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Date: Wed, 10 Mar 1999 22:07:31 -0600 (CST)
From: Dennis Grammenos <dgrammen@ux1.cso.uiuc.edu>
Subject: US's Genocidal war in Colombia parallels 1980's Guatemala, Salvador
Article: 57289
To: undisclosed-recipients:;
Message-ID: <bulk.13147.19990311181650@chumbly.math.missouri.edu>

Genocidal war in Colombia parallels Guatemalan atrocities

By Roberto Rodriguez and Patrisia Gonzales, Fresno Bee, Monday 8 March 1999

Now from a point south comes another plea: Cecilia Zarate of Colombia has said, "What happened in Chile, Argentina, Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua in the 1970s and 1980s, is happening in my country today."

The recent release of Guatemala's truth commission report confirmed what much of the world already knew: Its military was involved in a genocidal 36-year war, mostly against the indigenous Mayan population.

The findings flatly contradict the Cold War assessments by the U.S. State Department, which essentially denied there were serious human rights problems in the region, permitting our government to support military regimes friendly to our "interests." Other primary targets in the war in Guatemala were campesinos, labor, community and human rights organizers, teachers, students, intellectuals and religious workers. The war claimed upward of 200,000 people, most of them killed in massacres, death-squad assassinations, kidnappings, rapes and extrajudicial executions.

Screams ignored

When this was happening, as a society we didn't listen to the pleas of Rigoberta Menchu, nor to the horrific screams of tortured campesinos, raped nuns, murdered priests or assassinated bishops. We didn't hear the sounds of millions of feet, as displaced Indians and campesinos of the region fled the scorched-earth policies of the military. Many wound up in the United States. While here, most lived in fear, staying one step ahead of immigration and State Department officials who accused them of lying about the condition of their homelands.

The commission recommended reparations for those traumatized by the war, for the loss of homes and the systematic land theft. What is left to ponder is, What role should the United States play in all this, for having financed this war?

Now from a point south comes another plea: Cecilia Zarate of Colombia has said, "What happened in Chile, Argentina, Guatemala, El Salvador and Nicaragua in the 1970s and 1980s, is happening in my country today."

She unequivocally characterizes the war in Colombia as genocidal. "Anyone who supports the poor is eliminated."

The difference between Guatemala and Colombia, noted Zarate, who heads the Colombia Support Network in Madison, Wis., is that in Guatemala, the genocide was in large part racially motivated. In Colombia, the genocide against the poor is indiscriminate and includes indigenous people, Afro-Colombians, campesinos and anyone who expresses political dissent. In Colombia, the military and paramilitary troops are primarily responsible for perhaps 85% of the human rights violations, but even the opposition guerrillas are implicated, particularly in kidnappings.

The 1998 Human Rights Watch report, "War Without Quarter," estimates that in the past 10 years, more than 30,000 people have lost their lives in Colombia's armed conflict. And it estimates that the majority of the casualties have been not victims of a drug war, but rather, victims of the military and paramilitary groups that jointly roam the country with abandon and impunity, terrorizing their political opponents. The report asserts that they do this while protecting the multibillion-dollar enterprises of the nation's drug barons, and that the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia also profits from the trade by levying taxes upon drug barons to the tune of $ 350 million per year.

Cash flow

The effect of all the drug money is that combatants on all sides are better armed with more destructive weaponry, said Kirk. Despite this, the U.S. government's war on drugs generally chooses only to implicate and go after the guerrillas. This war would exist, independent of drugs, but this conflagration is different from other conflicts because it is U.S. citizens, both as taxpayers and as drug consumers, who are financing this war. Drugs go to the United States and what comes back are U.S. weapons, she said.

The losers in all this are not the combatants, but the civilians caught in the middle, accused of supporting one side or the other, noted Zarate. Because Colombia does not have an identifiable "bad-guy" dictator, she said, Colombia faces the daunting task of having to convince the world of the atrocities taking place in this "democratic" country.

The only hope of ending the war there is by supporting and strengthening Colombia's civil society, said Zarate. Her organization is sponsoring a U.S.-Colombia sister-city program in hopes of raising worldwide consciousness regarding the war. Additionally, it is hoped that the U.S. sister cities who choose to participate will assist their South American counterparts materially. Admittedly, Zarate said it's an act of desperation. But that's precisely the condition her country finds itself in.

Roberto Rodriguez and Patrisia Gonzales of El Paso, Texas, write for Universal Press Syndicate (4520 Main St., Kansas City, Mo. 64111). Their column appears Monday.

Copyright 1999 Fresno Bee

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