The Colombia Plan: April 2000
Through l990s, Colombia was the leading recipient
of U.S. military aid in Latin America
by Noam Chomsky
Z magazine, June 2000
In 1999, Colombia became the leading recipient of U.S. military
and police assistance, replacing Turkey (Israel and Egypt are
in a separate category). The figure is scheduled to increase sharply
with the anticipated passage of Clinton's Colombia Plan, a $1.6
billion "emergency aid" package for two years. Through
the 1990s, Colombia has been the leading recipient of U.S. military
aid in Latin America, and has also compiled the worst human rights
record, in conformity with a well-established correlation.
We can often learn from systematic patterns, so let us focus
for a moment on the previous champion, Turkey. As a major U.S.
military ally and strategic outpost, Turkey has received substantial
military aid from the origins of the Cold War. But arms deliveries
began to increase sharply in 1984 with no Cold War connection
at all. Rather, that was the year when Turkey initiated a large-scale
counterinsurgency campaign in the Kurdish southeast, which also
is the site of major U.S. air bases and the locus of regional
surveillance, so that everything that happens there is well known
in Washington. Arms deliveries peaked in 1997, exceeding the total
from the entire period 1950-1983. U.S. arms amounted to about
80 percent of Turkish military equipment, including heavy armaments
jet planes, tanks, etc.).
By 1999, Turkey had largely suppressed Kurdish resistance
by terror and ethnic cleansing, leaving some 2-3 million refugees,
3,500 villages destroyed (7 times Kosovo under NATO bombs), and
tens of thousands killed. A huge flow of arms from the Clinton
administration was no longer needed to accomplish these objectives.
Turkey can therefore be singled out for praise for its "positive
experiences" in showing how "tough counterterrorism
measures plus political dialogue with non-terrorist opposition
groups" can overcome the plague of violence and atrocities,
so we learn from the lead article in the New York Times on the
State Department's "latest annual report describing the administration's
efforts to combat terrorism."
Nevertheless, despite the great success achieved by some of
the most extreme state terror of the 1990s, military operations
continue while Kurds are still deprived of elementary rights.
On April 1, 10,000 Turkish troops began new ground sweeps in the
regions that had been most devastated by the U. S . -Turkish terror
campaigns of the preceding years, also launching another offensive
into northern Iraq to attack Kurdish guerrilla forces-in a no-fly
zone where Kurds are protected by the U.S. airforce from the (temporarily)
wrong oppressor. As these new campaigns were beginning, Secretary
of Defense William Cohen addressed the American-Turkish Council,
a festive occasion with much laughter and applause, according
to the government report. He praised Turkey for taking part in
the humanitarian bombing of Yugoslavia, apparently without embarrassment,
and announced that Turkey had been invited to join in co-production
of the new Joint Strike Aircraft, just as it has been co-producing
the F-16s that it used to such good effect in approved varieties
of ethnic cleansing and atrocities within its own territory, as
a loyal member of NATO.
In Colombia, however, the military armed and trained by the
United States has not crushed domestic resistance, though it continues
to produce its regular annual toll of atrocities. Each year, some
300,000 new refugees are driven from their homes, with a death
toll of about 3,000 and many horrible massacres. The great majority
of atrocities are attributed to the paramilitary forces that are
closely linked to the military, as documented in detail once again
in February 2000 by Human Rights Watch, and in April 2000 by a
UN study which reported that the Colombian security forces that
are to be greatly strengthened by the Colombia Plan maintain an
intimate relationship with death-squads, organize paramilitary
forces, and either participate in their massacres directly or,
by failing to take action, have "undoubtedly enabled the
paramilitary groups to achieve their exterminating objectives."
The Colombian Commission of Jurists reported in September 1999
that the rate of killings had increased by almost 20 percent over
the preceding year, and that the proportion attributable to the
paramilitaries had risen from 46 percent in 1995 to almost 80
percent in 1998, continuing through 1999. The Colombian government's
Human Rights Ombudsman's Office (Defensoria del Pueblo) reported
a 68 percent increase in massacres in the first half of 1999 as
compared to the same period of 1998, reaching more than one a
day, overwhelmingly attributed to paramilitaries .
