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Did Covert U.S. Program Targeting Rebel Leaders Help Undermine Colombia’s Peace Process?

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Continuing our coverage of the startling new report that exposes how a secret CIA program in Colombia is responsible for killing at least two dozen rebel leaders, we’re joined by Mario Murillo, professor and chair of the Department of Radio, Television, Film at Hofstra University and co-director of the Center for Civic Engagement. Murillo has covered Colombia extensively and is the author of the book, “Colombia and the United States: War, Unrest, and Destabilization.”

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StoryDec 24, 2013Beyond Plan Colombia: Covert CIA Program Reveals Critical U.S. Role in Killings of Rebel Leaders
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we continue our coverage of the startling new report that exposes how a secret CIA program in Colombia is responsible for killing at least two dozen rebel leaders there. The Washington Post article by Dana Priest is called “Covert Action in Colombia: U.S. Intelligence, GPS Bomb Kits Help Latin American Nation Cripple Rebel Forces.”

In a moment, we’ll go to Colombia, where we’ll be joined on the phone by Charlie Roberts, a member of the Colombia Human Rights Committee and board chair of the U.S. Office on Colombia. But first we’re going to turn to the words of a man who Charlie Roberts has been closely covering, Gustavo Petro, the mayor of Bogotá. Earlier this month, Colombia’s inspector general, Alejandro Ordóñez, announced Petro would have to leave office over the alleged mismanagement of the capital’s rubbish collection service. However, supporters say the former left-wing rebel has been the victim of a “right-wing coup.” Tens of thousands of people in Colombia have taken to the streets to support Petro.

In March 2007, Democracy Now! spoke to Gustavo Petro and asked him about his past as a former guerrilla and member of M-19 who later joined the peaceful opposition.

GUSTAVO PETRO: [translated] The M-19 was a belligerent force in Colombia against the state of siege, against the dictatorial forms that Colombia had two decades ago. And it stopped, it ceased being a belligerent force, in terms of an armed movement, when it negotiated agreements that made it possible to hold a national constitutional assembly, which was held in 1991, and in which we won the elections by popular vote, and it transformed, at least in terms of the constitution—it transformed the country from a civilian dictatorship into a democracy with problems.

Unfortunately, as of 1991, the constitution of Colombia, which calls for rule of law with significant social policies with a view towards reducing inequality, while we must keep in mind that Colombia is, socially speaking, one of the most unequal countries in the world, it hasn’t been implemented. Instead, at the local level and in an increasingly widespread fashion, we have seen the rise of what I call the Mafioso dictatorships. These are coercive paramilitary apparatuses that assassinate the population with a single objective, which is to accumulate and concentrate wealth in the most savage form possible, one of which is exporting cocaine to the United States.

Because of denouncing these facts; because of having spent five years of my work as a legislator to showing, with pointing out the first names and last names, how certain Colombian legislators in certain regions of the country would draft laws in the morning and at night they would order massacres; because I have been helping to reveal this intricate network of relationships between persons carrying out genocide, drug traffickers, politicians and public officials, I have received this insult from the president of Colombia, who said that I was a terrorist in civilian clothes. I was accused of being a terrorist, because I was telling the truth, because I was helping to unveil one of the darkest stories in Colombian history, the relationship between the country’s rulers and drug trafficking.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Gustavo Petro speaking to Democracy Now! in 2007. Until recently, he had been serving as the mayor of Bogotá, but was told to step down earlier this month. He and his supporters are now working to prevent this decision from being carried out. In a moment, we’re going to go to Charlie Roberts in Colombia, but before we do, we’re joined by Mario Murillo. Mario Murillo is an independent journalist and a professor and chair of the Department of Radio, Television, Film at Hofstra University in Long Island, New York, co-director of the Center for Civic Engagement, covered Colombia extensively, author of the book, Colombia and the United States: War, Unrest, and Destabilization.

Mario, welcome to Democracy Now! It was your clip, an interview that you did with Raúl Reyes, that we played on Democracy Now! This is an interview you did in 1996. In 2008, he was killed in what was believed at the time to be a Colombia cross-border strike into Ecuador, where he was, that killed a number of other people, as well. That was 12 years after you did that interview. Now, Dana Priest of The Washington Post is confirming for the first time that the intelligence used in that strike was U.S. intelligence. It was a CIA brain, if you will, in that GPS bomb. Can you talk about the significance of this?

MARIO MURILLO: Well, the report, in many ways, is much like having interviews with unidentified Israeli officials and U.S. officials acknowledging the existence of a nuclear bomb, nuclear weapons in Israel. It’s pretty much the same thing. It was a wink and a nod after the 2008 assassination of Raúl Reyes that the U.S. was directly involved in that. It was never disclosed, and with the great detail Dana Priest put out in The Washington Post on Sunday, clearly, confirms what so many people were saying. But it’s really not a surprise, in the sense that the U.S. has been immersed in Colombia for so many years, even before Plan Colombia. We could even say the origins of the FARC came about as a result of Kennedy’s push to liquidate any kind of opposition in the countryside in Colombia through the Colombian armed forces.

