Pubdate: Fri, 13 August 1999
Source: Toronto Star (Canada)
Copyright: 1999, The Toronto Star
Author: David Sheinin
Note: The author is an Associate Professor History Department Trent
University Peterborough


In his analysis of the escalation of violence in Colombia and Canada's
interest in that crisis, Stephen Handelman misses the essence of the problem
(Drugs and politics are a lethal mix in Colombia, Opinion page, Aug. 3).  In
asking us to contemplate a "Balkanization of Colombia," he draws us away
from the three key factors that have transformed persistent low-intensity
civil war since the late 1940s into the nation's worst crisis of the century
- -- neo-liberal economic policies, their impact on Colombian society and the
associated breakdown of the boundaries that separated legal business from
the illicit drug trade and organized crime more generally.

Violence in Colombia does not depend on ethnic or religious hatreds.

There is no Milosevic-like figure driving the country to destruction and
most Colombians under the political rule of the government or the guerrillas
have little interest in defending either.

There is little chance that Colombia's guerrilla-government struggle will
spill over its borders.

Handelman argues that the "link between narcotics smugglers and political
groups" is at the root of the current crisis.

But that tie is merely a symptom. Beginning more than a decade ago, U.S.
policy in Colombia and in Latin America made privatizations of business and
open economies the core of its hemispheric policy.

Governments in Colombia and elsewhere rushed to sell off state companies and
make their economies accessible to foreign investment. In the rush to the
free market, lines between legal and illegal business became blurred.

In Mexico, the brother of Mexico's last president, Raul Salinas, used his
high government contacts and legitimate businesses to become the country's
must successful drug trafficker. In Argentina, Alfredo Yabran, who built the
country's largest private courier service, used that business to move
cocaine south from the Andes for export to Europe and the U.S.

In Colombia, neo-liberalism and privatizations have left a similar legacy.
There is no clear distinction anymore between legal and illegal businesses.
Multi-billion-dollar drug empires have not only bought into Colombia's legal
economy, but have raised the stakes a hundredfold in corrupting politicians
and in backing guerilla and paramilitary groups.

The result has been the chaos Handelman describes.

As a wealthy nation in the hemisphere that solidly backed neo-liberal
reforms after 1986, Canada shares some of the responsibility for the crisis
gripping Colombia.

David Sheinin Associate Professor History Department Trent University

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