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Ricardo Soberón G.

November 15, 2001

As a result of the attacks against the New York Twin Towers and the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. on September 11 of 2001, the United States has launched a world-wide military campaign in Afghanistan within the framework of a political, military, judicial, financial and policing strategy against international terrorism. Apparently, the Philippines and Colombia might also be targeted in this war.

Thus the US State Department has built a large coalition of countries united against terrorist activities within which there has been practically no divergence. There is, on the one hand, United Nations support through Security Council Resolution 1373 which authorizes the US to use forceful measures, together with the recent 56th General Assembly in New York itself. While on the other, NATO has invoked its mutual defense clause, and even the Inter-American Mutual Assistance Treaty (IAMAT) mechanisms for mutual defense were called into force, within the framework of the Organization of American States (OAS)[1]. Sometime in the near future, its successor will also be molded by the events of September 11th.

The world is still going through a period of transition during which the concepts of balance of powers, international and national security as well as the role of security forces will be profoundly redesigned, on a day to day basis. Even Russia is the victim of fundamentalist terror and as such benefits from this concerted effort of nations in combat against international terrorism. Countries, which were hitherto hesitant to back foreign military interventions -such as Germany, Japan, and even Italy- have volunteered military capability and troops to this new campaign whose launching point is Afghanistan. If there’s anything about which we can have no doubt, it’s the consensus surrounding a stance which condemns these terrorist acts. One cannot say that this also holds true for the Islamic community of nations, particularly considering the turn of events in Palestine and continued military measures.

As concerns our region, the Andean countries have not been exempt from this new crusade. Two circumstances portray what the regional context was prior to the attacks of September 11th. First, conflict escalation as compared to the weakness of peace negotiations. Second, a redefinition of US hemispheric security in a post Cold-War environment. The continuos erosion to which the parties to Colombia’s armed conflict are submitted, the increasing number of internal displaced peoples and of refugees escaping the country, as well the critical situation of the peace process make it necessary for us to carry out exhaustive analyses regarding the impact in the coming months for the Amazon Andes of the development of this recent international stance by the United States.

1. What were we facing prior to the Twin Towers?

From 1989 until today, Colombia and the other Andean countries were the scenario of and witnesses to traditional and ineffective anti-narcotics policies on the part of the two Bush administrations (father and son) and of the Clinton era. Since 1999, these policies have been implemented within the framework of the Plan Colombia, and more recently within the Andean Regional Initiative. Several treaties as well as the 1998 UN General Assembly have backed this traditional US stance on illicit drugs, despite its blatant failure to solve the issue.

The instruments preferentially used have been forced eradication of illicit crops and, particularly in Colombia, fumigation as an answer to poverty and marginalization; as well as extradition and interdiction rather than other controls over this illegal supply. Reciprocity, mutual and transparent cooperation, a global perspective, and fair trade have consistently been the exception.

On the other hand, we observe the development, during the past four decades, of generic and ambiguous international policies for the region. This process appears to be on the way to dangerously regionalizing and internationalizing local scenarios. Thus, the idea held by some neighboring countries that the situation in Colombia is a threat to regional stability has led to militarization of border areas. The growing number of refugees and displaced persons from Colombia has also been brought to the attention of European foreign ministries, international forums and neighboring countries’ foreign ministries due to its impending impact on bordering areas. Lastly, the situation in Colombia has to be considered within the context of the post Inter-American Mutual Assistance Treaty (TIAR) redefinition of hemispheric security, that which just goes to give further proof to the potential spillover of this “domestic” conflict. That which characterizes Colombia is that this war coexists with a negotiation process which is permanently in danger, be it because the parties are not truly willing or as of the degradation of the conflict itself and violation of international private law, international humanitarian law (the Geneva Protocol) and human rights, among other factors.

2. What can be the consequences of this global war on terrorism for the Andean countries?

2.1. On the hand, we can imagine a relative loss of attention to issues related with Latin America and Colombia, particularly as refers to the US daily domestic agenda, as well as in the press and US public opinion. Both the White house and Congress will dedicate their efforts to supporting President Bush’s actions against terrorism. In the end, it will be the post Taliban reconstruction of Afghanistan, as well as the continuous monitoring of what occurs in Central Asia which will be at the center of Washington’s politicians and military establishment as concerns: gas reserves, oil, antinarcotics war, and illicit crops. Colombia has its share of all of these, however, it does not suppose the need to contain Islamic fundamentalism.

North American diplomacy will be chiefly confronted by two new challenges in the coming months: guiding and leading the coalition to face a long international war against terrorism with the all the wear and tear implied. And keeping together in this new alliance countries as diverse as those of the Middle East and Asia without falling into the Huntington dilemma, the clash of civilizations.

