by Bill Collins
BOGOTA, COLOMBIA. I was so proud. Gen. Ruiz said that what the Colombian Army really needs to defeat the guerrillas are more helicopters. As the only Nutmegger in our Witness for Peace delegation, I could brag that they're made in Stratford, just 20 miles from our house.
But wait. The law says U.S. helicopters are only to be used for spraying coca plants, not fighting a civil war. Such nuances mean little to generals, however. Their job is to smash leftist insurgents, and helicopters help a lot. Besides, President Bush is busy deleting that inconvenient prohibition. Before long the army will be able to focus its full attention on making Colombia safe for world capitalism.
Besides, no one here believes that spraying coca is effective anyway. It's just a sop to gringo politicians. On Yanqui streets, cocaine has never been cheaper, purer, or more plentiful. And on sprayed farms, ironically, the coca grows back within a few months, while the corn, yucca, plantains, and other subsistence foods take years to recover. As do streams, fish, and wells. Campesinos unwilling to put up with these annoyances push farther into the jungle, clearcutting more forest and animal habitat. Coca is easy to grow, so they get a new crop soon.
Meanwhile the real battle - over control of the Colombian economy - goes on unabated. Multinational corporations and local moguls have much at stake. Plan Colombia is designed to sustain them, as well as to provide a secure military and political base for the U.S. to infiltrate leftist Venezuela and, if need be, Ecuador. On the losing end of this war are labor unions, journalists, peasants, clergy, politicians, and the poor. Their leaders are murdered at a fearsome rate.
Most of these murders never get seriously investigated, since the victims are largely folks whom the government, the corporations or the drug traffickers want rubbed out. Prosecutors are savvy enough not to get involved.
Chief among the murderers are paramilitary forces. Although responsible for the bulk of Colombia's atrocities, they avoid President Bush's wrath. Unlike the leftist guerrillas, these "paras" admit to a more fascist mindset. Thus the economic elite, both domestic and international, finds them useful. So does the army. The paras are paid to defend oil lines, destroy unions, chase peasants off valuable lands, and protect drug trafficking.
The guerrillas similarly fund themselves through protecting drug traffickers, but also add income from kidnap ransoms and oil company extortion. It's no longer clear how much these insurgents still pursue reformist ideology. They seem instead to aim at gaining political power by force of arms rather that through politics. That's somewhat understandable, however, since they have watched predecessors lay down their arms, organize politically, achieve strength, and get murdered.
But out in the hinterlands, all that people care about is peace. It's been 40 years. And everyone agrees that U.S. aid only makes the violence worse. All 13 mayors in hotly contested Putamayo province have come out against Plan Colombia for that very reason. Plus, a mayor in oil-devastated Arauca province told me to forget helicopters; just send a used fire truck (I'm looking). Local folks, as usual, never get to see any of that oil revenue. What they do get is environmental devastation, prostitution, and war.
The big winners in that war so far are Occidental Petroleum, Coca Cola, drug dealers, Harken Petroleum (one of Pres. Bush's favorite investments), and the countless other corporate beneficiaries of globalization. Plan Colombia is dandy for them. It also pleases "anti-terrorists," but unfortunately it has no effect on drug flow. Mostly it just accelerates murder rates and throws more of our money down the rat hole.