Information Warfare: Another Good Deed Gets Punished

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May 13, 2007: If Colombia thought that frozen American military aid was where it would end, they guessed wrong. U.S. Congressional leaders have all but declared war on Colombia's war on FARC and ELN. In a very real sense, victories won in Colombia are going to be undone in the halls of the United States Congress. This is not getting the headlines that come from Iraq, but it is just as important.

Colombia's efforts, backed by U.S. aid, not only have managed to get the rebel AUC militia to disarm, but they also have put rebel FARC and ELN militias on the ropes. FARC has, in recent months, fled across the Colombian-Ecuadorian border, seeking a safe haven. At the same time, the Colombian government pursued a number of initiatives to increase economic development, the big-ticket item being a free-trade agreement with the United States. By making trade with the United States easier, Colombia's economic growth can continue to climb, and a prosperous nation has a lot less interest in having a revolution.

Free-trade agreements between the U.S. and countries in Latin America tend to be touchy at best. Opposition not only comes from labor unions, but also from some conservatives in the United States - many of whom represent districts that sometimes lose jobs in these deals. Democrats, who tend to be beholden to unions, usually oppose such deals. In Colombia's case, there is also the fact that for a number of people on the left, FARC and ELN are seen as the good guys and victims.

No, you didn't read that wrong. Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have often criticized the Colombian government for ties to paramilitary forces. Some alliances were struck up, largely by officers in the field who realized that the enemy of their enemy was their friend. However, that view did not go over well in some quarters, and 2001, then-Secretary of State Colin Powell designated the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (the AUC) as a terrorist group on par with FARC and ELN, despite the fact that the founder of that organization had provided assistance in the 1993 campaign against Pablo Escobar's drug cartel. The AUC eventually struck a demobilization deal with the Colombian government, much to the chagrin of human rights groups. Claiming the Colombian government was no better than the terrorists it was fighting, they attacked the deal.

The Colombian successes on the battlefield need to be followed up to ensure victory in the war on terror. If economic conditions do not improve, FARC and ELN will be able to bounce back. A three-day visit to Washington D.C. by Colombian President Uribe did not make any progress. Worse yet, the Congressional antipathy towards Colombia is causing problems in the relationship with the United States. Colombia sees itself as having taken a lot of risks to defeat terrorism, and their thanks seem to be little more than sanctimonious lectures and having the rug pulled out from under them.

The result from this fuss? For the United States, it will not be good. Future allies with checkered pasts will be much less willing to help out - noting that sooner or later, they will be turned on due to pressure from a media that often runs claims from human rights groups. Terrorist groups will be more determined to hold on - because they know that if they hold out long enough, the political landscape in DC will become more favorable. Colombia may not get headlines, but it is being watched by many on both sides of other theaters of the global war on terror. - Harold C. Hutchison (haroldc.hutchison@gmail.com)

 


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