Tags: Colombia: | Terrorist | Haven

Colombia: Terrorist Haven

Friday, 21 September 2001 12:00 AM

The FARC has become notably nervous due to the cancellation of negotiations, and released a communique on the same day, September 20th, stating that the United States is "engaged in a witch hunt against progressive movements and revolutionaries."

The FARC has also proposed a series of open forums throughout Colombia to determine what organizations should really be considered terrorist, due to their contention that the U.S. State Department has classified them as a terrorist organization solely because they are Communist. At the same time, since the September 11th World Trade Center attack in New York City, the FARC has destroyed four electrical towers and planted two car bombs in northern Colombia, not to mention more than a dozen kidnappings.

Following the events of September 11th, there is a growing awareness that government negotiations and repeated concessions to the FARC may become politically untenable. The United States’ planned international war against terrorism will probably not directly target Colombia, but it will undoubtedly raise the profile of peace concessions to the guerrillas so long as they remain unwilling to sign a cease-fire or stop terrorist activity in the country against Colombians and foreign nationals.

According to the U.S. State Department, there are three terrorist organizations that make their home in Colombia. These include the FARC, the formerly Cuban-backed Ejercito de Liberacion Nacional or ELN, and the paramilitary group Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia (AUC). Both the FARC and ELN have actively threatened U.S. citizens and other foreign nationals, have conducted repeated kidnappings, and, in the case of the FARC, the organization murdered three U.S. NGO workers in eastern Colombia who were working with indigenous tribes of the region. All three armed groups have been involved at some level with the narcotics industry, from which a varying part of each organization’s finances for their war efforts are derived.

San Vicente del Caguan: Haven for Terrorists

At present, the FARC has persisted in holding three German nationals kidnapped in the distension zone near San Vicente de Caguan, despite threats by the EU to withdraw their support from the peace process should they not be released unconditionally. The highly controversial distension zone has existed since late 1998, when it was first created as a condition to begin the peace process. Since that time, the zone has become a center for coca cultivation, kidnapping, including that of 4 congressmen whom the FARC are attempting to exchange for guerrilla leaders, military training, and most recently according to one of the FARC's key leaders "Mono Jojoy," bomb testing.

The FARC has weaved an intricate web of international ties to foreign terrorist organizations and crime syndicates. The latest claims of "Napalm-like" bomb testing are unconfirmed by any sources except the FARC. The bombs were allegedly made by three Provisional Irish Republican Army (IRA) explosives experts who were captured when they attempted to leave Colombia last August 11th with false documents. The IRA experts had repeatedly visited both Colombia and Cuba since 1996, and claimed in this case to have been merely exchanging ideas with FARC leaders.

The leader of the three was apparently residing in Havana since 1996, operating as a liaison between the IRA and Cuba. The Provisional IRA operatives were joined in the distension zone by Cuban soldiers and Venezuelan ex-soldiers, apparently expert in the use of anti-aircraft missiles and explosives, according to what the DAS, the Departamento Administrative de Seguridad, has told NewsMax. As Orlando Gutierrez-Boronat wrote for NewsMax on September 20th, Cuba has worked with a number of terrorist states in the world. The FARC and IRA are just two more allies of that country in its battle against the United States.

Congressman William Delahunt (D-MA), following his arrival from a tour through Ireland early this month, wrote to Rep. Henry Hyde (R-IL), chairman of the House International Relations Committee, requesting the opening of an investigation on the connections between the FARC and the IRA. Gerry Adams, the leader of the IRA's political party Sinn Fein, for his part scoffed at the lack of evidence in the case, and accused opponents of the IRA of using the case to question the group's commitment to the peace process in Ireland.

The IRA's directorate, alarmed about the hardening worldwide stance against terrorist organizations, issued a public proclamation on September 20th that, "The IRA did not interfere in the internal affairs of Colombia and does not desire to do so." Adams also apparently cancelled a planned reunion with Fidel Castro in Havana that was formerly scheduled for this month.

The FARC has also worked in the past with the Russian mafia, and may have been involved with Al Qaiad, the terrorist organization of Osama bin Laden. The DAS also told NewsMax that it has dusted off the files of the case of Egyptian Mohamed Ebid Abdel Aal, captured attempting to enter Colombia from Ecuador in October 1998.

