\”We have to win the fight in Columbia. We have to win the fight for the Free Trade Area of the Americas. We have to prove that freedom and free markets go hand in hand. That\’s what you believe, and we\’re going to be given a chance to prove it.\” Thus Clinton ended his March 4th, 2000 address to the Council of the Americas, a Washington-based corporate front group founded in 1965 by David Rockefeller.
That \”chance to prove it\” has taken shape in the form of Plan Colombia, an ambitious package of foreign aid intended to promote US domination of South America and lay the groundwork for further intervention in anticipation of the planned enforcement of the Free Trade Area of the Americas. \”The fight\” is against various Marxist rebel groups that operate in and control large stretches of the Colombian jungle, as well as against farmers and indigenous people who stand in the way of the unbridled exploitation of resources demanded by Clinton\’s, and now Bush\’s, corporate constituency.
A centerpiece of the aid, 90% of which is military, involves funneling over $400 million in taxpayer money to United Technologies subsidiary Sikorsky Aircraft and Bell Helicopter Textron, manufacturers respectively of the Black Hawk and Huey military helicopters, who have recently spend close to 2 million in Capitol Hill lobbying efforts. Similar efforts for increased US interventions have been made by petroleum corporations, including BP Amoco, Occidental and Enron, who wish to secure and extend their access to Colombia\’s oil reserves. \”It\’s business for us, and we are as aggressive as anybody\”, a Bell Helicopter lobbyist said. \”I\’m just trying to sell helicopters\”.
Some of these helicopters have already been delivered, and put into action as US-trained anti-drug battalions began a new campaign of crop eradication by aerial spraying with glyphosate (Roundup), a herbicide marketed by Monsanto Corporation. The spraying is of course indiscriminate. Monsanto has a long history of involvement in chemical warfare, going back to 1949, when an explosion at its Nitro, West Virginia plant produced unexplained disease symptoms in the surrounding population, drawing the attention of the US Army Chemical Corps. The substance responsible, later identified as dioxin-one of the most toxic substances known-was a byproduct in various Monsanto herbicides, which were deployed under the name of Agent Orange in the US government\’s campaign of genocide against the people of Southeast Asia.
Recent reports from the ground in Colombia are that \”The coca trees look really good, but everything else is dead.\” Villagers and indigenous peoples who have been sprayed with the substance, as well as medical personnel who have treated them, have been reporting various intoxication symptoms, including dizziness, nausea, muscle and joint pain, and skin rashes. US officials have vehemently denied the veracity of these reports. Glyphosate is \”less toxic than table salt\”, one US embassy official in Colombia told the New York Times, claiming that the reported adverse effects are \”scientifically impossible\”.
It is feared that this failure of the poison to kill its intended target will lead to the use of even stronger poisons, in particular Fusarium. Fusarium fungus has served as the base for many chemical weapons developed in the US and elsewhere. The last known attempt to use Fusarium was back in 1999, when Col. Jim McDonough, a former colleague of White House drug czar and Plan Colombia proponent Gen. Barry McCaffrey hired by Florida governor Jeb Bush, recommended that it be used to eradicate Florida\’s marijuana crop. The plan was stopped over concerns that the fungus\’s mutagenicity would be impossible to control and that it could damage many other crops. The application of this poison, which is also a powerful biowar agent, to Colombia, would greatly escalate the crop damage and health damage among an already adversely affected and impoverished population.
Elected on a platform of peace, Colombian president Andres Pastrana initially opposed the aerial spraying program, but eventually came around after realizing that it was a pre-condition for the all-important US military aid and political backing that his regime has come to depend upon. This dependency more than anything ensures that the problems plaguing this nation will remain unresolved and most likely spread into surrounding areas. \”The only goal of the Colombian government is to show results to the United States government\” said Oscar Gamboa Zuniga, Executive Director, Colombian Pacific Coast Mayors Federation, commenting on the drug war.
In fact, the \”drug war\” has already spread beyond Colombia\’s borders, notably into Ecuador, where clashes recently took place between Colombian-based left-wing guerillas and right-wing paramilitary groups. A heretofore unknown group, FARE (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Ecuador) has claimed responsibility for the recent detonation of an oil pipeline in Ecuador. To shore up their increasingly unpopular regime against this inevitable spillover, the Ecuadorian government has turned to Washington for assistance, and has offered up the port city of Manta for a US military base to be used to support operations in Colombia and extend the US military presence in South America. The US has been looking for such a base since the loss of Panama.
The culture of violence that is plaguing Colombia has deep roots. From 1948 to 1953, in what is known as \”La Violencia\”, the Colom-bia\’s Liberal and Conservative parties fought a sort of civil war for political control. During this political struggle, bands of gunmen, hired by politicians and often assisted by the police, would attack whole village, scalping and decapitating victims. This program of violence had the effect of forcing some two million rural inhabitants to flee their land, which was quickly snatched up by large landholders and members of the ruling class allied with the Liberal and/or Conservative parties.