We may recall that in the early months of 1999, while massacres
were proceeding at over one a day in Colombia, there was also
a large increase in atrocities (including many massacres) in East
Timor carried out by Indonesian commandos armed and trained by
the U.S. In both cases, the conclusion drawn was exactly as in
Turkey: support the killers. There was also one reported massacre
in Kosovo, at Racak on January 15, the event that allegedly inspired
such horror among Western humanitarians that it was necessary
to bomb Yugoslavia 10 weeks later with the expectation, quickly
fulfilled, that the consequence would be a sharp escalation of
atrocities. The accompanying torrent of self-congratulation, which
has few if any counterparts, heralded a "new era" in
human affairs in which the "enlightened states" will
selflessly dedicate themselves to the defense of human rights.
Putting aside the actual facts about Kosovo, the performance was
greatly facilitated by silence or deceit about the participation
of the same powers in comparable or worse atrocities at the very
Returning to Colombia, prominent human rights activists continue
to flee abroad under death threats, including now the courageous
head of the Church-based human rights group Justice and Peace,
Fr. Javier Giraldo, who has played an outstanding role in defending
human rights. The AFL-CIO reports that several trade unionists
are murdered every week, mostly by paramilitaries supported by
the government security forces. Forced displacement in 1998 was
20 percent above 1997, and increased in 1999 in some regions according
to Human Rights Watch. Colombia now has the largest displaced
population in the world, after Sudan and Angola.
Hailed as a leading democracy by Clinton and other U.S. Ieaders
and political commentators, Colombia did at last permit an independent
party (UP, Patriotic Union) to challenge the elite system of power-sharing.
The UP party, drawing in part from constituencies of the FARC
guerrillas, faced certain difficulties, however, including the
rapid assassination of about 3,000 activists, including presidential
candidates, mayors, and legislators. The results taught lessons
to the guerrillas about the prospects for entering the political
system. Washington also drew lessons from these and other events
of the same period. The Clinton administration was particularly
impressed with the performance of President Cesar Gaviria, who
presided over the escalation of state terror, and induced (some
say compelled) the Organization of American States to accept him
as secretary general on grounds that "He has been very forward
looking in building democratic institutions in a country where
it was sometimes dangerous to do so"-which is surely true,
in large measure because of the actions of his government. A more
significant reason, perhaps, is that he was also "forward
looking...on economic reform in Colombia and on economic integration
in the hemisphere," code words that are readily interpreted.
Meanwhile, shameful socioeconomic conditions persist, leaving
much of the population in misery in a rich country with concentration
of wealth and land-ownership that is high even by Latin American
standards. The situation became worse in the 1990s as a result
of the "neoliberal reforms" formalized in the 1991 constitution.
The constitution reduced still further "the effective participation
of civil society" in policy-formation, while, as in Latin
America generally, the "neoliberal reforms have also given
rise to alarming levels of poverty and inequality; approximately
55 percent of Colombia's population lives below the poverty level"
and "this situation has been aggravated by an acute crisis
in agriculture, itself a result of the neoliberal program"
(Arlene Tickner, Current History, February 1998).
The respected president of the Colombian Permanent Committee
for Human Rights, former Minister of Foreign Affairs Alfredo Vasquez
Carrizosa, writes that it is "poverty and insufficient land
reform" that "have made Colombia one of the most tragic
countries of Latin America," though as elsewhere, "violence
has been exacerbated by external factors," primarily the
initiatives of the Kennedy administration, which "took great
pains to transform our regular armies into counterinsurgency brigades."
These initiatives ushered in "what is known in Latin America
as the National Security Doctrine," which
is not concerned with "defense against an external enemy"
but rather "the internal enemy." The new "strategy
of the death squads" accords the military "the right
to fight and to exterminate social workers, trade unionists, men
and women who are not supportive of the establishment, and who
are assumed to be communist extremists."
