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Old 05-10-2007   #21
John T. Fishel
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Default Convivir

Hi Tequila--

My former colleague at the Center, COL (Ret.) Bill Spracher was the DATT in Colombia during the Convivir period. He is of the opinion that it was a pretty successful program that should not have been disbanded. That said, I find it interesting that every insurgency I have ever encountered demands the disbanding of the civilian defense groups and accuses them of of atrocities.

It is clear that these organizations work - they are effective in dealing with insurgents, if backed up by the regular military. I am also suspicious of research that fails to identify more specifically than interviews with demobilized AUC members, government officials, etc. I know that it is sometimes difficult to reveal sources but somewhat greater precision is possible than HRW used. I was also looking for the author of the report and found no names which also concerns me when citing those sources - as well as similar ones on the other side of this/other issue(s). HRW has a political agenda as does, say Heritage Foundation, and I take that into account when I read their stuff. However, if it is Heritage on Latin America, then it was written by Steve Johnson (who is identified as the author) who has pretty good credentials developed over a long period.

Cheers

John
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Old 05-10-2007   #22
tequila
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Quote:
Originally Posted by John T. Fishel View Post
Hi Tequila--

My former colleague at the Center, COL (Ret.) Bill Spracher was the DATT in Colombia during the Convivir period. He is of the opinion that it was a pretty successful program that should not have been disbanded. That said, I find it interesting that every insurgency I have ever encountered demands the disbanding of the civilian defense groups and accuses them of of atrocities.

It is clear that these organizations work - they are effective in dealing with insurgents, if backed up by the regular military. I am also suspicious of research that fails to identify more specifically than interviews with demobilized AUC members, government officials, etc. I know that it is sometimes difficult to reveal sources but somewhat greater precision is possible than HRW used. I was also looking for the author of the report and found no names which also concerns me when citing those sources - as well as similar ones on the other side of this/other issue(s). HRW has a political agenda as does, say Heritage Foundation, and I take that into account when I read their stuff. However, if it is Heritage on Latin America, then it was written by Steve Johnson (who is identified as the author) who has pretty good credentials developed over a long period.

Cheers

John
Convivir involvement with death squads has been pretty well documented, for instance in this embassy cable listing the involvement of a convivir local president in the massacre of 14 peasants in La Horqueta in 1997. There is also the indictment of Chiquita where Carlos Castano explicitly instructs Chiquita execs to pay the AUC through the local convivir. Is it your contention that they did not commit atrocities? Note that effectiveness vs guerrillas using similar tactics does not necessarily rule out the use of massacre and atrocity. Indeed, similar tactics in Iraq used by the Mahdi Army against Sunnis are largely behind its popularity in Baghdad, for instance.

Also, what do you mean when you say you need more specificity from HRW with regards to the status of demobilized paramilitaries? Given the very nature of such groups, which principally traffick in drugs and homicide, one of the best ways to gain an understanding of them is to interview former members, especially those recruited as children who served as "foot soldiers" and may not have benefited in the same way as commanders did in the wake of "demobilization."
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Old 05-10-2007   #23
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What is the substantive moral difference between guerillas and paramilitaries?
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Old 05-11-2007   #24
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Not much of one. Both traffick drugs and use terror to cow the civilian populations. The paramilitaries tend to specialize in brute terrorization of civilians, though, and spend much less time fighting the FARC than the FARC does the Colombian Army.

The Colombian government in general, of course, is a far worthier cause and represents the Colombian people far better than the bloody dreams of the FARC high command. That doesn't mean they necessarily deserve $5 billion, not with the people they're in bed with.
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Old 05-11-2007   #25
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Perhaps someone should remind the new Congress that Plan Colombia is a Clinton initiative. And that Colombia is not in the ME.

The problem could be they are so focused on getting the POTUS, they can't find Colombia on a map.
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Old 05-11-2007   #26
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Originally Posted by tequila View Post
Not much of one. Both traffick drugs and use terror to cow the civilian populations. The paramilitaries tend to specialize in brute terrorization of civilians, though, and spend much less time fighting the FARC than the FARC does the Colombian Army.

