As Colombia invaded Ecuador and bombed an encampment of the rebel FARC guerrilla group, Colombian President Alvaro Uribe was waging the war for hearts and minds in the international media: at a dramatic press conference, he unveiled a captured laptop computer that had somehow survived the intensive bombing raid, in which 22 FARC fighters were killed. According to documents found on rebel leader Raul Reyes‘s laptop, the government of Venezuela’s Hugo Chávez was deeply involved in funding and strategic management of the FARC insurgency. Ecuador, too, was complicit in the conspiracy: the laptop revelations include alleged evidence that moderate leftist President Rafael Correa was the recipient of a $20,000 campaign contribution from FARC. Pretty expensive for camping privileges in the Ecuadorian jungle.
The real masterminds, however, are the Venezuelans, who were planning a “deal” with FARC that would have netted the latter $300 million and a bunch of rifles. It turns out, however, that the emails produced as evidence have more to do with hostage negotiations, as Greg Palast points out. The supposed smoking gun being waved around by the Colombians consists of two highly ambiguous sentences in code,
“With relation to the 300, which from now on we will call dossier,’ efforts are now going forward at the instructions of the boss to the cojo [slang term for cripple’], which I will explain in a separate note. Let’s call the boss Ángel, and the cripple Ernesto.”
As Palast shows, the rest of the email has to do with the high-profile hostage release efforts brokered by Chávez and milked to maximum propaganda effect by FARC:
“To receive the three freed ones, Chávez proposes three options: Plan A. Do it to via of a humanitarian caravan’; one that will involve Venezuela, France, the Vatican[?], Switzerland, European Union, democrats [civil society], Argentina, Red Cross, etc.”
Even the US government was skeptical of this last charge: after all, what would FARC do with a “dirty bomb” even if it could make one? It’s hardly the sort of weapon a guerrilla insurgency would use on its own soil: aside from which, it would certainly hurt the Colombian drug trade by poisoning a lot of the coca crops, as well as killing off both customers and suppliers. Dirty nukes very bad for business, and not a political winner, either.
Yet I suppose this was inevitable: the globalization of war propaganda. Serendipitous acquisition of enemy laptops has been a consistent theme of American war propaganda in the information age. Remember the “laptop of death” that supposedly contained vast and convincing evidence that Tehran was accelerating its nuclear project and aiming at military domination of the Middle East? Turned out to be a red herring, promulgated by an Iranian exile group of crypto-Marxists that has long been on the State Department’s official list of terrorist organizations. There’s a whole industry that specializes in phony documentation of “weapons of mass destruction”: recall that Ahmed Chalabi and his gang had a factory-like operation that churned out grist for the neoconservative propaganda mill. Remember the Niger uranium forgeries, that caused the US government especially its chief executive so much embarrassment. The Colombian laptop revelations are in the same league.
There is a new brazenness to war propaganda, these days,: this matches the brazenness of the aggression the US and its allies are engaged in. We’ve seen it emanating outward from Washington, and picked up by local warlords from Bogota to Anakara, and that is the growing popularity of preemptive war as a politico-military doctrine. Turkey’s recent invasion of Iraq, in pursuit of Kurdish rebels, and the muted response from the US with Washington gently prompting the Turks get out no doubt encouraged the Colombians to follow the leader.
Actually, the “dirty nuke” narrative wasn’t the most outrageous aspect of this weird story. The real topper, the key to understanding why this whole propaganda effort is something straight out of Bizarro World, is the news that Barack Obama figures into the plot no, I’m not kidding. Here’s a purported email from the slain FARC commander:
“6. The gringos will ask for an appointment with the minister to solicit him to communicate to us his interest in discussing these topics. They say that the new president of their country will be Obama and that they are interested in your compatriots. Obama will not support Plan Colombia’ nor will he sign the TLC (Colombian Free Trade agreement). Here we responded that we are interested in relations with all governments in equality of conditions and that in the case of the US it is required a public pronouncement expressing their interest in talking with the FARC given their eternal war against us.”
It’s all very vague, and unintentionally funny: “the gringos”? That sure covers a lot of ground. And of course opposition to the Colombian “free” (i.e. managed) trade agreement is proof positive Obama’s a big fan of FARC. Next we’ll be hearing about a hefty FARC contribution to Obama’s campaign.
It’s the Niger uranium forgeries all over again, albeit this time even clumsier.
The US, of course, approved the Colombian invasion: George W. Bush announced his support for Uribe’s valiant struggle against the “narco-terrorists” of FARC. As usual, the Americans make fools out of themselves with their clumsy propaganda efforts: everybody knows that Uribe is not only good pals with the Colombian drug cartels, he’s one of their own. As a 1991 Defense Intelligence Agency report put it, Uribe is among the most “important Colombian narco-traffickers,” and “dedicated to collaborating with the Medellin [drug] cartel at high government levels” not too surprising considering he was “a close personal friend of Pablo Escobar.”
US intervention in South America, including military assistance to Uribe and his cohorts, has the exact opposite effect of its intended result like most government intervention, of any sort. The “blowback” effect boomerangs in our faces every time. The rise of Chávez and the staying power of the FARC insurgency are rooted not only in prevalent economic and social conditions, but also in US policy, which unintentionally empowers our enemies and retards the democratic and industrial development of the region. Using Colombia under the drug lords as our South American gendarme is a bad idea, one that will come back to haunt us in years to come perhaps sooner.
NOTES IN THE MARGIN
I’m speaking this Sunday at San Francisco’s Unitarian Universalist church, along with Sean Penn (who, I understand, is some sort of movie star), and Cindy Sheehan. Go here for details.
Speaking of my books, a new edition of Reclaiming the American Right: The Lost Legacy of the Conservative Movement, is coming out in May: here’s an interview with me on the subject (scroll down a bit), and you can pre-order through Amazon.