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'Andean Initiative' Pulls US Deeper Into Armed Conflict
Rebels, Paramilitaries, Military Battle; Drug Production Grows, Expands To Neighboring Countries; Meanwhile, Innocent Civilians Die In Crossfire
Groups working on Colombia issues include:
Colombia Human Rights Network
This is an archive of news items from the CSDP website's page on the US drug war in Colombia and the rest of South America. Click here to see recent news items on Colombia.
The US will seek to extradite Colombian Paramilitary leader Carlos Castano, the Justice Department announced on Sept. 24, 2002. As reported by the Detroit Free Press on Sept. 25 ( "3 Colombians Wanted"), "U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft said Tuesday that the United States will seek the extradition of Carlos Castano and two members of his right-wing paramilitary group in Colombia who were indicted on charges of trafficking in more than 17 tons of cocaine since 1997. Ashcroft said Castano, Salvatore Mancuso and Juan Carlos Sierra-Ramirez are violent drug traffickers who 'threaten our national security.'" Castano denies the charges and maintains his innocence.
This image of Castano as drug trafficker
stands in sharp contrast to the picture of him
drawn in a piece by the Washington Post on Sept. 16,
"Cocaine Trade Causes Rifts In Colombian
The Salt Lake Tribune reported on July 20, 2002 ( "Paramilitary Group Splinters Over Drug Trafficking"), "Colombia's brutal right-wing paramilitary organization has splintered after an internal dispute over individual units' involvement in drug trafficking, the group's founder said. Carlos Castano, the founder of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia ( AUC ) said on the group's Web site that the loosely organized 'confederation' had become impossible to sustain. 'We find ourselves with several groups that are scattered and highly involved in drug trafficking,' said the statement signed by Castano and the group's military commander, Salvatore Mancuso."
Other reports however have noted the involvement of AUC in drug
trafficking. For example, Newsweek reported on May 21, 2001
"The Next Excobar?") that a reputed drug
lord, Hernan Giraldo, was becoming involved with AUC:
Speaking of Escobar, as Newsweek reported on April 8, 2002 ( "The Paramilitary Effect"), "By the late 1980s, Mancuso, then in his mid-20s, had reached his limit and joined the ranks of the then fledgling Self-Defense Forces of Cordoba and Uraba. Founded by fellow paramilitary supremo Carlos Castano's older brother, Fidel, that ragtag rural militia drew many of its early members from the private antikidnapping forces of leading Colombian drug traffickers, like the late Medellin cartel kingpin Pablo Escobar. But as the FARC guerrillas grew in number and stepped up their abduction of rich and middle-class Colombians in the 1990s, a band of vigilantes evolved into a full-blown rebel movement of the right."
The Peruvian government announced that it had reached an agreement with coca growers to end the US-sponsored eradiction campaign. According to the Miami Herald on July 3, 2002 ( "Peru Declares Its Coca Cutbacks Are Over"), "The Peruvian decision follows criticism of the U.S. effort to eradicate the coca plant -- from which cocaine is made -- by coca farmers and government officials."
The Herald reports that "'We want to completely change the way programs have been operating because they are too bureaucratic and have not worked,' says Hugo Cabieses, an official at Devida, the Peruvian anti-narcotics agency. There are currently about 86,000 acres of coca under production in Peru, but the number has been rising in recent months. The newest agreements with coca growers probably will generate an increase in coca production." The story notes that "The agreements were reached Friday, when Devida suspended all coca-eradication programs in the Upper Huallaga Valley, where most drug crops are grown, after farmers threatened to lay siege to major cities. The following day, Devida reached an agreement with coca growers in the Apurimac Valley, to the south, where the government accepted farmers' demands to suspend the activities of CARE, an Atlanta-based non-governmental agency that acts as the contractor for the U.S. Agency for International Development, or USAID. The 10-point agreement calls for CARE to immediately stop all activities in the Apurimac Valley, where it recently completed the first year of a three-year contract for alternative development strategies to replace the coca economy. The agreement also calls on the U.S. Embassy to work with Devida on evaluating the viability of present drug strategy. 'Everything that CARE has said is an absolute lie. They have done nothing to help coca farmers or address the problems of the valley,' Cabieses said. 'All the funds for alternative development stay with the middlemen.' The agreements reached between the farmers and government authorities are a major setback to U.S. policies in Peru, which was touted as one of the few examples of success in the war on drugs."
It is too soon to know what effect if any this development will have on the US's reported intention to resume shooting down airplanes in Colombian and Peruvian airspace suspected of being used for drug trafficking. As the New York Times reported on July 4, 2002 ( "US Set To Resume Its Role In Halting Latin Drug Planes"), "President Bush is expected to approve the resumption of a program to force down or shoot down airplanes suspected of ferrying drugs in Latin America, a year after the program was halted by the mistaken downing of a plane carrying American missionaries in Peru, American officials say. Once the president gives final approval, the State Department would take over the program from the Central Intelligence Agency. American officials said air interdiction operations could begin in Colombia as early as this fall and would likely be expanded to Peru later. The Pentagon would support the program as well, providing intelligence about suspected drug flights gathered from ground-based radars and from other sources, officials said."
According to the Times, "The program calls for the United States to identify and locate suspected drug planes and for Colombian and Peruvian air force planes to shoot them down if they do not respond to calls to land. American officials said the governments of both countries had expressed support for restarting the operation. The program's many critics had assumed that the mistaken downing of the missionaries' plane, in which two Americans were killed, would make it impossible for the White House to start it up again. But the plans for resumption began months ago, and in recent weeks, Colombia's incoming president, Alvaro Uribe Velez, visited Washington to urge an aggressive American role in stemming drug traffic from Latin America."
company which had the contract when the missionaries were
identified in the New York Times story as a CIA front, no longer
exists. Instead, a Maryland company will train the pilots and
manage the operation, using some of the same personnel as before.
Unfortunately, the rules under which
the shootdown program will operate
leave open the possibility of more error, and still give US
officials the ability to deny responsibility.
The Times reported that:
Colombian President Alvaro Uribe began a five-day trip to the United States in mid-June. According to a story from the Associated Press in the Washington Post on June 16, 2002 ( "Colombia's Uribe To Visit US"), "During a crucial trip to the United States that begins Sunday, Colombia's President-elect Alvaro Uribe expects to find support for his plans to fight drugs and a decades-old guerrilla war. But with a scandal here over the possible misuse of U.S. drug-fighting aid, the Harvard-educated former state governor will have to overcome concerns to secure more money from Washington."
The AP report noted that "Uribe's visit comes as Washington considers lifting restrictions on the drug-fighting aid to allow the Colombian government to use it to battle armed groups. The Bush administration is also asking Congress for $133 million to train Colombian soldiers to protect a lucrative oil pipeline plus $439 million in longer-term aid." According to the story, "The United States has provided $1.7 billion in mostly military aid over the past two years to help Colombia curb the narcotics industry."
Uribe will have to overcome renewed cynicism, based on both a corruption scandal involving stolen police anti-drug funds, as well as a forthcoming GAO report critical of Plan Colombia. The AP noted that "Earlier this month, the Colombian government launched an investigation of 60 police officers including high-ranking counter-drug officers stemming from the disappearance of more than $2 million in U.S. funds slated for the drug war. Although the U.S. Embassy has downplayed the scandal, it may prompt Washington officials to demand that Uribe clamp down on institutions receiving U.S. dollars, said Michael Shifter, an analyst at the Inter-American Dialogue in Washington. 'I do think it kind of reinforces a sense that has been in Washington for some time that this whole program is perhaps not going as well as some would have hoped,' Shifter said."
A soon-to-be-released GAO report also questions the effectiveness of Plan Colombia, into which the US has poured nearly $2 Billion over the past few years. According to the Contra Costa Times on June 13, 2002 ( "Colombia's Drug Effort Questioned"), "Even as the Bush administration is lobbying to increase U.S. military aid to Colombia, the South American nation is failing to do its part in a joint military effort to combat narcotics trafficking, according to an unreleased congressional report. The report, from the General Accounting Office, says Colombia has failed to provide military pilots for 14 U.S.-supplied Black Hawk helicopters, leaving the high-tech aircraft idle. It says the country's armed forces have not supplied all the personnel promised for programs training pilots and mechanics, and recently cut back on drug crop-eradication programs because of 'political concerns.'"
According to the article, "Plans for using U.S. military aid 'have fallen substantially behind schedule, and prospects for near-term fixes are bleak,' according to the brief report, which has not been released publicly but was provided to relevant congressional committees this week. It is believed to mark the first time that a government report has faulted the Colombian armed forces' cooperation in Plan Colombia, the anti-drug effort to which the United States has committed $2 billion since 2000." The story notes that "The GAO report says that many U.S. officials interviewed 'expressed frustration with the overall pace of Plan Colombia, and the lack of Colombian commitment to the program, and expressed interest in having GAO examine the status and effectiveness of U.S. counter-narcotics assistance to the Colombian military.' Plan Colombia called for the United States to provide 14 Black Hawk and 30 Super Huey UH-II helicopters to transport U.S.-trained counter- narcotics troops to conduct anti-drug operations. All the Black Hawks have arrived, and the Super Hueys are due before the end of the year."
The newly elected president of Colombia, Alvaro Uribe, is calling for an intensified US drug war. Newsday reported on May 28, 2002 ( "Uribe Commits To War Against Drugs") that "President-elect Alvaro Uribe said the U.S.-backed fight against the drugs that stream across Colombia's borders will be crucial to his plans to end the long-running civil war that kills thousands of people every year. A day after his landslide election on a law-and-order platform, Uribe said Monday that the drug war is 'essential' because Colombia's leftist rebels and their rivals, the right-wing paramilitaries, finance their fight with the proceeds from drug trafficking."
According to Newsday, "Uribe's promises to increase the size of the military and take a hard line against the 38-year insurgency resonated with voters fed up with the long-simmering war, which kills about 3,000 people a year, many of them civilians. On Monday, he appealed for more U.S. aid to stop cocaine and heroin from leaving Colombia and to prevent arms shipments from being smuggled to its outlawed guerrilla and paramilitary groups. The United States has provided $1.7 billion in mostly military aid over the past two years to help Colombia battle drugs. The Bush administration has asked Congress to ease restrictions on that aid so that the government can use it to fight the insurgents. The administration has also requested $98 million to train Colombian troops to guard a key oil pipeline that is regularly targeted by rebels."
