While you will not get the sense from the reporting in the media that it is so, U.S. taxpayers’ return on investments in Colombia, in the form of years of foreign assistance programs, is finally yielding some tangible results. Yet, rather than boosting support for one our staunches allies in the Western Hemisphere by approving a free trade agreement and increasing foreign assistance, Democrats and some Republicans in the Congress are finding every excuse possible not to do either.
The latest chapter is this hushed matter is INTERPOL’s authentication of the information on several laptop and portable storage devices seized from the FARC terrorist group by Colombian authorities. We know for certain that the Colombians did not tamper with the machines. We also know that the data belonged to FARC number two man. It is as if U.S. forces in the Middle East had seized the operational and administrative files and records for al-Qaeda and killed al-Qaeda’s number two, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, at the same time. For all intents and purposes, FARC is Colombia’s al-Qaeda, minus the suicide bombers.
What transpired in the jungles of Colombia and Ecuador the past weeks should be commended. As unpleasant as it may seem to some in this town, we need that type of operation in a post-09.11.11 world. Yet, the response by regional powers, the Organization of American States (OAS), and the U.S. Congress, will most assuredly make our partners think twice the next time they have an opportunity to deal with regional problems such as the FARC.
Venezuela and Ecuador have been caught, literally, red-handed. We have known for several years that both countries have provided aid and comfort to the FARC terrorist group, we now have proof. Not only were they provided safe haven on Venezuelan and Ecuadorian territory, but they were arming and training them, as well as providing medical care through another terrorist state, Cuba. It also appears that, at least Venezuela, they sought to destabilize Colombian democracy with FARC and its leaders to expand the Bolivarian Revolution by creating a FARC “state” in southern Colombia. They may have also been assisting the FARC in the black market trade of low-grade uranium.
With regards to the OAS, rather than assist Colombia it has bootstrapped this process to the will of the anti-American sentiment of a few yet vocal Ambassadors in Washington, DC, including the Secretary General Jose Miguel Insulza. Rather than robustly invoke tools of the Inter-American Convention Against Terrorism, it imposed a commission process to “study the problem.” The FARC is the bad guy, not Colombia, yet the OAS leadership bent over backwards to coddle specious demands by Ecuador and Venezuela. One thing is clear, the inter-American system is broken and in much need of reform.
Then there is the gloom and doom brigade in the U.S. Congress, with support from bureaucratic pockets at the State Department, that still views Latin America’s problems through a Cold War mindset. Rather than encourage cooperation in the war on terrorism, the response will make countries think twice. Not only have Democratic leaders foiled the free trade agreement with Colombia, but Senate Republicans deployed a staff delegation to study the problem that issued a report that recommends, among other things, creating a new foreign assistance program, Plan Ecuador, to support a country that is providing safe haven and support to a terrorist group.
For the record, if the U.S. were to designate either Ecuador or Venezuela a terrorist haven, it does not mean automatic sanctions since the executive is granted significant discretion, by law. The primary argument against the designation is that it would give Chavez and Correa something to rally around and muster more anti-U.S. sentiment in the region. Alright. Yet, to what end? They are going to do that regardless of what we may or may not do. Until the OAS, or even the UN Security Council, begins to take this matter seriously, the U.S. should consider all options, including economic sanctions. And we should encourage partners in the region to consider appropriate and coordinated measures as well. The FARC and its supporters are the problem, not Colombia.
The Congress should release all holds on the Colombia free trade agreement and expand, not restrict, U.S. foreign assistance programs to Colombia. It should also abandon any serious consideration that may be given to expanding foreign assistance programs such as Plan Ecuador and, conversely, focus on properly funding and studying the relocation of our facility at Manta, Ecuador that is being unceremoniously shut down by Ecuador’s President, Rafael Correa. The FARC has been dealt a potentially lethal blow, now it is not the time to send mixed signals by the U.S. or, for that matter, the OAS. Colombia should be treated like a ally, not a foe.