[sixties-l] Another Vietnam?

From: Ron Jacobs (rjacobs@zoo.uvm.edu)
Date: Fri Jun 23 2000 - 12:07:16 CUT

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    Earlier this week, the U.S. Senate approved over $1 billion in aid to shore
    up the current regime in Colombia. Next in the legislative process is some
    kind of joint House-Senate bill that will be sent to the White House.
    Although it is taking longer than the White House had hoped, all sources
    point to a done deal soon. Despite the claims of drug czar General
    McCafferty, this money has very little to do with fighting drugs and
    everything to do with shoring up the government in that country. Indeed,
    the United States let it be known during the week of July 26, 1999, that it
    has "a couple hundred" troops in Colombia training elite battalions whose
    job will be to sever the ties between the coca and opium farmers and the
    revolutionary forces. Of course, as any
    one with a basic knowledge of prior Pentagon training missions in other
    parts of the world is aware, these trainers often participate in military
    missions and may even
    denote an even greater U.S. involvement in the future.

    In order to understand what exactly the Pentagon means in describing these
    battalions' mission, it is essential to examine the relationship between
    the peasant coca
    and opium farmers and the revolutionary organizations. To understand this
    relationship, it is first necessary to understand the role drug production
    plays in the
    economy of Colombia. The peasants have two basic choices in today's
    Colombia--to go to the big cities for work and risk ending up as beggars
    and prostitutes or
    farm the land. If they choose the latter, they till the land and usually
    plant crops such as corn or plantains. Since these areas were never
    developed, there are no
    transportation routes. Only by using the rivers and crossing hundreds of
    miles overland can the crop reach Bogota or other markets. By the time it
    gets there, the
    crop is often unsaleable or has become so costly that the profit is
    practically lost. There is only one alternative open to the peasant farmer
    who wishes to subsist:
    growing coca leaves and, more recently, opium plants. Transportation costs
    for these crops is provided by the drug lords, who move incredible amounts
    of these
    products with the consent of high placed government leaders and the armed
    protection of the Colombian military and paramilitary forces funded by
    large landowners
    and drug lords.

    The FARC and ELN guerrilla forces operate in the coca and opium growing
    regions. Indeed, they literally administer these regions. Like various
    parts of southern
    Vietnam that were in the control of the NLF, the residents of the region
    consider the
    revolutionary forces as their government and support their administration.
    In order to pay the cost of running schools, health care centers, police
    forces, and other
    such infrastructural apparatus, the FARC and ELN forces tax the drug
    trafficking operations--farmers and those involved in the product's
    transportation and
    refinement. Although it is their preference not to do support the
    dependency of the farming population on drug production, the reality is
    that this is where the money
    is in rural Colombia.

    This is where the United States comes in, once again. Most of these drugs
    are shipped to the streets of our country. This does not happen without the
    complicity of
    government and law enforcement officials. In some cases, this means turning
    the other way when a shipment from a trafficker who has paid off the right
    comes through. In other cases, the complicity is much more involved. Even
    those of us with rather short memories can remember the U.S. involvement in
    drugs-for-guns operation run b Ollie North and his cohorts that supplied
    the contra forces fighting the Nicaraguan government in the 1980s. This
    operation (not the
    first of its kind, by the way--see Alfred McCoy's 1991 book The Politics of
    Heroin: CIA Complicity in the Global Trade) can be considered a model of
    how U. S.
    government agencies cynically manipulate modern society's desire for
    pharmaceutically induced escape to finance their dirty operations in the
    service of various
    corporate interests.

    Speaking of corporate interests, if we follow the trail this leads us down
    we may discover the most fundamental reason of them all for the U. S.
    interest in Colombia:
    oil. Oil is the most important commodity in Colombia. It represented over
    one-fourth of the country's exports in 1996 and close to 5% of its Gross
    National Product
    (GNP). In comparison, coffee represented 15.2 % and 3.4 %, respectively.
    Interestingly, few private Colombian citizens have any significant
    investment in the oil
    industry. Instead, the majority of the exploration and refinement interests
    are controlled by a state company known as Ecopetrol, which serves as a
    conduit for
    foreign oil companies, primarily British Petroleum (recently merged with
    Amoco to form the world largest oil company and may help to explain the
    increased desire
    for a greater U.S. military role in the country)and Occidental Petroleum
    (which is heavily invested in by Al Gore's family and is currently
    attempting to drill on lands considered sacred by the indigenou U'wa

    Over the course of the thirty-year war, support for the revolutionary
    forces has expanded into the cities. This is due to the ever-widening
    disparity between the
    wealthy and the rest of the Colombian population and the military's harsh
    repression of those who organize the workers and the unemployed. Literally
    hundreds of
    labor organizers, social justice workers (clerics and laypersons) and
    student activists have been murdered and disappeared since the late 1980s.
    In fact, in 1990,
    when the revolutionary groups put down their arms and formed political
    parties, they were murdered wholesale by the military and their
    paramilitary allies. Such
    murderous actions push both activists and their supporters to a conclusion
    that armed struggle is the only workable strategy for the kind of social
    change they seek.

    In terms of the region, the recent election of and popular mandate for
    President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and his policies makes the United States
    nervous. As leftist webmaster and history professor Jay Moore of Vermont
    stated in a July letter to various email groups formed during last spring's
    adventure in Yugoslavia, Venezuela is next door to Colombia and provides
    more oil to the U. S. than any other country. Should Chavez withstand the
    opposition he will face from internal and external reactionary forces and
    put his democratic and socialist-oriented policies in place in his country,
    the United States
    will have to deal with a popularly elected left-leaning government in its
    "backyard" for the first time since the Chilean government of Salvador
    Allende. As history
    tells us, this means those U.S. citizens who support true democracy and
    oppose the neo-liberal agenda of the corporation and their cohorts in our
    government must
    do every thing in their power to oppose any attempts to destroy the Chavez
    government. As for Colombia, we must oppose any and all U. S. military
    intervention in
    that country--whether this intervention comes in the forms of "drug war"
    aid, trainers, advisers, or troops of any kind.

    Ron Jacobs
    Burlington, VT

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