by Rachel Rivera
(IPS) NEW YORK --
Bush administration campaign to link U.S. anti-drug funds to the Colombian government's battle against rebel groups it deems to be terrorists will intensify the country's 40-year civil war, say Colombia advocacy groups.
The non-governmental organizations (NGOs) include U.S.-based solidarity groups and an association of displaced Colombians of African descent, estimated to account for half of all people forced from their homes, lands, and livelihoods by armed combatants.
They are calling attention to the plight of war-displaced communities in Colombia and urging U.S. citizens to call on Washington to shift its focus from funding Colombia's drug and counterinsurgency wars to supporting economic and social development programs that would help their communities.
"Turning the anti-drug war to an anti-terrorist war will only intensify the war in Colombia. This will only mean more weapons, and more killings, and more suffering for our people," says Victoria Maldonado, co-founder of the Colombia Media Project, a New York-based human rights group.
Maldonado's group organized a public forum here yesterday to coincide with hearings in Washington by the House International Relations Committee, which today was to unveil a report citing alleged links between Colombia's major rebel organization, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and terrorist groups in Northern Ireland, Iran, Cuba, and Spain.
The report follows recent White House proposals to shift U.S. Colombia policy to allow the military there to use U.S. anti-drug funding for its counter-insurgency operations.
Colombia is the third-highest recipient of U.S. military aid after Israel and Egypt and receives $535 million per year in military and police aid for its anti-drug war, according to the Center for International Policy (CIP), a Washington-based human rights group that monitors military aid to Latin America.
"Doing away with restrictions that currently bar the Colombian government from using anti-drug aid for its anti-guerilla war will give it free rein to give more support to the paramilitary forces, which will lead of course to more human rights violations," says CIP research associate Ingrid Vaicius.
"There are clear indications that the Bush administration will now try to increase U.S. military aid to Colombia in order to support its anti-terror campaign," Vaicius told IPS.
For Colombian communities that have been displaced in mass numbers by the armed conflict in their country, the calls in Washington to fund Bogota's anti-guerilla war are especially alarming.
"We have been the military targets of all armed groups," says Marino Cordoba, president of the Association of Displaced Afro-Colombians, who fled Colombia in February after escaping two assassination attempts and is seeking political asylum in the United States.
According to Cordoba's group, out of the 2 million people displaced in Colombia, close to half are Colombians of African extraction.
Afro-Colombians make up about 26 percent of the country's total population of 40 million and the majority of them inhabit areas along the Pacific coast, a region rich in forest and mineral resources.
Cordoba says the mass displacement of black populations from the Pacific coastal areas is the result of military actions by paramilitary forces supported by the government's armed forces and acting on behalf of companies with interests in the region.
A law enacted in 1993 granted Afro-Colombian communities the right to collective land titles. In 1996, Cordoba explained, paramilitary forces started attacking Afro-Colombian communities just as the law began taking effect and the first collective titles were issued.
"It is a myth of the media that we have been displaced by the conflict between the paramilitary and the guerrillas," says Cordoba. "It was the paramilitaries who came and took our land."
When paramilitary forces entered his town of Riosucio in northwest Colombia, Cordoba recalls, many were massacred and people were driven from their homes. Many fled to the cities of Bogota, Medellin and Cartagena, where most were unable to find jobs and ended up living under desperate conditions, unable to fish for their livelihood or grow food to feed their families.
"We have the land titles but the land has been taken from us. We can't return as long as the paramilitaries are there," says Cordoba.
Three major armed groups have been waging war in Colombia: the left-wing FARC and National Liberation Army (ELN), and the paramilitary United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia (AUC).
"I don't defend any of the armed groups because none of the armed groups are defending the interests of my people," says Cordoba.
June 21 2002 (http://albionmonitor.net) All Rights Reserved. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for permission to use in any format.
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