The Colombian government in general, of course, is a far worthier cause and represents the Colombian people far better than the bloody dreams of the FARC high command. That doesn't mean they necessarily deserve $5 billion, not with the people they're in bed with.
This is basically a gross over-simplification and simply not true.
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Old 05-11-2007   #27
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Amnesty and "demobilization" (light or nonexistent prison sentences) for the paramilitaries is an interesting way to define "assault." Novak also omits the fact that the AUC funds itself almost exclusively through drug trafficking to the United States --- that is, they are the problem, at least as much as the FARC, in terms of U.S. interests in Colombia.

That the paramilitaries/narcotraffickers enjoy widespread connections through Colombia's security hierarchy and with President Uribe's administration, up to (at least) President Uribe's brother, is worth some concern. Uribe remains, for instance, unwilling to sanction extradition of any of his paramilitary/narcotrafficker allies to the U.S. You'd think that a free trade deal would be worth sacrificing one or two drug kingpins.
You've never been to Colombia have you.
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Old 05-11-2007   #28
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The danger of a "narco-Marxist" takeover of Colombia has always been zero. This is due to FARC's total lack of a program that appeals to any of Colombia's urban educated classes, as well as its general inability to appeal to anyone beyond a narrow band of the impoverished peasantry. FARC only exists because of the structural weakness of the Colombian state in the countryside, not due to any genuine popular support of its own.

It seems to me rather odd that we are subsidizing a domestic government's ties to paramilitaries whose main sustenance is the export of illegal drugs to the U.S. It's almost as if we are prioritizing the welfare of certain factions of the Colombian government (which is hardly in existential danger) over that of American citizens.
GEEZUS! Where do you get this stuff?
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Old 05-11-2007   #29
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Originally Posted by John T. Fishel View Post
Hi Tequila--

My former colleague at the Center, COL (Ret.) Bill Spracher was the DATT in Colombia during the Convivir period. He is of the opinion that it was a pretty successful program that should not have been disbanded. That said, I find it interesting that every insurgency I have ever encountered demands the disbanding of the civilian defense groups and accuses them of of atrocities.

It is clear that these organizations work - they are effective in dealing with insurgents, if backed up by the regular military. I am also suspicious of research that fails to identify more specifically than interviews with demobilized AUC members, government officials, etc. I know that it is sometimes difficult to reveal sources but somewhat greater precision is possible than HRW used. I was also looking for the author of the report and found no names which also concerns me when citing those sources - as well as similar ones on the other side of this/other issue(s). HRW has a political agenda as does, say Heritage Foundation, and I take that into account when I read their stuff. However, if it is Heritage on Latin America, then it was written by Steve Johnson (who is identified as the author) who has pretty good credentials developed over a long period.

Cheers

John
He is correct, your friend. The CONVIVIR program worked very well. The problem came IMO because of a lack of management, mostly on the part of the military. That, and external pressures. The political power of insurgent groups in Colombia and their ability to influence world opinion is often under-rated.
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Old 05-11-2007   #30
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The thing is, you can't say "The AUC is this..." or "The FARC is that..." It doesn't work that way. These are fairly large organizations with hundreds of splinter groups with their own agendas. They all also have fringe elements hovering around them and doing things in their names. They have all evolved far beyond the ideals of the initial members and any central control. There are few policies and no way to enforce any of them.

The situation is in a state of flux and with that chaos.

The CONVIVIR were not part of the paras - but members do change organizations. There are many people that switch back and forth between Gs and paras depending on what is most viable at the moment and how bad they want to stay alive.

To say that there is institutional involvement between the Colombian military and paras is not correct. In those days, battalion commanders were put out in an area and told to survive as best they could. Yes, some or even many crossed the line and supported the paras. They had a resource without constraints moving in their direction. They were short-sighted. But in their defense, there was a time when the paras were not so tied to drugs as an organization.

Yes, some of the para units evolved from organizations formed by cartels. Others came from better sources. Some CONVIVIRS evolved into para units. Some para units were dirty and others did great things in their areas.

