The significance of the roles of external participants in the social and armed conflict in Colombia
/ Tuesday 19 July 2016
In 2015 an Historical Commission jointly appointed by the Colombian Government and the FARC in the course of peace negotiations in Havana completed a detailed report on the origin, causes and reasons for the persistence of the social and armed conflict in Colombia. The report consists of twelve essays completed autonomously by researchers selected from two lists of Colombian academics considered acceptable by each party to the negotiations, as well as two introductory essays by interlocutors appointed to provide an overview of the nature and objectives of the commission, the topics addressed, and the principal perspectives and arguments of the other essays. The commission was envisaged as a step towards the possible establishment of a formal Truth Commission in the future.
One of the essays in the final report analyses and critiques the interference of the United States in the conflict, arguing that the participation of the US has been so prolonged and extensive that it must be considered a direct participant or belligerent party rather than simply a significant external factor and influence. The central premises of the analysis, conducted by Renán Vega Cantor, are that the United States must be considered a direct participant in the social and armed conflict in Colombia due to the nature, extent and duration of its involvement, that relations between Colombia and the United States have historically been founded on “the strategic subordination of Colombia” to the interests and objectives of those ruling the US (particularly since World War II), and that this remains the basis and primordial characteristic of bilateral relations between the two countries:
When one analyses the causes of the social and armed conflict in Colombia, the factors and interests that have prolonged the conflict, and the impacts it has had on the civil population, it is apparent that the United States is not simply a minor external influence but has been a direct participant in the conflict due to its prolonged involvement during much of the twentieth century. Public awareness of the participation of the United States has been deliberately minimized by its covert nature; in accordance with this strategy, many of its activities in Colombia have been “planned and executed in such a manner that they can be hidden, or at least to enable plausible deniability of responsibility for such actions.’ These actions are carried out within a relationship of subordination, understood as a relationship of dependency in which the national interests of Colombia have been placed at the service of a third party (the United States), which is perceived as being endowed with political, economic, cultural and moral superiority. It is an unequal and asymmetrical relationship that has assumed a strategic character, as the very existence of the Colombian republic is thought to be inextricably linked to its condition of subordination to the United States, due to which it is more appropriate to speak of a strategic rather than a pragmatic subordination....
Understood as “subordination by invitation”, the relations between the United States and Colombia require an examination of the active role of the people in power that have maintained the condition of dependency, particularly given the fact that “there has been a pact between the national elites for more than one hundred years, for whom the subordination has produced economic and political benefits.” These benefits are administered through practices of patronage that permeate all of the political and social institutions and structures in Colombia. The utilization of patronage through international networks and relations is readily apparent in all sectors of the State, the Army and the Police, for whom the foreign support and the military budget are private bounties that confer them power and privilege, creating a military caste that is considered to be untouchable.
This system of patronage employed in the international networks underpinning the relationship of strategic subordination has as a corollary a limited level of autonomy and independence in decision-making, not just at the international level, but also in relation to domestic matters, in which the United States generally has the last word. Of course, other countries also have an important role in the instigation and development of counter-insurgency strategies in Colombia, such as England and Israel, however for considerations of space they are not included in this report.
A strategic subordination and restricted autonomy are keys to understanding the duration of the conflict, because it is impossible to disregard the absolute centrality of the United States in the definition of the political lines that the power elite in Colombia have adopted; from the anti-communism of the Cold War to the “War on Drugs” and the “Global War against Terrorism”, in each case Washington has provided Colombia´s political and military leaders with the arguments and the agenda.” (Renán Vega Cantor, Comisión Histórica, 2015; Chapter 13. All quotations have been translated by the author.)
Consequently, the conclusions and recommendations of the essay call for a profound revision, restructuring and reorientation of the bilateral relationship between the two countries as a necessary step to restore Colombia’s national sovereignty and to put an end to the detrimental actions of US government, military and corporate personnel in Colombia and the substantial secrecy and absolute impunity that has covered their activities and objectives, including when it has been proven that such personnel have committed grave crimes whether within or beyond the scope of their official duties. The full list of conclusions and recommendations in the study completed by Renán Vega Cantor for the official report of the Historical Commission is as follows:
The following section presents some conclusions drawn from the information contained in this report:
1) For much of the twentieth century a strategic alliance has existed between the ruling classes of Colombia and the United States that has benefited both parties, but has been detrimental for most sectors of Colombian society. The ruling classes of Colombia enrich themselves from the loans and the military support provided by the United States, in return for which they have kept Colombia in a condition of unconditional subordination and dependency. The ruling classes of the United States have benefited because they have secured control over many aspects of Colombian society and government policies, as well as over many of the most important and lucrative sectors of the economy through the predominance of US companies and investment in many strategic sectors.
