Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Contrasting Views About the Colombian Reality from CBS News and COHA

Hi folks,

Much has been made the last few days about the controversial U.S.-Colombia military base agreement that will allow U.S. forces to work from five military installations in different parts of Colombia. As we've already pointed out in a previous post, the five bases will replace the Manta Air base in Ecuador, and would expand the U.S. military mission to include counter-narcotic operations, which for many observers means a deeper involvement in Colombia’s counterinsurgency war against FARC guerillas. The base agreement raises concerns among human rights organizations that the new Administration in Washington is continuing, and perhaps even broadening the Bush agenda in the region, despite campaign promises by Barack Obama to place human rights first and foremost on his Latin America agenda.

More urgently, the base agreement has led to increasing regional tensions between Colombia and its neighbors, particularly Venezuela, which announced on Tuesday that it was recalling its diplomatic personnel from Bogotá in retaliation for accusations from the Colombian government that Swedish-made weapons sold to Venezuela found their way to FARC guerillas. It is the latest salvo in a war of words between Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez and his Colombian counterpart, Alvaro Uribe. While Colombian officials say they've been alerting Venezuela since June about these weapons allegedly found in a FARC encampment, the Chavez government argues the latest revelations are "media-driven" moves designed to justify the presence of U.S. bases on Colombian territory, something Venezuela sees as a threat.

These tensions overshadowed another interesting development that was optimistically reported on the CBS Evening News on Monday night which described Colombia's commitment to assist the Pentagon in its escalating war in Afghanistan. The report, which was posted on CBS's website, read like a press release from the Colombian Armed Forces or National Palace, with uncritical language making it seem as if the internal conflict in Colombia and its rampant human rights crisis was a thing of the past:

"U.S. forces are about to get some much-needed help as they fight the Taliban in Afghanistan, reports CBS News chief foreign affairs correspondent Lara Logan in an exclusive report. The Colombian commandos are U.S. trained and battle-tested from having defeated terrorists in their own country. ...For Colombia, it's a way to give something back to the U.S., and the American Green Berets who've spent the last decade training them."

It went on to describe a U.S.-Colombia relationship that has been built on mutual trust and dedication to a common enemy, a relationship that has reaped tremendous rewards for Colombia:

"Colombia's recent history is written in blood. An insurgency waged by leftist guerillas known as the FARC. And funded with drug money brought Colombia to its knees. Colombia today is a different world. The economy is thriving and order has been restored. U.S. Ambassador William Brownfield told Logan that kidnappings and terrorist attacks are down dramatically. So what changed? Over $6 billion in U.S. aid, a committed Colombian government and a small team of Green Berets from 7th Group Special Forces."

This optimistic version of events may be a surprise to people living in Colombia's most contested war zones. For this more nuanced perspective, I direct you to a recent posting by the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, COHA, which put together a detailed analysis of the contemporary security and human rights situation in Colombia, based on recent statistics by the Center for Research and Popular Education, CINEP, based in Bogotá.

Hope it helps clarify some distortions and outright lies!