Colombia's new hardline President Alvaro Uribe met this week in Washington with President Bush and congressional drug warriors to grease the way for $450 million in new, mostly military, US assistance to Colombia. But even as the two heads of state formed an impromptu mutual admiration society, congressional inaction forced a delay on the vote until after the November elections, giving opponents of the aid more time to derail or tighten the package. And the day before Uribe arrived in Washington, the Justice Department announced it had indicted Carlos Castaño, the notorious head of the right-wing paramilitaries responsible for civilian massacres that have left thousands dead, for cocaine trafficking. Both the paramilitaries and the leftist guerrillas of the FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia), as well as the smaller leftist Army of National Liberation (ELN) are listed as foreign terrorist organizations by the US State Department.
Since taking power in August, Uribe has unveiled plans to heighten the conflict in Colombia, a posture that fits perfectly into the Bush administration's increasingly belligerent stance toward the FARC, which has been fighting since 1964 to implant a Marxist government and which is alleged to be deeply involved in the cocaine traffic. In the last six weeks, Uribe has announced a war tax on the rich to finance a massive increase in the size of the Colombian armed forces, unveiled a program to create a million-strong army of informers, announced unprecedented levels of herbicide spray attacks on coca fields, and declared a national state of emergency that abrogates basic human and civil rights in Colombia.
Those are precisely the kinds of policies to warm Bush's heart. Bush lavished praise on Uribe for fighting terrorism and drug trafficking, adding: "We look forward to working with President Uribe to hold others into account."
Uribe returned the compliment, saying Bush was an example of "the way we need to go... to fight and defeat terrorism. I want not to appease them," he said of the leftist guerrillas. "We can no longer allow the terrorist groups to threaten our people." Uribe also vowed to end Colombia's role as the world's largest producer and distributor of cocaine, suggesting that he would cover the whole country with herbicides. "The goal is to destroy 100 percent of the coca crop," he said. "We will not stop. We will spray and spray."
Uribe's visit to Washington came just one day after Attorney General John Ashcroft and DEA administrator Asa Hutchinson jointly unsealed an indictment charging Castaño and two other high paramilitary figures, Salvatore Mancuso and Juan Carlos Sierra-Ramirez, with exporting 17 tons of cocaine to Europe and the US since 1997. (A handful of FARC members were similarly indicted earlier this year.) The paramilitary leaders are violent criminals who "threaten our national security," Ashcroft said.
"It is clear that the paramilitary organization led by Carlos Castaño was immersed for years in the illegal drug trade, from the taxing of the coca growers to the processing laboratories to the transportation of cocaine to the targeted country," added Hutchinson.
The indictment of Castaño will place new pressure on Colombian authorities to move against him even though the paramilitaries are de facto allies of the Colombian state in its civil war against the leftist rebels. Even though Castaño is wanted on some 90 charges in Colombia, including torture and mass murder, and even though he regularly gives interviews to journalists, the Colombian government has been curiously unable to find and arrest him. Ties between the Colombia government and Castaño and his paramilitaries have been one of the chief obstacles for the Bush administration's war policy in Colombia, with Democratic opponents citing government collaboration with paramilitary atrocities as a reason to restrict assistance to Colombia. Now, Castaño faces becoming the sacrificial lamb at the altar of victory against the left.
According to wire reports at press time, Castaño is negotiating his surrender to US authorities. Ironically, his indictment comes just weeks after he belatedly attempted to separate his paramilitaries from the drug trade, a move that has occasioned numerous fractures in the loosely-structured 10,000-strong rightist ranks.
Human rights groups lauded Castano's indictment, but remain firm in their opposition to fueling Colombia's civil war with even more money and guns. The Latin American Working Group (http://www.lawg.org), a coalition of non-governmental organizations critical of US policy in Colombia, has seized on the delayed appropriations vote to urge a renewed round of lobbying Congress, and the Colombia Mobilization (http://www.colombiamobilization.org), a series of actions nationwide, is taking place today (Friday 9/28).
8. Newsbrief: Putin to Create Russian DEA
Russian President Vladimir Putin announced Monday that he would create a specialized narcotics enforcement service similar to the US Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to head off a looming "social catastrophe," the Spanish press agency ANSA reported this week. The announcement came at a cabinet meeting called to deal with Russia's increasing levels of drug use and ever-worsening rate of HIV/AIDS infection, much of it related to injection drug use.
Putin put the number of "drug addicts" at around three million, or 2% of the population, adding that many of them are youthful. He also said that "narcomafias" are prospering and have developed dramatically since 1995. "In those years, the country confronted radical changes in a very brief period of time," leading to tears in the Russian social fabric and leaving a space for criminality to flourish, Putin said. "Drug traffickers took advantage of a period of instability and weakening of the state," he added.
Putin did not reveal how a new anti-drug enforcement agency would reduce the black market profits that have made drug trafficking organizations wealthy.