2) A native counter-insurgency exists in Colombia – sustained by anti-communism – that developed prior to the emergence of the modern counter-insurgency doctrine, but has been reinvigorated by and merged with the latter doctrine as a consequence of the geopolitical interests of the United States during the Cold War.
3) The interference of the United States in the social and armed conflict in our country has been constant and direct since the late 1940s, manifested both in the military support provided to the State as well as in the instigation of the counter-insurgency policies.
4) Successive governments of the United States over the last seventy years are directly responsible for the perpetuation of the armed conflict in Colombia, due to the fact that they have promoted the counter-insurgency in all of its manifestations, encouraging and training the Armed Forces in their methods of torture and the elimination of those that are deemed to be “internal enemies”, and by blocking the adoption and implementation of non-military solutions to the structural causes of the social and armed conflict.
5) The military mission led by general Yarborough in 1962 is directly responsible for the consolidation of paramilitarism in Colombia, as it recommended the organization of groups comprised of both civilians and military personnel, promoted by the State, with the explicit objective of pursuing and killing those considered to be communists.
6) The United States has contributed to the militarization of Colombian society through its financing of and support for the Colombian State and its Armed Forces in the guise of various crusades, against terrorism, narcotics trafficking and communism.
7) The United States shares direct responsibility for thousands of assassinations that have been committed by the Armed Forces and paramilitaries, due to its patronage of military brigades compromised in such activities and its support of private groups of assassins.
8) The direct control of the DAS by the United States – since the moment it was founded in 1960 until its recent dissolution – makes it jointly responsible for the numerous crimes committed against the Colombian people by this security agency, including assassinations of trade unionists and civil society leaders and the surveillance and harassment of political opponents.
9) By promoting the so-called “War on Drugs” the United States is directly involved in the destruction of farming and Indigenous economies in many regions throughout Colombia which have been victims of fumigations, bombardments and official and para-official persecution.
10) The privatization of the war at the urging of Plan Colombia and the new counter-insurgency doctrine promotes the utilization of mercenaries in the internal conflict of our country, who have committed many crimes (such as sexual assaults, assassinations, torture and disappearances) and enjoy absolute impunity due to the bilateral agreements and accords that have been concluded between Colombia and the United States. This has reinforced the “culture of impunity” that characterizes the Armed Forces of Colombia.
11) The State terrorism that has been perpetuated in Colombia since the late 1940s is nourished by the military and financial sustenance of the United States, as well as by the interests of the ruling classes in Colombia, in order to preserve their power and their wealth and deny the realization of fundamental economic and social reforms that would provide for a more equitable distribution of wealth and power.
12) Some companies based in the United States – such as Chiquita Brands – have financed and patronized paramilitary groups and are directly responsible for hundreds of crimes committed in various places throughout Colombia, but they have never been subject to judicial proceedings in our country, where they enjoy absolute impunity.
This report contains two types of recommendations, some concerning archives and access to and the dissemination of information, and others of a general nature:
Archives, access to and the dissemination of information
1) In order to build our knowledge, reconstruct our history and search for the truth concerning the role and responsibility of the United States in the armed conflict in Colombia and its multiple relations and links with the Colombian State, its Armed Forces, security agencies and private companies, it is imperative that all documents pertaining to Colombia that are stored in US archives be declassified.
2) This documentation should be considered a part of the documentary heritage of the country and should be brought to our territory, placed in the General Archives of the Nation, and translated and publicly disseminated.
3) The archives of the DAS, the Armed Forces, the Ministry of Defence and all other State security entities must be preserved by independent entities without links to the Armed Forces, and all information pertaining to the actions of the United States as well as to internal oppression publicly disclosed.
4) The Colombian State must open easily accessible virtual portals to store documents and information pertaining to the role of the United States in the Colombian conflict so that they can be readily consulted and studied.
Recommendations of a general nature
1) In order to construct a society in peace and democracy it is imperative to establish a new basis for relations between Colombia and the United States in such a way that national sovereignty is recuperated, with the objective of managing our affairs in an autonomous manner and ensuring that internal policies respond to the needs of the people of Colombia rather than being guided by the interests of Washington or any other foreign power.
