Victims of Colombia's Civil Conflict Exceeds 7 Million: Media Yawns

A tragic milestone went virtually unreported in the English-speaking press last week, as Colombia's Victims Unit released its report indicating that the number of victims of Colombia's civil war has now surpassed 7 million. This number includes those who have been killed, disappeared or displaced since 1956. For a country of under 50 million citizens, these numbers are staggering, and certainly newsworthy, but apparently not for our mainstream media.

Attendee of the forum for victims of armed conflict in Colombia in Barrancabermeja in July (Photo: Reuters)

Of course, the violence and human rights abuses in Colombia have constituted inconvenient truths for the Western media as the U.S. has been a major sponsor of the violence and abuses in that country.

Indeed, a notable fact in the Victims Unit report is that "that the majority of victimization occurred after 2000, peaking in 2002 at 744,799 victims." It is not coincidental that "Plan Colombia," or "Plan Washington" as many Colombians have called it, was inaugurated by President Bill Clinton in 2000, thus escalating the conflict to new heights and new levels of barbarity. Plan Colombia is the plan pursuant to which the U.S. has given Colombia over $8 billion of mostly military and police assistance.

As Amnesty International has explained, these monies have only fueled the human rights crisis in Colombia:

Amnesty International USA has been calling for a complete cut off of US military aid to Colombia for over a decade due to the continued collaboration between the Colombian Armed Forces and their paramilitary allies as well the failure of the Colombian government to improve human rights conditions.

Colombia has been one of the largest recipients of US military aid for well over a decade and the largest in the western hemisphere. . . . Yet torture, massacres, "disappearances" and killings of non-combatants are widespread and collusion between the armed forces and paramilitary groups continues to this day. . . .

"Plan Colombia" -- the name for the US aid package since 2000, was created as a strategy to combat drugs and contribute to peace, mainly through military means....

Despite overwhelming evidence of continued failure to protect human rights the State Department has continued to certify Colombia as fit to receive aid. The US has continued a policy of throwing "fuel on the fire" of already widespread human rights violations, collusion with illegal paramilitary groups and near total impunity.

Furthermore, after 10 years and over $8 billion dollars of U.S. assistance to Colombia, U.S. policy has failed to reduce availability or use of cocaine in the US, and Colombia's human rights record remains deeply troubling. Despite this, the State Department continues to certify military aid to Colombia, even after reviewing the country's human rights record.

What Amnesty International (AI) did not explain is two salient facts. First, AI does not mention that Plan Colombia was initiated in the midst of peace talks between the Colombian government and FARC guerillas, and actually played a key role in derailing these talks, and with them the chances for peace. Second, AI does not mention that the paramilitaries which continue to collaborate with the U.S.-backed military in Colombia were actually a creation of the U.S. Thus, these paramilitaries were the brain child of the Kennedy Administration back in 1962 -- that is, two years before the FARC guerillas were even constituted. A report by Human Rights Watch explains this well:

[Colombian] General Ruiz became army commander in 1960. By 1962, he had brought in U.S. Special Forces to train Colombian officers in cold war counterinsurgency. Colombian officers also began training at U.S. bases. That year, a U.S. Army Special Warfare team visited Colombia to help refine Plan Lazo, a new counterinsurgency strategy General Ruiz was drafting. U.S. advisors proposed that the United States "select civilian and military personnel for clandestine training in resistance operations in case they are needed later." Led by Gen. William P. Yarborough, the team further recommended that this structure "be used to perform counter-agent and counter-propaganda functions and as necessary execute paramilitary, sabotage and/or terrorist activities against known communist proponents. It should be backed by the United States."

Judging by the events that followed, the U.S. recommendations were implemented enthusiastically through Plan Lazo, formally adopted by the Colombian military onJuly 1, 1962. While the military presented Plan Lazo to the public as a "hearts-and-minds" campaign to win support through public works and campaigns to improve the conditions that they believed fed armed subversion, privately it incorporated the Yarborough team's principal recommendations. Armed civilians -- called "civil defense," "self-defense," or "population organization operations," among other terms -- were expected to work directly with troops.

The combination of the U.S's paramilitary (aka "death squad") strategy in Colombia, combined with the U.S.'s billions of dollars of lethal aid to the military that works with these death squads have contributed greatly to the massive human rights disaster which has claimed now over 7 million victims and counting.

This is certainly nothing of any of us should be proud of, but it would be useful if our news media, which purports to be one of the pillars of our democratic system, would inform us of such matters at least once and a while. Instead, Colombia and its ongoing armed conflict continue to be almost invisible in our mainstream news outlets. Of course, it is this very silence about such tragedies which allow them to happen in the first place.
Blogger Profile
Daniel Kovalik is a human and labor rights lawyer living in Pittsburgh.  He graduated from Columbia Law School in 1993, and has taught International Human Rights at the University of Pittsburgh School of Law.  The Christian Science Monitor, referring to his work defending Colombian unionists under threat of assassination, recently described Mr. Kovalik as “one of the most prominent defenders of Colombian workers in the United States.”  Mr. Kovalik received the David W. Mills Mentoring Fellowship from Stanford University School of Law and was the recipient of the Project Censored Award for his article exposing the unprecedented killing of trade unionists in Colombia.  He has written extensively on the issue of international human rights and U.S. foreign policy for the Huffington Post and Counterpunch and has lectured throughout the world on these subjects.   According to The New York Times,his article Death of An Adjunct “became a rallying point for adjuncts nationwide” in their struggle for better pay, dignity and unionization. 
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