Newsday reported that "Uribe said he will combat all armed groups, but also said he was open to the possibility of peace talks with the paramilitaries -- something his predecessors have refused to do. Uribe plans to ask for U.N. help in contacting the guerrillas and probing their willingness to resume peace negotiations in return for a cessation of hostilities and a halt to terrorism. But observers said the main rebel group, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, will reject such overtures. 'Those terms have never been acceptable to the FARC in the past and will not be in the future,' said Bruce Bagley, a Colombia expert at the University of Miami. 'I expect a major escalation of violence.' Uribe's ambitious agenda goes beyond the crackdown on guerrillas and drugs. He plans a referendum to nearly halve the size of Congress and reduce corruption. He also promised to create jobs, build roads, overhaul education and trim a bloated public pension system. But bureaucrats, Congress and angry state workers could stand in his way -- as coul Colombians' traditional aversion to higher taxes. 'He's got a Herculean task before him,' Bagley said. 'It's going to be extremely difficult to fulfill even part of what he aspires to do during his four years of the presidency.' Colombia has been unable to use credits from the International Monetary Fund for social programs, and Uribe appealed Monday for greater flexibility from the international financial agency. 'In Colombia's circumstances of poverty, we need to increase social investment,' he said."
The US role in Colombia is already quite significant, and Uribe's election will deepen it. The New York Times reported on May 27, 2002 ( "Hard-Liner Elected In Colombia With A Mandate To Crush Rebels") that "Mr. Uribe's proposals - to double the size of the army's combat force to 100,000 soldiers and the National Police to 200,000 - could mean a more tangible American role in a country that produces 80 percent of the cocaine consumed in the United States. Because of that and Colombia's increasing instability, the United States has already made it the third-largest recipient of American aid. The assistance is limited to counter-drug operations, but the Bush administration is pushing Congress to drop restrictions so Colombia can use American helicopters and troops trained by American soldiers in direct combat with rebels."
There is concern that Uribe's focus on the fight against leftists will lead to abuses. According to the Times, "Human rights groups warn that Mr. Uribe's plans could lead to increased abuses that would mostly befall poor villagers who live in the areas where the fighting often takes place. Mr. Uribe has tried to minimize those possibilities, saying he plans to combat illegal right-wing paramilitary forces with as much vigor as he does the rebels." Some of his supporters seem to take a different view, however. As the Times reported, "'Now with Uribe as president, we are going to confront the guerrillas,' said Camilo Santaella, a lawyer, moments after he cast his ballot in a suburban-like Bogota neighborhood. 'At last the hour has arrived to defend ourselves and finish with the cancer that's killing Colombia.'" Further, "Some Colombians fear that Mr. Uribe will take a softer approach to the paramilitaries, considering his close association with military officers accused of rights abuses and his friendships with far-right Colombians. The paramilitaries pay for their war against rebel sympathizers with drug trafficking and the donations of large landowners."
The Times also reports that "Mr. Uribe has proposed legislation that would expand the state's authority to detain suspected terrorists and enable government wiretaps. He has offered sketchy plans to bring in United Nations troops to ensure stability in war-torn regions. He has talked little about how he would pay for his proposals, though a top aide said higher taxes were a possibility."
A growing scandal has toppled the head of the Colombian National Police's anti-drug forces. The New York Times reported on May 10, 2002 ( "$2 Million In US Aid Is Missing From Colombian Police Fund") that "The official in charge of antinarcotics efforts for the National Police, Gen. Gustavo Socha, was removed from his job today after $2 million in United States funds was reported missing from a special police administrative account. Six police officers - two colonels, two majors and two captains - have also been fired, top police officials announced today, in a scandal that prompted Washington to suspend a small portion of its aid for Colombia's drug-eradication efforts. An official at the United States Embassy confirmed that as many as 20 police officers may have been pocketing money from the account, which has been frozen since the malfeasance was discovered by American officials two months ago."
According to the Times, "The loss of the funds, which was first reported Thursday in the Bogota daily El Tiempo, is an embarrassment for a police agency that has been a close partner in Washington's efforts to curtail Colombia's burgeoning drug trade. The police operate aircraft that fumigate drug crops, carry out search-and-destroy operations of cocaine processing labs and arrest drug traffickers. The scandal comes as the Bush administration is prodding Capitol Hill to widen American funding beyond operations against narcotics traffickers and help Colombia's beleaguered government fight leftist rebels. The guerrillas generate revenues to finance their war against the state from the drug trade. Since 2000, the National Police have received $146 million as part of Plan Colombia, a huge $1.1 billion aid package. The money that was stolen, which is considered part of the Plan Colombia allocation, came from a $4 million account."
The Administration's efforts to broaden the war were discussed in a New York Times article on April 28, 2002, "US Expects A Wider War On Two Fronts In Colombia." According to the Times, "Administration officials say the Colombian government has spent $2.6 billion on Mr. Pastrana's anti-narcotics and development strategy, and $426 million on relate investments. Mr. Pastrana had pledged to spend $4.5 billion in support of the $7.5 billion plan over five years; the remaining $3 billion is to come from the United States and Europe. Secretary Powell told lawmakers, 'After the election, we will be pressing the new leadership to make a more serious commitment of financial resources of the Colombian people and government to this effort.' While he declined to make a prediction about the elections on May 26, Secretary Powell added that 'just watching the campaigns develop, it seems to me that we're probably going to have a more aggressive leadership in power in Colombia that might be more receptive' to spending more. The United States has provided $1.7 billion in support of the anti-narcotics and development plan and the administration's successor plan, the Andean Regional Initiative. Most of the assistance has been in military aid and training. The administration has so far provided 8 helicopters to the national police and 35 to the Colombian armed forces and trained a counternarcotics battalion that officials say is the most effective fighting unit in Colombia. The administration is currently asking Congress to finance another battalion and provide $98 million to equip Colombian forces to protect the Cano Limon oil pipeline. Rebel attacks on the pipeline shut it down for 240 days last year, costing the government $500 million in lost revenue, officials said."
US officials seem prepared to abandon efforts to assist Colombian coca farmers in finding new cash crops, the tactic known as Alternative Development. As the Washington Post reported on April 7, 2002 ( "US Doubts Effects Of Coca Plan"), "U.S. officials have become increasingly pessimistic about whether a popular U.S.-sponsored program that pays farmers to uproot coca and replace it with legal crops will have any lasting success against the drug industry. The alternative development program is the most socially oriented element of a $1.3 billion anti-drug aid package Congress approved almost two years ago with the goal of cutting Colombia's coca production in half by 2005. Although it is only a small fraction of a package tilted heavily toward military assistance, alternative development has long been seen as the most politically acceptable part of a U.S. anti-drug strategy frequently criticized as a war plan targeting Colombia's Marxist insurgency."
The main problem seems to be that farmers in the region do not trust the promises made by the US -- for good reason. According to the Post story, "Following two critical recent reviews of the program, U.S. officials have decided to shift its focus from helping individual farmers to creating public works jobs in coca-growing regions, tailor development projects by community and begin development efforts in areas less fraught by civil war than this one 350 miles south of the capital, Bogota. Even so, U.S. officials acknowledge, funding the $42.5 million program beyond this year is in question. Here in the southern province of Putumayo, the heart of Colombia's coca trade, only a tiny fraction of farmers who agreed to uproot their coca plants by the end of July have done so. That resistance, rooted mostly in a legacy of failed government promises in this remote patch of pasture and jungle, was reflected in a recent U.S. Embassy study that found that few of the 37,000 small-scale farmers who signed up for government aid last year in return for abandoning coca crops intend to comply. Congressional auditors recently concluded that the program was failing, mostly because of a lack of security in coca-growing regions heavily contested by the two largest irregular armies in Colombia's nearly four-decade civil war. But farmers and town officials say the problems stem more from the long delays in deliveries of aid and a U.S.-backed herbicide spraying campaign that has at times targeted farmers who have agreed to pull up their coca voluntarily. 'Some of these people had started the process of pulling up their coca. They were getting ready with corn, yucca, and then the fumigation started,' said Leandro Romo, the human rights ombudsman in the nearby town of La Hormiga, referring to spraying late last year. 'We're not arguing with the goal, just the methods. This has been indiscriminate. And until now the farmers have received virtually nothing.'"
US officials on the other hand blame the Colombians for
alternative development's lack of success.
Again from the Post:
Still, the potential for alternative development's success is hard to measure, since most of the money promised by the US for such programs never materialised. The Post reported that About $4.4 million of the '42.5 million in U.S. aid set aside last year for alternative development programs was actually spent. The Colombian government intends to spend $40 million on alternative development in coca-growing regions this year, about 40 percent less than in 2001. Most of that money comes from European donors." As noted in the Post story, "Alternative development in Colombia dates back more than a decade. The notion of helping coca farmers develop a legal economy through subsidies and technical assistance has been embraced by interests as diverse as European countries and Colombia's largest guerrilla insurgency. But it has never had much effect on a multibillion-dollar coca trade that pays peasants significantly more than they earn with legal crops. Recently released figures compiled by the CIA showed that coca cultivation jumped 25 percent in 2001 to 419,000 acres."
Farmers in Peru are reportedly preparing to grow coca once again, reversing the steady decline during the 1990s. The Miami Herald reported on April 7, 2002 ( "Peruvian Government Says It Can't Commit To Eliminating Coca") that "All across the verdant Apurimac River Valley and the Rio Ene, where about 80 percent of Peru's coca is cultivated, there are signs of the illicit crop sprouting. Farmers such as Teodor Corichahua Vitalillos are abandoning U.S.-led efforts to grow alternative crops such as coffee and cocoa and returning to the leafy coca bush."
Peruvian farmers complain, with good reason, that the 'alternatives' are not viable economically, and that support from other countries is lacking. As the Herald reported, "Cocoa prices are in the dumps and coffee is at a 70-year low, at 48 cents per pound. Farmers in the Apurimac River Valley and further north on the Ene River complain they were tricked into planting crops that don't provide a return, while coca not only pays well but is harvested four times a year and needs almost no care. 'When coffee and cocoa pay more than coca, we will forget about coca,' said Adrian Along Vindizus, the mayor of Marintari, a village of about 500 nestled in the high jungle. Aid workers haven't been seen in months, he and fellow villagers complained, and no one will buy the coffee beans that aid agencies brought to Marintari, because they lack aroma."
