From Korea to Vietnam to Colombia

"White lies" about the drug war an Colombia

by Deirdre Griswold

Workers World, August 19, 1999


The involvement of the CIA and other U.S. agencies in the drug trade has been detailed in many books and articles, including the recent "Whiteout" by Alexander Cockburn, "Dark Alliance" by Gary Webb, "The Politics of Heroin" by Alfred W. McCoy, and "Cocaine Politics" by Peter Dale Scott and Jonathan Marshall.

Those who remember the Vietnam War know that the CIA, with all its protective secrecy, became deeply involved in the heroin trade during that conflict, as detailed in the book "The Politics of Heroin in Southeast Asia."

An informative piece in the Dec. 3,1993, International Herald Tribune by Larry Collins, author of the book "Black Eagles" about the CIA, cocaine traffic and Central America said that "CIA ties to international drug trafficking date to the Korean War."

The agency gave weapons to warlords thrown out of revolutionary China in exchange for information about Chinese support for North Korea. "Soon intelligence began to flow into Washington from the area, which became known as the Golden Triangle. So, too, did heroin, en-route to Southeast Asia and often to the United States."

The involvement of the CIA and the U.S. military in the drug trade was briefly in the spotlight again when the intricate plot by Col. Oliver North to finance the contras in Nicaragua through an arms trade with Iran made the news. North claimed not to know about the dirty dealings generated from his office in the basement of the Reagan White House, but it seems that plenty of people in Los Angeles knew that the eocaine flooding into their city was coming from the Nicaraguan contras, with CIA help.

It is well documented that the Taliban of Afghanistan have a multimillion-dollar opium and heroin operation. These thugs, who were nothing more than mercenaries for the feudal landlords uprooted by the Afghan Revolution, rose to power in a vicious war paid for by U.S. taxpayers and organized by the Pentagon.

The KLA paramilitary group that has just been installed by NATO decree as the civil authority in Kosovo is linked to organized crime and the drug trade in Western Europe. Evidence of the KLA-drug connection was presented at the July 31 Independent Commission of Inquiry to Investigate U.S./NATO War Crimes Against the People of Yugoslavia, held in NewYork.

McCaffrey and counter-revolution

Everywhere U.S. super-secret agencies have been involved in counter-revolution, it seems, they have also been involved in using drug trafficking to generate funds for their "assets" - and for themselves, too, on the side.

But Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey must think that the public's memory is short.

McCaffrey is director of the Office of National Drug Control Policy and he has called for stepping up the "war on drugs" in Latin America.

The general - whose appointment in 1996 was a major stride in militarizing what is basically a public health problem - has requested another $1 billion to stop the advances of the revolutionary guerrilla army in Colombia, whom he calls "narco-terrorists." This money will go for special forces - highly trained killers - and more high-tech planes, and helicopters.

Meanwhile, drug treatment facilities here - the most economical and effective way to deal with addiction - are going begging for funds.

McCaffrey may not know much about public health, but he knows what war and counter-revolution are all about. He's a veteran of Vietnam. He also commanded a division in "Operation Desert Storm." He was commander in chief of the U.S. Southern Command from February 1994 until Clinton named him "drug czar" two years later.

McCaffrey calls the revolutionaries in Colombia "narco-terrorists." This is the phrase Washington has invented for the popular revolutionary army that has been fighting against the Colombian ruling class for the last 30 years.

The "war on drugs" that the U.S. government has launched against the revolutionary movement in Colombia is bound to fail. It will not reduce drug addiction in the United States and it will not turn back the international drug trade. In fact, stopping the flow of drugs to the U.S. has nothing to do with this war.

The "drug war" is nothing but a cover for an all-out military attempt to keep Colombia and neighboring countries in Latin America in the orbit of U.S. transnational corporations. This means propping up a corrupt and brutal ruling class there-that is, the same social grouping that owes much of its wealth to the cocaine trade.

Progressives have argued for decades that the drug trade is a product of capitalism. It is nothing more than an extreme form of profiteering-one that ranks along with arms sales, prostitution and slavery in directly profiting off of human misery and degradation.

It attracts capital the way any for-profit business does - by promising a generous return on the investment.

