we go any further into this column, let's rip the "drug war"
mask off this escalating disaster: To begin with, there are
lots of places where the drug trade is entrenched, starting
with right here in the good old USA. The American
Midwest is increasingly the center of a thriving trade in
methamphetamine one of the most dangerous and debilitating
drugs in the pharmaceutical department of your local black
market. There are plenty of other countries including
one just south of the Rio Grande where the "drug lords,"
buying off politicians left and right, have become entrenched.
South Asia springs to mind, with its opium fields guarded
by rebel separatist factions and minority ethnic armies: Burma,
kingdom of the original "drug lords," seems to have been
forgotten in all this. What about Pakistan,
Afghanistan, and others who produce, refine, and transport
a steady stream of illegal drugs to US consumers? Will we
intervene on such a massive scale in all these places
and is that one by one, or all at once?
COUNTERINTUITIVE ANTI-DRUG PROGRAM
real international crusade to eliminate the drug trade would
have to mean a return to the rice paddies of Southeast Asia
but naturally this administration (or any likely successor)
would never even consider such a futile crusade. No, for some
reason the leaders of both major parties have their hearts
set on Colombia. For some unfathomable motive, the most corrupt
and dishonest president in all of American history
who is rumored to have a
bit of a drug history of his own is now bound and
determined to fight the menace of "illicit" narcotics on the
streets of American cities. Not, as you might imagine, by
sweeping American drug dealers off the streets, but by invading
the streets and villages of a foreign country. Got
makes perfect sense, from a Clintonian point of view
that is, if you're used to lying to yourself and the nation.
It is always easier to find a foreign scapegoat for homegrown
social ills than to face the inner demons that bedevil us
all. American leaders look overseas for the enemy everywhere
except in the mirror. But do we really expect Bill Clinton
who, after disgracing his office and demeaning the
nation, will naturally go
to work for Hollywood to do that?
pick on Colombia, when so many other countries are involved
in the drug trade? The reason is that the discovery
of fresh oil fields and the lucrative
profits enjoyed by Occidental Oil working in tandem
with the state-owned Colombian oil monopoly make this
troubled nation a plum ready for the picking. The recent investments
made by AOL-Time-Warner in the Colombian telecommunications
infrastructure is a key link in the mega-company's plans to
rope all of South America's rising internet community into
its cybernetic empire. Another key corporate connection is
Gore's longstanding links to the Occidental Petroleum Corp.,
one of the biggest investors in Colombia's wildcat oil market.
Was it synchronicity
at work when Occidental declared "force
majeure" at one of Colombia's largest oil fields the
day before Clinton announced his visit? Perhaps it was
sheer coincidence: then again, perhaps not.
the Reuters story pointed out, "Earlier this year, Occidental
chiefs lobbied hard for the U.S. government to press ahead
with a pledge to hand over a record aid package to Colombia
to help it fight drug-traffickers and Communist guerrillas,"
and it was indeed one of several Marxist rebel groups who
have bombed the same Occidental pipeline over forty times
since it started pumping crude to the tune of 105,000 barrels
a day. The most recent attack, launched a few days ago, shut
the pipeline down, and Occidental is yelping. As the Reuters
report points out, in 1997 "the first declaration of force
majeure at Cano Limon [oil field in Colombia] sent a shudder
through US markets and energy officials since it was the starkest
indication until that time of the risk posed by Colombia's
warring rebel factions against the oil industry." The immediate
effect of the rebel offensive on the cost of oil in the US
is unclear, but with skyrocketing gas prices an issue in the
presidential race and Gore having the chutzpah to
characterize Dubya as Big Oil's sock-puppet the Clinton
camp cannot afford to do nothing. Besides, BP Amoco, which
$1 million to put on this year's Democratic national convention,
substantial interest in Colombia as well as the politically-connected
Occidental. Thus the panicked and hurriedly-planned Colombian
excursion to show the flag and cheer up the troops. . . .
the troops, American troops, 83 of them so far, but as the
war escalates their numbers will increase: officially, they
are called "trainers" just as they were called "advisors"
in that other jungled quagmire, Vietnam. They
arrived last week, just as Clinton was getting ready to
announce his trip and Occidental was handing out the
bad news to its investors and shareholders. What is billed
as a training center for the "anti-drug battalion" of the
Colombian police is, in reality, an anti-guerrilla base of
operations commanded by the US military in direct violation
of Colombian sovereignty. Situated in the northern part of
the country, about forty miles from the city of Florencia,
the base is considered secure in spite of its proximity to
rebel-held territory, which is less than fifteen minutes away.
The Los Angeles Times cites a national security expert
in Bogota as saying that "the US aid is extremely important
for the morale of the Colombian army. . . .After years of
US support for the police instead of the armed forces, with
the new aid package, he said, 'they feel like they have their
dad back.'" What a touching family reunion but is this
the kind of paternity claim that the US government wants to
acknowledge and accept?