The amount of coca being produced in Peru is still small relative to the output from Colombia. "The United States estimates that Peruvian coca cultivation last year was about 84,000 acres; the United Nations figures it at 114,000 acres. Peruvian government officials concede the figure may be as much as 173,000 acres, far below the high in the early 1990s of 370,000 acres but a dangerous number that is growing fast." The effectiveness of Peru's anti-coca campaign has long been exaggerated, as have the efforts of US and UN anti-drug officials. The Herald notes "'They talk about alternative development. What's that? What benefit has it brought us? None!' said Corichahua, a farmer from Marintari, a tiny town of crumbling dirt-floored houses with no school and no electricity. During the 1990s, Peru was praised widely for its coca-eradication policies. But there is ample evidence that the program's effectiveness was overstated by disgraced former President Alberto Fujimori, who later fled to exile in Japan. The principal factor in Peru's coca decline was a drop in coca prices because production shifted to Colombia."
Peruvian officials argue that coca eradication could lead to greater instability in that South American nation, though US officials seem oblivious to the threat. "'It's not a problem of money,' said Hugo Cabieses, a top advisor to Peru's anti-drug czar, Ricardo Vega Llona. 'Peru's political instability won't support a situation like that in Bolivia.' U.S. Embassy spokesman Benjamin Ziff responded: 'The U.S. has advocated a 'zero-illegal drug' policy for decades worldwide. Given that Peru has eliminated 70 percent of its coca cultivation over the past seven years, the goal of a complete elimination of illegal coca in Peru by the end of President [Alejandro] Toledo's term in office is ambitious but achievable.'"
The US government is moving toward deeper involvement in the Colombian civil war, and hopes to expand military assistance beyond counter-narcotics work. New York Newsday reported on March 21, 2002 ( "White House Urges More Colombian Aid"), that "The Bush administration asked Congress on Thursday for an additional $29 million to help Colombia combat terrorist kidnappings and expand the reach of its police to areas previously not under government control. The request, on top of hundreds of millions in U.S. anti-drug funds already flowing to Colombia, also seeks to end restrictions that limit U.S. military assistance to counter-narcotics activities. Included in the request is $25 million to provide 'critically needed training and operational assistance for counter-kidnapping training for the Colombian armed forces and police units.'"
The move to increase US involvement comes as Colombians prepare for a presidential election in the midst of an escalating civil war. As the Boston Globe reported on March 21, 2002 ( "Electioneering Begins In Beleaguered Colombia"), "Colombia's presidential race kicked off in earnest yesterday after a live television debate among five candidates, most of whom pledged to get tough on rebels and even extradite the movement's leaders to the United States. More than ever, Colombia's race for the presidency reflects growing anger at the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, after President Andres Pastrana's peace process with the group collapsed on Feb. 20 and the guerrillas began attacking the country's infrastructure."
The candidates support escalation of the conflict, and the frontrunner in the race is a strong proponent of increased US involvement. The Globe noted that "Candidates at the debate also included the front-runner, Alvaro Uribe, a former interior minister, Horacio Serpa of the Liberal Party, and a former foreign minister, Noemi Sanin, an independent. Absent was Ingrid Betancourt, who was kidnapped by the FARC on Feb. 23 in a Colombian war zone. Uribe, who has 60 percent support in the latest polls, called for more military assistance by the United States. He also wants Washington to help Colombia track planes that smuggle drugs and import weapons. That assistance was suspended after a Peruvian jet, guided by a CIA- operated surveillance plane, shot down a civilian plane over Peru last year, mistaking it for a possible drug-smuggling flight. An American missionary and her daughter were killed."
A legislative election earlier in March 2002 resulted in big wins for Uribe's rightwing party, as well as some advances for elements of the left. As the Washington Times reported on March 11, 2002 ( "Extremist Parties Win Big"), "Colombia's two largest and most traditional political parties were routed in congressional elections here yesterday, with voters choosing in their stead a bevy of right-wing and left-wing independents. Supporters of hard-line independent presidential candidate Alvaro Uribe did best in largely peaceful nationwide voting yesterday, followed, ironically, by supporters of Antonio Navarro Wolf, an ex- guerrilla from the demobilized M-19 rebel group swept into the Senate. Congressional candidates from President Andres Pastrana's Conservative Party were routed, along with those from the Liberal Party, Colombia's largest and best-organized political organization. Liberals and Conservative presidents alternated power in Colombia throughout most of the 20th century."
Some analysts and observers fear that the rise of Colombia's right will lead to greatly increased violence, and deeper US involvement. As Newsweek reported on March 25, 2002 ( "Colombia's Hard Right"), "The Bush administration, fighting to increase American military engagement in the war against the rebels, will likely welcome a more resolute president in Bogota. As will most of his countrymen. 'Ordinary Colombians who have grown tired of guerrilla abuses see in Uribe a tough leader with a firm hand,' says former national-security adviser Armando Borrero. But human-rights activists, civil libertarians and other critics see something else: another threat to Colombia's besieged democracy. They claim the heir apparent has too cozy a relationship with Colombia's disreputable military, a coterie of shady associates, past and present, with allegations of links to the drug trade hanging over them, and a penchant for strongman tactics. 'Many of [Uribe's] backers support him because they favor an authoritarian government,' says political analyst Marco Romero of Bogota's Nationa University. 'That makes many people worry that his extreme-right-wing vision of public order may not jibe with democratic principles.'"
Uribe does not like to discuss the allegations of his ties to
narcotics traffickers, as the following exchange, which ended an interview with
Uribe by Joseph Contreras of Newsweek (
"'I Have Been Honorable'") published March
25, 2002 shows:
A bomb blast outside a bank branch office in Lima, Peru, left 9 dead and 30 injured. According to a report by BBC News on March 21, 2002 ( "Peru Bomb Fails To Deter Bush"), "US President George W Bush will go ahead with plans to travel to Peru this weekend - despite a car bomb attack near the American embassy that killed nine people." According to the BBC, "The embassy, in a residential area of the capital, was left undamaged by the blast from a powerful car bomb which detonated at about 2245 local time (0345 GMT Thursday). A second device failed to explode. But the US state department said a Peruvian embassy guard was among the dead. Two police officers stationed at the embassy were among 30 people injured in the attack outside a Banco de Credito de Lima branch office at the El Polo shopping centre, in the eastern Lima neighbourhood of La Molina. The blast - four blocks from the embassy - left a large crater in the ground, and the street littered with wrecked cars."
The question of who planted the bomb could not be immediately answered. The US president indicated his belief that the culprits are with a Peruvian terrorist group that has alleged ties with narcotics traffickers, but other theories exist. The BBC reported on March 21, 2002 that ( "Who Was Behind Peru's Bomb Attack?" "The prime suspect for Peru's security forces - and hinted at by President Bush when he said 'they have been around before' - is the rebel Shining Path movement. Jhon Caro, a former director of Peru's anti-terrorism police, said the attack had all the trademarks of a Shining Path operation and was probably provoked by Mr Bush's pledge to fight terrorism around the world. The Shining Path movement brought Peru to its knees in the early 1990s before the capture of its leader, Abimael Guzman, in 1992." As the BBC noted, "After Mr Guzman's capture the group disintegrated, falling from a peak of 10,000 guerrillas to fewer than 600 today." However, "the Shining Path is enjoying a resurgence, in no small part thanks to an increase in the cultivation of drug crops - coca for cocaine, and opium poppy for heroin. There is mounting evidence that Colombian drugs traffickers, suffering from America's war on drugs in their country, are looking to Peru to make up the supply. Imitating their powerful guerrilla counterparts in Colombia - who earn hundred of millions of dollars every year from the drugs trade - the Shining Path has begun to 'tax' narcotics and offer security to drugs traffickers. The group burst back into the headlines last August when it ambushed a patrol of counter-insurgency police, killing 16."
On the other hand, some analysts point toward Peru's own corrupt past, and suggest Peruvian government's former spymaster Vladimiros Montesinos, as a prime suspect. As the BBC reports, "Another theory being whispered around Lima that disgraced President Alberto Fujimori's shadowy spychief, Vladimiro Montesinos, has reached out from his prison cell in Lima. Mr Montesinos is awaiting trial for corruption, torture and murder, but through his network of still loyal security force members, is believed to have significant influence. Rumours persist that he is trying to destabilise the country and discredit the government just when the world's eyes are turning towards Peru."
The bombing incident comes as the US is considering upping the ante in its drug war in Peru. The Eugene, OR Register-Guard reported on February 13, 2002 ( "US Triples Anti-Drug Money Sent To Peru") that "The United States will triple anti-drug funding to Peru, the U.S. ambassador said Tuesday, ahead of President Bush's visit next month. Ambassador John Hamilton told reporters that U.S. aid meant to curb drug production and trafficking will increase to more than $150 million in 2002, from about $50 million annually. More than $80 million will finance alternative development programs that help farmers switch from coca, the raw material of cocaine, to other crops including coffee and cacao. The rest of the aid will support interdiction."
More recently, US officials have expressed support for reviving the US shoot-down policy which was suspended after a US missionary and her infant were killed (see Baptist Missionaries Shot Down In Peru; Two Die, Including Infant; US Spy Plane ID'd Plane As Drug Trafficker ). As the San Jose Mercury News reported on March 16, 2002 ( "US Wants To Renew Effort To Shoot Down Drug Planes"), "The U.S. government is 'pretty close' to resuming a suspended program to shoot down suspected drug planes in the Amazon, White House drug czar John Walters says. Walters told the Mercury News Washington Bureau that U.S. officials may want to renew the program first in Colombia, then later in Peru, where a tragic accidental shoot-down over the Amazon River on April 20 killed a U.S. missionary and her infant daughter. That fatal mishap forced the suspension of the program and led to at least two official U.S. investigations and a multimillion-dollar lawsuit. 'We're pretty close, I think, to deciding within the U.S. government about how we'd like to proceed,' Walters said in an interview this week. 'We're not quite there yet, but we're pretty close.'"
Congress expressed strong reservations about the program after the missionaries were accidentally killed. Investigators looking into the shoot-down program found the deaths were inevitable. As the Mercury News reported, "Safeguards built into the U.S.-sponsored shoot-down program eroded with time, making an accident almost inevitable, Senate Intelligence Committee investigators found in October. The panel's report called for a 'dramatic overhaul' and said the program was marred by language barriers, inadequate radio systems and failure to alert suspicious pilots that they were about to be shot out of the sky. It also demanded that the CIA not be involved in future drug-plane interdictions." According to the Mercury News article, before the shoot-down policy can be reinstated, "the administration must certify to Congress that safeguards are in place to protect innocent life."
