SEMANA, April 10, 2021
(Translated by Eunice Gibson, CSN Volunteer Translator)
After several decades of researching archives in the United States and Colombia, historian Eduardo Sáenz is publishing a book, “Connection Colombia”. It’s a history of the drug traffic between the ‘30’s and the ‘90’s. In an interview with SEMANA, he explains his controversial thesis that this country is not the victim in this illegal business.
SEMANA: There aren’t enough books about the history of the drug traffic, so you had to write another one?
EDUARDO SÁENZ: When I wrote “The Cuban Connection”, which is about drug trafficking and smuggling in Cuba between the ‘20’s and until the revolution, I found a lot of information on this subject and Colombia in archives in the United States. That’s where this book starts out. I wanted to construct a history about what had happened with the drug traffic before the decade of the ‘70’s. In fact, you can see in the book that the first two chapters recount the history of drug trafficking, and the next four talk about the progress of the narcos in Miami and New York in the ’60’s and ‘70’s.
SEMANA: Why has this country turned into the mecca of the drug traffic?
E.S.: That’s one of the reasons that the book starts with the ‘30’s. In this region, Venezuela, Ecuador, or the Central American countries have the climatic conditions to become producers and exporters, so why did they not do it and Colombia did? What special feature does this country have? What I show in the book is that ever since the ‘30’s, some political, social, and economic conditions have come into being that have allowed the business to flourish. The drug traffic is not part of our recent history; we’ve been in it for decades.
SEMANA: In your book, you say that, contrary to what researchers and the government administrations think, Colombia is not the victim of the drug traffic. Why do you say that?
E.S.: In the first place, taking part in this business is a choice, not an imposition. Neither did we begin killing because of the drug traffic or because of the United States. Except for Mexico, in other countries where there is or has been drug trafficking, there has not been such savage killing as we have done here. In the book, “The Cuban Connection”, I mentioned that the Cubans didn’t kill each other in that manner because of the drug traffic. So, the Colombians kill because something very profound has happened in the society that goes much farther than the traffic in drugs.
SEMANA: That means, the statement that “drug trafficking is the mother of all our evils” is false . . .
E.S.: I agree. To say that drug trafficking is the cause of all of our problems is a very comfortable political explanation. In Colombia, if there’s a massacre for a political purpose, they chalk it up to the narcos; if they kill boys in Valle del Cauca, it was the narcos. But the reality is more complicated, and multiple violent episodes in Colombia have to do more with political causes or the way they do business here, among other reasons. The drug traffic is not the mother of all the problems in Colombia; rather, Colombia’s problems are the mother of the drug traffic.
SEMANA: But the drug traffic has been particularly violent here . . .
E.S.: There’s no doubt of that, but the drug traffic didn’t create that violence. And history proves my point. That use of violence in business is found clearly in the coffee-growing areas after the Second World War. It’s not a coincidence that the bipartisan violence was so bloody at those locations. Besides, the idea of blaming the violence on the narcos tries to absolve Colombian society and the political and economic elites that tolerated the narcos. They want to make you think that before Pablo Escobar’s bombs, the country was living in purity and governed by unblemished politicians, and that it was those drug traffickers that perverted everything. That’s a cynical explanation by our elites.
SEMANA: Is that tolerance by the economic elites still going on or has it diminished?
E.S.: As a good historian, I first had to get into the archives to give you a precise answer. But let’s say that, according to what I know, up to the decade of the ‘90’s, the tolerance was impressive. Let’s not forget that the narcos in Cali financed Presidential campaigns, it’s that simple. And the leaders in Cali gave in or were captured by the United States. We can’t forget that the relationship between the drug traffic and the paramilitaries was powerful, and that the paramilitaries had been narcos before they gave over to the politicians that went to Congress to give speeches, as has happened with Mancuso.