Whore on Drugs
George Szamuely
New York Press


Bill Clinton's one-day visit to Colombia this week encapsulates perfectly his presidency: a pointless photo-op to sell a fraudulent bill of goods. He is there ostensibly to express his confidence in Colombia's President Andres Pastrana, whose fight against the narco-traffickers is being underwritten by the United States to the tune of $1.3 billion. However, the idea of Colombia getting out of the drug business is so patently absurd that not even Clinton's coterie of obsequious toadies is buying this one. In the first place, the Colombian military – to be armed and trained by the U.S. – are the last people on Earth to allow a lucrative enterprise like narcotics slip through their fingers.

In November 1998, a few weeks after Pastrana's visit to Washington to assure Americans of his firm resolve to fight the scourge of drugs, the head of the Colombian air force had to resign. The resignation followed the discovery of over 1600 pounds of cocaine aboard a military transport plane that had just arrived in Fort Lauderdale from Bogota. "This incident need have no effect whatsoever on our views of President Pastrana's determination to work with us to fight the export of drugs from Colombia," piped up little Jamie Rubin of the State Dept. Of course not. Any more than the recent conviction of the former commander of U.S. Army anti-drug advisers in Colombia, Col. James Hiett, on charges of covering up his wife's drug smuggling, need have any effect on our views of the seriousness of the U.S. commitment to wage war on drugs.

The US. can spray with herbicides every field from the Gulf of Mexico to Antarctica. But someone else will always be there to provide Americans with their drug fix. Pakistan, Afghanistan, Myanmar – the list of candidates is long.

No, the latest round in America's melodramatic "war on drugs" has nothing whatsoever to do with drugs. It is about corporations with substantial investments in Colombia lobbying the U.S. government to step in and take over the country on their behalf. In Pastrana they have found a happily compliant Colombian leader. Colombia is burdened with a large international debt, which it must pay off with its oil exports. Pastrana has signed on to the usual IMF austerity program of public spending cuts and devaluation. The result has been misery, strikes and, naturally, a shot in the arm for the narcotics industry. Colombia's economy shrank 4.5 percent in 1999. Earlier this month, tanks and troops were called out to the streets of Bogota as 700,000 state workers staged a 24-hour strike protesting government austerity measures.

But how did drugs get into the picture? It was the corporations that came up with this wheeze. Lockheed Martin approached the Clinton administration with a poll it had commissioned, showing a majority of the public believing drug use to be on the rise, with Democrats, not Republicans, being held responsible. Therefore, Democrats should do something dramatic. Lockheed Martin's day job, incidentally, includes making aircraft for use in military operations against drug smugglers. One of the most ardent advocates of American military involvement in Colombia was the U.S.-Colombia Business Partnership – which includes such corporations as Occidental, Enron, BP Amoco and Colgate-Palmolive. Drugs are "disruptive of any normal business relationship," explained Lawrence Meriage, Occidental's vice president for public affairs. But what was really troubling him was the $100 million Occidental has lost as a result of the repeated rebel assaults on the Limon Covenas pipeline by various armed groups. Every year, the oil companies are forced to shell out a "war tax," which they pay directly to the Colombian army and police for their protection.

Earlier this month, Occidental suspended oil production and declared force majeure at Colombia's second largest oil field because of repeated bombing of the pipeline. In 1999 alone it had allegedly been attacked 79 times. Clearly, they would be saving themselves a lot of money if the U.S. government took over protecting the pipelines.

The Plan Colombia, allegedly a joint product of the U.S. and Colombian governments, reads very much as if it were conceived and written in Washington. It is full of the usual "market democracy" or "do what we tell you or else" bromides: "Free trade agreements that attract foreign and domestic investment"; "a fiscal and financial strategy that includes tough austerity and adjustment measures"; "state-owned companies and banks are to be privatized"; "foreign investment" will be "crucial in modernizing the industrial backbone of the country"; "steps" must be taken "to promote a favorable environment for electronic trade." The Plan gets hilarious when it describes Colombia's economic plight. After first commending the country for opening up "its traditionally closed economy," the author notes sorrowfully that "production of cereals, such as wheat, corn, and barley…were shown to be noncompetitive in world markets. The result was the loss of 700,000 hectares of agricultural production to imports during the decade, which in turn proved to be a critical blow to employment in the rural areas where Colombia's conflict is mainly staged."

Yes, but why had Colombia's traditional agriculture become so "noncompetitive"? Could it possibly have something to do with the explosion of subsidies afforded to U.S. farmers in recent years?

U.S. Special Forces trainers have already arrived in Colombia. Congress conditioned the $1.3 billion package on the Colombian government's ability to curb human rights abuses by its armed forces. Pastrana was made to promise that military personnel accused of human rights abuses would be brought to justice in the country's civilian courts. Of all the demands made on his government, this is the one it will least likely be held to.

The U.S. has too much invested in Colombia to waste time chasing up "bad apples." Even the recent murder of six schoolchildren by Colombian soldiers did nothing to dampen Washington's enthusiasm for the venture. As always, the wealth of the few trumps the welfare of the many.

Read George Szamuely's Antiwar.com Exclusive Column

Archived Columns by George Szamuely from the New York Press

Whore on Drugs

Soros' World

The Good Lieberman

Nader-Buchanan 2000

W's Oil Warriors

Rupert's Hillary

The Veep's No VIP

Hollow Mexico

Death of Innocents

NATO's Home Free

Poll Attacks

Israel's Powerful Friends

Defense Against What?

God Bless Rehnquist!

Long, Hillary Summer

Communicating Power

Law as Ordered

What Threat?

Peculiar Yet Brave

Closed to Debate

Arrogance of Power

Prison Love

Gore's Oil

Rough Justice

Race Race

Al the Coward

Intruder Alert

McCain's Money

Haider Seek

Out of Africa

Prosecute NATO

Villain or Victim?

Intervention, Immigration, and Internment

Home-Grown Terrorism

Who Benefits?

Laws of Return

Embassy Row

Selling Snake Oil

Chinese Puzzle

That Was No Lady, That Was the Times

The Red Tide Turning?

Pat & The Pod

United Fundamentalist States

Let Them All Have Nukes!

Liar, Liar

Gangster Nations

Puerto Rico Libre – and Good Riddance

Leave China Alone

A World Safe for Kleptocracy

Proud To Be Un-American

All articles reprinted with permission from the New York Press


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