As part of its strategy of converting the Latin American military
from "hemispheric defense" to "internal security"-meaning
war against the domestic population-Kennedy dispatched a military
mission to Colombia in 1962 headed by Special Forces General William
Yarborough. He proposed "reforms" to enable the security
forces to "as necessary execute paramilitary, sabotage and/or
terrorist activities against known communist proponents"-the
"communist extremists" to whom Vasquez Carrizosa alludes.
Again the broader patterns are worth noting. Shortly after,
Lyndon Johnson escalated Kennedy's war against South Vietnam-what
is called here "the defense of South Vietnam," just
as Russia called its war against Afghanistan "the defense
of Afghanistan." In January 1965, U.S. special forces in
South Vietnam were issued standing orders "to conduct operations
to dislodge VC-controlled officials, to include assassination,"
and more generally to use such "pacification" techniques
as "ambushing, raiding, sabotaging and committing acts of
terrorism against known VC personnel," the counterparts of
the "known Communist proponents" in Colombia.
A Colombian governmental commission concluded that "the
criminalization of social protest" is one of the "principal
factors which permit and encourage violations of human rights"
by the military and police authorities and their paramilitary
collaborators. Ten years ago, as U.S.-backed state terror was
increasing sharply, the Minister of Defense called for "total
war in the political, economic, and social arenas," while
another high military official explained that guerrillas were
of secondary importance: "the real danger" is "what
the insurgents have called the political and psychological war,"
the war "to control the popular elements" and "to
manipulate the masses." The "subversives" hope
to influence unions, universities, media, and so on. "Every
individual who in one or another manner supports the goals of
the enemy must be considered a traitor and treated in that manner,"
a 1963 military manual prescribed, as the Kennedy initiatives
were moving into high gear. Since the official goals of the guerrillas
are social democratic, the circle of treachery targeted for terror
operations is wide.
In the years that followed, the Kennedy-Yarborough strategy
was developed and applied broadly in "our little region over
here," as it was described by FDR's Secretary of War Henry
Stimson when he was explaining why the U.S. was entitled to control
its own regional system while all others were dismantled. Violent
repression spread throughout the hemisphere, beginning in the
southern cone and reaching its awesome peak in Central America
in the 1980s as the ruler of the hemisphere reacted with extreme
violence to efforts by the Church and other "subversives"
to confront a terrible legacy of misery and repression. Colombia's
advance to first-rank among the criminal states in "our little
region" is in part the result of the decline in Central American
state terror, which achieved its primary aims as in Turkey ten
years later, leaving in its wake a "culture of terror"
that "domesticates the expectations of the majority"
and undermines aspirations towards "alternatives that differ
from those of the powerful," in the words of Salvadoran Jesuits,
who learned the lessons from bitter experience; those who survived
the U.S. assault, that is. In Colombia, however, the problem of
establishing approved forms of democracy and stability remains,
and is even becoming more severe. One approach would be to address
the needs and concerns of the poor majority. Another is to send
arms to keep things as they are.
Quite predictably, the announcement of the Colombia Plan led
to countermeasures by the guerrillas, in particular, a demand
that everyone with assets of more than $1 million pay a "revolutionary
tax" or face the threat of kidnapping (as the FARC puts it,
jailing for non-payment of taxes). The motivation is explained
by the London Financial Times: "In the Farc's eyes, financing
is required to fight fire with fire. The government is seeking
$1.3 billion in military aid from the US, ostensibly for counter-drugs
operations: the Farc believe the new weapons will be trained on
them. They appear ready to arm themselves for battle," which
will lead to military escalation and undermining of the fragile
but ongoing peace negotiations.
According to New York Times reporter Larry Rohter, "ordinary
Colombians" are "angered" by the government's peace
negotiations, which ceded control to FARC of a large region that
they already controlled, and the "embittered residents"
of the region also oppose the guerrillas. No evidence is cited.
