Colombia’s Defense Minister, Jorge Alberto Uribe, made an explosive allegation
on Saturday. Colombia’s security forces, he said, foiled a FARC attempt to
assassinate President Bush during his November 22 visit to Cartagena.
This is a very serious charge. If it’s true â€“ if Bush narrowly missed murder
at the hands of the FARC â€“ it will set back for years any effort to limit
U.S. involvement in Colombia’s conflict and any effort to find a non-military
solution to the fighting. If the FARC really tried to kill President Bush,
it would put an entirely new set of options on the table for Washington, including
direct military action. (Think about it – if the group truly put a hit out
on the president, why would the United States respond indirectly, using the
Colombian military as proxies?)
I’m skeptical. While the FARC has built a record of shocking brutality against
Colombian citizens, and while it claims that U.S. troops and contractors are
"military targets," its few attacks on U.S. personnel have been
hastily arranged and too small to provoke a massive U.S. response. When a
planeload of U.S. contractors went down (or was shot down, perhaps) in CaquetÃ¡
nearly two years ago, the FARC column that found them killed one and took
the other three hostage. A lone FARC fighter lobbed a grenade into a BogotÃ¡
bar frequented by U.S. personnel in 2003, and was caught shortly afterward.
Surely the FARC have had many other opportunities to target U.S. citizens
working for their government. Why have they not done more? Probably because
while the FARC often appear to be acting against their own interests, they’re
To carry out a concerted campaign against U.S. citizens in Colombia â€“ much
less to target the president of the United States â€“ would be to make the guerrilla
group one of Washington’s top military priorities in the entire world. The
FARC knows it cannot afford to be one of Washington’s top military priorities;
at a time when it is facing a strengthened Colombian military, why would it
choose to open up a huge new front in its fight by provoking the United States
We need more details and proof from Colombia’s defense minister. It may turn
out that he is basing his allegations on something indirect or circumstantial,
such as the discovery of an arms cache or a bomb-making facility in the general
area of Cartagena during the days before Bush’s arrival. While disturbing,
such evidence would hardly indicate a sophisticated plot to kill the U.S.
So far, we haven’t heard any details. I scanned the U.S. and Colombian press
this morning and found no follow-up stories on Minister Uribe’s allegations.
The assassination-threat story has not even shown up on the news-update sites
of either the target="_blank">Colombian presidency or the href="http://www.mindefensa.gov.co/" target="_blank">Defense Ministry.
The assassination story got a lot of media attention on Sunday. But let’s
take a deep breath here. We need to know more. Was the FARC really planning
a sophisticated hit, or was an over-exuberant minister overselling his case
for increased US military assistance?
Note as of November 30: The Associated Press reports that the Colombian government is backpedaling from Minister Uribe’s allegation. “Interior and Justice Minister Sabas Pretelt played down the comments Monday, saying he had no information about any assassination plot against Bush.” So there you have it.