New U.S. Military Bases in Colombia Will Increase Regional Tensions
Interview with Larry Birns, director of the Council on Hemispheric Affairs, conducted by Melinda Tuhus
For more than 40 years, political violence has been a fact of life in Colombia, as left-wing and right-wing guerrilla groups have fought the government and each other. The U.S. government, under President Bill Clinton, increased the U.S. role there with the inauguration of Plan Colombia in 2000, at the end of Clinton's second term. The stated goal was to help Colombia fight drug trafficking, which was, among other things, fueling the guerrilla movements.
Continued U.S. funding was supposedly contingent on improvements in Colombia's human rights record. That nation is currently the third largest recipient of U.S. foreign aid in the world. In August, the Obama administration brokered a deal with Colombian President Alvaro Uribe to increase the U.S. military presence in his country, much to the dismay of many other Latin American nations. Then, on Sept. 11, the U.S. State Department certified enough improvement in Colombia's human rights record that it released $32 million to be used to fight gangs and drug smugglers. This, despite the fact that extra-judicial killings in Colombia are still common, including 49 labor rights activists murdered in 2008, up from 39 killed during 2007, but down from the 78 killed in 2006.
In June, the United Nations reported that Colombian soldiers had killed hundreds of civilians, falsely identifying them as leftist guerrillas in order to increase body counts. Between the Lines' Melinda Tuhus spoke with Larry Birns, director of the Washington, D.C.-based Council on Hemispheric Affairs. He describes some of the background to these two recent developments and what they portend for the region.
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