Colombian politicians involved with narcotics traffickers are believed to be involved in the murder of Cali Archbishop Isaias Duarte. The Irish Examiner reported on March 19, 2002 ( "Murdered Archbishop Said Candidates Took Drug Money") that "Days before this month's legislative elections, the late Archbishop Isaias Duarte claimed some candidates had received campaign money from drug lords. Even though the 63-year-old archbishop of Cali did not name names, authorities believed his information about the 'narcos' was explosive enough to put his life in danger. On Saturday, those fears were realised when Duarte was gunned down outside the Buen Pastor church, where he had just presided over a group wedding in a working-class neighbourhood. The two gunmen escaped. No one has claimed responsibility."
The Examiner noted that "The Rev German Robledo, a top church official in Cali, said Duarte made his allegations after parish priests showed him evidence that at least three drug trafficking organisations in the area were buying votes and financing candidates. The groups included traffickers based in the northern part of Valle de Cauca state, of which Cali is the capital, as well as the western port of Buenaventura and the centre of the state, Robledo added." However, any number of players in Colombia may have been involved. As the Examiner reported, "Duarte was a tough critic of leftist rebels and even had excommunicated them, leading many Cali residents to believe guerrillas were behind the killing. He also denounced a brutal rightist paramilitary group during an earlier posting in conflictive northern region, Uraba."
The city of Cali went into mourning. "Cali's mayor, Jhon Maro Rodriguez, declared three days of mourning and scheduled a city wide moment of silence and candlelight vigil yesterday. Sister Gloria Ocampo, who attended an early morning Mass in the cathedral, described Duarte as a champion of the poor who built dozens of schools during his seven years as archbishop of Colombia's third-largest city. She said Duarte's frankness had made him martyr. Paramilitary leader Carlos Castano said in a recent biography that he considered the archbishop 'a friend'. Duarte reportedly was nervous about that description because he believed it could make him a target."
US Attorney General John Ashcroft unveiled a criminal indictment against members of the FARC at a news conference on March 18, 2002 ( a transcript is available by clicking here). According to Ashcroft, "The indictment names Tomas Molina Caracas, a member of the FARC, along with two other FARC members and four other men, including three Brazilian nationals. They are charged with conspiracy to import cocaine into the United States and to manufacture and distribute cocaine in Colombia with the intent of exporting it to the United States." Ashcroft said that "According to the indictment, Tomas Molina Caracas, the commander of the FARC's 16th Front, doubled as the leader of the 16th Front's drug-trafficking activities. Between 1994 and 2001, Molina and other 16th Front members effectively controlled the remote Colombian village of Barranco Minas near the Venezuelan border. From their base in Barranco Minas, according to the indictment, the 16th Front processed cocaine, collected cocaine from other FARC fronts and sold it to international drug traffickers for payment in currency, weapons and equipment. Molina and his co-conspirators loaded airplanes with cocaine in Barranco Minas."
In the news conference, AG Ashcroft cast the war on drugs as essential to the war on terrorism, saying that illegal drug use "diminishes our potential as a nation." He called illegal drugs "a destructive force to the security of America," and denounced the "evil interdependence between the terrorists that threaten American lives and the illegal drugs that threaten American potential." In Ashcroft's view, "To surrender to either of these threats is to surrender to both. The Department of Justice is committed to victory over drug abuse and terrorism, and the protection of the freedom and human dignity that both drug abuse and terrorism seek to destroy."
The US estimate runs counter to an estimate by Colombian officials. The Wall Street Journal reported on March 8, 2002 ( "Coca Production Rose In Colombia, According To US Inventory Of Crop") that "Last week, Colombian Justice Minister Romulo Gonzalez said coca production had dropped significantly, to 134,400 hectares last December from 156,800 hectares under cultivation 16 months ago." According to the Journal, "In contrast to the gloomy White House assessment, Mr. Gonzalez said the Colombian government's figures are 'a clear demonstration' that the eradication program is working." The Journal notes that "The U.S. began sharply increased counter-narcotics assistance to Colombia in 2000, approving the delivery of helicopters and other equipment and the training of anti-narcotics brigades." In fact, "The U.S. State Department said in a report issued last week that nearly twice and many acres were sprayed in Colombia last year compared with 2000."
The Colombian government broke off peace negotiations and began military operations against the rebels. The New York Times reported on February 23, 2002 ( "Colombian Troops Begin Retaking Rebel-Held Territory") that "Elite government troops landed by helicopter today inside a swath of southern jungle that President Andres Pastrana ceded to Marxist rebels three years ago as a safe haven so peace talks could take place. The soldiers were the first of thousands expected as the army works to retake the zone now that Mr. Pastrana has broken off the talks."
Human rights officials are expressing concern that civilians will bear the brunt of the offensive, as most of the rebels have moved into the jungles to avoid the attack. According to the Times, "The offensive has raised concerns among rights groups and some foreign diplomats, as reports have surfaced of civilians hurt and killed in the attacks. About 100,000 people live in the former rebel zone. 'The military objectives are not apparent, since the FARC is not in the region anymore,' said Marco Romero, who works with Codhes, an advocacy group for people displaced by violence. 'It is probable there are civilians living there or at least close to the zones that were bombed.'"
Still, the Colombian army has met with some resistance. The Times noted that "although most of the guerrillas responded to the offensive by disappearing into the jungle, some shot at helicopters this morning, hitting three aircraft and wounding two soldiers and a pilot, Gen. Fernando Tapias, chief of the armed forces, told reporters at the Defense Ministry in Bogota this morning. He suggested that the takeover of the region would be slow, since the military was wary of anti-personnel mines on the roads and the possibility of rebel ambushes." However, most of the damage is reported to have been done to innocent civilians. Again from the Times: "The International Committee of the Red Cross said it had transported five wounded civilians today to the San Vicente Hospital, along with thre bodies. The victims had come from a jungle hamlet called El Rubi, where some of the bombing apparently took place. James LeMoyne, the United Nations special envoy to Colombia, said that he had received 'reports of civilian casualties, civilian deaths, wounded people who cannot be attended in outlying areas and hundreds, maybe thousands of people, being displaced.'"
Observers are also concerned that the government offensive may give rightwing paramilitaries the opportunity to move into the region and commit terrorist atrocities. The Times reported that "Mr. LeMoyne also said the United Nations was concerned that, with the departure of the rebels, rightist paramilitary groups would enter the zone and kill civilians. The paramilitaries -- outlawed militias that human rights groups accuse of collaborating with the army -- have often killed shopkeepers, local officials and others they have accused of collaborating with rebels."
President Bush plans an increase in US involvement in the Colombian civil war. According to a report in the Washington Times on February 4, 2002 ( "Drug War Revised In Colombia"), "The Pentagon and State Department are debating the size and scope of a follow-up to the Clinton administration's 'Plan Colombia,' which is consuming $1.3 billion in U.S. aid. The new program would be dubbed 'Colombia: The Way Ahead' and would earmark up to $1 billion for training Colombian security forces and eradicating the coca crop from which cocaine is processed. The plan could be sent to Congress later this month."
These plan would expand the reasons for US involvement to helping protect oil pipelines. According to the Times, "The United States would help establish a second Colombian anti-narcotics brigade and als train local troops in protecting the country's vital - and often targeted - oil pipelines. Rebels dynamited one pipeline from an Occidental Petroleum-run oil field near the Venezuelan border more than 140 times last year, the Associated Press reported from Santa Isabel, Colombia. The sabotage cost the government and the company $400 million." The US plan "also calls for increased intelligence-sharing with Bogota. This would include intercepted communications and satellite photographs, U.S. officials said."
Yet, even the Bush administration is conceding that the heightened US drug war in Colombia has been ineffective. The Times notes, "The new push in the war on drugs comes as some in the Bush administration view Plan Colombia as a failure. They say the policy has not made a dent in drug traffickers' capacity to produce cocaine. Colombia provides 90 percent of the cocaine that reaches U.S. territory. In fact, U.S. officials said, an upcoming CIA-State Department report will show that Colombia produced a record coca crop last year. The administration reported 336,400 cultivated acres of coca for 2000, up from 303,000 acres in 1999."
According to an Associated Press report on February 5, 2002 ( "Budget Proposal Would Expand Colombian Aid To Include Oil Pipeline Protection"), "The plan announced Monday is raising concerns that the United States will be drawn deeper into Colombia's 38-year civil war. The proposal marks 'the first time that the line separating counterinsurgency from counterdrug assistance has been crossed in U.S. military aid to Colombia,' said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., chairman of the Senate Appropriations foreign operations subcommittee." The AP noted further that "Sen. Paul Wellstone, D-Minn., said lawmakers should scrutinize any attempt to expand military assistance. 'This was not what was debated in Congress when Plan Colombia was passed. We are getting deeper into this conflict,' said Wellstone, who opposed the previous Colombian aid proposals."
US officials say that American flyers will resume drug interdiction patrols in Peru and Colombia soon. The Boston Globe reported on January 31, 2002 ( "US Eyes Resuming Drug Surveillance") that "Assistant Secretary of State Rand Beers said the United States is determined to resume the flights with changes in procedures to prevent other accidents. 'The issue is how, not whether' to resume flights, Beers said after meeting with reporters at the Organization of American States." (For more information on the shootdown see Baptist Missionaries Shot Down In Peru; Two Die, Including Infant; US Spy Plane ID'd Plane As Drug Trafficker , below.)
According to the Globe, "Beers said officials were still trying to work out details of how the air surveillance program would be operated and by whom. And though he said 'hopefully nobody has to be shot down,' that option would remain open for the Peruvian and Colombian militaries if a suspected drug flight refuses to land." Given no plan is in place, State's position seems to be at odds with Congressional directives issued in response to the deaths of Veronica Bowers and her infant daughter, Charity, after US 'contractors' erroneously identified their plane as a drug smuggler and authorized a Peruvian fighter jet to shoot it down. As the Globe explained, "In its foreign aid bill approved last month, Congress said no money could be spent on drug surveillance flights in Peru until new safeguards are in place to prevent accidental shootdowns. Also, a Senate panel in October recommended that the CIA stop running the interdiction flights, saying lax management was to blame for the downing." (For more information on the Congressional response, see Senate Intelligence Committee Tells Bush Administration To Take CIA Off Drug War Duty In Peru, Faults Agency For Deaths In Missionary Plane Shootdown , below.)
