The US has spent $10bn on resolving Colombia’s five-decade civil war, but peace will cost more still.
Recently on Twitter, Alvaro Uribe, the Colombian President until 2010, took it upon himself to tweet the following line in English: “In Colombia human rights is an exclusive privilege of leftist people.”
Never mind that the thousands of “leftist” and other kinds of people summarily executed on Uribe’s watch were not in possession of a detectable abundance of human rights.
A pillar of Uribe’s deplorable legacy, the so-called “false positives” scandal, saw the Colombian military murder an untold number of civilians and dress the corpses up as guerrillas belonging to the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).
Latin America’s longest-running civil war has left some quarter of a million people dead and displaced millions more.
It’s not clear what precise incident prompted Uribe’s Twitter rumination, but a common tactic of the right-wing Colombian elite – and their international allies – has been to accuse opponents of invoking the human rights discourse to get away with terrorism.
Such allegations naturally obscure the role the Colombian state itself has played in terrorising the population.
A 2014 Al Jazeera documentary features testimony by a former female paramilitary commander who describes collaborative village massacres by the army and paramilitary units – the purpose of the latter being to partially conceal government involvement in mass slaughter: “We killed 15-year-olds … and 16, 20 and 50-year-olds.”
One big peace community
As part of a hitchhiking trip through Colombia in 2009, a friend and I visited the peace community of San Jose de Apartado in the northwestern Colombian department of Antioquia, an area brimming with coveted resources.
Founded in 1997, the community has renounced the use of weapons and refused to cooperate with any armed actor – military, paramilitary, and FARC alike. Pacifist orientation notwithstanding, members continue to suffer deadly attacks from all sides.
Although current Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos is allegedly endeavouring to convert the whole country into one big peace community, not everyone is on board.
Maria Brigida Gonzalez, a co-founder of the community, told us of the 2005 murder of her 15-year-old daughter Elisena by the Colombian army’s 17th Brigade, which contended the girl was a FARC combatant.
Such are the perils, apparently, of inhabiting resource-rich territory where war has traditionally been more profitable than peace.
And although current Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos is allegedly endeavouring to convert the whole country into one big peace community, as it were – via ongoing peace talks in Havana with the FARC – not everyone is on board.
Santos, incidentally, was Uribe’s defence minister during one stretch of the “false positives” era, when Colombia reiterated its position as the worst human rights violator in the hemisphere.
As Latin America analyst Keane Bhatt explained to me in an email, the president is currently “incurring the fanatical wrath of his former boss as he lays the groundwork for internal peace after half a century of conflict” – exhibiting “pragmatism” in pursuit of a “legacy of having brokered a historic peace agreement”.
Uribe, meanwhile, has appealed to the United States to both rethink its support for the Havana peace talks and to continue insisting on the extradition of FARC members to the US on drug trafficking charges.
In light of Uribe’s continued hysterics vis-a-vis the “narco-terrorist” menace, it is worth mentioning that a declassified 1991 US Defense Intelligence Agency report lists none other than Uribe himself as one of “the more important Colombian narco-traffickers contracted by the Colombian narcotic cartels”.
Uribe, the report claims, was “dedicated to collaboration with the Medellin cartel at high government levels”.
A cause for celebration?
Despite these allegations, of course, Uribe went on to serve eight years as president of Colombia, after which he was not extradited but rather cordially invited to perform a stint as “Distinguished Scholar in the Practice of Global Leadership” at Washington DC’s prestigious Georgetown University.
“Leftist people”, it seems, aren’t the only ones with “exclusive privileges”.
I asked Dr Adrienne Pine, an American University anthropologist, to comment on another absurdity emanating from Washington: the White House’s recent announcement that “Plan Colombia” would be replaced with “Peace Colombia”.
The former initiative, launched in 2000, entailed large quantities of military aid and other money and resources flung at Colombia under the guise of fighting a war on drugs and terrorists – in reality, a war for increased US military and corporate domination of the hemisphere. The new initiative will entail even larger quantities of money.
Classifying Peace Colombia as an “Orwellian obfuscation”, Pine noted that its predecessor had itself directly contributed to the false positives affair, among many other devastating effects of “half a century of wrong-headed US foreign policy aimed at preventing another Cuban revolution”.
In Pine’s view, “terrorised and destroyed Colombian communities deserve real justice and reparations from the US, including regional demilitarisation and an end to economic imperialism”.
Other people, of course, promote a more conformist outlook: on February 4, The New York Times reported that Santos had been welcomed to the White House “for a buoyant celebration of the $10bn, 15-year American effort to help Colombia vanquish its violent drug cartels and end its festering guerrilla war”.
But if Plan Colombia is deemed cause for celebration, one can’t help but worry about the impending “peace”.
Belen Fernandez is the author of The Imperial Messenger: Thomas Friedman at Work, published by Verso. She is a contributing editor at Jacobin magazine.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.