Colombia is indeed a very complex situation. People are often forced to accommodate in order to stay alive or to keep those in their charge alive.

But make no mistake about it, the tide is turning. And Uribe is a big, big part of that. He has taken on a military in a country where a coup is always just under the surface (like most of LATAM) several times. He has had over 20 assassination attempts on his life. He has fought corruption and nepotism that had to be seen to be believed. And he is a friend to the US. About the only one left in the region. He is fighting the world's longest running insurgency without any support from anyone in the region or Europe. In fact, he is surrounded by enemies on all sides. They provide safe haven for those that would destroy the country on every border he has. He is attacked for everything he does.

He needs to be supported.

It is very easy to criticize a lack of demonstrable progress from thousands of miles away. It is another thing entirely to be The Man in the Arena.
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Old 05-11-2007   #31
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NDD, glad to see you posting. I used to post about the successes in Columbia and generally got a lot of flak about it. I am retired LE and have been out of the loop for several years so I really enjoy getting some current ground truth from that area.
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Old 05-11-2007   #32
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NDD, thanks for the clarifications and info.

Quote:
Originally Posted by NDD View Post
To say that there is institutional involvement between the Colombian military and paras is not correct.
Is this strictly true, given what we now know about Noguera's ties to the paramilitaries, and also recent information publicized about Operation Orion which implicates top Colombian Army officers?

On topic: ICG report on Colombia's New Armed Groups. This report is much more favorable towards the progress of "demobilization" than my posts have been and has a lot of good info about how the paramilitaries have evolved.

edit: Also, I have been to Bogota twice as a guest of a friend from my old job at Goldman Sachs. I actually was carjacked once two blocks from a police station, which certainly gave me some flashbacks to the good old days in Brooklyn, but Colombian women more than made up for that - they are truly awesome to behold! (though my friend says this situation only exists in Bogota). His family is relatively well off and his grandfather was briefly kidnapped once; they are 100% pro-Uribe through and through.

Last edited by tequila; 05-11-2007 at 11:25 AM.
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Old 05-11-2007   #33
John T. Fishel
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Default Well said, NDD...

Excellent discussion of the complexity of the Colombian environment. The only point I would quibble with you about is the threat of a coup. Since 1902 Colombia has had only one extra-constitutional change of government and that was in 1954 when General Rojas Pinilla was asked by a large group including members of both political parties who were then engaged in the civil war called La Violencia to seize power. He did. Four years later the parties agreed on the National Front power sharing government that alternated them in power for 20 years but guaranteed constitutional transitions. The Colombian military generally has chosen not to participate as a typical political actor - it is not coup prone.

A note on drug corruption: Good people can easily get caught up in it, especially in Colombia. This includes Americans like COL J. C. Hiett who was MILGP commander, and DEA Agent Rene de la Cova who headed the office in Bogota. Both have done time but some might well suggest that their sentences were mere slaps on the wrist.
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Old 05-11-2007   #34
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ICG, 10 May 07: Columbia's New Armed Groups
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....Since early 2006, the Organization of American States (OAS) Peace Support Mission in Colombia (MAPP/OEA), human rights groups and civil society organisations have insistently warned about the rearming of demobilised paramilitary units, the continued existence of groups that did not disband because they did not participate in the government-AUC negotiations and the merging of former paramilitary elements with powerful criminal organisations, often deeply involved with drug trafficking. Worse, there is evidence that some of the new groups and criminal organisations have established business relations over drugs with elements of the insurgent Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and National Liberation Army (ELN). At the same time, the government’s plan for reintegrating demobilised paramilitaries has revealed itself to be deeply flawed.

These alerts have to be taken seriously since conditions now exist for the continuity or re-emergence either of oldstyle paramilitary groups or a federation of new groups and criminal organisations based on the drug trade. The military struggles with the FARC and the smaller ELN are ongoing, and drug trafficking continues unabated. Massive illegal funds from drug trafficking help fuel the decades-long conflict, undermine reintegration of former combatants into society and foment the formation and strengthening of new armed groups, as occurred with the AUC and the FARC more than a decade ago....
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Old 05-12-2007   #35
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Originally Posted by tequila View Post
NDD, thanks for the clarifications and info.