Disruption in the world illicit heroin market, created by the US war in Afghanistan, is projected by UN experts to give Colombia the opportunity to capture a larger share of the world market. The Boston Globe reported on Jan. 20, 2002 ( "Afghan Effort May Shift Heroin Sales") that "Demand may already be shifting to Colombia, even as the administration of President Andres Pastrana has stepped up its antinarcotics efforts with $1.3 billion in US drug-fighting assistance that has mainly focused on reducing the cocaine trade. 'We think the flower went elsewhere since the Taliban's decree' [Klaus] Nyholm, the UN official, said of the poppy plants that are used to make heroin. 'So it makes sense that there should be more opium poppy grown in Colombia than before.'"
According to the Globe, "The United Nations estimates that 12,000 to 15,000 hectares (A hectare amounts to about 2.5 acres) are under cultivation in Colombia. This is double the figure used by police and other government officials." As the story notes, "Colombia's share of the international heroin trade is minuscule, from 2 to 3 percent, according to UN officials. But the country is the biggest supplier of heroin to the US market. About 60 percent of the heroin sold in the United States comes from Colombia, said Leo Arreguin, director of the DEA's office there. By contrast, Afghanistan is responsible for about 70 percent of production of opiates, and about 90 percent of the heroin used in Europe, said Kemal Kurspahic, a spokesman for the Vienna-based United Nations Office on Drug Control and Crime Prevention." Still, "Southwest Asia, primarily Afghanistan, is a smaller player in the North American heroin industry, and accounts for between 4 and 10 percent of the market."
The DEA's Arreguin views the Colombian expansion to a greater position in the world market as inevitable. The Globe reports, "Driven by their competitiveness, Colombian heroin traffickers have won their dominant share of the US market away from Asian control, and have done it with heroin of high purity, the DEA official said. Europe may be the next front. 'The Colombians could one day open their eyes and say, 'Could I capture this market?'' Arreguin added. 'Sooner or later the Colombian narcotrafficker is going to fill that void.'"
One of the world's largest environmental groups, the US branch of the World Wildlife Fund, has called on the US government to "cease aerial spraying of herbicide on coca crops in Colombia until it can be determined that the eradication effort won't devastate the nation's fragile tropics. The U.S. branch of the World Wildlife Fund made the plea in letters sent to Capitol Hill and the State Department," the St. Paul Pioneer-Press reported on Dec. 2, 2001 ( "Coca Defoliation Worries Conservationists"). According to the report, "Through Nov. 22, pilots had dropped herbicide on 190,504 acres of coca bushes in Colombia's lowland regions this year." "'We remain alarmed about the potential long-term devastating consequences on the Colombian environment, one of ( the ) most biologically rich places on the planet,' World Wildlife Fund vice president William Eichbaum said in a letter dated Nov. 21 to U.S. Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis."
The organization Witness for Peace has posted to the web a number of photographs from Colombia of the destruction wreaked by the US fumigation program in Putumayo state. The photos, which can be viewed by clicking here, were taken in December 2001.
The US anti-coca campaign in Colombia focused resources on one problem while ignoring another. As an Associated Press story in the Eugene Register-Guard noted on Nov. 16, 2001 ( "Opium Eradication Slows In Colombia"), "Pilots who spray herbicide over drug fields in Colombia have destroyed 75 percent less opium so far this year than they did in 2000, despite the start of a $1.3 billion U.S. anti-drug program, according to U.S. government figures." According to AP, "Through Nov. 7, pilots sprayed 5,414 acres of opium, the raw material for heroin, compared with 22,867 acres for all of 2000, according to figures given to The Associated Press by the U.S. Embassy in Bogota, Colombia. It is unclear how much more spraying will take place this year. As opium destruction foundered, eradication of coca, the raw material for cocaine, increased to 197,603 acres through Nov. 7 from 116,140 acres in 2000."
The report notes that Colombia "is the largest source of heroin sold in the United States, according to U.S. officials. It has the potential to produce almost 9 tons of heroin annually, virtually all for the illegal U.S. market."
The Senate Select Intelligence Committee is urging the Bush Administration to end its policy of helping shoot down planes in Peru suspected of transporting drugs until it has appropriate safeguards in place to prevent another tragedy like the deaths of an American missionary and her daughter in April 2000. The New York Times reported on Nov. 1, 2001 ( "Practice Of Shooting Down Drug Planes In Peru Seems Sidelined") that "Senator Bob Graham, a Florida Democrat and the committee chairman, said that Peruvian safeguards to protect against the loss of innocent life had eroded over the years and the C.I.A. had failed in its oversight responsibilities. 'The lack of judgment displayed by key individuals involved was the primary factor leading to this disaster,' said Mr. Graham, who released a committee report on the incident today. 'Safety procedures, however, had degraded over time to the point where this kind of tragedy was almost inevitable. This program needs a dramatic overhaul before we should consider restarting it.' The committee faulted an antiquated air traffic control system in Peru, a cumbersome communications system and chain of command for conducting interceptions and inadequate language skills of both Peruvians and Americans. It said that the pilot of the missionary plane, Kevin Donaldson, did nothing that should have led authorities to conclude he was transporting drugs. The report also noted that the American C.I.A. employees helping to track the plane had voiced 'strong reservations' as their Peruvian counterparts sought the use of deadly force."
In spite of that conciliatory note, critics of the Agency
were clear that CIA itself had to bear part of the blame. The
What this means for the shootdown program, and the overall role of US military and intelligence forces in the South American drug war, is uncertain. However, the Times notes, "One Senate official conceded that the committee demands are so sweeping they may spell the end of the program. Senators are less interested in a military approach than in finding ways to support eradication of the coca crop in Peru and Colombia, and enhance law enforcement coordination on the ground, the official said."
Arms Across The Water: Alleged Irish Republican Army Members Captured In Colombia Testing Weapons, Training FARC Rebels
The arrest in Colombia of three men -- Niall Connolly, James Monaghan, and Martin McCauley -- with alleged ties to the Irish Republican Army, combined with the events of Sept. 11, has thrown a wrench into the peace processes in both Ireland and Colombia. As the Los Angeles Times reported on Sept. 17, 2001 ( "Colombia Rebel Chief Blasts US"), "The Colombian army also said Monday that more suspected members of the Irish Republican Army visited the zone than previously believed. Three suspected IRA members were arrested last month after allegedly conducting explosives training for the FARC inside the zone. But two other suspected IRA members -- identified as John Francis Johnson and James Edward Walker -- traveled into the zone in April and left Colombia before they could be detained, an army spokesman said."
There is pressure to end the safe haven policy. The Times notes, "Pastrana must decide whether to renew safe-haven status for the rebel territory, which is set to expire Oct. 6. He has indicated he probably will do so. Leading candidates in next May's presidential elections are calling for controls on the safe haven if not its outright cancellation should peace talks continue to founder." Meanwhile, FARC is warning the government to keep its hands off the rebel territory. As the Times reported, "Colombia's top rebel chieftain accused the United States on Monday of meddling with his country's internal affairs by sending 'hundreds of military advisers and mercenaries' Manuel Marulanda, head of the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia, or FARC, also warned that peace talks with the government will collapse if President Andres Pastrana forces the FARC to give up a Switzerland-sized safe haven he ceded to the rebels in southern Colombia. Marulanda, in a letter posted on the FARC's Internet site, said the peace talks 'will be over and not even the next president will have an open door' should Pastrana send his troops into the 16,200-square-mile zone he granted the rebels in an effort to boost the peace process."
Meanwhile in Ireland, reaction has been strong. As the BBC reported on Sept. 18, 2001 "IRA warned about Colombia 'links'"#&041;, "The US president's special envoy to Northern Ireland has said all links between the IRA and Colombian left-wing guerrillas, the FARC, must be severed. Richard Haass said if the IRA was engaged in activities that supported terrorism, it could have 'potentially serious consequences for the role of the United States in the peace process.'" The suspects have denied that they were involved in such activities. As the BBC reported, "But the men denied they were terrorists. They said their visit had been misunderstood and that they were simply looking at the Colombian peace process. Mr Haass said the United States was still awaiting further details about what the men were doing in Colombia. But he added: 'My understanding is that they were not there for vacationing.' Their discussions, he said, could only be associated with activities 'under the rubric of terrorism'."
This story takes some interesting turns, for example, the Cuba connection. The Times of London reported on August 18, 2001 ( "IRA suspect is Sinn Fein's Cuba envoy") that "But Aymee Hernandez, Cubas Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, said Connolly was Sinn Fein's de facto ambassador for Latin America. She was more concerned to deny allegations that Cuba was involved in training the Colombian rebels, which she described as 'a big lie'. 'There is no connection between Niall Connolly's work in Cuba, where he lived for five years, and anything he may be suspected of doing in Colombia,' she said."
The appearance of IRA members in Colombia should be no surprise. As the Times pointed out on August 15, 2001 ( "Colombians linked to mafia and Eta"), "THE IRA is by no means the first foreign armed group to be investigated in Colombia for alleged ties to one of the country's illegal groups, be they drug traffickers or left-wing guerrillas. In recent years evidence has pointed to the presence of Russian and Italian mafia gangsters and Israeli arms dealers, as well as currency counterfeiters. Colombia has also been used as a refuge for wanted members of the Spanish separatist group Eta. Despite a massive increase in US support for counter-narcotics operations during the past two years, Colombia's Government often appears helpless to combat the wealth of the illegal groups, financed by drugs, kidnapping and extortion."
For more information about the convergence of drug prohibition, crime, and terrorists as well as rebel groups, check out www.NarcoTerror.org and particularly this page of background information on narcofunded terrorism. CSDP also has a public service advertisement on this topic, "Is funding of terrorism another unintended consequence of drug prohibition?".
Another Killing In Colombia Sparks Calls For End To Peace Process; Some Hope For Washington's War On Terror To Include FARC
The killing in Colombia of a popular cultural and political figure has resulted in calls for abandoning the fragile peace process there. As the New York Times reported on October 5, 2001 ( "Culture Minister's Killing Adds To Colombian Leader's Problems"), "Mr. Pastrana has given himself until Tuesday to decide whether to let the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia remain in control of a swath of land that his government ceded as an inducement to begin talks three years ago. Although he has extended the rebels' hold on the land before, his government is facing mounting opposition since the killing last weekend of Consuelo Araujo, 62, an energetic promoter of Colombian music and a former culture minister whom the rebels had kidnapped."