The leading Colombian military analyst Alfredo Rangel sees matters
differently. He "makes a point of reminding interviewers
that the FARC has significant support in the regions where it
operates," Alma Guillermoprieto reports. Rangel cites "FARC's
ability to launch surprise attacks" in different parts of
the country, a fact that is "politically significant"
because "in each case, a single warning by the civilian population
would be enough to alert the army, and it doesn't happen."
On the same day that Rohter reported the anger of "ordinary
Colombians," the Financial Times reported an "innovative
forum" in the FARC-controlled region, one of many held there
to allow "members of the public to participate in the current
peace talks." They come from all parts of Colombia, speaking
before TV cameras and meeting with senior FARC leaders. Included
are union and business leaders, farmers, and others. A trade union
leader from Colombia's second largest city, Cali, "gave heart
to those who believe that talking will end the country's long-running
conflict," addressing both the government and FARC leaders.
He directed his remarks specifically to "Senor Marulanda,"
the long-time FARC peasant leader "who minutes earlier had
entered to a rousing ovation," telling him that "unemployment
is not a problem caused by the violence," but "by the
national government and the businessmen of this country."
Business leaders also spoke, but "were heckled by the large
body of trade union representatives who had also come to speak."
Against a background of "union cheers," a FARC spokesperson
"put forward one of the clearest visions yet of his organization's
economic program," calling for freezing of privatization,
subsidizing energy and agriculture as is done in the rich countries,
and stimulation of the economy by protecting local enterprises.
The government representative, who "emphasized export-led
growth and private participation," nevertheless described
the FARC statement as "raw material for the negotiations,"
though FARC, "bolstered by evident popular discontent with
'neoliberal' government policies," argues that those who
"have monopolized power" must yield in the negotiations."
Of course, no one can say what "ordinary Colombians"
(or "ordinary Americans") think, even under peaceful
conditions, let alone when extreme violence and terror prevail,
and much of the population seeks to survive under conditions of
misery and repression.
The Colombia Plan is officially justified in terms of the
"drug war," a claim taken seriously by few competent
analysts. The U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) reports
that "all branches of government" in Colombia are involved
in "drug-related corruption." In November 1998, U.S.
Customs and DEA inspectors found 415 kg of cocaine and 6 kg of
heroin in a Colombian Air Force plane that had landed in Florida,
leading to the arrest of several Air Force officers and enlisted
personnel. Other observers have also reported the heavy involvement
of the military in narcotrafficking, and the U.S. military has
also been drawn in. The wife of Colonel James Hiett pleaded guilty
to conspiracy to smuggle heroin from Colombia to New York, and
shortly after it was reported that Colonel Hiett, who is in charge
of U.S. troops "that trained Colombian security forces in
counternarcotics operations," is "expected to plead
guilty" to charges of complicity.
The paramilitaries openly proclaim their reliance on the drug
business. However, the U.S. and Latin American press report, "the
US-financed attack stays clear of the areas controlled by paramilitary
forces," though "the leader of the paramilitaries [Carlos
Castano] acknowledged last week in a television interview that
the drug trade provided 70 percent of the group's funding."
The targets of the Colombia Plan are guerrilla forces based on
the peasantry and calling for internal social change, which would
interfere with integration of Colombia into the global system
on the terms that the U.S. demands; that is, dominated by elites
linked to U.S. power interests that are accorded free access to
Colombia's valuable resources, including oil.
In standard U.S. terminology, the FARC forces are "narco-guerrillas,"
a useful concept as a cover for counterinsurgency, but one that
has been sharply criticized on factual grounds. It is agreed-and
FARC leaders say-that they rely for funding on coca production,
which they tax, as they tax other businesses. But "'The guerrillas
are something different from the traffickers,' says Klaus Nyholm,
who runs the UN Drug Control Program," which has agents throughout
the drug producing regions. He describes the local FARC fronts
as "quite autonomous." In some areas "they are
not involved at all" in coca production and in others "they
actively tell the farmers not to grow [coca]." Andean drug
specialist Ricardo Vargas describes the role of the guerrillas
as "primarily focused on taxation of illicit crops."