In a bid to stabilize the domestic situation, the two parties agreed to a power sharing arrangement of alternating presidencies (in effect not unlike the US two-party system), which lasted until 1974. The concentration of economic and political power between the two parties left no room for opposition within the system and spawned various guerilla groups, the biggest of which are the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Columbia) and ELN (National Liberation Army). Some sections of these groups decided to abandon arms and try their hand in the political arena during the 1980\’s. Determined to maintain their hold on power, the ruling class formed groups to thwart these political efforts. These groups, known as the paramilitaries, had the task of ensuring that nobody outside the two-party system won any elections by killing the candidates and terrorizing their would-be supporters.
To further the process of concentration of land and resources, in 1962, backed by the US, the Columbian army launched an \”anti-terrorist\” (i.e. terror) campaign to drive out campesinos (small farmers) off the land in support of the profit interests of the big rancheros (not a few of whom also happened to be big drug dealers). This terror campaign-following a well-established tactic developed by the German Nazis, perfected by the United States in Vietnam (Operation Phoenix), and propagated through the School of the Americas and other agencies-has in essence con-tinued to this day, most recently in the guise of a \”war on drugs\”.
Drugs, primarily cocaine, account for 30% of the Colombian economy. The drug trade is by no means limited to the \”guerillas\”, who tax its revenues in the areas they control-the military, paramilitaries, and other bourgeois interests are likewise deeply involved in it. Thus, for instance, the ACCU-the largest paramilitary group-is estimated to derive 80% of its income from the drug trade.
The \”outlaw\” paramilitaries provide the Co-lombian regime with much needed political cover: they can disown the brutal tactics of torture and murder, while still reaping the benefits. The \”human rights\” provisions that Congress cynically attached to Plan Colombia, and which Clinton waived in an effort to get the intervention under way, were supposedly intended to force the Colombian government and military to disown these right-wing para-militaries. Of course, they were already \”disowned\”, which is precisely what has allowed them to fulfill their purpose.
These drug war efforts should not be viewed as some sort of absolute principled opposition to the drug trade on the part of the US ruling class. A principal architect of the world-wide drug trade is in fact the US Central Intelligence Agency, which has traditionally used narcotics as a vehicle to fund various sub rasa \”counter-insurgencies\” and other efforts. At the same time, wars on drugs provide the US government with political justification for further intervention and domination, both at home and abroad, as well necessitating more funding for the military-corporate complex.
With the notion of drug war starting to show signs of aging and losing popular support despite a steadfast propaganda campaign, there have been some stirrings within the US government apparatus to the effect that the war may have to be restyled. Conditions for the possible new scenario of military intervention are already in place: the FARC and ELN are considered terrorist groups. Right-wing para-military organizations are exempted from this designation-they do not attack US economic interests.
On a visit to Washington February 27th, Pastrana, in a bid to further his faltering regime and shore up his political legitimacy, asked Bush for increased US aid and involvement, including US participation in peace negotiations with FARC. His requests were rejected. Bush has of course pledged to continue the drug war, but for now, US aid will remain at the level set by his predecessor Clinton. In an effort to save face in the wake of the rejection, Pastrana claimed that \”We never invited the US to be in the talks\”. The FARC have likewise invited the US and various other national and international bodies to the negotiating table. Knowing that internationalization of the stalled Colombian peace negotiations could at this stage undermine US influence in the region, the Bush administration for now wishes to stick solely with the military option.
As things now stand, the Colombian government does not have the military force necessary to defeat the guerilla groups in an all-out conflict, and thus is forced into negotiations, which have been restarted after Pas-trana\’s visit February 8th to the jungle headquarters of FARC leader Manuel \”Sure-shot\” Marulanda. Talks had been broken off last November by the FARC in protest over government connections to paramilitary groups. Thus, the government doesn\’t have the stick to compel rebel groups to do anything.
Neither does it have much of a carrot, as giving in to the more substantive demands of the leftist rebels would undermine support from the regime\’s imperial backers in Washington, as well as unleashing further right-wing para-military violence and in all likelihood leading to Pastrana\’s own elimination. Thus, for now, the government has on one hand been giving in to rebel demands, extending the status of the previously existing demilitarized zones and considering the establishment of new ones, as well as engaging in peace negotiations, while on the other hand, it has not reigned in the paramilitaries and has continued with the ecocidal Plan Colombia agenda, thus ensuring that no substantial peace will be achieved.
The political situation and culture of violence in Colombia is not new, and has at its root an entrenched and extreme wealth disparity-which would only be maintained and extended by the FTAA agenda which the US seeks to impose upon the continent. This agenda must be exposed, challenged and opposed.