The Times story notes that popular opposition to the FARC and
to the peace process is growing.
"A poll published on Tuesday in El Tiempo, the largest
newspaper in the country said 61 percent of respondents agreed
that the peace effort should end in light of the killing. Just
23 percent said they believed that the talks should continue.
The execution-style killing touched an emotional chord among Colombians,
who have grown accustomed to brutal acts after decades
of civil conflict." According to the report, some --
including particularly the Colombian military, with its own ties
to rightwing paramilitary groups -- are hoping that
Washington's push against terror groups will include the
FARC. As the Times reports:
Former Medellin cartel leader Fabio Ochoa was successfully extradited to the US. According to the LA Times on Sept. 10, 2001 ( "Medellin Ex-Leader Pleads Innocent"), "A leader of Colombia's Medellin cartel pleaded innocent Monday to charges that he helped smuggle 30 tons of cocaine a month and spirited away the profits. Fabio Ochoa, 45, was flown to Miami over the weekend to face the charges. He is being held without bond and his attorney said he will not seek it for now. Ochoa has immunity on crimes committed before an extradition treaty was signed in 1997, but could face a life sentence if convicted of three conspiracy counts charging he helped smuggle tons of cocaine in 1998 and 1999."
The Times reported that "The Ochoa extradition prompted a State Department warning to Americans in Colombia to take extra security precautions. The last attack thought to be in response to the government's extradition policy was in November 1999, when a bomb in Bogota exploded, killing eight bystanders."
Colombian President Andres Pastrana has called for "a review of that struggle, saying it has produced few victories." The Chicago Sun-Times reported on Sept. 7, 2001 ( "Pastrana Questions Drug Fight") that "'The conclusions are not good,' Pastrana said in a rare talk with foreign journalists ahead of next week's visit by Secretary of State Colin Powell. 'The conclusions are that drugs are still the first-or second-biggest business of mankind.' He said the United States should re-establish intelligence-sharing with Colombia's air force about suspected drug flights, and urged President Bush to help organize an international narcotics conference. 'Clearly, we must also make an evaluation -- and not only of the policies of fumigation and interdiction,' Pastrana said."
Meanwhile, Colombia's Comptroller-General has issued a report that "has raised fresh doubts about the US drug-fighting strategy, saying aerial fumigation of crops may be damaging the environment and failing to curb drug production. The report, released over the weekend by the comptroller-general's office, urged President Andres Pastrana to halt the spraying of drug crops until scientists can study the environmental effects of the herbicide."
Cocaine Wars Against Medellin Cartel Of 1980s Coming To A Close? Colombia Edges Closer To Extraditing Fabio Ochoa
The Houston Chronicle reported on Sept. 7, 2001 ( "Extradition Looms For Drug Lord") that "Fabio Ochoa, a former lieutenant of late drug lord Pablo Escobar, moved a step closer to being extradited to the United States Thursday after the Colombian government rejected his latest legal appeal. Ochoa argued his extradition to the United States would be a violation of a 1990 law allowing traffickers who confessed to avoid extradition and serve reduced sentences. Ochoa argued that he had already served prison time in Colombia and had no further involvement in the drug trade."
According to the Chronicle, "Ochoa's extradition had been temporarily suspended Aug. 31 after a Bogota judge gave the United States 10 days to provide evidence of his involvement in a ring that allegedly smuggled $1 billion of cocaine a month to the United States and Europe. The temporary suspension could be lifted as soon as Sept. 14."
New York Times reported on
Aug. 31, 2001 (
"Colombia Suspends Extradition Of Drug Lord To
US"), "Ochoa was captured in October 1999
in 'Operation Millennium' -- carried out jointly
by the Colombian police and the US Drug Enforcement
Administration." Ochoa was "one of a group of drug
barons who waged a bloody war against extradition in the late
1980s and early 1990s with the battle cry 'better a tomb
in Colombia than a cell in the United States.'" The Times
The Times notes that the Colombian government "lifted its ban on extradition of Colombian citizens to the United States in 1997, under heavy pressure from Washington." Fabio Ochoa has put up a website to defend his innocence, at http://www.fabioochoa.com/ . For more information on the cocaine wars of the 1980s and the smashing of the Medellin cartel, check out the "Killing Pablo" series, originally published in the Philadelphia Inquirer in 2000.
Secretary of State Colin Powell, Other US Officials To Visit Colombia, Promote Drug War; Meanwhile In Colombia, Support For Legalization Grows
The US is stepping up its pressure on the Colombian government to to put down a rebellion and continue fighting the US drug war. The Financial Times reported on Aug. 28, 2001 ( "Powell's Colombia Visit To Focus On Peace And Anti-Drug Efforts") that "Colin Powell, US secretary of state, is to visit Colombian President Andres Pastrana next month as the Bush administration steps up its scrutiny of Bogota's peace policies and anti-drug efforts. Mr. Powell's visit was confirmed as a high-ranking US delegation prepared to fly to Bogota tomorrow at a time of renewed doubts over Mr. Pastrana's peace strategy."
The Houston Chronicle reported on August 28, 2001 ( "Colombian Officials Cooling On Drug War") that "Today through Friday, a high-ranking US delegation is scheduled to visit Colombia to discuss Washington's support for the drug war with President Andres Pastrana. The officials from the State Department, the Pentagon, the Justice Department and other agencies also plan to visit Colombian army bases in the southern part of the country and assess progress in the nation's 37-year war against leftist rebels. Despite growing criticism of his counterdrug strategy at home, analysts say that Pastrana, who has one year remaining in his four-year term, is unlikely to alter his policy. That's because millions of dollars in US aid is at stake. Plan Colombia, Pastrana's anti-drug initiative, is already backed by $1.3 billion in US assistance."
According to the Chronicle, "In recent weeks, Colombian governors, lawmakers, a high-ranking administration official and the front-runner in next May's presidential race have come out against the policy of fumigating illegal drug crops, a cornerstone of the US-backed fight against narcotics. Some have begun questioning the very premise of the drug war and contend that two decades of hard-line policies have failed. Last week, Colombian Sen. Viviane Morales even introduced a bill to legalize the production and sale of heroin and cocaine. Though the measure has been given little chance, it sparked a nationwide debate, and several public figures endorsed the idea."
The Dallas Morning News reported on August 29, 2001 ( "Pressure Is On In Colombia To Legalize Drug Trafficking") that "Even Enrique Santos Calderon, publisher of Colombia's largest daily newspaper, El Tiempo, has joined the call for decriminalization. 'I believe the US strategy to combat drugs is wrong-headed and inefficient. Alternate legalization and decriminalization tactics should be considered because the 'war on drugs' strategies have failed miserably,' he wrote last March in a Los Angeles Times commentary. US Ambassador Anne Patterson has said she opposes any such action 'because I believe it could cause many problems for the international community.' However, she acknowledged recently that the amount of acreage under illicit cultivation in Colombia has grown despite the eradication effort."
A side effect of US anti-coca efforts has been an increase in Colombian heroin production (see, for example, Opium Poppies Big Winner In Anti-Coca Drive or New US & UN Drug Control Agency Estimates Leaked To Colombian Magazine; Coca, Opium Cultivation Climbed Dramatically In 2000 ) And the Chicago Tribune reported on August 24, 2001 ( "Colombia's Heroin Trade Is Flourishing") that "US and Colombian officials are sounding an alarm over a dramatic increase in the number and size of US-bound shipments of heroin seized in recent months, and a possible boom in poppy cultivation."
According to the Tribune, "Colombian police recorded seizures totaling 1,650 pounds of heroin in the first half of this year, three times the figure for the same period in 2000 and 25 percent higher than the total seized last yaer. Arrests of 'mules' -- travelers who try to smuggle out small quantities of heroin in suitcases or swallowed capsules -- totaled 160 in the first six months of this year. 266 arrests were made in all of 2000. And in a nine-day period in June, Colombian troops seized shipments of 147 pounds, a national record, and 66 pounds -- compared to average seizures of 4 to 9 pounds in the past year -- worth $25.8 million wholesale in New York."
The Tribune notes that "Estimating the size of poppy fields is more difficult than it is for coca, the raw material for cocaine. While coca bushes are a lowland crop easily identified by satellites, poppies are smaller plants grown on the upper slopes of Andean mountains often draped in clouds. The anti-narcotics division of the Colombian National Police reported a drop in poppy cultivation last year, from 16,000 acres estimated for 1999 to 15,300 acres by the end of 2000. But one of its senior officers in the southern state of Cauca, where La Campana is, estimated Cauca alone holds more than 18,000 acres and that neighboring Tolima state has far more. Nine other states are known to have poppy plantations, the officer said."
On August 2, 2001, the US State Department released its report on the April 20, 2001 shootdown of US missionaries flying over Peru ( click here for more details on the incident). A copy of the report is available from the State Dept. by clicking here. The report's conclusions are listed below.
For a fuller picture of the report and the shootdown itself, please
consider checking out the following links:
US Says Cultivation Of Drug Crops Spreading Throughout Colombia; UN Seeks To Audit US Herbicide Spraying
The St. Paul Pioneer Press reported on July 27, 2001 ( "Colombian Drug Crops Proliferate") that in her first substantive interview in office, US Ambassador Anne Patterson said "There are far more cocaine- and heroin-producing crops growing here than previously believed." According to the Pioneer-Press, "Now drug crops have been found in areas of Colombia where none was believed to have existed before -- in eastern Vichada state and north, in Arauca state, among other places."
Unfortunately, there is no reliable estimate of how much
greater the actual production of coca and opium poppies in
Colombia than previously estimated. "Of the
heroin crops, Patterson said: 'There is more out there
than we can find right now.'" In spite of this
apparent failure of the US Andean Initiative (nee Plan
Colombia), "Patterson said the pace of fumigation will
pick up 'very dramatically' Washington made a clear sign
Tuesday that US participation will continue when the House approved
$676 million to fight drugs and advance economic and
political stability in Colombia and its neighboring
countries." The Pioneer-Press reported further:
In the meantime the United Nations is seeking "an international audit of Colombia's US-supported anti-cocaine crop spraying program, voicing concern about the health's effects of the fumigation chemicals and the alleged spraying of small farmers' plots," according to a report in the Chicago Tribune on July 25, 2001 ( "UN Wants Government Crop Spraying Program Audited"). According to the Tribune, the United Nations Drug Control Programme representative in Colombia, Klauss Nyholm, said that "The UN has collected evidence showing that herbicides are being forcibly used against small farmers, contravening government policy of targeting only large plantations. 'We know that despite the government's policy, sometimes small farmers' plots are hit as well, and that legal crops such as bananas and beans are being fumigated by mistake.'" The Tribune reports that "Nyholm said the targeting of plots smaller than 7.4 acres is opposed by the UN, adding that such policies are ineffective and 'inhuman'."