Is this strictly true, given what we now know about Noguera's ties to the paramilitaries, and also recent information publicized about Operation Orion which implicates top Colombian Army officers?

On topic: ICG report on Colombia's New Armed Groups. This report is much more favorable towards the progress of "demobilization" than my posts have been and has a lot of good info about how the paramilitaries have evolved.

edit: Also, I have been to Bogota twice as a guest of a friend from my old job at Goldman Sachs. I actually was carjacked once two blocks from a police station, which certainly gave me some flashbacks to the good old days in Brooklyn, but Colombian women more than made up for that - they are truly awesome to behold! (though my friend says this situation only exists in Bogota). His family is relatively well off and his grandfather was briefly kidnapped once; they are 100% pro-Uribe through and through.
Yes it is true. Noguera is a man, not the institution. The DAS is not part of the Colombian military and Noguera has not been convicted of anything that I know of.

You need to tone down the rhetoric a bit.
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Old 05-12-2007   #36
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Originally Posted by John T. Fishel View Post
Excellent discussion of the complexity of the Colombian environment. The only point I would quibble with you about is the threat of a coup. Since 1902 Colombia has had only one extra-constitutional change of government and that was in 1954 when General Rojas Pinilla was asked by a large group including members of both political parties who were then engaged in the civil war called La Violencia to seize power. He did. Four years later the parties agreed on the National Front power sharing government that alternated them in power for 20 years but guaranteed constitutional transitions. The Colombian military generally has chosen not to participate as a typical political actor - it is not coup prone.

A note on drug corruption: Good people can easily get caught up in it, especially in Colombia. This includes Americans like COL J. C. Hiett who was MILGP commander, and DEA Agent Rene de la Cova who headed the office in Bogota. Both have done time but some might well suggest that their sentences were mere slaps on the wrist.
While what you say is true, the threat of coup is always there in any LATAM country. It runs deeper in some than others, but it is always there. The lack of it in Colombia is, IMO, as much to do with politicians accommodating the military because they know it is there as it is with the military not doing it. Until Uribe, there weren't a lot of Presidents with the huevos to fire a general, much less 3-4 on the same day. But they know he is leading from the front. I doubt they would be that forgiving of a lesser man.

The Rojas Pinilla coup, if you have to have one, wasn't a bad way to do it. His daughter is now in politics, or trying to be.
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Old 05-12-2007   #37
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Default Coup threats

Hi NDD--

While you may be correct as to the reason the Colombian military is coup averse, I suspect that it is only one of many reasons. Among those are an internalization by Colombians, civilian and military alike, of the democratic norm of elected government along with greater internalization of the difficult in Spanish concept of the English word "compromise." (Reflected in the National Front.)

As to the rest of LATAM, more complex still. First, there are the countries that have disolved their militaries - Costa Rica, Panama, and Haiti. They face no coup threat although that does not eliminate the threat of other politcal violence, eg Haiti. Costa Rica has internalized democratic norms; it has a democratic political culture. Panama, IMO, is well on its way there as well.

My experience with El Salvador suggests that its military faced its crisis in 1989 with the last major FMLN offensive and its reaction to the murder of the Jesuits ordered by a member of the Tandona resulted in a change of institutional culture that helped the ESAF internalize democratic norms. I have seen similar behavioral and norm change in the Argentine military as a result of its failure as a military in the Falklands/Malvinas war and the revelations of the dirty war.

Where I have not seen this kind of norm change is in Chile, usually upheld as the model Latin American democracy. I would note that Chile and Uruguay shared that same evaluation until the military coups that overthrew their respective civilian governments in 1973 and 1974. I would suggest that your blanket analysis needs to be revised to take account of the changes in the norms of the individual countries and their militaries as well as the change in the norms region wide. The latter are, of course, not as strong in some countries as in others but there has been such a change throughout the region and it is reflected in Guatemala and Peru although not as strongly as Argentina and El Salvador or, even, Colombia.

