Latin American Report


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13 June1999

US Proposes Intervention Forces for Latin American Crises


During a meeting of the Organization of American States (OAS) the U.S. proposed the creation of a multinational force to guarantee the security of the Western Hemisphere. At the same time, the U.S. is reportedly pushing a plan to support Colombia's neighbors with aircraft and intelligence in their efforts to contain Colombian guerrillas.

With its OAS proposal in the long term and its Colombia plan in the short term, the U.S. appears eager to become more actively involved in resolving Latin America's long running conflicts. This promises at best a mixed blessing for U.S. businesses currently operating in Colombia and throughout the region, as greater U.S. involvement will draw greater reaction from the region's rebels.


A report in the June 9 edition of the Colombian newspaper El Tiempo described a U.S. proposal to create a multinational intervention force for Latin America. The proposal, which was presented at a meeting of the General Assembly of the Organization of American States (OAS), calls for a "group of friendly countries," who are closely linked politically or economically, to intervene in internal conflicts threatening democracy in Latin American countries.

Although Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru, and Venezuela opposed the U.S. proposal, the U.S. representative to the OAS, Victor Marrero, said the proposal was not dead. "We never hoped that the proposal would be approved at this session, we just wanted to put the matter on the table for discussion. But this topic is not dead," Marrero said. Objections to the proposal centered on who would determine if a crisis was serious enough to warrant intervention, as well as the form and degree of intervention necessary.

In a potentially related report, the June 7 edition of the Colombian newspaper "El Espectador" reported details of what it claimed is a U.S. plan to block the spread of Colombian guerrilla activity to neighboring countries. According to the report, which cited U.S. State Department sources, the U.S. is planning to support border forces in Brazil, Ecuador, Panama, Peru, and Venezuela with aircraft and intelligence to help contain the Colombian rebels. At the same time, the U.S. State Department  would reportedly label the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) and the Ejercito de Liberacion Nacional (ELN) "narco-guerrillas," declaring them responsible for participating in the narcotics industry in Colombia. The alleged plan would also involve extradition requests aimed at linking the insurgency more closely with the drug trade. In more concretely linking the guerrillas with the narcotics trade, the El Tiempo claims that the State Department hopes to both reduce criticism from the U.S. Congress and to build regional support for a multinational force.

The U.S. State Department has long woven a tortuous argument that, while the U.S. is not and will not become involved in battling Colombia's guerrillas, it is actively participating in the war on drugs. And since Colombia's guerrillas are participating in narcotics production and trafficking, then...  and the rest occurs in the Colombian jungle. In actively touting a plan for multinational intervention against "threats to democracy" in Latin America; in planning to actively assist Colombia's neighbors in battling incursions by Colombian guerrillas; and in linking the FARC and ELN more directly to the drug trade, the U.S. appears to be moving beyond its doublespeak. While still doing so in a roundabout manner, the U.S. appears to be deepening its commitment to Colombian counterinsurgency (COIN) operations.

This increased U.S. involvement, still short of a full and public commitment to Colombia's war on the FARC and ELN, may bring repercussions against U.S. businesses and counter-narcotics forces in the region. U.S. military personnel and particularly Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) personnel have been targets of guerrillas and drug lords alike since the 1980s. Still, Colombia's guerrillas have attempted to avoid killing too many Americans or directly attacking U.S. forces in the region, as the threat of full scale U.S. retaliation has outweighed the political benefits to be gained from such attacks. However, a more active U.S. role in COIN in the region may change that equation, increasing the risks to U.S. government and military personnel -- and possibly to U.S. businessmen and tourists -- in Latin America. That, in turn, could demand a still deeper U.S. involvement in Colombian COIN, and away slides the U.S. down a slippery slope.

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