By Jessica García
Death and pain: the consequences of war
"If there weren't so many guns, there wouldn't be so many dead," said a woman victim of the Colombian armed conflict in one of the spaces of Fragmentos, Espacio de Arte y Memoria. If weapons have only generated
death and pain, if they only leave silence, absence and emptiness, why does militarization of territories continue when this does not guarantee life and permanence of communities there? Why continue investing in weapons when it is clear that most of the victims of the Colombian armed conflict are civilians? Who benefits from the war?
Colombia has had more than six decades of internal armed conflict, where all armed actors, both legal and illegal, have committed numerous human rights violations and where the majority of the victims were civilians, 90 percent according to the Final Report of the Truth Commission. In this internal armed conflict, the United States has an important responsibility, as it has in most of the human rights violations committed by right-wing governments in Latin America, especiallyduring the military dictatorships of the 70s and 80s, as indicated in the report presented by FOR Peace Presence, SOA Watch and SICSAL before the Truth Commission.
The United States and the "benefits" of the war
Last year, Amnesty International requested the U.S. government to stop supplying arms to Colombia, since it was proven that a large part of the arms used in the repression of the National Strike came from the U.S company Combined Systems. It is worth remembering that the war business continues to be one of the main industries in this country. Between 2017 and 2021, the United States exported 39 percent of total global arms exports.
However, the United States not only supplies Colombia with weapons, but also trains its armed forces, as it has done for years in Latin America. According to a Security Assistance Monitor report, Colombia is the country which has received the most training from the United States between 2000 and 2020. Colombia has also been the largest recipient of U.S. security sector assistance in the Western Hemisphere. Between 2010 and 2020, Colombia received $2.97 billion in security sector assistance (SSA) from the United States, under the argument of supporting the Colombian government's anti-drug campaign and in its war against left-wing guerrilla movements.
This year Colombia was recognized with the status of strategic non-member ally of NATO (North Atlantic Treaty Organization), as was Argentina in its time of "carnal relations" with the northern power. Thus, former President Duque affirmed that this status will allow Colombia "to have privileged access to commercial and economic issues, but, above all, also in security matters". Besides Colombia has received the largest budget for Colombia in the decade ($471.3 million) , of which $40 million are earmarked for the Armed Forces, in addition to its designation as a non-NATO ally.
Colombia, world power of life: a danger for the war business?
In this context, a center-left coalition led by Gustavo Petro and Francia Márquez is coming to the presidency. The new President has pledged to transform Colombia into a global powerhouse for life and he has promised to strengthen regional integration, which has always been resisted by the United States. However, Petro mentioned that in his first telephone conversation with President Biden, the latter has said that they will work for "a 'more equal' relationship for the benefit of both peoples". Given this statement, a big question arises, will it be possible?
According to Isacson, "the U.S., fearful of losing access and space to the great powers with which it competes in the region, could establish (as it did during the Cold War) large security assistance programs while ignoring or downplaying human rights abuses and authoritarian developments". If so far this is what has happened in Colombia, which has been demonstrated by the transfer of funds sent this year to Colombia, even after the numerous complaints made by human rights organizations for the alleged violations committed by the security forces during the repression of the Paro Nacional (national strike) in 2021, it is worth asking how this bilateral relationship will continue with the new government.
Already some sectors of the U.S. right wing have made it clear that they are concerned about "democracy" in Colombia. They also will try to condition aid to Colombia. Senator Ted Cruz has said he will introduce a bill that "will condition all of our aid based on the path Petro chooses to follow. If Petro cuts defense coordination with the United States, the bill will ensure that there will be no more security money for Colombia. If he stops cooperation on drug trafficking, there will be no more money for counternarcotics".
It is worth asking whether the new government of the Pacto Histórico will indeed be able to reduce the militarization of Colombian territory. If in more than 100 years the United States has not hesitated to intervene in the internal affairs of its neighbors to maintain control of its "backyard", there is no reason to think otherwise, especially now that its hegemony in the region is in dispute with other powers. If peace has never been a good deal for our northern neighbor, why would it be now?