Crisis in Colombia

Drugs & Guns: US spikes military aid for Colombia war

The Clinton Administration’s $1.6 billion military aid package to Colombia, sought in the name of fighting the “war on drugs”, is a cynical and multi-layered policy initiative against Colombia’s poor and for global capitalist domination. With the package, Colombia will receive more US military aid than any other country, save Israel and Egypt, signaling that Colombia is the country to watch to prevent another Vietnam-like military disaster.

The aid package is cynical because fighting drugs is at best a convenient cover for a policy far more important to US interests: eliminating insurgencies in the hemisphere. US officials privately know destroying drug crops at the source doesn’t keep drugs off the streets. Nor do they care-the us government needs drugs to justify the prison industrial complex and to get the public to accept ever more government power in the name of “public safety” and the war on drugs. Tellingly, Congress rejected an amendment to the aid package that would have provided funding for drug abuse treatment in the US.

The package is multi-layered because the US sponsored hostilities are both cause and effect. The insurgencies in Colombia are in part a direct result of global forces which are moving peasants away from subsistence agriculture and towards urban industrial employment worldwide. Colombia’s governing elite, in league with the IMF and World Bank, needs to maintain these policies, known generally as structural adjustment, to maintain economic growth and their own power. Obtaining funding to suppress insurgency is a cost of doing business in a world economy intent on snuffing out peasant life. To complete the circle, drug suppression activities like aerial chemical spraying eliminates non-drug and drug peasant crops alike, accelerating the process of peasant removal required by global industrialization.

It is at best ironic that the same global economic forces which lead to the insurgency in Colombia force peasant farmers, unable to support themselves with “legal” crops, into coca production, which then is seen as the justification for US funding against the insurgency. US officials recognize it is a lot cheaper, and more consistent with the goals of globalization, to shoot and bomb Colombia’s poor into line than it would be to relieve the economic conditions causing the “problem” the US claims to be attempting to address: coca production.

Critics in Colombia fear the US aid package will bring an intensification of the war between Southern Colombia, stronghold of the FARC leftist rebels. The US aid, designed to arm and train the Colombian security forces, will further involve the US in the war.

The civil war pits two leftist guerrilla armies-the FARC (Colombian Revolutionary Armed Forces) and the ELN (Army of National Liberation)-against the Colombian military and right wing paramilitary forces, which are linked to the military and reportedly receive US training and funding. Trapped in the middle are millions of civilians suffering the brunt of the extortion, kidnappings and mass killings associated with the conflict.

FARC and ELN have a political agenda that calls for agrarian reform, democratization and protection of natural resources from multinational corporations. In exchange for allegiance, the FARC offers peasants the promise of eventual political power and protection from the government and the growing paramilitaries that are the guerrillas most brutal and most effective adversaries.

Sadly, there are no real “good guys” in this quagmire. The conflict comes down to who will have the power; control over the world’s most profitable drug trade, valuable natural resources including oil, and control of the nation’s government with the players including displaced peasants, the guerrillas, the drug traffickers, the army, and the paramilitary. Inevitably, the common people are the real ones to suffer, forgotten by the Clinton Administration and the Colombian government.

Colombian peasants are caught between global economic forces on one side, the war on another, with the US backed narco war adding its own special set of persecutions.

In December, the government agreed to a $2.7 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to combat the worst market economic conditions in more than 50 years. The loan, designed to protect the owning class, came with a price: the IMF made the loan conditional on austerity measures-principally cutting government subsidies and programs for the poor, including subsidies for “legal” alternatives to coca production.

Predictably, austerity measures only increase the number of peasants who turn to coca production as a means of supporting themselves and their families, especially when the market price for legal crops remains below subsistence levels.

As economic forces move Colombian peasants into drug production, the US government, which supports the IMF policies which in turn cause the increase in coca production, is expanding its drug eradication program.

The $1.6 billion aid package includes more money for helicopters to spray vast areas of Colombian farmland with potentially harmful herbicides intended to destroy coca crops, but which also destroys food crops and “legal” crops produced through government sponsored crops substitution programs. American financed aerial spraying campaigns have been the principal means by which the Colombian government has sought to reduce coca and opium poppy cultivation for nearly a decade. The eradication fleet has grown to include 65 airplanes and helicopters, which fly every day, weather permitting. Despite these efforts which have received more than $150 million in American aid over the last five years, cocaine and heroin production in Colombia has more than doubled since 1995.

These eradication methods threaten rural health: spraying reportedly takes place over schools, houses, grazing areas and sources of water. Spraying can’t accomplish the stated goal because spraying only exacerbates drug production by destabilizing the communities that are trying to get out of growing these crops by replacing them with “legal” alternatives.

How Colombian peasants are supposed to survive after the coca crops have been eradicated is a subject rarely discussed by the White House and State Department. In reality, given the dismantling of “legal” crop subsidies, there are only three options open: move deeper into the jungle and plant new coca crops, join guerrilla or paramilitary forces, or flee to the poverty ridden slums of the economically depressed cities, providing a larger surplus army of labor to keep labor prices down.

It is indisputable that additional US military aid will widen the war, disrupt the peace process and guarantee ongoing attacks on indigenous populations, destroying their culture and way of life.

The US and Colombian governments admit that expanding the war will displace more peasants, in a country already dealing with 1.9 million refugees. Meanwhile, the murder of labor organizers, peasant leaders, church workers, and expansion of paramilitary death squads in conjunction with the military will continue.

Military aid to Colombia should be cut, not expanded, and the war on drugs ought to be ended both for the harm it causes in Colombia and right here at home. Keep an eye on what the US is doing in Colombia.

For more information, contact Colombia Human Rights Network, Resources Center for the Americas