, a pliable dictator with which to do business. The U.S., of course, is not above tying to undermine a democratically elected government that they do not like. With Canada’s backing, they very successfully isolated and undermined the democratically elected Hamas government in Palestine.

But Pakistan is not Palestine. Palestine has a small population, and is economically isolated, suffering under a long and brutal Israeli occupation. But Pakistan is a large and important Asian country that has been fully sovereign for 60 years. Tactics which might have worked in Palestine will be very much more problematic in Pakistan.

Bush and Negroponte will try, of course, to buy and pressure their way into the new government’s confidence. They will try to keep onside an indispensable ally in the region. But the hostile reception received by Negroponte shows that the terrain has now become much more difficult. That may be bad news for Negroponte and Bush (and their allies Harper and Dion), but it is good news for all who want to see an end to imperialist meddling in the Middle East and Central Asia.

© 2008 Paul Kellogg

References

[1] Michael Dobbs, “Papers Illustrate Negroponte’s Contra Role,” Washington Post, April 12, 2005, p. A04, www.washingtonpost.com
[2] Editorial, “Pakistan’s democracy outbreak,” Middle East Times, April 3, 2008, www.metimes.com
[3] Associated Press, “Anti-Musharraf parties form Pakistan coalition,” msnbc, March 9, 2008, www.msnbc.com
[4] Saeed Shah, “U.S. visit to Pakistan shows ‘panic,’ expert says,” The Globe and Mail, March 28, 2008, p. A17
[5] Cited in Shah, “U.S. visit to Pakistan shows ‘panic’”
[6] Jane Perlez, “New Pakistani Leaders Tell Americans There’s ‘a New Sheriff in Town,’” The New York Times, March 26, 2008, www.nytimes.com
[7] Associated Press, “U.S. official: Pakistan’s Musharraf ‘indispensable’ ally,” CNNPolitics.com, November 7, ,2007, http://edition.cnn.com
[8] Cited in Mumtaz Iqbal, “Is Musharraf toast?The Daily Star, April 5, 2008, www.thedailystar.net

Harper’s Afghanistan solution – send in the killers

Do a google search for “24th Marine Expeditionary Unit” and “John Moore”. The first search result provides a picture that says, more than any article, what the real implications of the Tories’ war plans will be in Afghanistan. The picture shows five members of the marines, heads shaven, three of them chomping on cigars, coming off the plane at Kandahar airfield.[1] This should send shivers down the spine of all of us. When the marines go in, the killing starts. But getting the marines into Kandahar is the price Harper (backed by Dion) accepted in exchange for prolonging the war to 2011.

The Harper/Dion deal to extend the war to 2011, was based on the “demand” that NATO allies help out the Canadian war eHarper’s Afghanistan solution – send in the killers

The Harper/Dion deal to extend the war to 2011, was based on the “demand” that NATO allies help out the Canadian war effort, providing at least 1,000 new troops to the dangerous southern region around Kandahar. But there is little taste for taking casualties among many of the European NATO countries. Anti-war sentiment directed at the Iraq war kept many countries in Europe out of that war (France and Germany being the most prominent), and led to huge protests in others – Italy, Spain and the United Kingdom seeing hundreds of thousands on the streets. That anti-war sentiment has not yet focused on Afghanistan, but only because that war has yet to see thousands of coalition casualties.

So, the NATO deal to “help” Canada, does not involve any new countries putting soldiers into combat zones. France has agreed to deploy a battalion (about 700 or 800 soldiers) into eastern Afghanistan, freeing up the U.S. to send 1,000 troops to the danger zone in Kandahar.[2] There is no excuse for any illusions about what this means.

Let’s have former marines tell us about their history of intervention. William Crandell served with the U.S. 1st Marine Division in Vietnam. “We went to preserve the peace and our testimony will show that we have set all of Indochina aflame. We went to defend the Vietnamese people and our testimony will show that we are committing genocide against them. We went to fight for freedom and our testimony will show that we have turned Vietnam into a series of concentration camps.”[3] Crandell gave this testimony during the Winter Soldier Hearings in Detroit in 1971, sponsored by Vietnam Veterans Against the War, to expose war crimes in Vietnam.

21st century U.S. soldiers know very well that this is not just a history lesson. Because of the barbarism of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, the U.S. based Iraq Veterans Against the War organized “Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan” to document the horrors committed in those “theatres.”[4] Because of modern technology we have the “privilege” of witnessing some of this barbarism in a way that was impossible for the Vietnam generation. Web sites like “Democracy Now” have done a brilliant job of making this available to the world.[5]

Harper and Dion are making Canada complicit in this history of U.S. military intervention and barbarism.

© 2008 Paul Kellogg

References

[1] John Moore, “Marines Land,” Getty Images, in SignonSanDiego.com, Mar. 11, 2008, http://photos.signonsandiego.com
[2] CTV.ca News Staff, “NATO agrees to send 1,000 more troops to Kandahar,” Apr. 2, 2008, www.ctv.ca
[3] William Crandell, “Opening Statement,” Winter Soldier Investigation, Vietnam Veterans Against the War Inc., January 31, February 1 and 2, 1971
[4] Iraq Veterans Against the War, “Winter Soldier: Iraq and Afghanistan”, www.ivaw.org/wintersoldier
[5] Amy Goodman, “Haditha Massacre: Was it an Isolated Event and Did the Military Try to Cover it Up?”, May 30, 2006, www.democracynow.org

The man who excommunicated Bush and Blair

The war in Iraq “indicates that leaders of the invading states did not listen to the church, and hence, we deem them excommunicates and perverted.”[1] These were the words of Father Attallah Hanna in April 2003. He was expressing the outrage of Palestinian Christians over the invasion of Iraq. As a result of this excommunication, George Bush, then Defence Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, Tony Blair, and Blair’s then foreign minister Jack Straw, were banned from visiting the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, one of the Christianity’s holiest sites. March 29, Attallah Hanna took his anti-war message to more than 600 people in a sold-out convention centre in Mississauga.

His 2003 excommunication of the Bush and Blair was hugely popular. Just two years later, the Holy Synod of the Greek Orthodox Church unanimously elected him Archbishop of Sebaste for the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem, just the second Palestinian to hold this position.[2]

His appearance in Mississauga was organized by Palestine House, and was part of the marking of Land Day (or Youm Al-Ard) – since 1976 an annual commemoration of the struggle of Palestinians to win back their land from Israeli occupation. This year also marks 60 years since the Nakba – the Day of Catastrophe when the state of Israel came into existence pushing hundreds of thousands of Palestinians into exile as refugees from their homeland.

Attallah Hanna said, to stormy applause, “60 years of Nakba will never make us forget. … We won’t accept any [peace] plan that won’t agree to the right of return for all the refugees.” His speech was greeted with several spontaneous standing ovations. Every person attending was given a postcard advertising this year’s demonstration against the Nakba, Saturday May 10. Coming on the 60th anniversary, it is expected to draw a very large crowd, in Toronto and around the world. Information on events around the world May 10 can be found here.

© 2008 Paul Kellogg

References

[1] Yasser El-Banna, “Church Of The Nativity ex-communicates Bush, Blair,” IslamOnline.net, April 3, 2003, www.IslamOnline.net
[2] Maria C. Khoury, “A Rare Day for Orthodoxy in the Holy Land,” Orthodox Christian News, January 2, 2006, www.orthodoxnews.org