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Special Report
Last Updated: 04/01/2008
Victory Does Not Give Rights: The Colombian/US incursion into Ecuador
Marco Rosaire Rossi

Marco Rossi discusses the recent invasion of Ecuador's national sovereignty in light of the tension between military activities justified by the war on terror and the established principles of international relations embodied by the UN and the OAS.

In the predawn hours of March 1st, Colombian forces invaded and bombed Ecuador and killed at least 20 members of the rebel group FARC, including leader and international spokesperson Raul Reyes. Shortly after the invasion, it was revealed that the United States not only supported the action – but helped organize it. A Colombian defense minister told Agency France Presse that the murder of Raul Reyes was only possible through the intelligence work done by the United States – who was able to pinpoint the location of Raul Reyes through his satellite phone.

The action – and the United States support for it - shouldn’t be surprising for anyone has some historical knowledge of US-Colombian. In 1962 – four years before the birth of the FARC and 13 years before the creation of Richard Nixon’s drug war - the Kennedy administration dispatched Special Forces General William Yarborough to Colombia on an educational military mission to reform the Colombian military. The reforms were part of the National Security Doctrine of the United States that encouraged countries in Latin America to redirect their armies from external to internal purposes – meaning Colombia’s military resources were now targeted at its domestic population, rather than a foreign aggressor. The goals of the reforms were to train the security force “as necessary execute paramilitary, sabotage and/or terrorist activities against known communist proponents.”

Fast forward back to the present day, and we find an expansion of the National Security Doctrine within the context of the global war on terror; and an attempt to create a couple of new rights for the United States and its client states. Not only is the target of Colombia’s military resources to be direct against fighting insurgent rebels, but Colombia - under USA direction of course - reserves the right to invade another country in order to get to those rebels. That is right number one. Right number two is this: if a country gets in the way of Colombia’s right to invade, then the United States has the right to dub that country as a state sponsoring terrorism and it is automatically discredited.

Unfortunately, for the United States and Colombia (but thankfully for the rest of us) there are some barriers preventing them from actually getting these new rights. In regards to the right to invade: it is a violation of international law – actually several. The invasion violates Article 9, 19, 20, and 21 of the Organization of American States; hence the OAS’s approval of a resolution accusing Colombia of violating Ecuador’s sovereignty shortly after the invasion. Colombia and the United States have also violated Article 2 of the United Nations Charter, and continue to violate it with Colombian Defense Minister Juan Manuel Santos comments that Colombia will not stop in carrying out attacks wherever it believes FARC rebels are based and US Defense Sectary Robert Gates support for such actions.   

It is worth noting that the sixty-years ago the United States was instrumental in establishing both the Organization of American States and the United Nations. However, since that time the consensus within the US – which automatically gets transferred to its client states – is that the principles and laws enshrined in these charters apply to those nations the US doesn’t like. The nations the US does like are free of such moral restrictions.  

That double-standard brings us to the second right: the right to accuse other states of sponsoring terrorism. On March 12th the US State Department announced that it was considering putting Venezuela on its list of states sponsoring terrorism. If this were to occur, harsh sanctions and trade restrictions would be placed on Venezuela. Venezuela – since the election of Chavez – has been resistant to US interference in the Americas, and strongly opposed Colombia’s invasion by defensively putting its own troops on the border it shares with Colombia.

The state sponsored terrorism case against Venezuela is based on a laptop found by Colombia containing electronic letters exchanged by FARC members. In it the members of FARC acknowledge Chavez’s support and claim that he gave $300 million to them. All these accusations are within the realm of possibility – but all of them are far from being proven. The only records of the laptop pages open to the public are those printed versions that were given to the press in a packet by the Colombian government - and that packet has shown to contain discrepancies. For example, the Colombia government claimed that FARC rebels were meeting with high officials in the Ecuadorian government and produced a picture of the event to prove it. Later on, it turnout the man in the photo wasn’t a member of the FARC – but of the Argentine Communist Party: a legal and peaceful organization based in an entirely different country. In addition, the Colombia government makes claims about the laptop files that seem far from possible. They claim that the files prove FARC was working to get uranium. The inference of this statement is that FARC is interested in creating a nuclear weapon, and has connections with international terrorist networks; a scenario that seems extraordinary farfetched.

Putting the validity of the evidence aside, the United States and Colombia have another problem with claiming the right to accuse of sponsoring terrorism: neither country is in a place to have the moral high ground to make such accusations. Colombia is generally regarded as the worst human rights violator in the hemisphere with over 50% of the population living below the poverty line. On average a union leader is assassinated once a month. Just two weeks before the invasion, a US delegation of labor advocates traveled to Colombia to lobby the government to do more in preventing the murder of union activists. Recently, the United Nation has called for an investigation in the murder of six union activists. For years the Colombian government has supported far-right paramilitary terrorist organizations either with active support or through passive inaction. The paramilitaries have murdered peasants, labors leaders, and members in opposition political parties. Not to mention, relying on the drug-trade to fund their activities. AUC has admitted that 70% of their financial support comes from drug trafficking– far more than the FARC. Meanwhile, Colombia is one the United States largest recipient of foreign aid; receiving around $600 million a year – double what Chavez was accused of giving to the FARC. The United States is constantly providing diplomatic and political support to Colombia, with reports by Human Rights Watch demonstrating paramilitary-CIA cooperation.

If the United States was really concern with state sponsored terrorism – and terrorism as such – there is something very simple it could do to prevent it: follow the principles that it helped draft in the Organization of American States and the United Nations.

Strangely enough Ecuador, the state that Colombia has accused of supporting the terrorist rebels, has decided to deal with the current crisis in South America through the legal diplomatic route. Instead of retaliating militarily against Colombia they talked to its high officials and managed to reach a rapid diplomatic settlement. Currently, the Ecuadorian government is collecting evidence of the crime, and discussing bringing the matter before International Court of Justice. In doing so, they may be able to teach the United States and Colombia the lesson of Article 3(g) of the charter of the Organization of American States: “victory does not give rights” – only laws and justice do.        

Marco Rossi is a Master's degree candidate at the University for Peace.