In Latin America in particular, a reinforcement of border policing and military controls is to be expected as a first response, that which could be an obstacle to the Project. Most likely, in areas inhabited by Moslem communities such as Punta del Este and the border between Brazil and Argentina, border controls and detentions will increase. In this sense, the Plan Colombia can be considered a springboard for the USA to launch its militarization projects -originally foreseen for Colombia and its neighboring countries-  into the Southern part of Latin America.

There will naturally be a group of Hawks in Washington who will necessarily see the great similarities between the situation in Afghanistan and that in Colombia : drugs, organized crime, irregular forces, divers violences; and will thus recommend similar military interventionists actions. This would be a serious mistake, and recent evidence indicates that direct military intervention is unlikely, inside or outside the demilitarized zone. Washington has already entrusted its strategic efforts in the Andean Amazonic Zone to different actors and policies: the Colombian Armed Forces; those of its neighboring countries; a post-Panama security apparatus as well as divers private contractors who are charged with directly carrying out flight surveillance, aerial fumigation and other such activities.

2.2. A possible positive hypothesis, is that -with US military attention focused on Afghanistan- Colombia might find breathing room for building peace, rural development, dialogue and democracy as of respite from “hard” issues such as interdiction and Plan Colombia. We believe this could also mean subordinating the current War on Drugs in the Andes and this is directly related to coming events. As in 1991 -during the Gulf War- attention, speeches, news coverage, and funding was focused outside of the Andes; it is now directed at Central Asia. This hypothesis, if somewhat naive, is not completely infeasible.

3. The need to be tough

Most likely, the urgency will be placed on attaining results, acting on a global level, and reaching consensus. This means a continuation of a “big stick” policy in the Andean Region and, as result, further obstacles to negotiation. The Plan Colombia, initially an antinarcotics strategy, would end up being an antisubversive strategy. The problem is that a victory in Afghanistan would have dramatic results: it would open the way for the tribes, clans and groups involved with the Talibans to dedicate themselves to processing the heroin they have stocked (much as what happened when the USSR intervened in Afghanistan during the 1980s). This would of course affect the world narcotics trafficking map and, particularly, that of Colombia.

In the coming months, the international community and above all the United States will demand increasing toughness. Even the standpoint of the European Union regarding the peace process and the FARC stands to suffer significant changes as regards reduced tolerance of armed actors. All of the actors in this internal conflict will tend towards a hardening of their position. Whether in response to practical needs or requirements, this situation explains recent offensive strikes on the part of the different armed actors. This is particularly likely to hold true during the Pastrana Administration’s last months in office.

The voices that mention intervention in the distension zone and the weakness of the peace process are already making themselves heard.
The issues to be addressed are:
·Greater military interdiction, especially preventive and contention actions, (as can be seen in the Chapare as well as the Putumayo regions)
·Wider scale military operations against the FARC

·The issue of the demilitarization zone and its continuation.

·Increasing aerial fumigation actions.

·Preparation of police and military measures and forces.

Apparently, the great loser in this new crusade against terror will be the FARC and the peace process itself, which is losing some of its supporters. In the case of the former, its classification as a terrorist group and accusations of narcotics trafficking will call for FARC representatives to define a clearer peace policy. The international juncture will be less permissive of the FARC and the ELN. They will lose allies such as Spain, Venezuela and Mexico.

4. But with less funds…..

The financial losses incurred as of the terrorist attacks, as well as the expenses for upkeep of long-term military logistics to carry out “Infinite Justice” are likely to deplete the US treasury and limit their response to other countries’ needs, mainly those of the Andean region.

Recently, within the framework of the Plan Colombia, the US Congress approved a total of US$ 625 million por fiscal year 2002, as compared to the US$713 million requested by the Bush Administration. This is a clear cut sign of Afghanistan’s impact on the Andes.

5. And the narcotics trafic?

As regards narcotics traffic in the Central Asia we should firstly point out the close ties that exist between commerce in drugs such as opium and heroin, and violence and territorial control in these areas. Afghanistan produces 80% of the opium required on the international market to make heroin and particularly that of European markets. Estimates are that the Taliban will reinforce their poppy crops in Southern Afghanistan or liberate the stocks of heroin which they now hold. What we are now seeing -opium price reductions in the region-  is an initial reaction to the threat of US military occupation. It is, however, definitely too soon to determine the changes that will take place with Colombian opium and heroin markets but what is certain is that the repercussions will be felt in Colombia’s producer zones.

*Translated by María Mercedes Moreno, Mama Coca


[1]  RC 24/Res 1/01 of September 21, the Foreign Affairs Ministers Consultation  Meeting  Support Resolution to concerted individual and collective measures adopted by the USA in its legitimate defense. 
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