The Santo Domingo episode is symptomatic of a larger danger of U.S. policy in Colombia, because private military enterprises are a booming business, hired by the Pentagon to serve in Colombia and other global hotspots. Last year, three private companies had contracts with the State Department, and seventeen had contracts with the Department of Defense in Colombia. Colombia's most important newsweekly, Semana, has called these private contractors "a gang of lawless and godless Rambos." Despite these concerns, Undersecretary for Political Affairs Marc Grossman has said, "Contractors will continue to be a very important part of our effort [in Colombia]. That is how the modern world works."
The State and Defense departments increasingly argue that their goal is to provide security for all Colombians, and that protecting the Cano Limon pipeline is part of an integrated package that includes aerial fumigation of coca and poppy, as well as counter insurgency assistance in order to bring about a safe and stable Colombia. Despite congressional requests for more transparency, it is unclear how much money will be spent or how many years the mission will take.
Such a loosely defined mission, however, is exactly what some Colombian government officials prefer, in the hopes that the United States will solve Colombia's historic social and political problems with heavy doses of military aid and eventually, tens of thousands of U.S. soldiers.
Instead of wasting years dabbling in an intractable, decades-old conflict, at the cost of thousands of lives and billions of dollars, the United States should put its diplomatic weight behind a peace process in Colombia. And it should stop supporting a notoriously abusive military so that it can protect the resources of U.S. companies.
Jason Hagen is a Colombia specialist at the Washington Office on Latin America, a nonprofit research and advocacy organization.