Behind the Headlines
by Justin Raimondo
"Bill Clinton is a saint brought to me from heaven," said Antonia Sarmiento, upon learning that the Colombia government would be rebuilding the dilapidated hovel she calls home at no charge. As the New York Times [August 28, 2000] reported, the Mayor of Cartagena, Gina Benedetti de Velez, paid Mrs. Sarmiento a personal visit to explain that "President Clinton will be visiting the House of Justice across the street . . . and he should not have to see such misery in Cartagena." While to Mrs. Sarmiento, Clinton may indeed be a saint, the rest of Colombia is already greeting him as if he were a devil sent from the lowest depths of Hell. As antigovernment rebels took over major highways, and masked students marched in the streets, the Clinton visit set off a tidal wave of violence that bodes ill for the launching of the administration's $1.3 billion "Plan Colombia aid package.
Now, there are many reasons for the Colombians to welcome the Great Pants-Dropper in such a fashion: we are not only violating Colombian sovereignty and propping up an increasingly unpopular regime, but planes paid for by US taxpayers and trained by American "advisors" are spraying the whole of Colombia with toxic chemicals designed to wipe out coca cultivation and poisoning the population in the process. In the rural areas where subsistence farmers raise plantains and other crops as well as coca, respiratory problems, skin rashes, and eye irritations are pandemic. The long term effects are unknown, at present, but probably nothing to look forward to. A recent news story depicts the "leftist guerrillas in action:
"Their fuselages flashing in the sun, two airplanes lazily circled over fields of coca, ready to dump a load of herbicides onto the robust, green bushes used to make cocaine. Rebels waited below Crouching behind fences, tree stumps and the coca itself, fighters from the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, opened up on the two Vietnam-era planes with M-16 and Galil assault rifles, the crackle of automatic weapons fire splitting the afternoon silence."
Although the plane was not shot down, the guerrillas considered the encounter a victory, since "the unprotected aircraft veered off without releasing their cargo" tons of poison, meant to be dropped on the heads of Colombian peasants. Answer me this: wouldn't you start shooting at government planes dropping toxic chemicals on your home, your children, and your town? But apparently "leftists" are the only sort of people who resent being poisoned.
Everything about Clinton's visit to Cartagena bodes ill for the US mission in Colombia. Clinton is only staying for six hours: an overnight visit was ruled out for "security reasons." From the US-occupied Balkans to darkest Africa, the current President of the United States has been globe-trotting at a rate that threatens to bankrupt the national treasury. Yet in all his travels, only in Cartagena was he frightened away from staying overnight. . . .
This in spite of unprecedented security precautions: at least 3,200 Secret Service agents were flown in for the occasion, part of an army of 10,000 guards from both countries. FBI, CIA, DEA, DIA every acronymic agency with a place in the national security nomenklatura will be represented on this trip, and that's not including the President's personal and political entourage, amounting to some 500: including Chelsea, Speaker of the House Hastert, and the congressional leadership of both major political parties. Like the progression of the court of Xerxes, with its harems and luggage and sacks of gold and jewels, lugged from one end of the Persian Empire to another, an American President travels from Washington to Cartagena with all the pomp and circumstance due the Emperor of the World. Like some oriental despot of old, whose eyes could not be sullied by unpleasant realities, the American potentate must be spared the sight of toothless old Antonia Sarmiento as she stands in the doorway of her pitiful dwelling eyes wide as the most powerful being on the planet gets out of his limo and strides up the steps of the Palace of Justice.
Justice now there is a word one doesn't normally associate with Colombia. For it is entirely absent from that tortured land, where property rights are almost nonexistent, leftist guerrillas control nearly half the country, and a three-way civil war is currently underway that threatens to destroy the "moderate" government of President Andres Pastrana. In fighting for "Plan Colombia" a package of $1.3 billion in largely military aid and increasing involvement of US "advisors" Clinton has made the case for intervention in terms of personal support for Pastrana. But in making such a massive commitment to Pastrana, we are betting on his continued ability to stave off the political demise of his regime and his Conservative Party both of which are extremely tenuous. . . .
In explaining why he waived clauses in the aid legislation that makes release of the money conditional on fulfillment of human rights standards, the President said: "I did it because I believe President Pastrana is committed to dealing with the human rights issues, about which we're still very concerned." It was an extraordinary measure to take, waiving the human rights provisions once touted by his administration as a kind of insurance policy against turning Colombia into another Vietnam. So much for the main argument they had used to sway reluctant members of both parties to go along with the administration's plan. But Clinton had little choice: the week before, a group of children had been ambushed by a rightwing paramilitary group and Army units were accused of collusion in the massacre. And so the President's men were reduced to justifying their chief's action by declaring that this is an emergency:
"Colombia confronts a drug emergency that directly affects the United States. In spite of aggressive counter-drug efforts, coca cultivation in Colombia has increased 140 percent over the last five years. This massive rate of increase threatens to reverse the counter-drug successes in Peru and Bolivia."
Who writes this stuff? Surely someone who has no sense of irony or sense of any kind. For if coca cultivation has increased exponentially in the past five years "in spite of aggressive counter-drug efforts," then what are the prospects for victory in this war and at what price? And what about those "counter-drug successes" (oh what a way with words these White House flunkies have!) in Peru and Bolivia? The bad guys coca farmers and those who profit off the trade responded to the push by Peru's Alberto Fujimori, who finished off Sendero Luminoso pretty much without US help or hindrance from "human rights" bed-wetters. But coca farming and processing is a necessarily mobile operation, and the coca economy merely packed its collective bags and headed northward to Colombia. Neighboring countries, including Peru, have already expressed their concern and voiced opposition to US moves, beefing up their borders and increasing patrols. Fujimori is already on the outs with the US State Department: his reward for wiping out the Maoist guerrillas who protected the Peruvian drug trade was that his US sponsors tried to overthrow him and install their own Stanford-educated replicant. This escalation of the Colombian war is likely to stiffen Peruvian resistance to US dominance and encourage neighboring Venezuela, in the hands of a leftist government, to give the rebels sanctuary if not aid. In other words, the regional response of the American push southward appears to be almost complete rejection. . . .
American politicians absurdly take credit for the great victory over the Soviet Union a victory inherent in the weakness of the enemy, and not due to any technological gizmo dreamed up by our scientists, or any weapon in the cold warriors' arsenal. Reveling in their own facile triumphalism, they imagine that they are building a "New World Order," with Washington as its epicenter and the Oval Office as the seat of a world empire. Such arrogance cannot go unpunished for long. The price of hubris is always a fall, and the US has been riding for one since the end of the Cold War. Clinton's passage to Cartagena is the inauspicious opening act of what promises to be another American morality play of a war, like Vietnam only worse. Much worse because much closer to home. . . .
The news from Colombia is not good, and will not get any better, As you watch Slick Willie ooze sincerity as he inveighs against the "scourge" of cocaine, ask yourself if he even has any nostrils left. (The same words out of Dubya's mouth will seem equally absurd.) But don't get too depressed as we slide down the slippery slope into the Colombian quagmire. Look on the sunny side: at least there's one place still left on earth where the Emperor of the World is afraid to shut his eyes, lest rebel rockets disturb his sleep. As long as that is true, it means that the would-be lords of the New World Order are falling far short of their goal and that is about as much good news as we have the right to hope for.
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