The book’s argument that “[t]he war on drugs and terror in Colombia is in fact a war for the control of the cocaine trade — in a system of imperial domination — by means of state-sponsored terror” is summarized in the conclusion as follows: “This war as decreed by successive Washington administrations was, is, and remains its opposites: a war for drugs and a war of terror.”
Of course, such assessments are not easily grafted onto the consciousness of a populace conditioned to impute noble — or at least sincere and non-paradoxical — motives to US projects abroad.
If the US is to attain the minimum amount of self-awareness necessary for any society that considers itself free, the proliferation of studies like Villar and Cottle’s is a prerequisite.
The scholars explain that, starting in the late 1980s, “the Colombian state commenced efforts to manufacture its image as a defender of democracy at war with narco-terrorists,” enlisting the talents of US public relations firm the Sawyer/Miller Group.
The firm earned nearly a million dollars in the first six months of 1991 for its efforts, which included “us[ing] the American press to disseminate Colombian government propaganda, with the routine production of pamphlets, letters to editors signed by Colombian officials, and advertisements placed in the New York Times and Washington Post.”
As tends to happen with even the most diligently manufactured threats, however, the traitorous truth has consistently failed to rise to the occasion, and “in 2001 Colombian intelligence estimated that [the] FARC controlled less than 2.5 percent of Colombia’s cocaine exports, while the AUC controlled 40 percent, not counting the narco-bourgeoisie [the updated incarnation of the Colombian oligarchy] as a whole.”
The exclusive assignment of the “terrorist” label to the FARC is meanwhile not entirely congruent with the fact that it was the Colombian military and not the guerrillas that resuscitated the Vietnam-era collective punishment method of “draining the sea to kill the fish.”
According to Villar and Cottle, “[h]uman rights groups contend that the AUC and Colombian armed forces have been responsible for approximately 90–95 percent of all politically-motivated killings, which have included massacres by chainsaw and other methods designed to terrorize the campesinos in rural areas under FARC control.”
As for the US request in the 1980s for the extradition of Medellín cartel kingpin Pablo Escobar for “conspiring to introduce cocaine into the United States via Nicaragua,” this allegation might have just as aptly been levied against other characters such as US Marine Lt Col. Oliver North, whose activity did not result in a collaborative assassination effort by the CIA, AUC, Cali Cartel, and Colombian police.
You Cannot Mention Monsanto!
When Amelia and I met Milber in 2009, his parents had just acquired a coca plot after failing to make ends meet with less lucrative crops.
Other farming families in the area described additional obstacles to diversifying away from coca, such as repeated US-sponsored aerial fumigation of sugar cane, banana, and corn crops.
Fumigated children, livestock, and water supplies were also reported.
Journalist Jeremy Bigwood has investigated the toxic effects of fumigation for CorpWatch, drawing attention to a revealing episode in 2001 in which a recalcitrant US senator — who had criticized military aid to Colombia and the dangerous inaccuracy of fumigation — was hauled down to the South American nation for an honorary cropduster flyover that was intended to negate his concerns.
Bigwood quotes the senator’s spokesman on the resulting spectacle: “On the very first flyover by the cropduster, the US Senator, the US Ambassador to Colombia, the Lieutenant Colonel of the Colombian National Police, and other Embassy and congressional staffers were fully doused — drenched, in fact” — with the herbicide Roundup, a product of the US-based biotech giant Monsanto, former manufacturer of the infamous defoliant Agent Orange.
Remarking on the relevance of the Agent Orange legacy given the deforestation of large sections of Vietnam, the “over 50,000 birth defects and hundreds of thousands of cancers both in Vietnamese civilians and soldiers, as well as in former US troops serving in South East Asia”, and the similarity in post-contact symptoms between victims of Agent Orange and Roundup, Bigwood notes that the lack of transparency with regard to Monsanto’s machinations in Colombia is entirely logical: “[D]uring a meeting with US Embassy staff in Bogotá, the top officer at the State Department’s Narcotics Affairs Section was emphatic and his tone threatening: ‘You cannot mention Monsanto!’ he boomed, spit flying from his mouth.”