HIGHWAY OR CIVIC IMPROVEMENT?
same Colombian army has been accused of massive human rights
violations, is rife with corruption, and is in many cases
allied with right-wing "paramilitary" units who have entered
the field against the leftist guerrillas. President Andres
Pastrana's center-left government has imposed IMF-style "austerity"
measures like raising taxes, and stands on increasingly on
shaky political ground, with a
massive strike by public employees mobilizing whole sectors
of the population against a weakened Pastrana and in
coalition with the guerrillas and their civilian sympathizers.
As a sign of their desperation, the Colombian government and
its US backers are hysterically claiming that the
rebels are building a "drug highway" through the Colombian
jungle: not only are they supposedly using 'forced labor,"
but they are also "damaging the environment." I suppose this
is supposed to mobilize Greenpeace and human rights activists
in the front lines of the drug war. But not this time. The
rebel FARC, for its part, appears to be widening and repairing
an already-existing two-lane highway an engineering
feat apparently beyond the capabilities of Bogota or the provincial
authorities and denies that forced labor is being used,
or that their latest civic improvement project will be used
to transport illegal drug shipments. Last year, the central
government formally ceded a large swath of jungle territory
to the FARC,
and negotiated with the ELN
(another Marxist faction) to set up yet another autonomous
region, ostensibly to promote the peace process but in reality
to acknowledge what is already an accomplished fact: the Colombian
rebels and their paramilitary rivals already control more
than half of the nation's territory. Any counterinsurgency
operation directed against these rival factions will necessarily
be long, arduous, and bloody and no amount of "smart
bombs" and hi-tech gimmicks will pull off a rapid and pyrotechnic
"victory," not even a Pyrrhic
a bloody endless quagmire from which there can be no honorable
escape turns out to be Clinton's legacy, then the Republicans
will have helped him achieve it. The Los
Angeles Times reports that
recent guerrilla attacks on police outposts, US congressional
members who support the Colombian police have criticized the
Clinton administration for allegedly preventing use of the
helicopters for reinforcement or rescue operations. When police
officers were killed late last month in a remote area after
guerrillas pinned them down and they ran out of ammunition,
the US Embassy released a statement denying that the ambassador
had prohibited the Colombians from sending the helicopters
in for support. Weather conditions were blamed for grounding
the aircraft both then and over the weekend, when a guerrilla
incursion left the northern town of Arboleda in ruins. Only
four of more than two dozen police assigned to the town are
known to have survived the attack, which was carried out with
weapons that included gas cylinders hurled like Molotov cocktails."
Republicans, with Rep
Benjamin Gilman, chairman of the House International Affairs
Committee in the lead, are criticizing Clinton for not intervening
with massive force: "The administration has been so preoccupied
with avoiding being involved in Colombia's counterinsurgency
efforts that it has permitted the situation to erode and deteriorate,"
he rants but isn't it funny how we didn't hear anything
about escalating the Colombian war at that touchy-feely festival
that was staged instead of the Republican national convention.
If the newly-multiculturalized GOP really wanted to do some
"Latino outreach," instead of parading George P. spouting
bromides in Spanish they would come out against blaming Latin
Americans for what is an American cultural problem.
But that would be way beyond the strategic geniuses
who run the GOP: after all, the differences between the two
"major" parties disappear at the water's edge, as we are often
told, and we have but one foreign policy on both sides of
the aisle: intervention everywhere and anywhere but
especially where there's money to be made.
LOST SOUTH AMERICA?
Rep. Gilman the
best friend American helicopter makers ever had
is demanding that the nonexistent line between fighting drugs
and fighting rebels be completely erased, the Clinton administration
is more cautious, anxious that the Colombian debacle doesn't
deteriorate into total chaos before election day 2000
but unwilling to declare a state of emergency lest this raises
the alarm among Republicans, who are sure to ask the inevitable
question: "Who lost Colombia?" That it was never ours to lose
is something that virtually no one of any stature has pointed
out, not even among the third party presidential candidates:
Buchanan, Nader, (Harry) Browne (the Libertarian candidate),
none of them has addressed this specific issue. Meanwhile,
we slide down the slippery slope of direct US military intervention
in Colombia, a little further every day, until one day we
all wake up to discover US troops caught in the middle of
a vicious three-sided civil war and all of the Americas
south of the Rio Grande united against us.
IN YOUR NEIGHBORHOOD, YOU'RE THE ONE
is just the beginning. For you can't stamp out drugs in one
country, without having the trade turn up elsewhere in the
general neighborhood. The drug lords and farmers driven out
of Peru by the successful counterinsurgency operations carried
out by Alberto
Fujimori far too ruthless by American "human rights"
standards moved on to greener pastures, not only in
Colombia but throughout the region. We will have to set up
counterinsurgency operations on a continental scale
in effect, launch a massive invasion of South America. Can
such a project be undertaken with a clear conscience, never
mind its prospects for success? How much will it cost in troops
and treasure? During the GOP national convention, Condolezza
Rice reassured her audience that under a Bush administration
the US would not be "the world's 911 number." But in Bogota,
the 911 call has been made and, in a show of bipartisan
support during an otherwise deadlocked election year, Washington
is answering with unusual dispatch. The coming war in Colombia
has much in common with most of our other overseas intervention:
we never voted for it, we never debated it, but there can
be no doubt that we are going to get it. The only question
is how fast and how hard.
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