In 1999, Colombia became the leading recipient of US military and police assistance, replacing Turkey (Israel and Egypt are in a separate category). The figure is scheduled to increase sharply for the next two years. Through the 1990s, Colombia has been the leading recipient of US military aid in Latin America, and has also compiled the worst human rights record, in accord with a well-established correlation.
We can often learn from systematic patterns, so let us tarry for a moment on the previous champion, Turkey. It has received substantial military aid from the origins of the Cold War, as a major US outpost. But arms deliveries began to increase sharply in 1984, with no Cold War connection at all. Rather, that was the year when Turkey began a large-scale counterinsurgency campaign in the largely Kurdish southeast. Arms deliveries peaked in 1997, exceeding the total from the entire period 1950-1983 (fiscal years), amounting to about 80% of Turkish military equipment, including heavy armaments (jet planes, tanks, etc). By 1999, Turkey had largely suppressed Kurdish resistance by terror and ethnic cleansing, leaving some 2-3 million refugees, 3500 villages destroyed (7 times Kosovo under NATO bombs), and tens of thousands killed. A huge flow of arms from the Clinton administration was no longer needed to accomplish these objectives.
Nevertheless, despite the great success achieved by some of the most extreme state terror of the 1990s, military operations continue while Kurdish citizens are still deprived of even minimal rights (again, a regime much harsher than Kosovo under Milosevic). On April 1, 10,000 Turkish troops began new ground sweeps in regions that had been devastated by the US-Turkish terror campaigns of the preceding years, also launching another offensive into northern Iraq to attack Kurdish guerrilla forces -- in a no-fly zone where Kurds are protected by the US air force from the (temporarily) wrong oppressor. As these new campaigns were beginning, Secretary of Defense William Cohen addressed the American-Turkish Council, a festive occasion with much laughter and applause, according to the government report. He praised Turkey for taking part in the humanitarian bombing of Yugoslavia, apparently without embarrassment, and announced that Turkey had been invited to join in co-production of the new Joint Strike Aircraft, just as it has been co-producing the F-16s that it used to such good effect in approved varieties of ethnic cleansing and atrocities within its own territory, as a loyal member of NATO.
In Colombia, however, the military armed and trained by the US has not crushed domestic resistance, though it continues to produce its regular annual toll of atrocities. Each year, some 300,000 new refugees are driven from their homes, with a death toll of about 3000 and many horrible massacres. The great majority of atrocities are attributed to the paramilitary forces that are closely linked to the military, as documented once again by Human Rights Watch (February 2000). The Colombian Commission of Jurists reported last September that the rate of killings had increased by almost 20% over the preceding year, and that the proportion attributable to the paramilitaries had risen from 46% in 1995 to almost 80% in 1998, continuing through 1999. Forced displacement in 1998 was 20% above 1997, and increased in 1999 in some regions according to Human Rights Watch. Colombia now has the largest displaced population in the world, after Sudan and Angola. Prominent human rights activists continue to flee abroad under death threats, including now the courageous head of the Church-based human rights group Justice and Peace, Fr. Javier Giraldo, who has played an outstanding role in defending human rights. The AFL-CIO reports (Feb. 2000) that several trade unionists are murdered every week, mostly by paramilitaries supported by the government security forces. Hailed as a leading democracy by Clinton and other US leaders, Colombia permitted a challenge to the elite system of power-sharing by an independent political party, which, however, faced certain difficulties, such as the assassination of about 3000 activists, including presidential candidates, mayors, and legislators. Meanwhile, shameful socioeconomic conditions persist and may even have intensified, leaving much of the population in misery in a rich country with concentration of wealth and land-ownership that is high even by outrageous Latin American standards.