The profits grow directly with the risks involved-so criminalizing and even militarizing the problem just make the trade more lucrative. Prohibition in the same way led to the growth of organized crime and vast fortunes for the most successful bootleggers. The Kennedy millions originated in the illegal liquor trade.

Narcotics have grown into a huge industry that relies not only on the desperado characters portrayed in movies but, even more importantly, on the prosaic administrators and managers of "legal" businesses like banks and brokerage houses. They launder the hundreds of billions that are made in drug profits.

Banks and money laundering

Back on Oct. 5, 1989, a New York Times report on the testimony of Assistant Treasury Secretary Salvatore R. Martoche to the Senate Subcommittee on Terrorism, Narcotics and International Operations said the Bush administration offficial admitted that U.S. banks were laundering the enormous sum of $110 billion ayear in drug money.

Just this July 27, the New York Times referred to an ongoing investigation of Citibank's "private banking" practices. You won't find the word "drugs" or even "controlled substances" in the article, which lumps together private accounts the bank has set up for a number of wealthy people. But in at least one of the cases mentioned- an offshore account Citibank set up for Raul Salinas-the laundering of drug money is what it's all about.

A report posted last Oct. 30 on the web site of the General Accounting Office goes into quite a bit of detail on Citibank's relations with Salinas, brother of the former president of Mexico - who got elected with U.S. support and then returned the favor for U.S. big business by signing the NAFTA trade agreement.

Any worker who has ever tried to open a checking account with the bank will be shocked at the special treatment accorded Salinas. At a time when he was in prison on a murder charge, Citibank opened an account for him in the name of his fiance. It accepted a double-endorsed check that wasn't even made out to her real name.

Had the check been for $100, the bank would have told her to take a hike. But the checks she used to open the account added up to $100 million. So she got special treatment-from Citibank's offfices in Mexico City, New York, Zurich and London-and was able to open an offshore account in the Cayman Islands.

The GAO report on this matter refers to other cases of bank money laundering. In a 1994 case against two employees of American Express Bank, the largest monetary penalty ever imposed-$35 million-was levied against the bank.

Yet this is just the tip of the iceberg. The truth is that with an industry as large as drugs, all kinds of financial institutions are part of the profit-making network.

Special Agent Harold D. Wankel of the Drug Enforcement Administration told the House Banking and Financial Committee on Feb. 28, 1996, that "Drug trafficking is a multibillion-dollar cash business, and drug money is essential to these enterprises. Without it, they cannot finance the manufacturing, the transportation and the smuggling, the distribution, the murder and the intimidation that are essential to their illegal trade. Drug money laundering organizations are established to ensure the cash flow to these illegal businesses.

"Profits from the sale of illegal drugs are recycled through laundered investments, which take place across many borders- and often involve international financial institutions-banks and money exchange houses. With today's sophisticated banking techniques, including the electronic transfer of money, once the money enters into the banking system, it can be transferred among dozens of banks within a 24hour period, making the paper trail either impossible or extremely time-consuming to follow. Mobalization of the drug trade has necessitated an expansion and sophistication of the laundering of illegal drug profits."

But you'll never see SWAT teams breaking into the offices of these white-collar dope pushers and slamming them against the wall on the nightly news. That kind of treatment is reserved for the street dealers who take all the risks and get peanuts compared to the big criminals.

Demonization of FARC

The U.S. government has tried to portray the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC-EP) as "narco-guerrillas" because, it says, there are coca-growing peasants living in the areas controlled by the rebel force, and they are "taxed" by the guerrillas.

These peasants, like poor farmers everywhere, get very little for what they grow. They are not the kingpins of the drug industry.

The FARC is a Marxist organization that intends to completely revamp Colombian society along socialist lines. The real drug lords fear this most of all, because they know that when the economy is socially owned and producing to satisfy people's needs, not to generate a profit for private owners, then they will be washed up.

Just look at Russia today for proof of this statement. When the Soviet Union existed, there was virtually no drug problem there. Now that capitalism has been restored, organized crime, drug addiction, violence and prostitution are rampant and Russian mobsters have become part of an international underworld.

China, too, needed a revolution to get rid of the opium habit that had been forced on it by the British during the Opium Wars.

The answer to the drug problem is not McCaffrey's war in Latin America. It is victory for progressive movements like the - FARC that are fighting to overturn capitalism's poisonous influence on human society.

South America watch