One Billion U.S. tax dollars proposed for drug war in Colombia

On the heels of a request: Death, scandal and high level corruption

By Nora Callahan, Executive Director of The November Coalition


Last July, on a mountainside in Columbia, a high-tech De Havilland RC-7 crashed, killing 5 American soldiers. Reports from the U.S. claim the spy plane went down in a drug-growing region controlled by rebel guerrillas. Later official reports concluded the aircraft plowed into an uncharted mountain side.

Between rumor and report wedged a flurry of anti-Colombian sentiment. "Narco-guerrillas" are the growing threat to the world and immediately Dan Rather boarded a plane for Columbia and was on the CBS Nightly News in full war-effect costume. General Barry McCaffrey, our nation's Drug Czar has requested one billion for "counter drug measures" and the immediate question is this: Haven't we done this sort of thing before?

De Havilland RC-7 spy plane
 A short history and comparison of this "dirty war" written by Mark Weisbrot, Research Director at the Preamble Center was published in the Miami Herald on July 24, 1999. "The Colombian war is very similar to the 1980's war in El Salvador (or Guatemala, for that matter). As in the Salvadoran war, most of the victims are innocent people-labor leaders, peasants, and even human rights workers.

They are killed by the government or its allies, who often use hideous torture and mutilation in order to discourage opposition political activity. And most of the murders and atrocities are carried out by paramilitary groups with close links to the army and police. This allows the Colombian government to deny responsibility, and U.S. officials to pretend that they are aiding a democratic government.

"These methods were brutally successful in El Salvador, from Washington's point of view. After literally killing off most of the opposition's leaders and organizers, it is now possible to have national elections in which even former guerrilla leaders can run, without risk that anyone upsetting to US officials or their local allies could win."

Following the request for one billion dollars, of which Colombian counter-drug measures would take the lion's share slotted for the cocaine producing Andean regions, an interesting news story broke. Laurie Anne Hiett, the wife of an Army colonel in charge of all United States military operations in Colombia, was accused of mailing six packages of pure cocaine to New York from the American Embassy in Bogota. (See "A Setback . . . CLICK HERE).

Bob Weiner, a spokesman for Gen. Barry R. McCaffrey, director of the White House Office of National Drug Control Policy, said it would be improper to prejudge Hiett's case. "We're not going to comment on the specific case, but drugs are a very corrupting influence, and it is why we are working so hard to control them."

Most persons would agree that the Laurie Hiett case is an open and shut case of "specific" warranting comment and McCaffrey eventually released a statement saying, "This underscores the problem, drug abuse and its consequences are not confined to a subsection of the population."

No sooner did McCaffrey release this statement when we learned other U.S. officials stationed in Columbia may be involved in drug smuggling. An investigation of up to 8 embassy employees and U.S. Army dependents is now underway. Meanwhile Mrs. Hiett and her friends Stateside have been out on bail and series of F.B.I and D.E.A. raids have been carried out all across the United States in the later weeks of August.

Early on in this latest drug war fiasco, when Dan Rather was dressed up like Rambo Reporter, we had Public Television's Leher NewsHour exposing the story from more than one angle. More than one "conservative" newspaper has questioned the wisdom of throwing more of our tax dollars at a country that is infamous for human right's abuse and corruption. The civil war in Columbia is 30 years old and their economy in dire straits. Republicans have long criticized the Clinton Administration for not bolstering Columbia's military might to their satisfaction, so there will not be any strong political opposition to the additional billion dollar request.

McCaffrey claims the U.S. was so successful in Peru that cocoa growing has shifted to Columbia. This is exactly how the drug war doesn't work. This is why, like the war in Vietnam, we have burned the village in order to save it and we learn from history, that we do not learn from history.

Before the House Committee on Government Reform, Subcommittee on Criminal Justice, Drug Policy, and Human Resources: The Evolving Drug Threat in Colombia - August 6, 1999

"The recent operational loss of a U.S. Army reconnaissance aircraft in Colombia­­and the death of five U.S. Army crew members and two Colombian Air Force riders­­is a reminder of the real dangers inherent in confronting criminal international drug organizations."
- General Barry R. McCaffrey, Director, Office of National Drug Control Policy

Exactly what is it that we believe this aid will this accomplish? Is it the first in a series of blank checks for a war that has no foreseeable endgame? What is the exit strategy? With the continued failure of a military solution to drug production in Colombia, why shouldn't an innovative alternative development approach be used instead? Why not spend half or all of the money on crop substitution or development?
-Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL)

"The State Department rated the overall human rights record of Pastrana's government as poor. In addition to the deaths, Colombia's war has displaced some one million people from their homes. Investors are also fleeing. The Colombian peso is down 40 percent so far this year; overall, the economy has contracted 6 percent in the first quarter alone; and unemployment is at a record 20 percent." [Pastrana is the Columbian President]
-Spencer Michels, Senior Fellow and Program Director, Inter-American Dialogue

"Today, I am told by Narcotics Affairs Section personnel in Colombia, 4 of these 6 Bell 212's are not flying . . . You told us, 'Congressmen, I can assure you these will not be hangar queens.' . . . General McCaffrey would have to rely on this same State Department crowd to get his $1 billion aid package delivered. By the time this assistance would arrive in Colombia, we would be trying to figure out who is going to be in the last helicopter off the roof of the American Embassy in Bogota."
-Representative Dan Burton of Indiana in support of increased military aid to Columbia