Congress Approves Increase In Aid To Colombia; Includes Increase In Number Of US Military Personnel Allowed In-Country
The House of Representatives approved funding for President Bush's Andean Initiative, as the Washington Times reported on July 25, 2001 ( "House Rebuffs Attempt To Cut Andean Counterdrug Aid"). The Times reported that "The House yesterday rejected efforts to cut funding for President Bush's $676 million South American anti-drug effort. Lawmakers from both parties have become nervous about the U.S. military's involvement in Columbia and other Andean nations and increasing reports of civil rights violations by those nations." An amendment that would have diverted $60 million from the Andean Counterdrug Initiative and from foreign military assistance intended to supplement that effort" was rejected 240-88. John Feehery, a spokesman for House Speaker Dennis Hastert called defeat of the amendment, which would have increased funding to "international child survival and health programs" a "Big victory."
Republicans forged a compromised with Rep. John Conyers, Jr. "that would allow the White House to waive a 300-person cap on civilian contractors involved in the initiative." According to the Times, "The compromise would leave in place a cap of 800 persons for both civilian contractors and military personnel. The compromise requires the White House to tell Congress when the cap on 300 civilian contractors is exceeded."
United Nations Drug Control Program Issues 2001 Global Illicit Drug Trends Report; Estimates Of Colombian Cocaine Production Revised Drastically Upward
The United Nations Drug Control Program issued "Global Illicit Drug Trends 2001" June 26, 2001. The report, an annual estimate of worldwide illicit drug production, trafficking and consumption, has warned in the past of under-reporting of cocaine production. In this year's report, UNDCP notes that "Thanks to the new monitoring system of the Government of Colombia, new cultivation estimates are available starting in 1999 (Colombia(I)). It is important to note that, due to the use of different methodologies, the resulting data cannot be compared with data for previous years derived on US surveys (Colombia(II))." In 1999, a coca was cultivated on a total of 160,119 hectares in Colombia. In 2000, the amount of land under cultivation was estimated to have risen to 163,289 hectares. By the previous, US-derived measure, Colombia was estimated to have had only 101,800 hectares of coca under cultivation in 1998.
The amount of cocaine that was produced in 2000 was estimated by the UNDCP to be 883 metric tons, down from 1999's 925 metric tons. However, in a footnote, the report notes, "The Colombian authorities recently estimated that cocaine manufacture in Colombia could potentially have been as high as 947 tonnes in 2000." The official estimate for Colombia in 2000 was only 695 metric tons.
Police Called In To Stop Colombian Anti-Eradication Demonstration; Angry Rioters Burn Down US Refueling Base, Firehouse
In the town of Tibu in Colombia on June 12, 2001, thousands of campesinos demonstrated against the US coca eradication program. The Miami Herald reported on June 13, 2001 ( "Coca Workers Riot Against US Spray Efforts") that "Riot police battled about 3,000 demonstrators in this farming community Tuesday as angry coca leaf pickers who burned down a refueling base for US spray aircraft continued to protest the eradication of their fields with herbicides. The rioting, which began during the weekend, represents the most open and violent display of opposition by coca farmers and field hands to fumigation efforts under the US-supported Plan Colombia, a $1.3 billion program designed to reduce the cultivation of the plant used to produce cocaine."
According to the Herald, protesters had hoped to make talk with the provincial governor. "But when the protesters learned that Gov. Juan Alcides of Norte de Santander province had failed to show up as promised to hear their complaints, the rioting broke out. The 120 riot police, armed with tear gas and plastic shields, were far outnumbered by the coca leaf pickers who marched into Tibu on Thursday from the coca-growing village of La Gabarra, 40 miles away." The story reports that "Police sent in the riot squad after the coca workers went on a rampage Saturday, burning down the spray aircraft's refueling equipment and a firehouse by the side of Tibu's airstrip and looting several stores. All counter-narcotics spray equipment in Colombia, and the helicopter gunships that protect them, are owned by the US State Department's International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Bureau (INL). They are operated by DynCorp, a Virginia firm contracted by INL, using US and Latin American civilian pilots and mechanics, but are officially controlled by the Colombian police counter-narcotics division."
RAND Corporation Report: Plan Colombia "Predicated On A Doubtful Strategy"
The RAND Corporation has issued a new report assessing the effectiveness of Plan Colombia, as well as reviewing policy alternatives ( "US Drug Strategy In Colombia 'Flawed,'" June 9, 2001). The report, Colombian Labrynth: The Synergy of Drugs and Insurgency and its Implications for Regional Stability by Angel Rabasa and Peter Chalk, is available for $15 in paperback, or for free online as PDF files.
According to the report, "The policy problem, for both Colombia and the United States, is that, publicly at least, 'Plan Colombia,' the Bogotá government's blueprint for restoring stability, and U.S. support for it, are predicated on a doubtful strategy. The strategy gives pride of place to moving against the drug producers and traffickers, on the argument that drying up funding from drugs will undermine the guerrillas' strength. Yet it is far from certain that the strategy will succeed. The guerrillas have other sources of financing, and the illegal drug trade has demonstrated the capacity to adapt and adjust to counter-narcotics strategies. Nor, based on historical experience, is it clear that alternative sources of income for coca farmers can be developed very soon. In these circumstances, moving against the drug-producing areas could have the effect of increasing support for the guerrillas among those who stand to lose their livelihood."
Colombian Paramilitary Leader Steps Aside; Escalation of Rightwing Violence Feared
Carlos Castano has stepped down as leader of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, a rightwing paramilitary group also known as the AUC. The Los Angeles Times reported on June 7, 2001 ( "Head of Colombia Militia Resigns Post") that Castano resigned his post, citing "his disagreement with other AUC commanders who were reportedly calling for retaliation strikes against the government. Castano is considered a relative moderate in the organization."
According to the Times story, "Castano was reassigned to manage the political affairs of the United Self-Defense Forces of Colombia, but with no top leader named in his place, observers aren't expecting him to fade from the scene. The group, known as the AUC, has become a major force in Colombia's 37-year civil war. It is waging a brutal campaign against guerrillas and their suspected collaborators, often massacring them. Fueled by drug profits and the government's failure to provide security in the countryside, it has expanded into an 8,000-strong, nationwide force."
New US & UN Drug Control Agency Estimates Leaked To Colombian Magazine; Coca, Opium Cultivation Climbed Dramatically In 2000
The German wire service Deutsche Presse-Agentur reported on May 15, 2001 ( "Coca, Poppy Cultivation Expands Despite Anti-Drug Efforts") that "Coca and poppy cultivation is expanding in Colombia despite government efforts against illegal drugs, according to a published report." According to the news story, "The news magazine Cambio, quoting Colombian and United Nations anti-drugs officials, said on Sunday that coca and poppy plantations had expanded from a total of 103,000 hectares at the end of 1999 to 162,000 hectares 12 months later, for an annual gain of 60 per cent. The findings, the magazine said, were based on satellite photos. It said the findings were likely to intensify the growing public dissatisfaction with the government of President Andres Pastrana."
Baptist Missionaries Shot Down In Peru; Two Die, Including Infant; US Spy Plane ID'd Plane As Drug Trafficker
According to the Los Angeles Times ( "CIA Misidentified Plane Downed In Peru As Possible Drug Runner," April 24, 2001): "A CIA crew flying a narcotics surveillance mission over the Amazon misidentified a small aircraft carrying a family of U.S. missionaries as a possible drug smuggling operation, prompting the Peruvian air force to shoot down the plane, a senior U.S. intelligence official said Sunday."
The victim, Veronica Bowers, and her infant daughter Charity, were in Peru as part of a mission sponsored by the Association of Baptists for World Evangelism based in Harrisburg, PA. For much more information on this tragic incident, check out this section of the ABWE website.
The full story is still being pieced together. This delay has spurred strong complaints from members of Congress. As the Associated Press reported on May 1, 2001 ( "Lawmakers Criticize Plane Response"), "'It's been 10 days,' said House Government Reform Committee Chairman Dan Burton, angered that the U.S. investigative team only arrived in Peru on Sunday. 'Why weren't they down there the next day?' Further infuriating lawmakers was the officials' refusal to give details of the April 20 shoot-down -- even to confirm the U.S. surveillance plane carried a CIA-hired crew. 'No State Department plane was involved in this operation. Customs wasn't involved. DEA wasn't involved,' Burton, R-Ind. said to representatives of those and other agencies. 'And yet no one can tell us if the CIA was involved because it's classified. Tell me, why is it classified? A plane was shot down. Americans were killed . . . Why can't you tell us?'"
The Washington Post noted in its story "U.S. Took Risks In Aiding Peru's Anti-Drug Patrols," on April 29, 2001, the incident "has suddenly thrust into the limelight the flaws, pitfalls and risks that go along with such missions. In the life-or-death decisions being made here using information from U.S. radar and intelligence planes -- often transmitted across a language gap -- the United States has given up a significant amount of control over tactics and accountability. At the same time, it has forged an alliance with a military and government leadership long rife with corruption, sacrificing safeguards and legal standards it would be held to at home."
These were not the first deaths under this program.
According to the Post:
Indeed, problems have plagued the intelligence sharing program with
Peru for years. According to the Post:
The US government had grave concerns over the possibility of a deadly mistake. However, according to the Post, "In May 1994, cooperation was temporarily suspended after the State Department raised concerns about who would be held responsible if a civilian aircraft were downed with intelligence provided by the United States. Congress passed a law three months later authorizing the president to identify countries under extraordinary threat from drug trafficking. Those countries, including Peru and Colombia, as well as U.S. officials operating there, were indemnified from liability for air interdiction as long as they provided detailed and safe rules of engagement." The Post notes further, "The United States raised concerns in 1997 about the Peruvians' apparent eagerness to shoot down a private aircraft without following established procedures. Although the aircraft proved to be a drug plane, the CIA quickly launched an 'intensive dialogue' with Peruvian officials out of fear that providing U.S. radar data could end in tragedy, according to a former State Department official who was posted in Peru at the time."