The president of the Colombian Permanent Committee for Human Rights, former Minister of Foreign Affairs Alfredo Vasquez Carrizosa, writes that it is "poverty and insufficient land reform" that "have made Colombia one of the most tragic countries of Latin America," though as elsewhere, "violence has been exacerbated by external factors," primarily the initiatives of the Kennedy Administration, which "took great pains to transform our regular armies into counterinsurgency brigades," ushering in "what is known in Latin America as the National Security Doctrine," which is not concerned with "defense against an external enemy" but rather "the internal enemy." The new "strategy of the death squads" accords the military "the right to fight and to exterminate social workers, trade unionists, men and women who are not supportive of the establishment, and who are assumed to be communist extremists."
As part of its strategy of converting the Latin American military from "hemispheric defense" to "internal security" -- meaning war against the domestic population -- Kennedy dispatched a military mission to Colombia in 1962 headed by Special Forces General William Yarborough. He proposed "reforms" to enable the security forces to "as necessary execute paramilitary, sabotage and/or terrorist activities against known communist proponents" -- the "communist extremists" to whom Vasquez Carrizosa alludes.
In Colombia, a governmental commission concluded that "the criminalization of social protest" is one of the "principal factors which permit and encourage violations of human rights" by the military and police authorities and their paramilitary collaborators. Ten years ago, as US-backed state terror was increasing sharply, the Minister of Defense called for "total war in the political, economic, and social arenas," while another high military official explained that guerrillas were of secondary importance: "the real danger" is "what the insurgents have called the political and psychological war," the war "to control the popular elements" and "to manipulate the masses." The "subversives" hope to influence unions, universities, media, and so on. "Every individual who in one or another manner supports the goals of the enemy must be considered a traitor and treated in that manner," a 1963 military manual prescribed, as the Kennedy initiatives were moving into high gear. Since the official goals of the guerrillas are social democratic (whatever their actual goals may be), the circle of treachery targeted for terror operations is wide.
The Kennedy-Yarborough strategy was developed and applied broadly in the years that followed. Violent repression spread throughout the hemisphere, reaching its awesome peak in Central America in the 1980s. Colombia's advance to first-rank among the criminal states south of the border is in part the result of the decline in US-backed state terror in Central America. As in Turkey ten years later, its primary aims were achieved, leaving in its wake a "culture of terror" that "domesticates the expectations of the majority" and undermines any aspiration towards "alternatives that differ from those of the powerful" in the words of Salvadoran Jesuits who learned the lessons from bitter experience; those who survived the US assault, that is. In Colombia, the problem of establishing approved forms of "stability" remains, and is even becoming more severe. The correlation with increasing arms shipments is familiar.
The sharp increase in arms shipped to Colombia is officially justified in terms of the "drug war," a claim taken seriously by few competent analysts, even apart from the instructive historical pattern, barely sampled here. As many have observed, the military themselves are heavily involved in narcotrafficking, and their paramilitary associates -- who openly proclaim their reliance on narcotrafficking -- are not the targets of the planned operations. The targets are guerrilla forces based on the peasantry and calling for internal social change, which would interfere with integration of Colombia into the global system on the terms that the US demands, dominated by elite elements linked to US power interests that are accorded free access to Colombia's valuable resources, including oil.
But let us put these matters aside and consider a few other questions. Why do peasants in Colombia grow cocaine, not other crops? Colombia was once a major wheat producer. That was undermined in the 1950s by US "Food for Peace" aid, a program that provided taxpayer subsidies to US agribusiness and counterpart funds for US client states, used commonly for military spending and counterinsurgency. A year before President Bush announced the "drug war" with great fanfare (once again), the international coffee agreement was suspended under US pressure, on grounds of "fair trade violations." The result was a fall of prices of more than 40% within two months for Colombia's leading legal export.
Further background is discussed by the late political economist Susan Strange in her last book. In the 1960s, the G77 governments of the Third World (now over 130, accounting for 80% of the world's population) initiated a call for a "new international economic order" in which the concerns of the large majority of people of the world would be addressed. Specific proposals were formulated by UNCTAD, established by the UN to address such concerns. But these plans scarcely even had to be dismissed. Official "globalization" is designed to cater to the needs of a different sector, namely its designers -- hardly a surprise, any more than the fact that in standard dogma "globalization" is depicted as an inexorable process to which "there is no alternative."
