Adam J. Smith, Associate Director, [email protected]
This week, a US reconnaissance aircraft, officially on an anti-narcotics mission, crashed in the war-torn jungles of Colombia. Seven people, including five US servicemen and women, were killed. This tragedy comes in the wake of a request by Drug Czar Barry McCaffrey for more than $1 billion in additional military aid for Latin America, mostly Colombia, for the ostensible purpose of anti-drug operations.
For years, the American government has held to the line that our support of the Colombian military is necessary in order to fight the "narco-guerrilla" insurgency. Barry McCaffrey, former commander of US forces in Latin America, has been particularly disingenuous in portraying the thirty-five year-old Colombian civil war as a battle between an insurgency financed by the drug trade and a democratically elected government eager to end that trade. The truth, as nearly every credible Colombia expert is quick to point out, is far more complex.
The Colombian military has one of the worst human rights records in the world. Add to that the fact that the military is closely aligned with various right-wing paramilitary death squads, and that elements of both are deeply involved in the drug trade. In fact, thanks largely to American prohibition, there is scarcely a part of the Colombian economy or ruling structure that has not been perversely impacted and wholly corrupted by that nation's most valuable export.
The State Department continues to insist that US military aid, of which Colombia is the third-largest recipient, is not being used for counterinsurgency operations, but high ranking members of the Colombian military, as well as numerous outside experts, have repeatedly stated that there is no distinction between the two.
The deaths of five US servicemen and women ought to jar the American public into a far closer examination of our role in Colombia. In addition to our military forces, the DEA, the CIA and other federal agencies have personnel on the ground. Putting another billion or so into the region in the form of military aid will do nothing to reduce our involvement in the conflict.
We are not in Colombia in an effort to stem the tide of drugs across our borders. If our interest is connected to the drug trade at all, it is only to insure that the profits from the lucrative trade are flowing into the right hands. We are there to secure other interests, some obvious, like profits for the American defense industry, and some that will likely remain hidden. Politics and money have always been far more important, in the real world, than the tonnage of illicit drugs on America's streets. Go ask Oliver North.
How many more Americans will die in the jungles of Colombia? How many more tax dollars will be spent to escalate the violence that has been that nation's legacy for nearly four decades? How many more "advisors" will we send into a country whose people see our forces there not as defenders of democracy but as uninvited interlopers and destroyers of national sovereignty? How many more Colombian civilians will be massacred at the hands of the paramilitaries who are distinct in name only from the military that we are so eager to finance? How much longer until we find ourselves, for the second time in as many generations, fighting a war that is not our business, for reasons that have little to do with the ones being mouthed by our elected leaders, in a dispute in which there are no moral distinctions, in the interests of a shadowy few? Judging by the events of the past week, it is likely that we are about to find out.