Miami South Com
by Nikolas Kozloff
Z magazine, December 1999
Slowly but surely, the U. S. presence is escalating in Colombia's
counterinsurgency war against left wing rebels. Currently there
are 1,000 U.S. marines stationed at a military base on the Colombian
Pacific coast at Bahia Malaga, dispatched in support of the army.
Patience seems to be wearing out in Washington for a peaceful
settlement, as evidenced by a recent report by the French news
agency Agence France Presse stating that U. S. Ieaders have been
actively courting Latin
leaders to organize a military intervention force to pacify
Colombia. Such a multinational force would intervene in early
2000 acting on a request by Colombian president, Andres Pastrana.
According to the report, Pastrana would try to reach an agreement
with the leftist Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC),
the country's leading rebel group. If peace were not reached by
January, Pastrana would declare a state of internal war in Colombia
and call on regional aid to help pacify his country. An intervention
force of Peruvian, Ecuadoran, and Brazilian soldiers would join
forces with the Colombian army, currently being trained by U.S.
advisers to fight the rebels. In an ominous recap of the Kosovo
war, U. S. warships off Colombia's Caribbean and Pacific coasts
would then support the allied intervention with missile attacks
and air strikes.
Moves towards greater U.S. involvement have been directed
and coordinated out of a rather nondescript looking building located
at 3511 NW 91 Avenue in Miami. This is the site of the U.S. Southern
Command, responsible for all U. S. military operations in Latin
America and the Caribbean. In 1998, Miami South Com had a budget
of $566 million. According to Charles Wilhelm, South Com's commander,
the center is "the most technologically advanced military
intelligence facility in the world. "
Wilhelm, a Vietnam veteran who was disappointed by the onslaught
of negativism surrounding that war, and who remarked to the Miami
Herald that he "would have gone back for a third tour, a
fourth," now would like to roll back the guerrillas in Colombia.
In order to do this, however, Wilhelm has collaborated with top
Colombian brass, some of which have alleged connections to right-wing
paramilitary death squads. Reportedly, Wilhelm met with former
Colombian Defense Minister Harold Bedoya Nava back in 1997 to
discuss the need for growing U.S. military involvement in Colombia.
Bedoya Nava was reportedly one of the worst human rights offenders
in the military. Bedoya Nava studied military intelligence at
the U. S. Army's School of the Americas in 1965 and was invited
back to teach it as a guest professor in 1978 and 1979. According
to School of the Americas Watch, Bedoya was believed to be the
founder and chief of the paramilitary death squad known as "AAA"
(American Anti-Communist Alliance). In 1997, the Colombian government
forced General Bedoya's retirement. His hostility to human rights
and career-long association with the dramatic increase in joint
army-paramilitary operations was notorious. "We took Bedoya
out because of human rights," former President Ernesto Samper
told Human Rights Watch in an interview.
More recently, Wilhelm has met with Colombian General Fernando
Tapias, who has done his best to obstruct human rights in his
country, by preventing prosecutors from questioning fellow Colombian
officers allegedly implicated in killings and death threats. Tapias
argued that such cases involved official acts and should be tried
before a military tribunal. Yet another associate of Wilhelm's
is General Jose Manuel Bonett, until recently the commander of
the Colombian armed forces. Wilhelm has spent considerable time
with General Bonett, touring recent areas of conflict in Colombia,
surveying coca production in southern Colombian departments, and
discussing planned operations and the intelligence training and
equipment support needs of the armed forces.
Last April Wilhelm sent a letter to Bonett, which read, "At
this time the Colombian armed forces are not up to the task of
confronting and defeating the insurgents.... Colombia is the most
threatened in the area under the Southern Command's responsibility,
and it is in urgent need of our support." Bonett, who made
the letter public, agreed, saying the Colombian armed forces are
in "a position of inferiority" to the rebels and adding
that he would gladly accept U.S. military aid, even "atomic
bombs." Bonett, it turns out, was a protégé
of General Harold Bedoya, and got his start in the Middle Magdalena
region, where he served as Second Division Commander. In a 1995
memo addressing army strategy, Bonett instructed his troops to
focus intelligence gathering on towns and strike civilian "support
networks" since guerrillas "reclaim their sick and wounded
there, their weapons caches, their tailors, their bank accounts,
their businesses, and other types of logistical activities essential
to subversive combat." Targeting civilians, Bonett stressed,
would " noticeably weaken [the guerrillas'] capability."
Later, when Bonett went up in rank, he was influential in clearing
his fellow officers of rampant human rights abuses, and has been
photographed candidly talking with right-wing paramilitary death
Unlike the School of the Americas, where activists exposed
the links between the U.S. and Latin American military establishments,
there has not been a similar grass roots movement against Miami
South Com. Miami's press has not sought to analyze the activities
of the center or its champion Charles Wilhelm, who has been portrayed
as a great patriot. Similarly, Miami's religious and labor leaders
have yet to come out publicly against Miami South Com. If there
is further U.S. involvement in Colombia, however, residents might
be forced to reexamine the nondescript building, located at 3511
NW 91 Avenue.