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Colombia – Part Two of Two


 

The
sharp increase in arms shipped to Colombia is officially justified in terms of
the "drug war," a claim taken seriously by few competent analysts,
even apart from the instructive historical pattern, barely sampled here. As many
have observed, the military themselves are heavily involved in narcotrafficking,
and their paramilitary associates — who openly proclaim their reliance on
narcotrafficking — are not the targets of the planned operations. The targets
are guerrilla forces based on the peasantry and calling for internal social
change, which would interfere with integration of Colombia into the global
system on the terms that the US demands, dominated by elite elements linked to
US power interests that are accorded free access to Colombia’s valuable
resources, including oil.

But
let us put these matters aside and consider a few other questions.

Why
do peasants in Colombia grow cocaine, not other crops? Colombia was once a major
wheat producer. That was undermined in the 1950s by US "Food for
Peace" aid, a program that provided taxpayer subsidies to US agribusiness
and counterpart funds for US client states, used commonly for military spending
and counterinsurgency. A year before President Bush announced the "drug
war" with great fanfare (once again), the international coffee agreement
was suspended under US pressure, on grounds of "fair trade
violations." The result was a fall of prices of more than 40% within two
months for Colombia’s leading legal export.

Further
background is discussed by the late political economist Susan Strange in her
last book. In the 1960s, the G77 governments of the Third World (now over 130,
accounting for 80% of the world’s population) initiated a call for a "new
international economic order" in which the concerns of the large majority
of people of the world would be addressed. Specific proposals were formulated by
UNCTAD, established by the UN to address such concerns. But these plans scarcely
even had to be dismissed. Official "globalization" is designed to
cater to the needs of a different sector, namely its designers — hardly a
surprise, any more than the fact that in standard dogma
"globalization" is depicted as an inexorable process to which
"there is no alternative."

One
early UNCTAD proposal was a program for stabilizing commodity prices, a practice
that is standard within the industrial countries by one or another form of
subsidy. In 1996, Congress passed the "Freedom to Farm Act" to
liberate American agriculture from the "East German socialist programs of
the New Deal," as Newt Gingrich put it. Subsidies quickly tripled, reaching
a record $23 billion in 1999. The market does work its magic, however: the
taxpayer subsidies go disproportionately to large agribusiness and the
"corporate oligopolies" that dominate the input and output side, as
Nicholas Kristof correctly observed in the _NY Times_. Those with market power
in the food chain (from energy corporations to restaurant chains) are enjoying
great profits while the "agricultural crisis," which is real, is
concentrated among smaller farmers in the middle of the chain, who produce the
food.

But
the devices used by the rich to ensure that they are protected by the nanny
state are not available to the poor. The UNCTAD initiative was quickly shot
down, and the organization has been largely marginalized and tamed, along with
others that reflect the interests of the global majority to some extent.
Reviewing these events, Strange observes that farmers were therefore compelled
to turn to crops for which there is a stable market. Large-scale agribusiness
can tolerate fluctuation of commodity prices, compensating for temporary losses
elsewhere. Poor peasants cannot tell their children: "don’t worry, maybe
you’ll be able to eat next year." The result, Strange continues, was that
drug entrepreneurs could easily "find farmers eager to grow coca, cannabis
or opium," for which there is always a ready market in the rich societies.

The
programs of the US and the global institutions it dominates are constructed to
magnify these effects. The current Clinton plan for Colombia includes only token
funding for alternative crops; others are to take care of constructive
approaches, while the US concentrates on military operations — which,
incidentally, happen to benefit the high-tech industries that produce military
equipment and have been lobbying for the escalation. Furthermore, IMF-World Bank
programs demand that countries open their borders to a flood of (massively
subsidized) agricultural products from the rich countries, with the obvious
effect of undermining local production. And peasants are instructed to become
"rational," producing for the export market and seeking the highest
prices — which translates as "coca, cannibis, opium." Having learned
their lessons properly, they are rewarded by attack by military gunships while
their fields are destroyed by chemical and biological warfare, courtesy of
Washington.

Another
question lurks not too far in the background. Just what right does the US have
to carry out these operations in other countries to destroy a crop it doesn’t
like? We can put aside the cynical response that the governments requested this
"assistance"; if they hadn’t, they wouldn’t be the governments for
long. The number of Colombians who die from US-produced lethal drugs exceeds the
number of North Americans who die from cocaine, and is far greater relative to
the populations. In East Asia, US-produced lethal drugs are causing millions of
deaths. These countries are compelled not only to accept the products but also
advertising for them, under threat of severe trade sanctions; the Colombian
cartels, in contrast, are not permitted to fund huge advertising campaigns in
which a Joe Camel counterpart extols the wonders of cocaine. Does China, then,
have the right to carry out military, chemical, and biological warfare in North
Carolina? If not, why not?

Yet
another question has to do with the alleged concern over drug use. The
seriousness of that concern was illustrated when a House Committee was
considering the Clinton proposals. It rejected an amendment proposed by
California Democrat Nancy Pelosi calling for funding of drug demand reduction
services. It is well known that these are far more effective than forceful
measures. A Rand study funded by the US Army and the government drug control
agencies found that funds spent on domestic drug treatment were 23 times as
effective as "source country control" (Clinton’s Colombia Plan), 11
times as effective as interdiction, and 7 times as effective as domestic law
enforcement. But that path will not be followed. Rather, the "drug
war" targets poor peasants abroad and poor people at home; by the use of
force, not constructive measures to alleviate problems at a fraction of the
cost. We might also ask why there are no Delta Force raids on US banks and
chemical corporations, though it is no secret that they too are engaged in the
narcotrafficking business.

The
next question is: why the "drug war," in its specific form? An answer
is implicit in an observation of Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan, one of the few
Senators to pay close attention to social statistics. By adopting these
measures, he observed, "we are choosing to have an intense crime problem
concentrated among minorities." And why should that choice be made in a
period when a domestic form of "structural adjustment" is being
imposed? Answers do not seem too hard to find. 

 

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