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Seeing Double in Colombia

Michael Borucke

The aid package for Colombia that Bill Clinton seems intent on securing made it through the House of Representatives a couple of weeks ago. It will soon be voted on in the Senate and, if it passes, it will mean more death and violence for the people of Colombia. When 70 percent of the 1.7 billion dollars in aid is designated for weapons and machines of destruction, what else can it mean? But there are those who would convince us that this aid is necessary for winning the “War on Drugs.” Is that what we’re trying to do?

Colombia is a country rich in resources, yet half the population lives in utter poverty. As is standard in Latin America, the economic inequalities are oppressive: three percent of the population owns 70 percent of the land. In the 1930s, a handful of revolutionary groups rose up against the government in an effort to improve conditions for the mass of people in Colombia. Two of the largest are FARC (Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia) and ELN (Ejercito de LiberaciÓn Nacional). Of course, there was one country very afraid of these groups’ potential threat to the iniquitous status quo, and Colombia’s government has since become the third largest recipient of U.S. aid behind those of Israel and Egypt. Apparently, so the United States thinks, not only are these socialist revolutionaries fighting for better conditions, they’re also exporting cocaine to the United States.

Honestly, though, what guerrilla has the time to transport tons of cocaine thousands of miles to the north, not to mention getting through all the red tape that goes with it (e.g. paying off the CIA, and finding inner-city drug dealers?). They’re too busy fighting a war against an opponent that has an inexhaustible supply of resources coming from the United States. The truth is that the Colombian guerrilla and the Colombian drug lord are two different people with two entirely different objectives. The former is fighting for social change in a country that has one of the worst human rights records in the Western Hemisphere. The latter is involved in the illegal drug trafficking.

The guerrilla and the drug lord do have limited contact, however. Part of Colombia is occupied by guerrilla forces that have few resources in comparison to their government. The guerrillas subsequently tax the coca- growing farms that exist within the occupied region. The argument that the guerrillas endorse and perpetuate the drug trade by taxing the drug lords could easily be made, but in my opinion it is overly simplistic. No doubt that the drug lord is a source of the drugs, but it is important to keep in mind that the guerrilla is a different person altogether. Still, politicians find the evil two-headed “narco-guerrilla” very useful: the politician can easily obtain public consent to fund a civil war by saying, “Drugs are bad!” and the public doesn’t have to think about the reasons for the war (it’s a war on drugs, right?).

It’s also important to note that the actual target of the U.S. “aid” is the guerrilla and not the drug lords (or poverty or starvation). A look at the weapons being bought with U.S. money, your tax dollars, should prove this. One doesn’t need F-16 fighter planes to search for and destroy coca plants. One needs F-16 fighter planes to crush insurgent forces. Besides, U.S. financial institutions are profiting too much from the drug trade for the government to honestly attempt to deal with it. A study conducted by the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development found that 250 billion dollars in drug money circulates through U.S. banks, whereas a mere 6 billion is circulated through Colombian banks.

United States chemical manufacturers aren’t too offended by the drug trade either. A congressional committee found that 90 percent of the chemicals used in cocaine production came from the United States. And it goes without saying that U.S. arms contractors are hoping for the quickest and least violent solution to the war even though they control three-quarters of the arms market in Latin America.

Will more weapons and violence lead to the end of the war? Probably not the civil war, and definitely not the imaginary war on drugs. Imagine for a moment that there was a genuine desire by the government to take a bite out of crime and stop the influx of cocaine from Colombia; it might be helpful to understand the true source of the drug trade in order to solve the problem. The reason farmers grow cocaine plants in the first place is because it is economically logical. When the price of coffee beans (Colombia’s principal export) drops in the world market, farmers have little choice between growing coca plants or dying from starvation. If we as a country really wanted to fight a war on drugs, we should simply force our government to provide alternatives, for Colombian farmers, to growing coca plants. Keeping the price of coffee at a sustainable level would be a start. Solutions to the war on drugs will not even be considered until we force our leaders to be honest about what their objectives are. The goal of the aid package is clear from history and present-day reports.

Until we begin to voice our concerns about programs that both perpetuate an endless war in which eight civilians are killed for every soldier and at the same time provide no signs of slowing the drug trade, politicians will continue to sell the idea to the public. Without pressure from the public, the Senate just may approve the aid package.