CIA, Cocaine, and Death Squads

by the Eco-Solidarity Working Group

CovertAction Quarterly, Fall / Winter 1999


Forty million people, along with the most biologically diverse, endangered ecosystems in the world, are under attack by the U. S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) and mercenaries paid by oil companies. This war is fought with bombs and bullets, as well as with herbicides and media misinformation. The cause of the war is as diverse as the region's terrain and its ethnic variety The rapacious greed of multinationals like Occidental Petroleum, Shell, BP, Texaco, and their counterparts in the Colombian elite is the main problem, but cocaine use in the U.S. is the fuel that fires this inferno. Drug exports pay for the weapons of the right-wing government-backed death squads and the revolutionary guerrillas.

For years Colombia was banned from receiving U.S. military or drug fighting money due to its poor human rights record and its failure to cooperate in the drug war. In 1998 they received $89 million, and this year the total reached $289 million. Despite continued human rights abuses. Colombia is now the third largest recipient of U.S. military aid after Israel and Egypt. Direct U.S. military intervention looms on the horizon for this region, which exports more oil to the U.S. than the entire Middle East. President Clinton is giving the nod to a death-squad offensive. These squads work closely with Colombian military and together they are responsible for the deaths of 25,000 people this decade-300,000 since 1945. Violence has displaced 1.2 million people in the last three years (mostly women and children).

Death squads guard petroleum facilities and shipments of cocaine. The head of these squads, Carlos Castano, is a key player in the Cali Drug Cartel, according to the Drug Enforcement Administration. Castano took over the direction of the death squads from another CIA asset, Colombian Army General Van Martinez. CIA involvement in Colombia began in the 1950s and grew along with the drug trade. In 1991 the CIA established a Colombian naval intelligence group that became a key part of the death squads' continuing terror campaign against guerrillas and anyone who speaks out for change or peace. ~ Many death squad leaders graduated from the School of the Americas in Fort Benning, Georgia, where thousands of Latin American soldiers have been trained in counterinsurgency and torture. Castano proudly takes responsibility for his massacres. He has kidnapped Colombian senators and he speaks in radio interviews about the need for more killing. Arrest warrants for Castano, army officers and other death squad leaders gather dust on the Attorney General's desk. Evidence mounts of collaboration between the military and the death squads 2 In July, the largest Colombian guerrilla group, Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC) launched an attack against the mountain headquarters of Castano, but were driven back by the Colombian army with U.S. intelligence assistance.

Hundreds of U.S. military personnel are on the ground, training elite units of the Colombian Army Sophisticated U.S. spy planes, like the U.S. RC-7B, inform and direct combat operations. DynaCorp and East Inc. operate a private air force used to eradicate poppies and coca plants, dousing hundreds of square miles of the countryside with herbicides. Monsanto's Roundup is the toxin of choice, but the U.S. has pressured Colombia to use Dow Chemicals more lethal tebuthiuron. Trade named Spike, it comes in a granular form making it easier to apply Colombia is the only country in the hemisphere where drug crops are sprayed from the air. Genetically engineered viruses are also being developed for the drug war arsenal. Despite this toxic rain, coca production has risen dramatically In July, two DynaCorp employees were killed along with five U.S. military personnel when an intelligence-gathering aircraft hit a mountain or a FARC missile in southern Colombia.

The news media have confused the issues and kept secret U.S. culpability in this dirty war. They create an impression that the FARC and the Ejercito de Liberacion Nacional (ELN), Colombia's other major guerrilla group, have long controlled most of the drug trade, but, in fact, "ELN until now has been a minor player." Moreover the guerrillas are presented as unwilling to lay down their arms as part of a peace plan. In the late 1 980s, guerrillas put down the gun for the ballot box. They were met with the votes of many people and a hail of bullets from the death squads. Almost 5,000 members of the opposition political party, Patriotic Union, have been killed by the right wing since 1989.

The oil companies and the government must be held responsible for the violence and the pollution that is the byproduct of their oil operations. Oil is Colombia's most important legal export (27 percent of total exports). Coffee is second (15 percent). The U.S. imports 260,000 barrels of Colombian oil every day In the U'wa region alone, 1.7 million barrels of oil have spilled onto the soil and rivers in the last 12 years. Colombia has the worst human rights record in the Americas, and the area around the U'wa has the worst record in Colombia. Robin Kirk, author of "War with Colombia and International Law," supports the contention that the death squads make their massacres as brutal and gruesome as possible to make sure the message is understood. They often carry lists of trade unionists, Catholic priests, human rights observers and guerrilla supporters.

A biological paradise, Colombia has the greatest number of bird species (1,780) of any country in the world. It is second in plants and amphibians and third in reptiles. Only Brazil, which is seven times larger, surpasses Colombia in total number of species. The Macarena region contains Colombia's first biological preserve, established in 1942. Half of the worlds orchids bloom here, and a dazzling variety of jaguars, dolphin, primates, giant otters, spectacled bears, agoutis, kinkajous and the FARC live here too. The Macarena has been its headquarters for decades, and it has earned respect from biologists for establishing some order over the squatters who are a constant threat to the region's biological integrity

Besides the war, the oil spills, dams and herbicides, there is the usual devastation from cattle, road construction, logging and mining-the social and environmental externalities that come with the U.S. model of economic development. Manatees, tapirs, and macaws are but a tiny fraction of the species that are on the edge of extinction in Colombia. Most species have not even been classified here.

In this threatened ecosystem, the guerrillas are fighting for their lives and the tens of thousands of relatives they have lost to U.S. and narco-death squads. Thousands of young people have joined the guerrillas bid to end the right wings forty years of collusion with oil company exploitation and death squad violence. Their goal is to stop this neo-liberal madness that devastates people and the environment in a chase for profits.

Eco-Solidarity seeks an end to the phony drug war that the U.S. wages against the land and the poor people of Colombia. The most biologically diverse ecosystems in the world are at risk here. Almost two million people have been displaced by a brutal civil war that is financed and directed by the U.S. and its covert operations. Refugees, mostly women and children, are crowded into slums or driven further into the rainforests.


CIA and Third World