They have called for "a development plan for the peasants"
that would "allow eradication of coca on the basis of alternative
crops." "That's all we want," their leader Marulanda
has publicly announced, as have other spokespersons.
But let us put these matters aside and consider a few other
questions. Why do peasants in Colombia grow cocaine, not other
crops? The reasons are well known. "Peasants grow coca and
poppies," Vargas observes, "because of the crisis in
the agricultural sector of Latin American countries, escalated
by the general economic crisis in the region." He writes
that peasants began colonizing the Colombian Amazon in the 1950s,
"following the violent displacement of peasants by large
landholders," and they found that coca was "the only
product that was both profitable and easy to market." Pressures
on the peasantry substantially increased as "ranchers, investors
and legal commercial farmers have created and strengthened private
armies"-the para-militaries-that "serve as a means to
violently expropriate land from indigenous people, peasants and
settlers," with the result that "traffickers now control
much of Colombia's valuable land." The counterinsurgency
battalions armed and trained by the U.S. do not attack traffickers,
Vargas reports, but "have as their target the weakest and
most socially fragile link of the drug chain: the production by
peasants, settlers and indigenous people." The same is true
of the chemical and biological weapons that Washington employs,
used experimentally in violation of manufacturer's specifications.
These measures multiply the "dangers to the civilian population,
the environment, and legal agriculture." They destroy "legal
food crops like yucca and bananas, water sources, pastures, livestock,
and all the crops included in crop substitution programs,"
including those of well-established Churchrun development projects
that have sought to develop alternatives to coca production. There
are also uncertain but potentially severe effects on the fragile
tropical rainforest environment."
Traditional U.S. programs, and the current Colombia Plan as
well, primarily support the social forces that control the government
and the military/paramilitary forces, and that have largely created
the problems by their rapacity and violence. The targets are the
There are other factors that operate to increase coca production.
Colombia was once a major wheat producer. That was undermined
in the 1950s by Food for Peace aid, a program that provided taxpayer
subsidies to U.S. agribusiness and counterpart funds for U.S.
client states, which they commonly used for military spending
and counterinsurgency. A year before President Bush announced
the "drug war" with great fanfare (once again), the
international coffee agreement was suspended under U.S. pressure,
on grounds of "fair trade violations." The result was
a fall of prices of more than 40 percent within two months for
Colombia's leading legal export.
Other factors are discussed by political economist Susan Strange
in her last book. In the 1960s, the G77 governments (now 133,
accounting for 80 percent of the world's population) initiated
a call for a "new international economic order" in which
the needs of the large majority of people of the world would be
a prominent concern. Specific proposals were formulated by the
UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD), which was established
in 1964 "to create an international trading system consistent
with the promotion of economic and social development." The
UNCTAD proposals were summarily dismissed by the great powers,
along with the call for a "new international order"
generally; the U.S., in particular, insists that "development
is not a right," and that it is "preposterous"
and a "dangerous incitement" to hold otherwise in accord
with the socioeconomic provisions of the Universal Declaration
of Human Rights, which the U.S. rejects. The world did move-or
more accurately, was moved-towards a new international economic
order, but along a different course, catering to the needs of
a different sector, namely its designers-hardly a surprise, any
more than one should be surprised that in standard doctrine the
instituted form of "globalization" should be depicted
as an inexorable process to which "there is no alternative,"
in Margaret Thatcher's cruel phrase.
