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News: U.S. media partial stories about Columbia misleading
by Mark Douglas Whitaker
11 March 2002 20:45 UTC
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Article by: Alexis Rojas
Friday 08 Mar 2002

Summary:And you thought the story about the Colombian Army\'s mascot was funny.

Weblink: http://www.workingforchange.com/article.cfm?itemid=12911

Reference at indymedia website: 

Consider yourself influenced
Geov Parrish - WorkingForChange

03.05.02 - It was tempting, while Donald Rumsfeld burst a few blood vessels 
last week railing against those who questioned the Pentagon\'s \"Office of 
Strategic Influence,\" to agree with Rumsfeld that such criticism was 
indeed unfair -- the Pentagon has been engaged in misleading the American 
public for years, and the country\'s major media usually plays right along.

As if to confirm such cynicism -- or, at the least, that Rumsfeld\'s rebuke 
was respectfully received -- proof of the syndrome showed up yesterday, in 
a remarkable New York Times article seeking to convince Americans that our 
pending war against Colombian rebels is not only necessary, but inevitable.

Unfortunately, \"Colombian Rebels Step Up Attacks,\" written -- or at least 
given a byline -- by Juan Forero, isn\'t labeled an op-ed; it\'s in the 
international news section, and its unsubtle pretext is exactly what the 
headline suggests. Here\'s the lead paragraph:

\"Peace talks between the government and Marxist rebels collapsed just 11 
days ago, and it took no time at all for Colombia to plunge into a new, 
ominous phase of the long-running conflict. Almost immediately after the 
talks ended, the rebels launched a coordinated series of attacks aimed at 
spreading misery across this vast country while demonstrating the 
government\'s inability to stop them.\"
As with any well-spun Pentagon story, there is nothing factually inaccurate 
here, just -- as Rumsfeld tried to explain to us last week -- misleading. 
(The gratuitous characterization of FARC as \"Marxist\" comes dangerously 
close, both in terms of being a fair description and in terms of revealing 
the article\'s intent.)

It is true enough that only 11 days had passed between the end of the 
\"peace process,\" and that lots has happened since -- but it was enough 
time for a key element not mentioned by Forero. Or rather, it\'s mentioned, 
but buried, after several paragraphs describing rebel attacks. Ferero 
mentions how the talks ended only in the sixth paragraph, at which point we 
learn that:

\"The rebel aggression began hours after [Colombian President Andres] 
Pastrana broke off negotiations with the rebels on Feb. 20, ending a 
three-year peace effort. It has prompted the government to declare a large 
region of south and central Colombia a war zone in which the army has new 
authority to bring order.\"

And even this isn\'t quite accurate, as Forero further clarifies in 
paragraphs 13 and 14:

\"The new wave of violence began after Mr. Pastrana, in a nationally 
televised address, angrily broke off talks with [FARC]....The Colombian Air 
Force then began bombing a large region in southern Colombia that Mr. 
Pastrana had ceded to the rebels in 1998 as a venue for peace talks. Elite 
army forces soon entered...\"
And all hell has consequently busted loose. The remainder of the article\'s 
34 paragraphs are devoted to descriptions of FARC\'s effectiveness in the 
past week in attacking the country\'s infrastructure -- a development so 
predictable that even I saw it coming, in this space a month ago, on 
February 8. Here\'s what I wrote:

\"Any [crackdown on FARC]...will for the first time bring Colombia\'s war 
to its big urban centers. There, a terror campaign by drug kingpin Pablo 
Escobar brought the country to its knees in the \'80s; FARC...can and 
probably would inflict much, much more damage.\"
There is another subtext, however, to the Times article: America\'s urgent 
need to intervene, emphasized by several Pentagon and Capitol Hill quotes. 
(No opponents to U.S. intervention are quoted.) Here, Forero\'s omissions 
come closest to outright falsehood, by linking FARC with the drug trade.
\"The Bush administration has decided, for now, to limit American 
involvement mostly to the war on drugs, which undercuts the rebel\'s main 
source of financing.\"

The problem here -- aside from plenty of \"unofficial\" U.S. involvement in 
the war itself -- is that as drug trade connections go, FARC is relatively 
clean; far more drug money goes to and through the Colombian military and 
various paramilitary groups that have close links to the Colombian military 
and have committed a majority of that country\'s human rights atrocities.

This is not to hold FARC blameless; it has, in fact, unleashed a series of 
high- profile bombings, kidnappings, and acts of sabotage. And it\'s rarely 
productive, in the midst of war, to try to keep score of who really started 
it; lives lost on all sides are a tragedy and an outrage. But here we have, 
on one hand, reality: that Pastrana responded to a guerrilla hijacking with 
an angry public denunciation and massive retaliation (amidst a presidential 
election -- another factor Forero ignores); and that, in turn, has led to 
the current guerrilla offensive. And then, we have the New York Times\' 
version: talks somehow \"ended,\" the (Marxist, drug-loving) guerrillas 
attacked seemingly without reason, and the government has (large scale 
bombing notwithstanding) been helpless to resist FARC\'s \"terrorism.\" 
Only America can help.

Either Rumsfeld was lying about having ended the Office of Strategic 
Influence, or he never needed it in the first place. Consider yourself 

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