Counter-Insurgency and NATO-Colombia Partnership
Last week, outgoing Colombian president Juan Manuel Santos announced his country's intention to join forces with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization (NATO) as a global partner. In one of his last acts in office, Santos made the long relationship between his country's armed forces and the military alliance official. On 31 May 2018, Santos visited NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg in at headquarters in Brussels, Belgium.
As a global partner, Colombia would collaborate with NATO on shared security issues. It would also get military or other assistance whenever necessary. Countries like Afghanistan, Iraq, Japan and South Korea are already global partners. In the case of this Latin American country, pressing issues include high-level training, intelligence sharing, counter-insurgency and counter-narcotics (military drug enforcement).
The timing of Santos's announcement during Colombia's presidential election has the effect of instilling policy continuity. The next president of Colombia will have to deal with the impact of growing and renewed military collaboration. Right now, the country is awaiting the second round of elections, voting between the top two candidates of the first round. Neither Iván Duque Márquez of the centre-right Democratic Center (CD) nor the left-wing List of Decency's (LD) Gustavo Petro belong to Santos's party, so the outlook of a future Colombian government could change significantly.
The governments of Álvaro Uribe (2002-10) and Juan Manuel Santos (2010-18) have proven useful partners to NATO. From 2010 to 2015, Colombia's military participated under NATO's command in Afghanistan and Somalia, contributing counter-insurgency and drug enforcement experience. Talks to formalize partnership have occurred since late 2016.
Counter-insurgency and counter-narcotics both have anti-democratic and violent consequences. We can look at our own region to understand why both efforts must be challenged.
Far-left paramilitary groups such as FARC, ELN and M-19 emerged as resistance movements to the Colombian state in the mid-1960s. Local repression against these movements emerged, but transformed into a protracted struggle involving state and right-wing paramilitaries with the help of the United States. The escalation would force all sides, in particular the right-wing, to engage in terror as a means of surviving in the Colombian armed conflict.
Both rebel groups and paramilitaries engaged in drug trafficking for funding. Thus, to manage the flow of drugs from Latin America to North America, the US used both the Colombian state and right-wing paramilitary groups to police the entire country. Counter-insurgency and counter-narcotics became one for the purpose of imperialist intervention in politics and in economy. Colombia would not be the only state affected.
In 1989, Panamanian leader Manuel Noriega was ousted during a bloody US invasion the Americans call Operation Just Cause. Legitimate opposition forces to Noriega's government were not involved and did not get the support needed to democratize Panamá from the grassroots level. Noriega initially received US support for thwarting both Central American drug trafficking and left-wing movements in his own country. However, he laundered too much money from that same drug trade, and was extradited as a result.
We in Jamaica have our own experience with counter-narcotics. The Tivoli Incursion, executed by the JDF and JCF at the behest of the US Department of Homeland Security, resulted in over 100 civilian casualties and the decimation of the Tivoli Gardens community. All that death and destruction for the extradition of one man - Christopher Coke.
Most urgently, we cannot ignore the significance this partnership has to Venezuela. As seen in other countries, global partnership may involve NATO involvement in internal defense and operations. Given that there already exist US military bases in Colombia, such a move on the part of NATO and Colombia threatens security in Venezuela, as both military entities are hostile to the developments of the Bolivarian Revolution in workers' freedoms, the rights of minorities and social justice. NATO-Colombia partnership opens up yet another front against socialism and national liberation in Latin America.
Socialists and anti-imperialists in the region must watch Colombia and NATO closely and prepare for all possible outcomes. Given the uncertain relations between the Colombian state and rebel groups, the danger of continued military alliance, and US-provoked instability in Venezuela, the situation is tense and stakes are at their highest. We must link up with progressive movements and forces in Colombia and all over Latin America and support them against any harm that comes with this partnership. We need to determine if our own governments have interests in moves like Colombia's and act accordingly. It is what we must do to ensure peace and self-determination in the region.
- “Colombia to become first Latin American NATO ‘global partner’” - Agence France Presse
- “Secretary General welcomes President of Colombia to NATO” - NATO Newsroom
- “Relations with Colombia” - NATO
- “Right-wing Duque leading Petro in Colombia election poll” - Reuters
- “Colombia to send 50 soldiers to Afghanistan” - Colombia Reports
- Report on UN Security Council resolution 1973
- “Partners” - NATO