One early UNCTAD proposal was a program for stabilizing commodity
prices, a practice that is standard within the industrial countries
by means of one or another form of subsidy, though it was threatened
briefly in the U.S. when Congress was taken over in 1994 by ultra-rightists
who seemed to believe their own rhetoric, much to the consternation
of business leaders who understand that market discipline is for
the defenseless. The upstart free-market ideologues were soon
taught better manners or dispatched back home, but not before
Congress passed the 1996 Freedom to Farm Act to liberate American
agriculture from the "East German socialist programs of the
New Deal," as Newt Gingrich put it, ending market-distorting
subsidies-which quickly tripled, reaching a record $23 billion
in 1999, and scheduled to increase. The market has worked its
magic, however: the taxpayer subsidies go disproportionately to
large agribusiness and the "corporate oligopolies" that
dominate the input and output side, Nicholas Kristof correctly
observed. Those with market power in the food chain (from energy
corporations to retailers) are enjoying great profits while the
agricultural crisis, which is real, is concentrated in the middle
of the chain, among smaller farmers, who produce the food.
One of the leading principles of modern economic history is
that the devices used by the rich and powerful to ensure that
they are protected by the nanny state are not to be available
to the poor. Accordingly, the UNCTAD initiative to stabilize commodity
prices was quickly shot down; the organization has been largely
marginalized and tamed, along with others that reflect, to some
extent at least, the interests of the global majority. Reviewing
these events, Strange observes that farmers were therefore compelled
to turn to crops for which there is a stable market. Large-scale
agribusiness can tolerate fluctuation of commodity prices, compensating
for temporary losses elsewhere. Poor peasants cannot tell their
children: "don't worry, maybe you'll have something to eat
next year." The result, Strange continues, was that drug
entrepreneurs could easily "find farmers eager to grow coca,
cannabis or opium," for which there is always a ready market
in the rich societies.
Other programs of the U.S. and the global institutions it
dominates magnify these effects. The current Clinton plan for
Colombia includes only token funding for alternative crops, and
none at all for areas under guerrilla control, though FARC leaders
have repeatedly expressed their hope that alternatives will be
provided so that peasants will not be compelled to grow coca.
"By the end of 1999, the United States had spent a grand
total of $750,000 on alternative development programs," the
Center for International Policy reports, "all of it in heroin
poppy-growing areas far from the southern plains" that are
targeted in the Colombia Plan, which does, however, call for "assistance
to civilians to be displaced by the push into southern Colombia,"
a section of the Plan that the Center rightly finds "especially
disturbing." The Clinton administration also insists-over
the objections of the Colombian government-that any peace agreement
must permit crop destruction measures and other U.S. counternarcotics
operations in Colombia. Constructive approaches are not barred,
but they are someone else's business. The U.S. will concentrate
on military operations-which, incidentally, happen to benefit
the high-tech industries that produce military equipment and are
engaged in "extensive lobbying" for the Colombia Plan,
along with Occidental Petroleum, which has large investments in
Colombia, and other corporations.
Furthermore, IMF-World Bank programs demand that countries
open their borders to a flood of (heavily subsidized) agricultural
products from the rich countries, with the obvious effect of undermining
local production. Those displaced are either driven to urban slums
(thus lowering wage rates for foreign investors) or instructed
to become "rational peasants," producing for the export
market and seeking the highest prices-which translates as "coca,
cannabis, opium." Having learned their lessons properly,
they are rewarded by attack by military gunships while their fields
are destroyed by chemical and biological warfare, courtesy of
Much the same is true throughout the Andean region. The issues
broke through briefly to the public eye just as the Colombia Plan
was being debated in Washington. On April 8, the government of
Bolivia declared a state of emergency after widespread protests
closed down the city of Cochabamba, Bolivia's third largest. The
protests were over the privatization of the public water system
and the sharp increase in water rates to a level beyond the reach
of much of the population. In the background is an economic crisis
attributed in part to the neoliberal policies that culminate in
the drug war, which has destroyed more than half of the country's
coca-leaf production, leaving the "rational peasants"
destitute. A week later, farmers blockaded a highway near the
capital city of La Paz to protest the eradication of coca leaf,
the only mode of survival left to them under the "reforms,"
as actually implemented.
Reporting on the protests over water prices and the eradication
programs, the Financial Times observes that "The World Bank
and the IMF saw Bolivia as something of a model," one of
the great success stories of the "Washington consensus."
