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Column

For Colombians, terrorism is more than just a threat

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By DAVID ADAMS, Times Latin America Correspondent

© St. Petersburg Times
published February 16, 2003


Last week Americans were told to be on the alert after the Bush administration warned of a heightened risk of a new terror attack. Thankfully, there were no incidents, and it turns out some information that led to the alert might have been a hoax.

Colombians wish they were so lucky.

After 40 years of almost incessant conflict, Colombians live in daily fear of violence. This past week has been especially bloody.

While Americans wondered how seriously to take Washington's official advisories for a biochemical attack, war-weary Colombians were dealing once more with the reality of being targeted by terrorists. Two bomb attacks claimed the lives of more than 50 people, including a number of children.

At least 18 people were killed Friday in a bomb explosion while police were investigating a suspected guerrilla plot to blow up the plane of Colombian president Alvaro Uribe. As many as 30 were believed to have been injured in the explosion, which destroyed several houses in the southern Colombian city of Neiva.

Authorities suspect rebels of the FARC, Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, planned to use the house, which was on the approach to the city's airport, to shoot down Uribe's plane during a presidential visit to the city this weekend.

Last weekend, FARC rebels were suspected of being behind a car bomb at a social club in Bogota that killed 35 people.

On Tuesday, Uribe flew to Washington as part of a diplomatic effort to increase international support for Colombia's war on terrorism. Colombian officials have linked the FARC's urban terror tactics, in particular the use of home-made mortars, to training from the Irish Republican Army and the Basque group ETA.

But he faces an uphill task.

In terms of what makes news, 50 dead Colombians failed to capture the headlines. Even when an American civilian contractor was killed Thursday by left wing guerrillas in Colombia, the story earned only minor coverage. Three Americans are believed to have been captured by FARC rebels, the first American government employees to be taken prisoner in Colombia.

To be sure, last week was an especially busy news period for those concerned with the United States' homeland security.

Colombia's conflict might seem far removed from most American lives. Violence in Colombia doesn't resonate in the U.S. media the same way as attacks on Israel, for example. Americans do not feel the same level of engagement in the Colombian situation.

But maybe they should. The United States is sending hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid to Colombia. Then there are the hundreds of millions of dollars in profits from illegal drug sales in the United States that make their way back to the hands of Colombian guerrillas who protect the drug trade. Whether they care to know or not, American taxpayers are deeply involved.

Then there is the question of terrorism as a global threat. Colombians ask why the United Nations is being asked to single out Saddam Hussein? Or are threats to the United States the only ones that matter?

Colombians find themselves wondering what the U.S. reaction would be if the FARC was found to have links to al-Qaida. Maybe then Colombian terrorism would gain greater headlines.

-- David Adams can be reached at dadams7308@aol.com

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