Colombia, the closest military ally to the U.S. in its conflict with Venezuela and Latin America's new nationalist bloc, may assert a new independence in the presidential elections between the oligarchy's candidate Juan Manuel Santos and the former Green Party mayor of Bogota, Antanas Mockus.
In the primary election on May 20, Mockus holds a slight lead, catapulting from one percent last January. It seems likely that both candidates will face a runoff on June 20.
Mockus, a moderate in the style of Barack Obama, favors "a certain stepping back" from long-standing US-Colombia drug war policies which have fostered right-wing paramilitary centers of power, gross human rights violations and a culture of impunity. Mockus also says he "admires" Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez, targeted as the arch-enemy of Washington in the region. Faced with conservative reaction, Mockus amended his words to say he "respects" Chavez. [LA Times, May 17, 2010]
For his part, President Chavez has said the election of Santos could "generate a war". He blames Santos for a military strike into Ecuador against a Colombian guerrilla leader, which prompted Venezuela to mobilize forces on the Colombian border. "Hopefully", says Chavez, the Colombian people will elect someone "with whom I can talk and not someone who attacks neighboring countries with bombs." [Business Week, April 27, 2010]
According to Greg Grandin [Nation, Jan. 21], the US has signed an agreement with Colombia for seven new military bases, escalating tensions with Venezuela, Bolivia, Brazil and others in the region. Grandin writes that the Pentagon is pursuing a "long war" policy involving counter-insurgency strategies based on Plan Colombia, which a 2004 Army strategist proposed to export to Latin America. In its 2009 budget request, the Pentagon proposed "full-spectrum operations throughout South America" and "epanded expeditionary warfare capability" against "anti-US governments" there. The phrasing was erased later from the budget document.
US policy seems to blend militarization and privatization approaches into a single framework, represented by US State Department official Thomas Shannon's proposal for "armoring NAFTA." The lack of firmness from the Obama administration towards last year's military coup by the Honduran oligarchy is a further sign of the evolving policy direction. Most importantly, Obama seems to have given up his initial honeymoon with Brazil's president Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva, who opposes Washington's militarism and seeks an independent international role for his country.
Recently, the fear in progressive Latin American has been that Washington, instead of accepting rapprochement with Venezuela, Bolivia, Cuba and Brazil, will seek to defeat progressive governments in the region by promoting right-wing leaders, such as the new billionaire president of Chile, Sebastian Pinera.
The surge and possible election of Mockus in Colombia, however, plants an obstacle in the very center of the US counter-insurgency strategy for the region. The political dimension of all counter-insurgencies requires a stable in-country ally, but the past decade has left in place an unpopular culture of right-wing paramilitaries like a cancer in the center of Colombia's civil society. Five hundred unionists and 195 teachers have been assassinated in recent years and, as Grandin reports, the military is accused of murdering over 2,000 civilians and covering their bodies with guerrilla uniforms to indicate military "success."
"Plan Colombia is not really about drugs; it is the Latin American edition of GCOIN, or Global Counterinsurgency", writes Grandin. After over a decade of Plan Colombia [twice its authorized length], more coca flows into the United States than before, at lower retail prices on the streets.
During the early years of Plan Colombia, the US ambassador in Bogota was Anne Patterson, an early associate of Hillary Clinton. Today, the same Patterson is US ambassador to Pakistan. [The war on drugs in that region still leaves approximately ten thousand Europeans dying yearly of heroin overdoses.]