The Post also reported:
The Post gave an idea of the scope of US presence in Peru,
describing the Pucallpa, Peru base of the
U.S. Office of Regional Affairs, "a CIA-run umbrella
headquartered inside the fortress-like U.S. Embassy in Lima and
with officers posted behind high fences in the eastern town
of Pucallpa, 300 miles northeast of the capital.":
A number of questions are being raised over the US drug war in Peru, in part because of "The arrests of 18 generals in the six months since Fujimori's fall -- among more than 70 of his government's high ranking military and intelligence officials against whom criminal charges have been brought," according to the Washington Post on May 9, 2001 ( "US Allies In Drug War In Disgrace"). The Post reports, "Hailed as a model for U.S. military cooperation with Latin America, the tight alliance was part of a quest to crush leftist guerrillas and drug traffickers. To that end, the United States provided Peru not only cash, but also training, equipment, intelligence and manpower from the CIA, DEA and U.S. armed forces. But a purge underway here since Fujimori's disgrace has shown that many of the people the United States worked with most closely to accomplish its goals -- especially in the drug war -- appear to have been working both sides of the street, forming a network of corruption right under the noses of their U.S. partners. For many Peruvians, this has raised the question whether U.S. officials working here were duped or just averted their gaze."
The Media Awareness Project also has a special link to find articles on the missionary plane shootdown.
Drug Policy Reform Discussed At Summit Of Americas In Quebec; Bush, Pastrana, Other Leaders Discuss Alternative To "Plan Colombia"
The leaders of six South American nations met with US President George W. Bush "to discuss a counter-proposal to Bogota's U.S.-backed drug offensive, Venezuelan Foreign Minister Luis Davila said Monday." ( "Neighbors Draft Counter-Proposal To Plan Colombia," Reuters, April 17, 2001) "Davila said Bush would meet with the leaders of the Andean Community -- Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia -- and the presidents of Brazil and Panama to discuss the regional impact of the $7.5 billion Plan Colombia. He said the meeting would take place in Quebec, where 34 Western Hemisphere countries are holding a Summit of the Americas at the weekend."
The National Post of Canada reported on March 21, 2001 ( "Legalization Of Drugs May Be On Agenda"), that "The President of Uruguay is to use next month's Summit of the Americas in Quebec City to raise the issue of legalizing drugs as a way of fighting illegal international cartels. President Jorge Batlle Ibanez said he will try to open debate on legalization of drugs either formally or informally." More information on the Summit of the Americas can be found at Summit of the Americas website, or at the website of the Organization of American States. Additional information on the OAS hemispheric anti-drug strategy can be found through the Inter-American Drug Abuse Control Commission (CICAD).
Mexican President Vicente Fox also supports discussion of legalization, which is in line with earlier actions particularly his cabinet appointments. As the National Post article reported, "He stunned the United States with the appointment of two pro-legalization officials to senior positions in his Cabinet. Alejandro Gertz, the former police chief of Mexico City and now Public Security Minister, has talked about the need to take economic incentives out of drugs and said Mexico should consider the Netherlands' approach to drug use and sales. Mexico's new Foreign Minister, Jorge Casteneda, a left-leaning academic and former guest columnist for Newsweek magazine, has written that legalization might be the only way to win the war on drugs and made reference to U.S. President George W. Bush's former cocaine use."
US Admits Anti-Coca Campaign Will Take Years, Cost Millions More Than Planned; Eradication Efforts May Be Doing More Harm Than Good
The Associated Press reported April 4, 2001 on a briefing for foreign journalists by George Wachtenheim, who heads up Colombia efforts at the US Agency for International Development (USAID) ("US Sees Costly Colombian Drug War") "While a US-backed offensive against drug crops speeds ahead, alternative development aid for farmers will take years to fully succeed - and will require much more money from Washington." According to the story, "Wachtenheim said longer-term development projects will require at least $220 million in additional U.S. aid over the next five years to ensure the farmers do not revert to growing coca." The story notes that "Small farmers who have also been hit are complaining that food crops were killed alongside the coca, and that pledged alternative development aid has not arrived." They report: "With no economic alternative, many of the coca farmers in southern Colombia who have been hit by aerial fumigation earlier this year are already replanting the drug crops."
Food crops are unfortunately not the only innocent victims of the US-backed eradiction campaign. As In These Times magazine reports in its April 30, 2001 issue ( "Death Falls From The Sky" by Garry M. Leech), "The local hospital in La Hormiga has witnessed some of the human health consequences of the fumigation campaign. 'I have treated people with skin rashes, stomach aches and diarrhea caused by the fumigation,' says Dr. Edgar Perea. 'And I have treated five children affected by the fumigation in the past 25 days. I don't know how many the other doctors have treated.'" The story notes that Colombian government programs to develop alternative crops are actually hampered by the eradication. "Ruben Dario Pinzon of the National Plan for Alternative Development (PLANTE), the government agency in charge of the alternative crop program, sympathizes with the campesinos. 'Growers financed by PLANTE have been fumigated because they are a small area in the middle of coca growers,' he says. 'It is impossible to protect them because the pilots can't control exactly where they fumigate. They fumigate the whole area.'"
Colombian Governors Criticize US Eradication Program
Four regional governors from Colombia visited Washington, DC recently to criticize the aerial spraying of herbicide, part of the American-led "Plan Colombia" ( "Colombian Governors Decry Coca Herbicides" ). The BBC reports "They said spraying merely displaced thousands of coca growers to other areas and contributed to the country's internal conflict."
As the Detroit
Free Press reports, the peasants do not
grow coca of their own choice (
"Drug War Squeezes Colombian Peasants"
). As the paper reports:
For more information on the impact of drug production on the Colombian economy, check out this article from the UN Drug Control Program, "The Colombian Economy After 25 Years Of Drug Trafficking," by Ricardo Rocha of la Universidad del Rosario.
US President Pledges More Money
President Bush is asking Congress for more than $700 Million in additional aid for Andean region countries, the bulk of it going to Colombia to augment the $1.3 Billion already approved under "Plan Colombia." According to The Wall Street Journal on March 15, 2001 ( "Powell Outlines Colombia Antidrug Funds"), "The request, submitted to the Senate Budget Committee, includes $399 million for Colombia, $156 million for Peru, $101 million for Bolivia and a combined $75 million for Colombia's four other neighbors -- Brazil, Ecuador, Panama and Venezuela."
Much of the increase will be in the form of military aid. According to Inside The Army ("State Department Calls For More Military Assistance In South America" ) on March 19, 2001, "The State Department is calling for increased military assistance to countries that border Colombia in the Andean region to prevent a crisis of drug production and trafficking from spreading." The article reports "The funding level for the initiative has not been determined but will be a "fairly large chunk" of the total budget for international narcotics control and law enforcement, which will be about $950 million in FY-02."
Rolling Stone recently published this excellent piece on Colombia by Tina Rosenberg, an editorial writer for the New York Times, "Colombia: The Great Cocaine Quagmire.".
CSDP Chairman Mike Gray Debates Colombian Drug War On CNN
Common Sense for Drug Policy Chairman Mike Gray appeared on CNN's Talkback Live on February 27, 2001, debating against former Broward County Sheriff Nick Novarro on US involvement in the Colombian war. Read a transcript of the show by clicking here.
The program focused on Plan Colombia, coming only a few days after US contractors fired on Colombian rebels. The Seattle Times story notes that two helicopters firing at FARC positions on a mission Sunday, Feb. 25, 2001, were flown by private American contract pilots. The Times also reported that "American anti-drug workers braved rebel gunfire to help rescue the crew of a downed Colombian police helicopter during an anti-drug mission."
On CNN, Mike Gray decried this use of American
Read Mike Gray's Once More Into The Jungle to learn more. Also, check out "Just Say No To More Money For The Colombian Drug War," an op-ed by CSDP President Kevin Zeese published in the Wall Street Journal.
Drug War In Colombia Pushes Into Neighboring Countries
Colombian forces reported having dealt a heavy blow to cocaine production in Colombia. However, news reports indicate that the Colombian civil and drug war has spilled over the border to neighboring countries.
According to The Chicago Tribune, "Authorities fear Colombia's violence is already moving quickly into Ecuador, a nation of 12.5 million struggling under the weight of a political and economic crisis that renders it the least prepared of Colombia's neighbors to deal with such a challenge." The New York Times reports that recently Senator John McCain led a five-member delegation of US Senators in holding talks with President Gustavo Noboa of Ecuador regarding "Plan Colombia".
The BBC World Service reports that "Fears are growing in Peru that the country could soon regain its title of being the world's number one cocaine supplier." The BBC story also notes that "In an effort to control the flow of drugs through Peru, the United States has invested $77.5m to set up a secret base in the Amazon jungle."
Opium Poppies Big Winner In Anti-Coca Drive
Another unintended negative from the new anti-cocaine offensive is that Colombia's efforts against heroin production have been scaled back. The Eugene (OR) Register-Guard reported on March 10, 2001 ( "War On Coca Sapping Heroin Efforts") that "Strikes against poppy plantations high in the Andes have been on hold since December because airplanes and helicopters used in aerial eradication missions were reassigned to the U.S.-financed push against coca crops." The Register-Guard notes that even "Gen. Gustavo Socha, head of Colombia's anti-narcotics police force, complained that the aggressive attack on coca is undercutting the war on heroin."
The escalating conflict has led some to suggest a different course. The Philadelphia Inquirer reports that Uruguayan President Jorge Batlle has "become the first head of state in the region -- and one of the few anywhere -- to call for the decriminalization of illicit drugs."
Resources for Additional Information on Colombia
locombia.org, is a great resource for background information and current news on Colombia.
US General Accounting Office issued
several reports at the end of 2000 on Plan Colombia and the
US military's involvement in the drug war, including:
New York Review of Books published a
tremendous 3-part series by Alma Guillermopietro
on the drug war in Colombia:
The BBC has a quite extensive report on The Global Drugs Trade available on their website.
Search the MAP media archive for more stories on the escalating Colombian conflict.
The Locombia website contains a great deal of information regarding the Colombian conflict.
Here are some links to other groups working on Colombia-related issues.
Groups working on Colombia issues include: