June 7, 2002
Narco News '02
US's terror war
By Doug Stokes
Special to The Narco News Bulletin
the 1980s, US counter-insurgency took
on a new form, and became what is today known as Low Intensity
Conflict. With the Vietnam experience behind them, US military
planners recognised two crucial lessons that led to this change.
First, the American public was not prepared
to tolerate heavy US casualties in its imperial wars within the
developing world. Amongst US strategists this became known as
the "Vietnam-syndrome"; the image of dead American
soldiers coming home in body-bags.
Second, and more crucially, US strategists
recognized that military victory is no longer the primary objective
in these new Low Intensity Campaigns. The new objective is the
political delegitimization of the enemy and the management of
public opinion within both international and national contexts.
Thus, US psychological warfare became
crucial, and the management of consent central to overall victory.
Simply stated, destroy popular support for the enemy by discrediting
them, and the victory will follow. In Colombia today, this new
form of Low Intensity Conflict has found an active application.
Opinion polls conducted in 1987 found
that 76% of all Americans thought that the Colombian government
was corrupt, and 80% wanted sanctions imposed upon it. In 1991,
amidst the refusal of the Colombian State to hand over the notorious
drug-trafficker, Pablo Escobar, the image of the Colombian State
suffered further setbacks. In response to all this, the Colombian
state embarked on its own Low Intensity Conflict to win the hearts
and minds of the American people.
employed the services of a PR company,
the Sawyer/Miller Group, that earned nearly a million dollars
in fees and expenses in the first half of 1991 alone. The PR
specialists' job was to transform the perceptions of the Colombian
state as a corrupt and brutal abuser of human rights, to a staunch
ally of the US in its so-called "war on drugs".
The director of Sawyer/Miller's Colombia
account explained that, "the main mission is to educate
the American media about Colombia, get good coverage, and nurture
contacts with journalists, columnists, and think tanks. The message
is that there are 'bad' and 'good' people in Colombia and that
the government is the good guy."
In fostering these perceptions the Sawyer/Miller
group conducted opinion poll surveys and focus group sessions
to evaluate public opinion. In 1991 alone, Colombia gave over
$3.1 million to an advertising campaign. The campaign placed
newspaper ads and TV commercials aimed at American policymakers
in Washington. The ads all had a similar theme. They asked the
American people to remember the bravery of the Colombian military
in its war against drugs, and attempted to change perceptions
of Colombia from being a drug supplier to the US as drug consumer.
Media requests for interviews with Colombian
government officials went through Sawyer/Miller. They steered
sympathetic reporters to key government ministries and made sure
that critics of Colombia's appalling human rights record were
kept away. In one instance, after a meeting with Warren Hoge,
the editor of the New York Times Magazine, the Times printed
a long and inaccurate story glorifying the then Colombian President,
Cesar Trujillo, whose campaign had been heavily funded with drug
money. The Colombian government bought the reprinting rights
to the article and sent thousands of copies to US Journalists
group regularly use the American press
to distribute pro-Colombian government propaganda with the routine
production of pamphlets, letters to editors signed by Colombian
officials, and ads placed in The New York Times and The Washington
However, it is the transformation of the
armed protagonists in Colombia's conflict that has had the most
effect. In recently declassified documentation, the US Ambassador
to Colombia in 1996, Myle Frechette, admits that the perception
of the FARC as narco-guerrillas, "was put together by the
Colombian military, who considered it a way to obtain U.S. assistance
in the counterinsurgency."
The PR job seems to have worked. The US
has now made Colombia the third largest recipient of US military
aid in the world today. This aid is allegedly for a counter-offensive
against what have been constructed as the primary narco-terrorists
in Colombia, the FARC.
The Democrat Senator Joseph Biden, stated
in 2000 that never "before in recent history has there been
such an opportunity to strike at all aspects of the drug trade
at the source
Helping Colombia is squarely in America's
national interest. It is the source of many of the drugs that
are poisoning our people." Clinton's Assistant Secretary
of State of the Western Hemisphere Affairs Bureau, Peter F. Romero,
stated that, "Colombia must re-establish authority over
narcotics producing 'sanctuaries'
any comprehensive solution
to Colombia's problems must include the reestablishment of government
authority over these lawless areas. To achieve this, we propose
to give the Government of Colombia the air mobility to reach
deep into these lawless zones and establish a secure environment
for GOC officials".
With the election of Bush, and after September
11th, a new "anti-terror" orientation has occurred
in US policy toward Colombia. Colombia is now squarely in the
sites of the Bush administration, with the US Attorney General,
John Ashcroft stating that "the State Department has called
the FARC the most dangerous international terrorist group based
in the Western Hemisphere" who have "engaged in a
campaign of terror against Colombians and US citizens."
US policy was originally sold
as an anti-drug campaign, but has now
switched to an anti-terror justification. In fighting their anti-drug
and anti-terror wars in Colombia, Washington has given Colombia
$1.3 billion in 2001-2002 and another $700 million has been lined
up for 2003. All this money finds its way into the hands of Colombian
state and the Colombian military. The US has instructed the Colombian
military to concentrate its war against the leftist FARC rebel
insurgents in the South of Colombia (what the US has termed a
Southern Push). These "narco-guerrillas" and "narco-terrorists"
are to be targeted, presumably because these are the primary
"terrorists" and drug-traffickers.
In 1997, James Milford, the former Deputy
Administrator with the U.S.'s central drug eradication body the
Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), stated that Carlos Castaño,
the chief of the paramilitary AUC is a "major cocaine trafficker
in his own right" and has close links to the North Valle
drug syndicate which is "among the most powerful drug trafficking
groups in Colombia". Milford went on that to say "there
is little to indicate the insurgent groups are trafficking in
cocaine themselves, either by producing cocaine
it to Mexican syndicates, or by establishing their own distribution
networks in the United States".
Donnie Marshall, the current Administrator
of the DEA, stated in 2001 before the subcommittee on Criminal
Justice, Drug Policy and Human Resources, that "the FARC
controls certain areas of Colombia and the FARC in those regions
generate revenue by "taxing" local drug related activities."
Marshall goes on to state categorically that "at present,
there is no corroborated information that the FARC is involved
directly in the shipment of drugs from Colombia to international
Like Milford, the US's DEA Director, also
stated that unlike the FARC, the right-wing paramilitary groups
"raise funds through extortion, or by protecting laboratory
operations in northern and central Colombia. The Carlos Castaño
organization, and possibly other paramilitary groups appears
to be directly involved in processing cocaine. At least one of
these paramilitary groups appears to be involved in exporting
cocaine from Colombia."
In a similar report submitted by US Senator
Joseph Biden to the US Senate Committee on Foreign Relations
it was stated that "that Castaño's organization,
and possibly other paramilitary groups " were directly involved
in the processing and export of Cocaine from Colombia".
Klaus Nyholm, the Director of the UN's
drug control agency in Colombia, the UNDCP, stated that "The
guerrillas are something different than the traffickers. The
local fronts are quite autonomous. But in some areas, they're
not involved at all. And in others, they actively tell the farmers
not to grow coca". In the rebels former Demilitarised Zone,
Nyholm stated that, "drug cultivation has not increased
or decreased" once the "FARC took control." Indeed,
Nyholm argued that, prior to the Colombian military and paramilitary
offensive against the DMZ, the FARC were cooperating with a $6
million UN project to replace coca crops with new forms of legal
rebels then are clearly not international drug traffickers, and the narco-guerrilla myth serves a useful
propaganda pretext for US interventionism within Colombia's conflict.
John Waghelstein, a leading US counterinsurgency
specialist, explained the PR value of the "narco-guerrilla"
concept with a "melding in the American public's mind and
in Congress of this connection [leading] to the necessary support
to counter the guerrilla/narcotics terrorists in this hemisphere.
Congress would find it difficult to stand in the way of supporting
our allies with the training, advice and security assistance
necessary to do the job. Those church and academic groups that
have slavishly supported insurgency in Latin America would find
themselves on the wrong side of the moral issue. Above all, we
would have the unassailable moral position from which to launch
a concerted offensive effort using Department of Defense (DOD)
and non-DOD assets."
More importantly however, by associating
the rebels with drugs, the US obscures the role that the drug-funded
paramilitaries play in its dirty war against Colombia's civil
society. The role of the US in Colombia's paramilitary terror
against the Colombian civilian population is made all the more
stark considering the fact that US military advisers travelled
to Colombia in 1991 to re-shape Colombian military intelligence
networks. This restructuring was supposedly designed to aid the
Colombian military in their counter-narcotics efforts.
