YouTube video

The Washington Post exposes how the CIA and NSA have transferred advanced tracking technology to the Colombian government to help eliminate FARC leadership, despite human right violations against its civilian population

Story Transcript

JAISAL NOOR, TRNN PRODUCER: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Jaisal Noor in Baltimore.

The CIA has secretly been spending billions of dollars to help the Colombian military kill the leadership of the FARC rebels. That’s according to a new Washington Post investigation titled “Covert Action in Colombia: U.S. intelligence, GPS Bomb Kits Help Latin American Nation Cripple Rebel Forces”. Citing both U.S. and Colombian government sources, The Post has revealed that starting in 2007, the CIA and NSA have handed over the precise location of the FARC leadership to the Colombian military. Dozens of members of senior FARC leaders have been killed in the strikes.

One of the strikes took place in Ecuador and led to an international crisis.

In early 2010, the U.S. government transferred control of the GPS tracking technology over to the Colombian government, even though it’s known as a leading human rights violator in the Western Hemisphere.

Now joining us to discuss this is Mario Murillo. He is the chair of the radio, television and film department at Hofstra University. He’s been writing about Latin America for over two decades, author of the book Colombia and the United States: War, Unrest and Destabilization.

Thank you so much for joining us.

PROF. MARIO MURILLO, CHAIR, RTVF, HOFSTRA UNIVERSITY: It’s great to join you. Thanks for having me.

NOOR: So, Mario, the U.S. relationship with Colombia goes back decades. There’s been billions of dollars of military aid sent to Colombia every year, especially over the last several decades. Talk about the implications and what this new report really tells us in The Washington Post.

MURILLO: Well, it’s interesting, because on the one hand you can say that this report is not really a surprise. Those of us who’ve been following Colombia and who are especially concerned about the escalation of U.S. military and strategic assistance since the late ’90s into the early 2000 under the Plan Colombia, many of us had always argued and raised concerns about how this would lead to a counterinsurgency effort. The United States talked about it as counter narcotics assistance, by 2001 talking about it more overtly as counterterrorism, and there was always concerns that these monies, to the tune of several billion dollars over the last 12 years, was going to be used in this way, in military operations and targeting directly the FARC rebels.

Perhaps that [incompr.] more or less accurate, except that that money didn’t come from Plan Colombia. As the Dana Priest article in The Washington Post points out, these were black ops money that basically has absolutely no oversight and no congressional oversight. There was considerable debate about Plan Colombia in the Congress based on the human rights concerns that you laid out earlier in your introduction, based on many other factors.

And so I think we’re surprised at the detail in which this report unfolds and the level of interference and involvement that the U.S. CIA has played. But we shouldn’t be, necessarily, because the U.S., as you pointed out, also has been directly involved in the counterinsurgency war really since the 1960s. And we could even go further back historically, but certainly since the FARC started. I make the argument in my book, and many others have made it as well, that the FARC rebels in many respects emerged as a result in the 1960s as a result of the failure of the Colombian government to carry out any land reform measures and actually carrying out a dirty war campaign in the countryside under the guise and the leadership of President John F. Kennedy. So this is something that goes way back historically and that–I guess that it’s just more intriguing specifically with the details, the gory details that we see in the Dana Priest article.

NOOR: And on that note, there was just a recent human Human Rights Watch report detailing further human rights violations by the Colombian government on that issue of land use and making land available for landless peasants in Colombia.

But I want to talk more about this article. It actually–it doesn’t–it kind of reports on these findings without a critical look, I think it’s fair to say. Should Americans be worried about this, considering now that the Colombian government has the technology to track anyone, really, anywhere and drop a bomb on them in that country, again, going back to the point that, you know, Colombia, this government, has a long history of human rights violations?

MURILLO: Well, we can look at it from the Colombian standpoint and we can look at it from the U.S. standpoint. From the U.S. standpoint, I think we should always be concerned when national security lawyers and, you know, folks in the White House determine that U.S. law is not being broken when you carry out targeted assassinations of anybody, whether it’s in Yemen, whether it’s in Iraq, whether it’s in Afghanistan, and certainly in this case, as we see clearly, in Colombia and surrounding areas.

When you see the details of how U.S. officials were making and rationalizing and justifying attacks against the FARC, violating international law and violate U.S. law, I think anybody in their right minds, especially without any government oversight, without any congressional or any other kind of oversight here in the U.S., I think we should all be concerned about it, right? You know. They refer to it as self-defense. I don’t think anybody can in their right mind argue that the FARC were direct threats to the United States, that Raúl Reyes, the second in command of the FARC, who was killed in March 2008 and detailed in the article by Dana Priest, carried out and posed a serious threat to the United States. But the U.S. officials justified it and basically were the ones who targeted and killed Raúl Reyes [incompr.] person to pull the trigger was a Colombian national, violating international airspace and attacking Ecuador in sovereign territory. But that’s certainly a U.S. action, a belligerent action, and again in the name of security and self-defense. And that’s a problem for any American, I think, who takes seriously the rule of law.

In terms of the Colombian standpoint, I think anybody who believes that the United States was looking for defending human rights and protecting the rights and the security of Colombia must raise questions about even the U.S. officials who were quoted in the article saying that we were not targeting the paramilitary groups, the Autodefensas Unidas de Colombia, the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia.