2) The Colombian State must reveal to society all of the secret military pacts and accords that exist with the United States and any other State (such as Israel) and must make a commitment to never establish accords of this nature in the future.
3) In order to contribute to justice for the victims, the government of the United States must facilitate the establishment of norms and procedures so that citizens of that country involved in grave crimes against the people of Colombia, in particular assassinations, disappearances and sexual assaults, are held to account for their crimes before independent tribunals, and put an end to the impunity that protects those responsible for committing such crimes in Colombia. Moreover, the privileges and immunity that military personnel from the United States and mercenaries at their service enjoy must be ended.
4) It is imperative that the participation of the United States in the management of security agencies, as occurred with the DAS, cease.
5) The cases of sexual violence committed by military personnel and mercenaries of the United States in Colombian territory must be investigated and the perpetrators punished.
6) The Armed Forces in Colombia must abandon their conceptions of counter-insurgency, anti-communism and internal enemies, return to their barracks, reduce their size and budget, and dedicate themselves to guarding the national borders. This implies the de-militarization of Colombian society, making it possible for new social and political forces to organize and express themselves freely, without the fear of becoming victims of persecution and condemnation stemming from counter-insurgency and/ or national security doctrines.
7) The oppressive and military treatment that has been imposed on the people of Colombia over the last six decades must be abandoned and new forms of addressing complex problems in our society, such as those pertaining to the cultivation of illicit drugs, must be developed.
8) Given the arbitrary and unilateral character of the operation of extradition procedures (as far as is known no citizen of the United States has been extradited to Colombia), it is imperative to put an end to the extradition of Colombians to the United States or any other country.
9) The government of the United States must unequivocally accept and acknowledge its responsibility to the victims of its direct and indirect participation in our conflict, in the same way that the guerrillas of the FARC have accepted their share of responsibility and the Colombian State must do. The victims of paramilitarism, of the bombardments, fumigations, assassinations (such as the inappropriately denominated “false positives”), as well as of the military, social, economic and commercial policies imposed on Colombia by Washington that have had such a harmful impact on millions of Colombians, need to know the truth about the participation of the United States in creating and perpetuating the conditions that have caused their suffering. Specifically, the government of the United States must offer an unequivocal and unconditional apology, as well as reparations for the victims and a guarantee of non-repetition of this pernicious interference in the future.
10) It is necessary to dismantle the inappropriately denominated programs of “military assistance”, which result in illegitimate political interference in our domestic affairs and has promoted the idea in the Armed Forces that Colombians, or some of them, are an “internal enemy” that must be combatted and annihilated. This is a fundamental aspect of the democratization of society and the purification of the Armed Forces.
11) There must be a thorough investigation of and public audience concerning the activities of USAID in Colombia which, operating within a matrix that is primordially counter-insurgent and belligerent since its foundation, has been implicated in supporting activities and institutions that have promoted violations of human rights on a massive scale, such as the DAS and civic-military programs. International cooperation must be de-militarized so that it doesn´t represent an assault on our sovereignty.
12) Taking into account the direct complicity of the mass media in Colombia in the legitimization of the intervention by the United States – and of its crimes – together with State Terrorism and the counter-insurgency doctrine, they must be held jointly responsible as perpetrators for having generated the “culture of impunity”, lies and disinformation.
The recommendations are clearly of profound scope and import, and if they could be implemented they would fundamentally transform the conduct of international relations, domestic politics and international and domestic business and commerce both within as well as beyond Colombia’s borders and provide a solid basis for moving beyond the social and armed conflict that has ravaged Colombia for much of its existence: both governments and corporations could be held accountable to their people for their policies and actions, as well as by the people of other countries affected by their acts, instead of hiding behind impenetrable layers of secrecy based on often spurious claims of ‘national security’ or ‘the national interest’, ‘diplomatic sensitivity’ or ‘commercial confidentiality’. Democracy is obviously an empty charade if political, bureaucratic and private sector officials can make and implement policies and decisions that deeply affect millions of people, supposedly on their behalf, while those same people have no way of knowing what they are really doing and the policies and objectives upon which their decisions and actions are based.
A translation of the entire essay by Renán Vega Cantor is available at the following link: The international dimension of the social and armed conflict in Colombia interference of the United States
An essay by the author providing more details on the history of the social and armed conflict in Colombia and recent developments is available at: The significance of the roles of external participants in the social and armed conflict in Colombia