Mr. Abdel Aal had attempted to get a visa to enter Colombia in Colombia’s consulate in Milan, Italy, but was rejected. The U.S. had informed Colombia of his terrorist ties. While not directly involved with Al Qaiad, he signed a 1998 document which creating a cooperative agreement between his own terrorist organization, al-Gama at al Islamiyya, and Al Qaiad, committing to strike at unnamed destinations within the United States. The case was terminated when he was deported to Ecuador and then to Egypt, Mr. Abel Aal claimed that he was in transit through Colombia to Venezuela.

Following the September 11th attack, the FARC denounced the United States and placed the blame for the attack squarely on its "imperialist" shoulders.

The country's President Andres Pastrana has repeatedly extended the expiration date for the distension zone despite a failure to achieve even minor concessions from the FARC, including a cease-fire or the use of verification teams to ensure that the zone is not being abused by the FARC. The next expiration date is scheduled for October 8th. This past September 6th, Pastrana swore to continue the zone for some time, angrily denouncing the zone's critics and claiming that, "If there is no distension zone, there is war. What do we Colombians want? Peace or war?" If Pastrana does extend the zone unconditionally, this will be the 11th extension.

The Commission of Notables: Exchanging the Constitution for Peace?

The country's peace process has been managed for the past few years by Camilo Gomez.. Last February 9th, in the "Los Pozos” agreement, the Peace Commission attempted to meet more of the guerrilla’s demands for peace by appointing a "Commission of Notables.” This commission consisted of two Communists and two non-Communists, and was encharged with creating a battle plan to defeat the country’s paramilitary forces, the greatest enemies of the FARC and ELN, and with forming other recommendations to advance the peace process.

One of the Commission’s two non-Communists, journalist Ana Mercedes Gómez, resigned angrily from the commission on September 6th. She was the only member of the 4-member commission against creating a Constitutional Assembly. The stated reason for her resignation was that, "A convention, without first defining an aspect as fundamental as the guerrilla’s and the paramilitary’s disarmament, would put society at a complete disadvantage”. President Andres Pastrana has indicated that she will not be replaced.

The Commission of Notables does not have the power to directly convene a Constitutional Assembly, but the President does. Elections will be taking place in August of 2002 in Colombia, and by most indications all three candidates that are in the lead will at a minimum highly modify the peace process if not entirely scrap it, but a constitutional convention could change the equation entirely.

The Constitutional Assembly would probably take place under the conditions of the communist FARC, with half of the delegates from the Colombian Communist Party (PCC) and the FARC itself. It is entirely possible that the elections could be suspended as a result, especially given the hostile nature of most candidates to the process. Dr. Rodrigo Losada, a political science professor at the Universidad Javeriana in Bogotá, told Newsmax that Pastrana would have to be politically blind to attempt a Constitutional Assembly in the present political context. "A Constitutional Assembly convened by the President would be ‘above’ the constitution and completely illegal. If he attempted to do such a thing he would be tried by Congress.”

A New Direction in the Peace Process and in U.S. Priorities?

Ironically from the U.S. political context, the present peace process, begun under a Conservative party presidency, has been heavily criticized by Colombia’s Liberal party opponents. Liberal party leader Luis GuillermoVelez has gone so far as to claim that the President has pacted an alliance with the FARC guerrillas. The Conservative party has failed to recruit a candidate for the presidency, and many are predicting its ultimate demise in the upcoming elections, if they are not somehow forestalled.

It is difficult to stay what new course the peace process might take, but all indications are that the road ahead will probably become even rockier due to the U.S. crusade against international terrorism.

Dr. Rodrigo Losada stated unequivocally to Newsmax that U.S. priorities will change in Colombia. While drugs will undoubtedly stay on the agenda, at some point within the next few years, especially should the FARC fail to modify its strategy to intimidate the cities into making concessions by way of urban terrorism, the U.S. will start to show a greater interest in the Colombian peace process. Before the guerrillas become serious about negotiating peace, "the FARC still has a margin of up to two years of fighting in the rural areas of Colombia due to the process of modernization of Colombia’s army, but the U.S. may speed up things because hard-liners will be coming to the fore in the government there, " said Dr. Losada.

At present, Colombian army personnel are still prohibited from using many helicopters earmarked for coca eradication for any other purpose. This has meant in extreme cases that helicopters that could have been used to reinforce police stations under attack are overwhelmed due to limited troop mobility on the ground.

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The FARC has become notably nervous due to the cancellation of negotiations, and released a communique on the same day, September 20th, stating that the United States is engaged in a witch hunt against progressive movements and revolutionaries. The FARC has also...
Friday, 21 September 2001 12:00 AM
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