Villar and Cottle meanwhile allude to the helpfulness of fumigation policies in “draining the sea”, and emphasize — with regard to fusarium oxysporum, a fungus whose appeal to proponents of Washington’s multibillion-dollar Plan Colombia presumably had something to do with its success in wiping out a coca plantation in Hawaii in the 1970s — that “the mono-crop drug fincas of the narco-bourgeoisie in Colombia were not sprayed. The fungal spraying was proposed only for the rebel-held areas.”
Addicted to Narco-Imperialism
As Peter Dale Scott asserts in his excellent foreword to Cocaine, Death Squads, and the War on Terror, the book “shows how in the last half-century the United States has helped to centralize and militarize the class conflict [in Colombia], and above all how cocaine has come to play a central role in financing this oppression.”
Villar and Cottle write:
The cocaine decade saw the consolidation of the Colombian drug trade as a source of profit for U.S. capital via banks that were established to launder and invest drug money in legitimate U.S. corporations.
The United States contended it was at war with drugs and terrorists in Colombia, but, in reality, the economic relations between U.S. imperialism and the Colombian narco-bourgeoisie permitted cocaine production to flourish in Colombia, and the cocaine market to expand within the United States and Western Europe.
The authors stress that, though Colombian paramilitary death squads may not constitute a “proxy army for the United States,” they do “function… as a vanguard force of the counterinsurgency strategy” in eliminating obstacles to foreign investment, corporate exploitation of resources, and the continuing economic preponderance of the Colombian elite.
|Colombian paramilitaries were
trained by Tel Aviv
The Colombian AUC paramilitaries are always in need of arms, and it should come as no surprise that some of their major suppliers are Israeli. Israeli arms dealers have long had a presence in next-door Panama and especially in Guatemala.
The AUC, for its part, happens to inhabit the same list of US State Department-designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations as Al Qaeda, but one suspects that a more substantive uproar would have been made over the discovery that Chiquita Brands International was funneling millions of dollars to the latter group.
The need for a paramilitary proxy army in the first place is meanwhile called into question by the behavior of the Colombian army itself, recipient of large quantities of US military aid and renowned for its expertise in slaughtering civilians and dressing the corpses up like FARC guerrillas.
As for even more direct US contributions to violence and oppression in Colombia, Villar and Cottle note that, when the administration of former President Álvaro Uribe Vélez “stepped up its civil war preparations in 2002, the US government demanded cooperation in shielding US forces stationed in-country from prosecution for war crimes.”
Prior to being hailed in the US as a democratic hero and role model for Latin America on account of his neoliberal enthusiasm for societal repression, Uribe’s claims to fame included appearing on a 1991 Defense Intelligence Agency list of the More Important Colombian Narco-Traffickers and Narco-Terrorists.
Blood and Capital Accumulation
Cocaine, Death Squads, and the War on Terror is a vital antidote to the fatuous propaganda that functions as mainstream news on Colombia.
In tracing the history of the relationship between imperial America and “its most important client state on the continent,” Villar and Cottle demonstrate that the emergence of the FARC was a direct result of social inequality and CIA-backed class repression.
Prospects for conflict resolution thus appear dim given the authors’ note that “Colombia is the only major country in Latin America where the gap between the rich and poor has markedly widened in recent years, according to the UN Commission on Latin America.”
Colombian President Alberto Lleras Camargo (1958–1962) may have put it best himself when he commented — in reference to the devastating US-assisted counterinsurgency campaign that followed the assassination of Liberal presidential candidate Jorge Eliécer Gaitán, who had “promised to end the rule of the landed oligarchy and eliminate mass poverty” — that “blood and capital accumulation went together.”
In conclusion, it is worthwhile to recall the following passage from Glenn Greenwald’s piece “The Wars on Drugs and Terror: mirror images,” which underscores the rhetoric of Villar and Cottle:
It’s the perfect deceit. These wars, in an endless loop, sustain and strengthen the very menaces which, in turn, justify their continuous escalation. These wars manufacture the very dangers they are ostensibly designed to combat. Meanwhile, the industries which fight them become richer and richer.
The political officials those industries own become more and more powerful. Brutal drug cartels monopolize an unimaginably profitable, no-competition industry, while Terrorists are continuously supplied the perfect rationale for persuading huge numbers of otherwise unsympathetic people to join them or support them. Everyone wins — except for ordinary citizens, who become poorer and poorer, more and more imprisoned, meeker and meeker, and less and less free.