One early UNCTAD proposal was a program for stabilizing commodity prices, a practice that is standard within the industrial countries by one or another form of subsidy. In 1996, Congress passed the "Freedom to Farm Act" to liberate American agriculture from the "East German socialist programs of the New Deal," as Newt Gingrich put it. Subsidies quickly tripled, reaching a record $23 billion in 1999. The market does work its magic, however: the taxpayer subsidies go disproportionately to large agribusiness and the "corporate oligopolies" that dominate the input and output side, as Nicholas Kristof correctly observed in the _NY Times_. Those with market power in the food chain (from energy corporations to restaurant chains) are enjoying great profits while the "agricultural crisis," which is real, is concentrated among smaller farmers in the middle of the chain, who produce the food.
But the devices used by the rich to ensure that they are protected by the nanny state are not available to the poor. The UNCTAD initiative was quickly shot down, and the organization has been largely marginalized and tamed, along with others that reflect the interests of the global majority to some extent. Reviewing these events, Strange observes that farmers were therefore compelled to turn to crops for which there is a stable market. Large-scale agribusiness can tolerate fluctuation of commodity prices, compensating for temporary losses elsewhere. Poor peasants cannot tell their children: "don't worry, maybe you'll be able to eat next year." The result, Strange continues, was that drug entrepreneurs could easily "find farmers eager to grow coca, cannabis or opium," for which there is always a ready market in the rich societies.
The programs of the US and the global institutions it dominates are constructed to magnify these effects. The current Clinton plan for Colombia includes only token funding for alternative crops; others are to take care of constructive approaches, while the US concentrates on military operations -- which, incidentally, happen to benefit the high-tech industries that produce military equipment and have been lobbying for the escalation. Furthermore, IMF-World Bank programs demand that countries open their borders to a flood of (massively subsidized) agricultural products from the rich countries, with the obvious effect of undermining local production. And peasants are instructed to become "rational," producing for the export market and seeking the highest prices -- which translates as "coca, cannibis, opium." Having learned their lessons properly, they are rewarded by attack by military gunships while their fields are destroyed by chemical and biological warfare, courtesy of Washington.
Another question lurks not too far in the background. Just what right does the US have to carry out these operations in other countries to destroy a crop it doesn't like? We can put aside the cynical response that the governments requested this "assistance"; if they hadn't, they wouldn't be the governments for long. The number of Colombians who die from US-produced lethal drugs exceeds the number of North Americans who die from cocaine, and is far greater relative to the populations. In East Asia, US-produced lethal drugs are causing millions of deaths. These countries are compelled not only to accept the products but also advertising for them, under threat of severe trade sanctions; the Colombian cartels, in contrast, are not permitted to fund huge advertising campaigns in which a Joe Camel counterpart extols the wonders of cocaine. Does China, then, have the right to carry out military, chemical, and biological warfare in North Carolina? If not, why not?
Yet another question has to do with the alleged concern over drug use. The seriousness of that concern was illustrated when a House Committee was considering the Clinton proposals. It rejected an amendment proposed by California Democrat Nancy Pelosi calling for funding of drug demand reduction services. It is well known that these are far more effective than forceful measures. A Rand study funded by the US Army and the government drug control agencies found that funds spent on domestic drug treatment were 23 times as effective as "source country control" (Clinton's Colombia Plan), 11 times as effective as interdiction, and 7 times as effective as domestic law enforcement. But that path will not be followed. Rather, the "drug war" targets poor peasants abroad and poor people at home; by the use of force, not constructive measures to alleviate problems at a fraction of the cost. We might also ask why there are no Delta Force raids on US banks and chemical corporations, though it is no secret that they too are engaged in the narcotrafficking business.
The next question is: why the "drug war," in its specific form? An answer is implicit in an observation of Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, one of the few Senators to pay close attention to social statistics. By adopting these measures, he observed, "we are choosing to have an intense crime problem concentrated among minorities." And why should that choice be made in a period when a domestic form of "structural adjustment" is being imposed? Answers do not seem too hard to find.