Pubdate: Thu, 09 Dec 2004
Source: In These Times Magazine (US)
Copyright: 2004 In These Times
Author: Ana Carrigan
Note: Ana Carrigan, author of 'The Palace of Justice: A Colombian Tragedy', 
is a frequent contributor to In These Times.
Bookmark: (Cocaine)


Despite Glowing Claims by Bush and Uribe, Both Violence and the Drug Trade 
Rage On

On his way home from the Asia-Pacific Economic Summit in Chile,
President George Bush stopped off in the Caribbean city of Cartagena
on November 22 to see Colombian President Alvaro Uribe Velez. Uribe is
George Bush's closest regional ally in the global anti-terrorism
campaign. Known as "Bushito" (little Bush), he spared no efforts to
provide suitable security for his guest.

Cartagena became a ghost town. Alcohol was banned for 24 hours,
businesses shut and workers were ordered to stay home. The airport,
airspace and waters of Cartagena Bay were closed. Combat helicopters
and fighter planes patrolled the sky, and naval submarines and armed
patrol boats guarded the waters of the silent port. As sharpshooters
crouched along rooftops, 15,000 army, navy and police troops lined the
streets, alongside 1,200 black-clad anti-riot police and numerous
plainclothes secret police, 50 bomb-sniffing dogs and two
anti-explosive robots. Meanwhile, an American aircraft carrier stood
anchored at the entrance to the bay.

Bush spent three and a half hours on Colombian soil. He was the guest
at a lengthy lunch party and posed for photos with Orlando Cabrera,
the Colombian-born shortstop for the Boston Red Sox. At an event
billed as a "press conference," the press were permitted four
questions before Bush closed down the proceedings and departed, thirty
minutes ahead of schedule. The two leaders read lengthy statements
congratulating each other on their successes in the fight against
narco-terrorists and drugs and noted that their policies were
strengthening Colombia's democracy, protecting human rights and
promoting the rule of law.

"President Uribe and I share a basic optimism. This war against
narco-terrorism can and will be won and Colombia is well on its way to
that victory," said Bush. "My nation will continue to help Colombia
prevail in this vital struggle."

Translation: "Plan Colombia," the $4 billion counter-narcotics program,
launched during the Clinton administration and extended from
counter-narcotics to counter-terrorism in August 2002, will be continued
when it expires next year.

Following 9/11, the FARC guerrillas have lost their identity as a
peasant insurgency sustained by endemic rural poverty and morphed into
an "illegal armed group" of "narco-terrorists." It now seems
inevitable that, pursuant to its status as a new front in the global
anti-terror campaign, Colombia will continue to attract U.S. military
involvement in its endless, 40-year-old conflict.

Both governments proclaim their policies are working. The White House
reports that aerial fumigation of coca fields has cut cultivation by
20 percent for the second year running. Drug seizures have prevented
tons of cocaine from reaching the United States. Captures of drug
traffickers have escalated and Uribe has signed record numbers of U.S.
extradition orders.

Yet, these statistics don't tell the whole story. The White House
cannot explain why there has been no impact yet on the streets of U.S.
cities, and the drug czar has not even acknowledged that, according to
the most recent figures from the Rand Corporation, the price of street
cocaine in the United States has actually fallen by 31 percent since
Plan Colombia began in 2000.

Meanwhile, no one admits to the impact indiscriminate chemical
fumigation has on food crops, farm animals and water supplies,
although last month a senior government adviser resigned to protest
the government's failure to monitor the health effects. In desperately
poor, remote areas, where farmers have no alternative way of making a
living, the arrival of American spray planes sends young peasant
recruits into the war and drives their desperate parents to uproot
themselves and grow the crop elsewhere. In the last two years, coca
cultivation has spread from 12 Colombian provinces to 23.

Another gulf between official claims and the experience of ordinary
Colombians centers on President Uribe's internal security policies. Of
course, those who live in an upper-or middle-class residential area
in any major town and wish to travel along the highways between the
big cities may find Uribe's security policies brilliant. Deploying
troops in towns and along major highways during weekends, he has
slashed the number of kidnappings and lowered the murder rate. It is
now safe for wealthy Colombians to travel to their farms, or to visit
their friends, or simply to party all night. The less fortunate may
beg to differ.

And it remains unclear whether the counterinsurgency war is going
well. Backed by U.S. intelligence and logistics, "Plan Patriot," the
Colombian army's most aggressive counterinsurgency campaign in living
memory, has pushed the FARC guerrillas out of the towns and back into
remote rural areas. But Plan Patriot has not lived up to its promises,
failing to capture a single FARC leader or to release a single FARC
hostage. In the special war zone Uribe created in the oil-rich Arauca
region on the border with Venezuela--where U.S. Special Forces guard
Occidental Petroleum's pipeline--the new military tactics that were
supposed to "liberate" the zone by using paid informers to root out
civilian guerrilla sympathisers have failed spectacularly; Arauca is
more violent than ever. And in those areas where the army has routed
the FARC, the army coordinates its operations with the paramilitaries,
who remain behind to consolidate their control, substituting one form
of tyranny for another.

Meanwhile, the poor living in the war zones are caught in the
crossfire, with both sides suspecting them of sympathizing with the
enemy. War opponents, government dissidents, human rights defenders,
union organizers, and indigenous and community leaders have been
"disappeared," killed, or fingered by one of the government's millions
of paid informants and then swept up in the mass arrests that,
according to the inspector general, detained 125,000 people in the
first six months of this year on "fragile evidence." So long as the
paramilitary ceasefire agreement remains a fiction, the usual killers
still stalk Uribe's Colombia. They have murdered 1,900 people since
the "para" talks began two years ago.

In the midst of this bleak scenario, Colombian Foreign Secretary
Carolina Barco's announcement that the Colombian government and the
FARC have jointly requested the Swiss government to help them reach a
humanitarian accord for the release of the FARC's hostages has shined
a welcome, humane light into the surrounding gloom. Even in Colombia,
hope dies last.
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