But after the April protests we can see that "the success
of eradication programs in Peru and Bolivia has carried a high
social cost." The journal quotes a European diplomat in Bolivia
who says that "Until a couple of weeks ago, Bolivia was regarded
as a success story"-by some, at least; by those who "regard"
a country while disregarding its people. But now, he continues,
"the international community has to recognize that the economic
reforms have not really done anything to solve the growing problems
of poverty"; a bit euphemistic. The secretary of the Bolivian
bishops' conference, which mediated an agreement to end the crisis,
described the protest movement as "the result of dire poverty.
The demands of the rural population must be listened to if we
want lasting peace."
The Cochabamba protests were aimed at the World Bank and the
San Francisco/London-based Bechtel corporation, the main financial
power behind the transnational conglomerate that bought the public
water system amidst serious charges of corruption and give-away,
and then immediately doubled rates for many poor customers. Under
Bank pressure, Bolivia has sold major assets to private (almost
always foreign) corporations. The sale of the public water system
and rate increases set off months of protest culminating in the
demonstration that paralyzed the city. Government policies adhered
to World Bank recommendations that "No subsidies should be
given to ameliorate the increase in water tariffs in Cochabamba";
all users, including the very poor, must pay full costs. Using
the Internet, activists in Bolivia called for international protests,
which had a significant impact, presumably amplified by the Washington
protests over World Bank-IMF policies then underway. Bechtel backed
off and the government rescinded the sale. But a long and difficult
struggle lies ahead.
As martial law was declared in Bolivia, a press report from
southern Colombia described the spreading fears that fumigation
planes were coming to "drop their poison on the coca fields,
which would also kill the farmers' subsistence crops, cause massive
social disruption, and stir up the ever-present threat of violence."
The pervasive fear and anger reflect "the level of dread
and confusion in this part of Colombia" as the U.S. carries
out chemical and biological warfare to destroy coca production.
Another question lurks not too far in the background. Just
what right does the U.S. have to carry out military operations
and chemical-biological warfare in other countries to destroy
a crop it doesn't like? We can put aside the cynical response
that the governments requested this "assistance"; or
else. We therefore must ask whether others have the same extraterritorial
right to violence and destruction that the U.S. demands.
The number of Colombians who die from U. S. -produced lethal
drugs exceeds the number of North Americans who die from cocaine,
and is far greater relative to population. In East Asia, U.S.-produced
lethal drugs contribute to millions of deaths. These countries
are compelled not only to accept the products but also advertising
for them, under threat of trade sanctions. The effects of "aggressive
marketing and advertising by American firms is, in a good measure,
responsible for...a sizable increase in smoking rates for women
and youth in Asian countries where doors were forced open by threat
of severe U.S. trade sanctions," public health researchers
conclude. The Colombian cartels, in contrast, are not permitted
to run huge advertising campaigns in which a Joe Camel-counterpart
extols the wonders of cocaine.
We are therefore entitled, indeed morally obligated, to ask
whether Colombia, Thailand, China, and other targets of U. S.
trade policies and lethal-export promotion have the right to conduct
military, chemical and biological warfare in North Carolina. And
if not, why not?
We might also ask why there are no Delta Force raids on U.
S. banks and chemical corporations, though it is no secret that
they too are engaged in the narcotrafficking business. And why
the Pentagon is not gearing up to attack Canada, now replacing
Colombia and Mexico with high potency marijuana that has already
become British Colombia's most valuable agricultural product and
one of the most important sectors of the economy, joined by Quebec
and closely followed by Manitoba, with a tenfold increase in just
the past 2 years. Or to attack the United States, a major producer
of marijuana with production rapidly expanding, including hydroponic
growers, and long the center of illicit manufacture of high-tech
illicit drugs (ATS, amphetamine-type stimulants), the fastest
growing sector of drug abuse, with 30 million users worldwide,
probably surpassing heroin and cocaine.
