interrupt my philosophical excursion into the big picture this
week for a couple of rather current items that deserve attention.
Let’s start with Colombia, which is poised to become the dubious
beneficiary of a $1.3 billion Clinton administration escalation/intervention
into its ongoing civil war and drug trafficking mess.
Sam Loewenberg writes in an excellent article in the February
21 issues of the imperial city’s Legal Times newspaper
(a weekly trade paper for lawyers and judges that from time to
time does some excellent investigative pieces I remember an especially
good one some years ago on the Randy Weaver case that I used in
my book), "Nothing in Washington ever happens in a vacuum."
The administration’s plan to intervene in Colombia is no exception.
lobbyists have been pushing the idea.
almost a year," Loewenberg writes, "a business consortium
of blue-chip multinationals has been pressing the White House
and Capitol Hill for such a package. The assistance, the companies
say, is needed to help the war-torn Latin American company beat
back the growing illegal drug trade that is making it difficult
to do business." The formal mechanism for the lobbying effort
is the U.S.-Colombia Business Partnership, founded in 1996. The
key business members are the Occidental Petroleum Corp., the Enron
Corp., BP Amoco and Colgate-Palmolive.
run for many years by the late Armand Hammer, a notorious Soviet
long-time apologist who was cozy with Lenin and managed to sidle
his way to Ronald Reagan’s side more than once during the Gipper’s
presidency, has never been shy about using the political process
to further its business interests. The company, in the person
of Lawrence Meriaga, vice president for public affairs, testified
before the House Government Reform Subcommittee on Drug Policy
a couple of weeks ago in favor of Colombian intervention. Drug
"czar" Gen. Barry McCaffrey, perhaps the most prominent
administration cheerleader for a Colombian adventure, testified
at the same hearing, along with three high-ranking administration
figures, the head of the U.S. Southern Command, all of whom favored
the aid package, of course.
claims one of its oil projects in Colombia has lost $100 million
since 1995 due to terrorist activity. It’s more than happy to
exploit the fact that most members of Congress have a knee-jerk
"do something" response whenever anybody mentions illegal
drugs to commandeer the American military and the taxpayers’ money
to try to recoup the company’s losses.
as Mr. Meriage put it, there’s "a confluence of interests.
The members expressed concern about drugs, and from our perspective
here, they are certainly disruptive of any normal business relationship."
companies have a very direct interest in seeing the intervention
package approved. Sikorsky Aircraft, a subsidiary of United Technologies,
stands to sell 30 Black Hawk helicopters if the package is approved,
for about $360 million the Washington Post puts the cost
at $385 million).
Helicopter Textron is likely to sell 33 Hueys for about $66 million.
few conservatives who are inclined to support the Colombian intervention
on general knee-jerk don’t-let-the-Cold-War-be-over principles
expressed anonymous concern to Loewenberg that the expensive Black
Hawk helicopters were chosen in part to win the votes of Democrats.
Rep. Sam Gejdenson represents Stamford, CT, where Sikorsky is
based, and is the ranking member of the House International Relations
Committee. Sen. Christopher Dodd of Connecticut is the ranking
member of the Senate Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Narcotics.
Both opposed military aid to Latin American countries in the 1980s,
when a Republican administration was pushing it.
1997 United Technologies has given $19,000 to Rep. Gejdenson and
$33,200 to Sen. Dodd, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.
Helicopter is based in Fort Worth, and brags that "the entire
Texas delegation is working on this issue," including Democratic
Congressional Campaign Committee chairman Martin Frost and Republicans
like Majority Leader Dick Armey and Whip Tom DeLay.
not only has problems with guerrillas and narco-traffickers, it’s
embroiled in a dispute with the indigenous U’Wa tribe, on whose
land the company wants to drill. Three U’WA children reportedly
drowned at an anti-drilling demonstration last month. Some tribe
members threaten to commit mass suicide if the company starts
members and members of human-rights groups like Amazon Watch might
have hoped that Mr. Environmental Sensitivity, Vice President
Al Gore, might have at least lent an open ear to some of their
concerns. But Occidental has been one of Mr. Gore’s political
patrons for decades. His father, the late Tennessee Sen. Al Gore
Sr. sat on Occidental’s board for years, and the company has paid
the family $20,000 a year since the 1960s for unused mineral rights
on family land. And Occidental, of course, has given big bucks
both to Gore himself and to the Democratic National Committee.
obscure tribe of indigenous people in the Colombian hinterlands
can hardly hope to compete with that.
IN THE BALKANS?
has been the bloodiest month in Kosovo since NATO troops arrived
last June after the 78-day bombing campaign. The most alarming
(from the perspective of deluded nation-builders) incident was
an eruption of violence between ethnic Albanians in Koskovska
Mitrovica and NATO French, in this instance "peacekeepers."
Two French soldiers were wounded, an Albanian rooftop sniper was
killed and more than 40 people have since been arrested.
incident could well be the trigger that leads to more intensive
US involvement, in the form of committing a few hundred (or more
likely a few thousand before long) US troops to areas the French
haven’t been able to pacify.