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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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."
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?
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.
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.