Clinton’s national security adviser Sandy Berger insists the U.S.
incursion into a long-running civil war er, excuse me, $1.3
billion worth of assistance to the government in fighting the drug
war in Colombia is not like Vietnam. Not at all. "The
fact is, this is nothing similar whatsoever," he told the Associated
they are two different countries and it’s about 40 years later,
so of course there are some differences. But the parallels are too
eerie to be dismissed.
potential dangers are highlighted by the downing over the weekend
of a U.S.-made helicopter, killing seven Colombia airmen, during
a government-guerrilla firefight. The administration insists that
the new helicopters will be used only against drug traffickers,
but it’s difficult to see how that can be guaranteed, especially
when virtually all sides have some links to drug traffickers.
what happens when an "anti-drug" helicopter is brought
down in a future firefight with some guerrilla faction or another
after intensive US training and briefing? And what happens when
as is virtually inevitable a Colombian helicopter
is brought down with a US adviser on board? Will that be the signal
for more intensive involvement or will it trigger an active antiwar
all people, California Republican senatorial candidate Rep. Tom
Campbell has been among the more active people in public life drawing
attention to the parallels between Colombia and Vietnam.
he put it in his speech to the Shadow Convention during the recent
Democratic National Convention, the United States plan is to send
in advisers and send in helicopters. Part of the plan is to relocate
people into "strategic hamlets" (though that’s not the
term being used) and teach them to grow different crops. The United
States is entering a long-running civil war in a jungle country.
Part of the plan is to defoliate the jungle, with fungus rather
than with napalm.
only thing missing," said Rep. Campbell, "is Robert McNamara’s
signature on the plan."
all due respect to Rep. Campbell, one of the few members of Congress
with the temerity to question this ill-conceived operation, a few
other things are missing this time around.
and foremost, of course, there is no global communist threat, and
therefore no support for the other side by a hostile superpower
with expansive ambitions. In fact, beyond the idea of "drug
traffickers" fairly universally acknowledged to be a divided,
shifting and competitive lot it’s hard to figure out if there is
an "other side." Most authorities count about 20 armed
groups with various agendas in Colombia.
there is no way to construct a remotely plausible "domino theory"
in regard to the Colombia drug war. What other countries will "fall"
to tyranny if the US fails to save Colombia from the depredations
of the evil drug traffickers? If anything, it is likely that US
intervention will strengthen the hand of the almost charmingly anachronistic
"Marxist" guerrillas who constitute one of the Colombian
fact, the most destabilizing force in Colombia and among its neighbors
is likely to be US intervention, rather than US failure to intervene.
On a tour to try to drum up support and understanding among Colombia’s
neighbors the week before last, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright
and other US officials encountered anything but enthusiasm for Bill
and Maddie’s (and Gen. Barry’s) excellent adventure. Rather they
mostly ran into skepticism and fear, according to news reports.
is concerned about refugees, so Ms. Albright offered the country
$15 million. Brazilian foreign minister Luiz Felipe Lampreia said
outright that "Brazil does not have the same level of commitment
as the United States in the program to fight drug trafficking in
Colombia," and the country is beefing up its border forces.
is moving forces from its Ecuadorian border to its Colombian border
in anticipation of refugees and disruption. Panama is requesting
million from the United States to handle expected border disruptions.
Venezuela may or may not provide a safe haven for guerrillas
or it may or may not be doing so already, depending on which
news reports you believe.
much of the concern in the region is the memory of the fact
conveniently forgotten by most US official spokesthings that
the Colombian cocaine trade was in large part created by the "success"
of anti-cocaine efforts in Bolivia and Peru. The US gave considerable
assistance to Bolivia and did manage to discourage a few coca growers.
The Peruvian government under that sterling democrat Alberto Fujimori,
attacked coca growers as part of its concerted (and often pretty
brutal) effort to wipe out the notorious Sendero Luminoso or "Shining
Path" guerrilla movement.
most significant result was that coca growing was moved from those
countries where it had been made difficult to Colombia. Before these
famous victories Colombians mainly specialized in jungle labs where
raw coca from Peru and Bolivia was converted into cocaine paste
or powder. When things got tougher in Peru and Bolivia the cartels
simply found Colombian farmers not hard to do in a country characterized
by subsistence agriculture and decades of civil war willing to take
a few more chances for some extra money and the promise of protection.
is a rugged jungle country with three major mountain chains. The
government has virtually no effective control outside major cities
and has effectively ceded large parts of the country to local rebels.
So it won’t be easy to stop cocaine growing. But insofar as the
government, with help from drug warriors in Washington DC who are
eager to wage proxy wars in other peoples’ countries, is able to
increase the effective cost of raising coca in Colombia, the growing
will be moved to remote jungle regions in neighboring countries.
officials have said all the right things when Mr. Bill and other
US officials have come to call and cheer the surrogates on. That’s
not surprising. One could hardly expect the Colombian government
to say, "no, thanks" to money and helicopters; indeed,
it will no doubt ask for more each year for years to come.
that additional yearly subsidy, as well as the cost of reparations,
compensation or whatever convenient formula is developed to cover
paying off countries like Panama and Ecuador for putting up with
US meddling, to the total cost US taxpayers and military people
will eventually be asked to bear.
the iron logic of prohibition economics suggests the drug trade
won’t be stopped. As former Colombian police official Gustavo de
Greiff who years ago began to question the advisability of
cooperating in U.S.-inspired drug wars, then finally resigned
has explained, a kilo of processed cocaine goes for about $2,000
in Colombia but can be sold for $60,000 on US streets.
a lot of profit for a lot of middlemen. If you arrest one, three
more will jump forward to take his place. If you suppress coca growing
in Colombia it will pop up in Peru, Ecuador, Venezuela or Brazil.
Indeed, it’s already happening.
drugs are said to cloud the mind, make it difficult to discern reality
and subvert logical thinking. Fighting a drug war seems to have
precisely that impact on American policy makers.
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