Human Rights Watch obtained a copy of
the order. Nowhere within the Order is any mention made of drugs.
Instead the secret re-organization focused solely on combating
what was called "escalating terrorism by armed subversion".
The re-organization solidified linkages between the Colombian
military and narco-paramilitary networks that in effect further
consolidated a "secret network that relied on paramilitaries
not only for intelligence, but to carry out murder". Once
the re-organization was complete, all "written material
was to be removed" with "open contacts and interaction
with military installations" to be avoided by paramilitaries.
Stan Goff, a former US special forces
trainer in Colombia stated that when he "was training Colombian
Special Forces in Tolemaida in 1992, my team was there ostensibly
to aid the counter-narcotics effort." He was "giving
military forces training in infantry counterinsurgency doctrine"
and knew "perfectly well, as did the host-nation commanders,
that narcotics was a flimsy cover story for beefing up the capacity
of armed forces who had lost the confidence of the population
through years of abuse."
US, then, has clearly participated
in strengthening the ties between the leading terrorists in Colombia,
the Colombian military and their paramilitary allies, who are
responsible for over 80% of all human rights abuses committed
in Colombia today.
Furthermore, as outlined above, the paramilitaries,
as stated by the US's own agencies, are amongst the biggest drug
traffickers in Colombia today. In effect, US military aid is
going directly to the major terrorist networks throughout Colombia,
who traffic cocaine into US markets to fund their activities,
and which the US has been instrumental in helping make more effective
in creating what Human Rights Watch termed a "sophisticated
that allows the Colombian military to fight a
dirty war and Colombian officialdom to deny it".
During the Cold War, the US sold its counter-insurgency
campaigns against social democrats, socialists, independent nationalists
and even the Catholic Church, as part of a global struggle against
the Soviet Union. In the post-Cold War era, the US has switched
to new PR mechanisms to sell its imperial policy. The narco-guerrilla
and counter-terrorist pretexts serves as a useful PR mechanism
for conflating US "official enemies" with drugs and
Underlying these myths is the reality
that the Colombian state and its privatized arm, the paramilitaries,
combined with overt US support, continues to lead directly to
the death and disappearances of thousands of Colombian civilians.
The US terror war against Colombian civil society fits a consistent
pattern within US policy throughout Latin America, which has
led directly to the death of hundreds of thousands of civilians.
is the US doing these things? Underlying
US policy are a number of factors that include the importance
of Colombian and Venezuelan oil to US energy needs. The regional
destabilization that may occur as a result of a potential rebel
victory could seriously alter the balance of forces within the
region and threaten the interests of the US's big oil transnationals.
The Bush administration's new request for $98 million for a specially
trained Colombian military brigade devoted solely to protecting
Occidental Petroleum's 500-mile long Cano Limon oil pipeline
in Colombia makes this even clearer.
Paul D. Coverdell, a Republican Senator
explained that the "destabilization of Colombia directly
affects bordering Venezuela, now generally regarded as our largest
oil supplier. In fact, the oil picture in Latin America is strikingly
similar to that of the Middle East, except that Colombia provides
us more oil today than Kuwait did then.
This crisis, like the one in Kuwait, threatens
to spill over into many nations, all of which are allies".
The war on the rebels, then, forms part of a classic counter-insurgency
strategy of destroying nationalist forces that threaten US hegemony
and elite interests throughout Latin America.
The military aid both strengthens and
grants legitimacy to the repressive apparatus of the Colombian
state and its clandestine arm, the paramilitaries. In so doing,
the Colombian state can continue to silence and murder those
who dare question the status-quo in Colombia, a status-quo that
currently sees the majority of Colombia's people in poverty,
with 25% of all Colombians living in abject misery.
The US thus destroys the potential of
an alternative model of socio-economic organisation, and escalates
the costs of organizing or speaking out in favour of potential
alternatives. In prosecuting the war the US and Colombian elites
rely on both coercive and consensual means.
For US and international audiences there
are vast PR propaganda campaigns to manage perceptions. In Colombia
however it is a very different story where to get off your knees
and stand on your feet is a risky business which all too often
leads to a bullet made in the USA.
Do We The People
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