The PBS program Wide Angle broadcast a show on Colombia last month, and accompanied it with a very useful website. Among the pictures and articles you can find there is a transcript of an interview with Marc Grossman, who as the Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs is the highest-ranking foreign service officer in the State Department.
In the transcript, Grossman makes a rather remarkable assertion to interviewer Carol Marin.
Carol Marin: When you go, what do you see? What kind of Colombia do we see through your lens?
Marc Grossman: Well, let me tell you one of the things that surprises me whenever I go to Colombia. And that is that each time when I visit Colombia, I always make time to meet with the human rights groups and the democracy groups and the church because I think it’s very important that we hear their voices as well.
And one of the most interesting things that I have found is that in every one of those meetings, what do you hear? You hear people say, ‘Stay engaged. It’s right for America to be here.’ And specifically they ask for more and more training of Colombian military forces. Because they know that the forces that we train understand human rights and understand democracy and understand their role in a democratic society. And I’ve been very interested over these six or seven times, and usually I see the same people, so I can judge what they are thinking and where they have come to. And not ever does anyone say, take your money, it’s wrong.
Carol Marin: Get out of town?
Marc Grossman: No, they want more. They want you to train more Colombian military units, to be involved more in their society. I think that’s a very interesting thing and something that always gives me a real cause for optimism.
â€œGet out of townâ€ indeed. For seven years now, CIP has been in regular contact with most of Colombiaâ€™s best-known, most-cited human rights groups, and never â€“ ever â€“ has any of them even come close to asking for â€œmore and more training of Colombian security forces.â€
Itâ€™s perfectly impossible to imagine any of Colombiaâ€™s prominent human rights figures ever saying something like â€œYou know our military? The one that keeps intelligence files on us and whose officers call us guerrilla collaborators? The one with a history of working with the paramilitaries whoâ€™ve killed our colleagues? Well, we think itâ€™s great that the United States is training them. Itâ€™s just wonderful that all that light infantry training from U.S. Special Forces (the subject of about a third of U.S. training in 2003) is giving them more lethal skills. How terrific that contact with the United States is conferring such prestige and legitimacy on them. Do keep it up.â€
They wouldnâ€™t say that, ever. Not even in jest. Many â€“ among them CODHES, CINEP, the Colombian Commission of Jurists, Planeta Paz, MINGA, and others â€“ have been steadfast and consistent in their opposition to Plan Colombia.
Marc Grossman is not an ideologue. Heâ€™s a very capable career diplomat, not a Bush political appointee from the neocon fringe. While weâ€™ve disagreed with many of his past statements about Colombia, heâ€™s always been careful and measured in his assertions. But this one isnâ€™t careful.
If Grossman had used the more vague term â€œnon-governmental organizationsâ€ instead of human rights and democracy groups, his statement could technically be correct â€“ the cattlemenâ€™s federation, for instance, is non-governmental, but Iâ€™m sure theyâ€™d want more US military aid. If Grossman hadnâ€™t specified that heâ€™d heard calls for more military training at â€œevery oneâ€ of his meetings, there might still be a way to make this statement resemble truth.
But he didnâ€™t say that. The State Departmentâ€™s number-three official actually wants us to believe that Colombiaâ€™s human rights community wants the United States to train more Colombian soldiers, and that they tell him so every time he visits.
This leaves two depressing possibilities. It could be that Marc Grossman is being misled by a very slanted, very limited selection of pro-military human-rights groups (and there must be some) when he goes to Colombia. If not, we can only conclude that he’s gone on record telling a first-class whopper.