There is no need to review in detail the lethal effects of
U.S. drugs. The Supreme Court recently concluded that it has been
"amply demonstrated" that tobacco use is "perhaps
the single most significant threat to public health in the United
States," responsible for more than 400,000 deaths a year,
more than AIDS, car accidents, alcohol, homicides, illegal drugs,
suicides, and fires combined; the Court virtually called on Congress
to legislate regulation. As use of this lethal substance has declined
in the U.S., and producers have been compelled to pay substantial
indemnities to victims, they have shifted to markets abroad, another
standard practice. The death toll is incalculable. Oxford University
epidemiologist Richard Peto estimated that in China alone, among
children under 20 today 50 million will die of cigarette-related
diseases, a substantial number because of highly selective U.S.
"free trade" doctrine.
In comparison to the 400,000 deaths caused by tobacco every
year in the United States, drug-related deaths reached a record
16,000 in 1997. Furthermore, only 4 out of 10 addicts who needed
treatment received it, according to a White House report. These
facts raise further questions about the motives for the drug war.
The seriousness of concern over use of drugs was illustrated again
when a House Committee was considering the Clinton Colombia Plan.
It rejected an amendment proposed by California Democrat Nancy
Pelosi calling for funding of drug demand reduction services.
It is well known that these are far more effective than forceful
measures. A widely-cited Rand corporation study funded by the
U.S. Army and Office of National Drug Control Policy found that
funds spent on domestic drug treatment were 23 times as effective
as "source country control" (Clinton's Colombia Plan),
11 times as effective as interdiction, and 7 times as effective
as domestic law enforcement. But the inexpensive and effective
path will not be followed. Rather, the drug war targets poor peasants
abroad and poor people at home; by the use of force, not constructive
measures to alleviate problems at a fraction of the cost.
While Clinton's Colombia Plan was being formulated, senior
administration officials discussed a proposal by the Office of
Budget and Management to take $100 million from the $1.3 billion
then planned for Colombia, to be used for treatment of U.S. addicts.
There was near-unanimous opposition, particularly from "drug
czar" Barry McCaffrey, and the proposal was dropped. In contrast,
when Richard Nixon-in many respects the last liberal president-declared
a drug war in 1971, two-thirds of the funding went to treatment,
which reached record numbers of addicts; there was a sharp drop
in drug-related arrests and number of federal prison inmates,
as well as crime rates. Since 1980, however, "the war on
drugs has shifted to punishing offenders, border surveillance,
and fighting production at the source countries," John Donnelly
reports in the Boston Globe. One consequence is the enormous increase
in drug-related (often victimless) crimes and an explosion in
the prison population, reaching levels far beyond any industrial
country and possibly a world record, with no detectable effect
on availability or price of drugs.
Such observations, hardly obscure, raise the question of what
the drug war is all about. It is recognized widely that it fails
to achieve its stated ends, and the failed methods are then pursued
more vigorously while effective ways to reach the stated goals
are rejected. It is therefore natural to conclude that the drug
war, cast in the harshly punitive form implemented since 1980,
is achieving its goals, not failing. What are these goals? A plausible
answer is implicit in a comment by Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan,
one of the few senators to pay close attention to social statistics.
By adopting these measures, he observed, "we are choosing
to have an intense crime problem concentrated among minorities."
Criminologist Michael Tonry concludes that "the war's planners
knew exactly what they were doing." What they were doing
is, first, getting rid of the "superfluous population,"
the "disposable people" ("desechables"), as
they are called in Colombia, where they are eliminated by "social
cleansing"; and second, frightening everyone else, not an
unimportant task in a period when a domestic form of "structural
adjustment" is being imposed, with significant costs for
the majority of the population.
"While the War on Drugs only occasionally serves and
more often degrades public health and safety," a well-informed
and insightful review by Partners in Health researchers concludes,
"it regularly serves the interests of private wealth: interests
revealed by the pattern of winners and losers, targets and non-targets,
well-funded and underfunded," in accord with "the main
interests of U.S. foreign and domestic policy generally"
and the private sector that "has overriding influence on
One may debate the motivations, but the consequences in the
U.S. and abroad seem reasonably clear.
South America watch