Human Rights Lawyer Dan Kovalik on Roots of Colombia’s Civil War, US Policy

Human rights and labor lawyer Dan Kovalik appeared on Media Roots a few weeks ago to discus the roots of the Colombian civil war, which has entered its 51st year and taken more than 220,000 lives and displaced more than six million, and the role of the U.S. in the country and the conflict. Colombia has been on the receiving end of more than $9 billion in military assistance since 2000, the highest by far in the hemisphere yet rarely takes on a central role in foreign policy discussion or debate.

A long-time specialist on Colombia, Kovalik’s work on and in the country appears regularly in The Huffington Post and Counterpunch. Whether you view that as an indication of Kovalik’s politics really is irrelevant; in this general overview in just under 40 minutes, Kovalik covers lots of ground while offering a perspective not often heard. It’s definitely worth a listen.

A few key takeaways for me, to which I’ve added a  few references and/or sources of my own:


Kovalik doesn’t defend the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, but does point out a few things that bear noting and remembering to provide historical context:

– The group can trace its origins to a grass roots movement that largely took shape after the U.S. began to encourage the creation of death squads in the early 1960s as a counter-insurgency tactic

– An effort after a 1984 ceasefire was signed to engage in the political process through the newly-formed UP, or Patriotic Union party, ended with more than 3,000 of the group’s most capable intellectual and political leadership murdered by paramilitaries, gangs loyal to drug cartel leaders and state security forces while the government, if not directly involved, did absolutely nothing to prevent or stop it. Those who remained took up arms again, but minus that intellectual and political leadership, re-entered the war as a vastly changed organization.

Displacement and Disappearances

The conflict has resulted in some 6.4 million Colombians displaced, 6.1 million of those internally. That’s second worldwide only behind Syria. Moreover, more than 50,000 have been designated as disappeared.

This claim was jaw-dropping: “Since 1986, more than three thousand trade unionists have been killed in Colombia. Currently sixty percent of all trade unionists killed in the world are Colombian.”

Ongoing US Impunity

He gave several examples but one stood out:

According to a report released jointly by the government and the FARC as part of the peace process, U.S. troops stationed in Colombia raped 54 women and girls between 2003 and 2007. Some of the acts were filmed and later sold as porn. Because of immunity agreements similar to those in place in Iraq, U.S. soldiers can’t be tried for crimes in those countries and can’t be extradited back fro the U.S. *

Listen above or via the show’s direct link is here.

* NOTE: The story linked to reporting on the 54 rape cases first appeared in Colombia Reports; Adriaan Alsema, the author of the story which was the basis for most if not all the subsequent English language reporting on the cases, has since recanted it here: How I helped a pseudo-scholar spread anti-American propaganda.


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