The rebellion on drug policy at the Summit of Americas hinted at by Uruguayan President Jorge Batlle in March fizzled in Quebec over the weekend as Andean leaders lined up with Presidents Bush and Pastrana to plead for their share of the US anti-drug pie. The Andean leaders ignored an open letter to President Bush signed by more than a hundred Latin American politicians and intellectuals. They also ignored the increasing violence and devastation in Colombia as rightist paramilitaries and the US-backed coca fumigation campaign do their work.

The paramilitaries, paying no mind to diplomatic niceties, meanwhile took their murderous vocation to new heights. In a three-day operation last week around the town of Naya in Cauca province, paramilitaries massacred at least 40 people, possibly twice that many, according to the Washington Post. In addition to being the largest single massacre since that in Chengue in December, where the paramilitaries killed 26 farmers by smashing their heads with large stones, the Naya massacre is also marked by horrific ferocity. At Naya, the paramilitaries killed with guns, machetes, and chain saws.

Colombia's ombudsman, Eduardo Cifuentes, told the Post after visiting the area that "we have returned to the most barbaric era," adding that a 17-year-old girl was hacked to pieces with a chainsaw and another gutted. Their bodies lay in a roadside ditch for a week, he said, because paramilitaries camped nearby and refused to allow villagers to bury them.

The Post also interviewed Delio Chate, a 41-year-old farmer who has a 25-acre coca field near Naya. Chate said the killing took place over three days. Paramilitaries would round up the village's residents along the dirt path into town and ask each, "Do you know any guerrillas?" Three negative responses brought a machete blow, said Chate. He said he saw his neighbors being killed and that some were alive as paramilitaries took chainsaws to their bodies.

"Now, of course, the army is there or is trying to get there," Chate said. "But they left us out there alone."

Last month, the United Nations, the Colombian ombudsman and the Interior Ministry warned that Nava, a strategically located coca growing center long frequented by leftist rebels of the National Liberation Army (ELN), was ripe for a paramilitary attack. The army took no steps to protect the town, following a pattern of at least passive collusion set in previous massacres.

US and Colombian officials are quick to deny collusion with the paramilitaries, but a loose-lipped paramilitary commander in Putumayo last month ripped one more veil from that increasingly flimsy garment of mendacity. In interviews with the Boston Globe, "Commander Wilson," a paramilitary leader in the southern province where the rightists have unleashed a successful campaign of terror against the leftist FARC and suspected civilian supporters, made clear that his men were the vanguard of Plan Colombia.

Local Colombian military authorities "know where we are, and they draw up sketches and decide to spray where they know we have consolidated those zones. They have depended entirely on us," Wilson said. "Plan Colombia would be almost impossible without the help of the [paramilitary] self-defense forces. If we did not take control of zones ahead of the army, then the guerrillas would shoot down their planes," he added.

Former Puerto Asiz human rights ombudsman German Martinez, agrees. Martinez, who resigned in March after repeated death threats, told the Herald, "The paramilitary phenomenon in Putumayo is the spearhead of Plan Colombia to create territorial control for the areas to be sprayed and to control the civilian population."

So does the US military. "Between Dec. 25 and Jan. 15, aerial eradication operations were focused primarily in that area of the Valle de Guamuez considered to be under paramilitary influence," a US military officer, speaking on condition of anonymity, told the Herald. "It was anticipated spray operations directed against paramilitary coca fields would experience fewer hostile fire incidents."

The unnamed officer rejected the suggestion that the army colluded with the paramilitaries, even though army bases sit on either side of the local paramilitary command post and trucks filled with paramilitaries rumble past army checkpoints on the way to new search-and-destroy missions.

The Herald also reported that many of the paramilitaries are former soldiers and related the tale of its encounter with one fighter dressed in civilian garb who was eating C-rations issued to Colombian army anti-drug units. Unlike his commander, this soldier kept a tight lip about where he got the food.

General Jose Antonio Ladron de Guevara, commander of the army's 24th Brigade, told the Herald some 30 members of his unit had joined the paramilitaries. Wilson claimed the figure was closer to a hundred and they were prepared to keep fighting. "We're ready to risk everything," he said.

At the Summit of the Americas in Quebec, meanwhile, overt opposition to the Plan Colombia collapsed as Colombia's neighbors positioned themselves to receive hefty chunks of the $700 million Andean Ridge Initiative, President Bush's regional version of the plan. All 34 hemispheric heads-of-state signed on to a post-summit statement endorsing "firm support" for Colombian President Pastrana's ongoing and slow moving peace negotiations.

Even Venezuela's Hugo Chavez softened his opposition. Where in earlier months he had warned of the danger of spreading regional violence because of Plan Colombia, he changed his tune after a pre-summit meeting of Andean leaders in Cartagena, Colombia earlier this month. "What we had warned about, not against Plan Colombia but against its military component, that chapter has been closed," Chavez cryptically explained. "Doubts that existed in any instance regarding Plan Colombia have now been clarified."

In a letter to President Bush, Latin American politicians and intellectuals were equally clear in their opposition to Plan Colombia. "As your Administration considers the future direction of US policy towards the Andes, we ask you to suspend and reformulate US support for the implementation of Plan Colombia, placing a greater emphasis on supporting the peace process," said the signers, led by Uruguayan author Eduardo Galeano. "We are gravely concerned that current policy will cause more harm than good in Colombia and in the region at large -- while having little or no effect on the drug problems of the consumer countries."

Other signatories to the letter include Nicaraguan Foreign Minister Miguel D'Escoto, Chilean-born professor and novelist Ariel Dorfman, esteemed Mexican writer Carlos Fuentes, former Bolivian President Lydia Guilier Tejada, Nobel Peace Prize winners Rigoberta Menchu of Guatemala and Adolfo Perez Esquivel of Argentina, and more than a hundred other churchmen, unionists, journalists, jurists, and elected officials. (Visit http://www.wola.org/summit_letter_english.htm to read the letter online.)

-- END --
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Issue #183, 4/27/01 Editorial: Drug War Fanaticism | Against John Walters: DRCNet Opposes Bush Drug Czar Nomination | Coca Wars I: Over the Peruvian Amazon, Chronicle of a Death Foretold | Coca Wars II: Coca Growers Fight Through Tear Gas, Beatings, Detentions to Reach Capital City, Bolivian Government Shudders Anew as Blockades Set to Go Up Again | Coca Wars III: At Summit of Americas, US Aid Buys Support for Plan Colombia, Paramilitaries Rampage Back Home | HEA in the Press | Racial Disparities in Drug Law Enforcement in Chicago: 99% of Teenage Drug Offenders Prosecuted as Adults Are Non-White | Will Foster Freed from Jail, Had 93 Years for Medical Marijuana | No Time to Rest: Drug Reform Conferences Advancing the Cause Nationwide | ACLU: Supreme Court Ruling Expands Police Powers | The Reformer's Calendar
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