Colombia Ð Part Two of Two

Noam Chomsky


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.


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


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.


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."


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



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.


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



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?


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.


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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