Cheers

John
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Old 05-13-2007   #38
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Quote:
Originally Posted by John T. Fishel View Post
Hi NDD--

While you may be correct as to the reason the Colombian military is coup averse, I suspect that it is only one of many reasons. Among those are an internalization by Colombians, civilian and military alike, of the democratic norm of elected government along with greater internalization of the difficult in Spanish concept of the English word "compromise." (Reflected in the National Front.)

As to the rest of LATAM, more complex still. First, there are the countries that have disolved their militaries - Costa Rica, Panama, and Haiti. They face no coup threat although that does not eliminate the threat of other politcal violence, eg Haiti. Costa Rica has internalized democratic norms; it has a democratic political culture. Panama, IMO, is well on its way there as well.

My experience with El Salvador suggests that its military faced its crisis in 1989 with the last major FMLN offensive and its reaction to the murder of the Jesuits ordered by a member of the Tandona resulted in a change of institutional culture that helped the ESAF internalize democratic norms. I have seen similar behavioral and norm change in the Argentine military as a result of its failure as a military in the Falklands/Malvinas war and the revelations of the dirty war.

Where I have not seen this kind of norm change is in Chile, usually upheld as the model Latin American democracy. I would note that Chile and Uruguay shared that same evaluation until the military coups that overthrew their respective civilian governments in 1973 and 1974. I would suggest that your blanket analysis needs to be revised to take account of the changes in the norms of the individual countries and their militaries as well as the change in the norms region wide. The latter are, of course, not as strong in some countries as in others but there has been such a change throughout the region and it is reflected in Guatemala and Peru although not as strongly as Argentina and El Salvador or, even, Colombia.

Cheers

John
We can agree to disagree. I will only had that in my opinion this threat of insurgency, I believe exacerbated in some cases by this very changing of the uniform of the military to police (and that's what it is) is often the trigger to the coup or threat of same. And the key issue will probably, once again, be land reform.
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Old 05-13-2007   #39
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Default Do we disagree?

Hi NDD--

I am somewhat confused by your last post. Can you elaborate?

My own sense is that we tend to agree on parts of the picture and disagree over nuances.

Cheers

John
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Old 05-16-2007   #40
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Death Squad Scandal Circles Closer to Uribe - NYTIMES.

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President Álvaro Uribe, the Bush administration’s closest ally in Latin America, faces an intensifying scandal after a jailed former commander of paramilitary death squads testified Tuesday that Mr. Uribe’s defense minister had tried to plot with the outlawed private militias to upset the rule of a former president.

Speaking at a closed court hearing in Medellín, Salvatore Mancuso, the former paramilitary warlord, said Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos had met with paramilitary leaders in the mid-1990s to discuss efforts to destabilize the president at the time, Ernesto Samper, according to judicial officials.

Mr. Mancuso also said that Vice President Francisco Santos had met with paramilitary leaders in 1997 to discuss taking their operations to the capital, Bogotá.

...

These revelations followed the disclosure this week of an illegal domestic spying program by the national police force and additional arrests of high-ranking political allies of Mr. Uribe on charges of ties to the paramilitaries.

...

Mr. Uribe tried to contain the newest scandal by forcing 12 generals in the national police to resign Monday over illegal wiretaps of political opponents, government officials and journalists.

Among those whose phones were tapped was Carlos Gaviria, an opposition leader who ran for president against Mr. Uribe last year. “This cannot happen under a democratic government,” Mr. Gaviria said.

The purge of the generals came after the newsmagazine Semana published transcripts of cellphone calls from imprisoned paramilitary leaders in which they orchestrated murders and cocaine deals. It was not clear whether these intercepted phone calls were part of the police surveillance program.

Mr. Santos, the defense minister, said neither he nor Mr. Uribe knew of the police wiretapping operation. Still, the report has hurt the credibility of Mr. Uribe’s government, already suffering from a perception of being soft on the paramilitaries ...
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