I think it has two implications, one from the Colombian standpoint and the second from the U.S. standpoint. If we’re looking at it from the U.S. standpoint—and you guys have been doing great work on this issue on Democracy Now! in terms of the rule of law, in terms of justifying targeted assassinations on an international scale, and making it—and rationalizing it. And you see it in the report, how White House officials and national security lawyers were saying, “Yes, these FARC rebels, Raúl Reyes, posed a threat to the U.S. and to Colombia, and so we had a justification to target them militarily.” And I think anybody concerned about the rule of law, that kind of operation happening with a complete lack of government oversight, of congressional oversight, is—it should be alarming.

From the standpoint of Colombia, I think Petro’s clip is a good indication of the hypocrisy of U.S., quote-unquote, “fighting terrorism” in Colombia, when we think about the complete lack of pursuing the right-wing paramilitaries in Colombia who for decades have been killing, massacring, disappearing peasants throughout the country, and that basically in the article it points out that U.S. officials saying we were not targeting the more violent paramilitaries in this process. So you have a complete double standard in terms of describing terrorism on the ground and then the U.S. military directly involved in trying to liquidate the FARC as the only culprits of violence or the only instigators of violence in the country.

AMY GOODMAN: And the significance of the killing of Raúl Reyes, who was the most public face of the FARC?

MARIO MURILLO: Well, I think the big point there was the international incident that occurred, how it led to major discord between Colombia and Ecuador, and Venezuela came into the picture with Hugo Chávez amassing troops along the border with Colombia. And I think, again, it goes to show that U.S. interests, you know, are very vague when it comes to trying to control a situation that—in Colombia, that in many ways they have made worse because of their military intervention. And I think, ultimately, it was the beginning—as Dana Priest points out, the beginning of a major demise of the FARC. And I think the strategic blunder that the FARC have carried out over the last 10 years or so is that they failed to recognize that they weren’t at war in Colombia with Colombia only; they were at war with the United States, the most powerful military and intelligence machine in the world, and the chances were that they weren’t going to come out looking too good. So that was the beginning, in many ways, of the process of dismantling of the FARC, and that’s where we are right now today.

AMY GOODMAN: Where would the FARC be if the U.S., the NSA, the CIA, were not taking out its leaders? I think, in the piece, talked about the killing of at least two dozen FARC leaders.

MARIO MURILLO: Well, I think it’s hard to say, but I think what we see is a long track record. This is just the latest and perhaps the most aggressive, and in many ways, at least if we look at it from the standpoint of U.S. strategic and military abilities, probably the most successful approach of trying to defeat the FARC militarily. But this is a long track record, since the 1980s, where the United States, under Reagan, refused to have any kind of negotiation and put pressure on the Colombian military to avoid any kind of reasonable, real negotiations that would lead to a long-lasting peaceful settlement in Colombia, when the Colombian rebels tried to get involved politically in the process and resulted in the deaths of thousands of political activists that were loyal to the FARC, that were trying to do it through legal means.

Subsequent to that, in the 1990s, in the late 1990s, when the president at the time of Colombia, Andrés Pastrana, attempted to push forward a peace process, under the name of Plan Colombia—but his Plan Colombia was described as trying to pacify the countryside first, lead to negotiations, and through that negotiation, in which the FARC would lay down their weapons, they would be able to address the long-lasting drug problem in the region—the United States completely transformed that into a military operation, saying, “No, first we have to defeat the FARC militarily.” And that’s what Plan Colombia is. And so, any attempt at negotiation was jettisoned really through the pressure of the United States. What we saw subsequent to that was basically a massive offensive on a national scale in Colombia of the paramilitaries attacking civilian populations where the stronghold—where there were considered to be FARC strongholds, resulting in millions of displaced, tens of thousands of people killed, and all in the name of, quote-unquote, “fighting the FARC.” Ultimately, it led to a complete collapse of the peace talks in the early 2000s, and that’s where we are today.

So, every attempt at trying to negotiate a solution to the situation has always resulted in more militarism. And that’s where today’s situation is very interesting, because there are peace negotiations going on. The current government, that’s been obviously behind this CIA-NSA attack on the FARC, is trying to negotiate the FARC much—in a much weaker position, but the government getting a lot of pressure from the Uribe—former President Uribe and his followers to try to, again, jettison any kind of peace negotiation. So I think that’s the takeaway, from my standpoint, is that at every turn the U.S. has been counter to negotiations. Meanwhile, they didn’t say anything about the negotiations that took place under the Uribe government between the Colombian government and the AAUC, the paramilitary groups, that in many sense were directly tied to the military in Colombia.

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