Another known terrorist organization that was responsible, according to dozens of human rights report of the last 20 years, for more than 70 percent of the human rights atrocities that were being carried out in Colombia–forced displacements, mass massacres carried out throughout the countryside, supposedly targeting guerrillas, but basically targeting civilian populations in which guerrillas happen to have a stronghold. These paramilitary groups were working in conjunction with, in direct cahoots with the Colombian state security forces. And that’s not something that is undisclosed. Even the State Department reports and has evidence of that.

But the United States in their zealousness in their attempts to target the FARC as the lone and the primary terrorist organization in Colombia is basically completely being hypocritical in its approach to security issues. And in doing so, they won. They embraced the discourse of the Colombian government, which has always argued that the FARC were not a political, belligerent armed insurgency but were actually a terrorist group of bandits and that did not warrant any kind of negotiation with the Colombian government, that they had to be liquidated militarily on the battlefield, the other–on the other hand, they embraced the government of Colombia sitting down and negotiating with the paramilitaries and supposedly disarming them and sending off a number of the paramilitary leaders to the United States to face drug trafficking charges, and not one of them facing any charges for the massive crimes against humanity carried out against civilians in Colombia. And that has left millions of Colombians dissatisfied. So I think both from the U.S. perspective and the Colombian perspective, these are relations that came out in The Washington Post are certainly alarming.

NOOR: And, Mario, the article notes that this program left the paramilitary forces alone, largely.

Final question for you. We just have a few moments left. But the article notes that violence, kidnappings, and killings have decreased dramatically over the past ten years in which this CIA program has been in effect. What’s your response to that?

MURILLO: Well, I mean, I think if you take this and look at it as a cause and effect, you know, it’s a serious leap of logic to say that this these two things are connected.

First of all, yes, there’s no question that we don’t see the massive, you know, large-scale, high-profile massacres and dismemberments that we were seeing in Colombia in the late ’90s into the 2000s, carried out primarily by the right-wing prime paramilitary groups with links to the narcotraffickers, part of the narco trafficking infrastructure, and directly tied to the Colombian state security forces. We don’t see that, because they’ve been dismantled, and in many ways they have been integrated [incompr.] process over the years into the Colombian kind of institutions of state on the regional–on a local, regional, and indeed national level. So, in many ways those kinds of–that kind of violence has diminished.

That doesn’t mean that–and you can look at any newspaper report or any news media in Colombia today, you can talk to folks on the ground on a daily basis, and the targeted assassinations, specific assassinations of trade union leaders, of indigenous rights activists, of student organizations, peasant organizations, those continue unabated. And, again, those don’t get the big attention as those 30 people at one time massacres or the 25 people killed in one town [incompr.] back then.

A second point to mention is that, yes, the FARC had been debilitated militarily. They have been decimated, as the report points out. And it’s clear that this was not the work of the Colombian military. And this is where politically internally–and it’s kind of hard to explain to an American or a U.S. cure, who’s not so familiar with Colombian politics. But the right-wing military political establishment in Colombia gained a lot of mileage, a lot of political mileage as a result of the military victories that were being carried out against the FARC over the last several years, embracing this strategy of all-out war against this group and not sitting down and negotiating. And in many ways that’s, you know, not the result or Colombian savvy or military, you know, capabilities, which has always been problematic, for decades. That’s why they’ve been at a stalemate for years.

But it is the result of–the FARC was at war with the United States. And if anything, the strategic blunder of the gorillas is that they didn’t recognize that they were at war with the United States, and they continued kidnapping and they continued carrying out these assaults against–including against military contractors under the United States’ watch, and ultimately they’re paying the price. And now they’re negotiating–there is a process of negotiation between the FARC and the gorillas–I mean, between the gorillas and the government of the current president, Santos, but the FARC are completely militarily set back, and their space for discussion and their political capital that they have, so to speak, is diminished considerably. And so a lot of the potential for serious negotiation that would lead to some substantial changes on the ground are diminished accordingly.

NOOR: Mario, we’re going to have to hold it there. But thank you so much for joining us.

MURILLO: Well, thank you for having me. It was a pleasure.

NOOR: You can follow us @therealnews on Twitter, Tweet me questions and comments @jaisalnoor.

Thank you so much for joining us.


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

Creative Commons License

Republish our articles for free, online or in print, under a Creative Commons license.

Mario A. Murillo is an Associate Professor and Chair of the Radio, Television, Film department at Hofstra University. He is also co-director of Hofstra's Center for Civic Engagement.

In 2008-2009, Mario spent six months in Colombia, as a Fulbright Scholar, working in the Communication Department of the Universidad Pontif'cia La Javeriana in Bogot', alongside its radio station Javeriana Estereo. His research work was carried out in close collaboration with the Communication Committee of the Association of Indigenous Councils of Northern Cauca, ACIN, and focused on the strategic uses of communication of the indigenous movement. He is currently finishing a book about ACIN's role in the broader indigenous movement of Colombia, which is expected to be published in 2012.

He is the author of Colombia and the United States: War, Unrest and Destabilization (Seven Stories, 2004), and Islands of Resistance: Puerto Rico, Vieques and U.S. Policy (Seven Stories, 2001). Mario has studied and written about community radio, both in the United States and Latin America for many years, his articles and essays published in academic journals and collected essays in the U.S. and abroad.