U.S. Intervention and Colombia's Record Displacements

As journalist Dana Priest noted in a piece originally published in the Washington Post about the U.S. covert war in Colombia: "'There is no country, including Afghanistan, where we [the U.S.] had more going on,'" said William Wood, who was U.S. ambassador to Colombia from 2003 to 2007 before holding the same post in war-torn Afghanistan for two years after that."

And, of course, what the U.S. has had "going on" in Colombia for decades is massive military involvement, both overt and covert, though one would hardly know from the lack of media attention on this issue. In total, the U.S. has provided over $9 billion in military aid to Colombia since 2000, and that number continues to grow.

As the UNHCR just reported in its most recent Global Trends document, there is no country in this Hemisphere that comes close to Colombia in terms of displaced persons. Indeed, as the UNHCR records, Colombia has the second largest number of internally displaced persons (IDPs) in the world at 6 million, out of a total population of just under 50 million. This puts Colombia at a close second world-wide behind Syria which has around 6.5 million IDPs. Not surprisingly, there is a direct link between the U.S.' massive military aid to Colombia and this mass displacement of Colombians.

Amnesty International U.S.A. (AIUSA) has been one of the human rights organizations which has drawn such links. Thus, AIUSA has been critical for years of the U.S.'s continued bankrolling of repressive military and paramilitary forces in Colombia. As AI continues to state on its website:

Amnesty International USA has been calling for a complete cut off of US military aid to Colombia for over a decade due to the continued collaboration between the Colombian Armed Forces and their paramilitary allies as well the failure of the Colombian government to improve human rights conditions.

Colombia has been one of the largest recipients of US military aid for well over a decade and the largest in the western hemisphere. Since 1994, AIUSA has called for a complete cut off of all US military aid until human rights conditions improve and impunity is tackled.

Yet torture, massacres, "disappearances" and killings of non-combatants are widespread and collusion between the armed forces and paramilitary groups continues to this day.

AIUSA continues:

[D]espite overwhelming evidence of continued failure to protect human rights the State Department has continued to certify Colombia as fit to receive aid. The U.S. has continued a policy of throwing 'fuel on the fire' of already widespread human rights violations, collusion with illegal paramilitary groups and near total impunity.

For its part, Human Rights Watch (HRW), in its most recent country report, makes it clear that such gross human rights violations, including mass displacements, continue to this day:

Successor groups to paramilitaries, often led by members of demobilized paramilitary organizations, commit widespread abuses, such as killings, disappearances, and sexual violence.

In Buenaventura, a largely Afro-Colombian port on the Pacific coast, paramilitary successor groups such as the Urabeños continue to commit atrocities, including abducting and dismembering people.

The groups have caused Buenaventura to have the highest rate of forced displacement in Colombia, with more than 33,000 residents fleeing their homes in 2013, and 22,383 between January and November 1, 2014, according to government data released in November.

As HRW explains, such brutal paramilitary "groups have at times benefited from the tolerance and collusion of state agents" which in turn are funded without pause by the U.S.

Meanwhile, HRW also emphasizes that U.S.-backed security forces are themselves responsible for mass killings in Colombia. Thus, HRW explains that "Colombian military personnel executed large numbers of civilians, particularly between 2002 and 2008. In many cases -- commonly referred to as "false positives" -- soldiers and officers under pressure from superiors to boost body counts killed civilians and reported them as enemy combat casualites." All in all, the Colombian military has killed at least 3,500 civilians as part of this scandal, and the high water mark for such killings was during the height of U.S. military aid.

Indeed, HRW explains in its most recent report that "[t]he United States remains the most influential foreign actor in Colombia. In 2014, it provided approximately US$225 million in military and police aid," despite the continued abuses by the military and its paramilitary allies, and "despite the government's continued promotion of legislation that would place human rights crimes in military courts" -- a move which is destined to only increase impunity for such crimes.

And, while the U.S. and its compliant media enjoy vilifying Colombia's neighbor, Venezuela -- while remaining absolutely silent about Colombia's human rights nightmare -- Venezuela is providing refuge to nearly half of those refugees forced to leave Colombia as the result of U.S.-backed crimes. Thus, as the UNHCR relates, Venezuela houses 168,000 of Colombia's 357,900 externally-displaced refugees. In addition, Venezuela has been playing a leading role in helping to broker the peace process in Colombia -- a process that itself could lead to the end of the conflict and to the displacements that go with it. While it is the U.S. government which must first and foremost be held accountable for its continued fueling of the human rights disaster in Colombia, so must the U.S. media which barely mentions the word "Colombia" in its news reporting. Thus, while completely ignoring the worst human rights crimes in our Hemisphere which are now taking place in Colombia, the media instead fixates on countries in the region, such as Venezuela, which though having a much better human rights record, are targeted for attack by the U.S. government. The media, functioning as badly as any state-run press, thereby aids and abets the U.S.'s crimes in Colombia by its silence while openly promoting the U.S.'s saber rattling against alleged "enemy states" such as Venezuela. So much for fair and balanced.