Mo Mowlam has recently returned from her fourth visit to Colombia in the last 12 months. Her capacity in Colombia, as the minister in charge of the government’s drug programme, shows that New Labour’s principle concern is to appease the US in their attempts to defeat the insurgency and to protect the interests of the multi-nationals.
To view Colombia’s problems in terms of a drug war, is to ignore the fundamental problems of human rights, the impunity of the armed forces and their paramilitary allies in carrying out human rights violations, endemic poverty, the exploitation of Colombia’s resources by multi-national companies without investment for local people, and the questionable democratic legitimacy of the Colombian oligarchy. The "war on drugs" is merely a justification for powerful countries in the north (in this case the USA, UK and Spain who just happen to be the three largest foreign investors in Colombia) to interfere in a foreign civil war on the side of powerful economic interests, and against the interests of the vast majority of the Colombian people.
Since its inception last year, the government of the United Kingdom has been one of the most vociferous supporters of Plan Colombia, eager to strengthen its already firm military links with the Colombian armed forces ( the SAS have been active for many years in Colombia, and it is former members of this unit that are alleged to have trained Convivir and paramilitary groups). During a recent discussion on Plan Colombia, Mo Mowlam herself admitted that, "It [Plan Colombia] is not perfect, but nothing ever is. Our job is to make it more like what we want it to be."
She did not expand on what they exactly do want it to be. At no time has the British government questioned their North American partner’s motives or actions regarding Colombia, and we can take an educated guess at our own governments motives and intentions when we consider Britain’s current contributions to the Colombian crisis.
General Roger Wheeler, former chief of the general staff of the British army, General Michael Rose, former UN commander in Bosnia, and John Steele the former head of security in the north of Ireland, have been guests of the Colombian police and army since last November. In another recent interview, this time with the Guardian, Mo Mowlam revealed this British military escalation for what it really is, "You are not going to get progress unless you have a military that can take on the rebels."
The British government has always been quick to point out that military assistance has also included human rights training, both for the police and the army. I do not know what qualifies the British army for this role, nor what it is that they teach, but the whole question of human rights training is a troubling one. Agents of the Colombian state are not responsible for human rights violations by accident or through ignorance; it is part of a concerted and active policy to nullify the opposition, and to terrify the general population into further submission. In such a situation, human rights training is a nonsense, lip service to the international community. Some of the continent’s most notorious butchers have been graduates of human rights courses, from the School of the Americas and other military institutions.
But what of New Labour’s ethical foreign policy? Mo Mowlam has been employed in the specific capacity of making the government’s Colombian policy appear nice and fluffy, and due to her reputation gained in previous posts, she has had some success. She talks extensively about the importance of the process of consultation (Plan Colombia was drawn up in English, it was not even consulted in the Colombian parliament), of how the campesinos have all been offered the chance to take part in crop substitution programmes (patently untrue) and of how the UN is sending environmentalists and doctors to deal with the effects of fumigation (reports from Caqueta and Putumayo suggest that none of them have turned up yet). It is easy to see that British policy in Colombia is no more ethical than it has been in Indonesia and Turkey, and no amount of Mowlam spin will change the fact.