f_0010087_7834 - Uribe to the Rescue Otto Reich Assistant...

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Fall 2008 The Ambassadors REVIEW 46 Uribe to the Rescue Otto Reich Assistant Secretary of State for Western Hemisphere Affairs, 2001-2002 United States Ambassador to Venezuela, 1986-1989 hen Álvaro Uribe was sworn in as President of Colombia in August 2002, the question in the minds of US policymakers was when, not whether, the Colombian government would fall into the hands of Marxist terrorists or right-wing paramilitaries. Some wondered if a military coup would come first. Terrorists operated with so little constraint that Uribe took the oath of office with bombs and rockets detonating outside the building he stood in, killing 19 civilians and injuring 60 more. In 2002, large swathes of the country were controlled by two Marxist armies: the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia and the National Liberation Army (known by their Spanish abbreviations, FARC and ELN), which were estimated by US intelligence agencies to total nearly 30,000 armed rebels between them. Detachments of these guerrillas, sometimes numbering in the hundreds, overran towns, military installations, and police posts, killing pitilessly; survivors faced kidnapping and torture. The guerrillas regularly sabotaged vulnerable economic targets: Oil pipelines and storage facilities were attacked hundreds of times, spilling an amount of petroleum equivalent to two Exxon Valdez disasters. Bombings and assassinations terrorized the major Colombian cities, whose citizens retreated to the relative security of their shuttered homes after dark. Colombians could not travel safely overland between most cities for fear of kid- napping or worse at the hands of either the Communist guerrillas or the dreaded para- militaries. The “paras,” as they were known, began as privately financed security patrols, organized in reaction to the inability of the Colombian armed forces to defend the population from guerrilla violence. Well-to-do farmers, landowners, and likeminded citizens created mirror images of the guerrillas to defend themselves. In 2002, these groups were thought to include between 12,000 and 20,000 gunmen, though the actual number would turn out to be significantly higher. Constituted to fight terrorists, they would soon become a terror in their own right. These developments grew out of a bleak security situation. In the late 1990s, the central government was so weak that Uribe’s predecessor, Andrés Pastrana, ceded to FARC a demilitarized zone the size of Switzerland. Pastrana viewed the DMZ, or despeje in Spanish, as a goodwill offering that would lure the guerrillas into serious peace talks. Like many well-meaning democrats before him, Pastrana committed the mistake of projecting his good intentions onto a deceitful adversary. Instead of welcoming Pastrana’s initiative and reciprocating in kind, FARC took it as a sign of weakness and turned the despeje into a sprawling military base. In the safety of the despeje , guerrillas rested and recuperated, tended their wounded, developed their strategies, and rehearsed plans for military operations. The despeje also provided cover for common criminal operations, W
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This note was uploaded on 01/25/2012 for the course POLS 494 taught by Professor Garymoncrief during the Fall '11 term at Boise State.

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f_0010087_7834 - Uribe to the Rescue Otto Reich Assistant...

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