Via Workers World News Service
Reprinted from the Oct. 31, 1996
issue of Workers World newspaper

Colombia: Pentagon uses "drug war" as smoke screen

By Andy McInerney

Hundreds of thousands of young people-disproportionately African American and Latino-thrown into prison on minor drug charges. An untold number of lives destroyed by drugs brought into the U.S. with the approval of the Central Intelligence Agency.

Those are the domestic casualties of the U.S. government's so-called "war on drugs." But the story doesn't stop there.

Under the pretext of fighting "drug lords," the Pentagon is intensifying military intervention in Latin America against the surging protests against capitalist exploitation. In 1992 alone, the Defense Department allocated $1.1 billion for "counter-drug" programs.

Colombia is currently a major target of this U.S. intervention. In October alone, the U.S. sent $40 million in aid to the Colombian government, supposedly to fight the drug cartels. Three-quarters of that equipment is going directly to the Colombian military; the rest will go to the National Police.

At an Oct. 7 meeting of Western Hemisphere defense chiefs in Bariloche, Argentina, U.S. Defense Secretary William Perry advocated an international center to fight drugs based in Panama. "Panama is located right on the edge of some of the most substantial narco-trafficking that exists anywhere in the hemisphere," he said.

Panama is still the site of major U.S. military bases. It is on the northern border of Colombia.

On Oct. 21, the Colombian Defense Ministry announced that the U.S. military will test an airborne jungle-penetrating sensor over Colombian air space. U.S. military planes based in Panama will scan the Colombian jungles, supposedly for drug trafficking activity.

Gov't wages war against people

This flurry of U.S. military involvement in Colombia coincides with the most sustained military offensive by the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) and the National Liberation Army (ELN) in decades. After suffering a series of humiliating defeats, the Colombian Armed Forces are desperately trying to re-arm to regain the offensive against the revolutionary movement.

For example, the Defense Ministry announced on Oct. 17 that it would buy 10 Russian military helicopters to fight the FARC and the ELN. Negotiations will begin in November to buy U.S.-made Blackhawk and French-made Cougar attack helicopters.

While the government of President Ernesto Samper has taken some legal moves against the powerful drug cartels, there is no military action against them. All U.S. military aid is being funneled into the war against the FARC and the ELN.

Another factor in the Colombian "drug wars" is the U.S.-backed coca defoliation campaign. Thousands of acres of coca leaves are being sprayed with deadly defoliants, causing environmental damage and depriving tens of thousands of peasant farmers of their livelihood.

In September, hundreds of thousands of peasants demonstrated against the defoliation campaign. They charged that without government-financed crop substitution plans, they would not be able to earn a living without harvesting coca leaves.

The narco-bourgeoisie

In contrast to the peasants who earn a living picking coca leaves, the drug cartels are powerful capitalist enterprises. They accounted for between $3.5 billion and $7 billion in drug trafficking profits. Colombia's total gross domestic product is only $70 billion.

Moreover, the drug cartels are the country's biggest landowners, holding more than 7 million acres of farmland. In short, the drug cartels form a powerful sector of the Colombian ruling class.

But the cartels occupy a special role within the Colombian ruling classes. The particular features of the illegal drug market force the cartels into a close-if not always harmonious-relationship with U.S. imperialism.

First, the billion-dollar industry could not exist without the cooperation of the largest U.S. banks. The profits generated by the drug trade are useless to the landowners unless they can safely invest them. The banks, in turn, soak up the billions of dollars of illicit cash to invest for fantastic profits.

Also, the coca capitalists ultimately need close relations with the Pentagon and other arms of the U.S. state apparatus. With their profits completely dependent on the ability to penetrate U.S. borders illegally, at least passive support by U.S. military and police agencies is a requirement. An occasional bust for public consumption in the U.S. is tolerated as the cost of doing business.

The drug cartels, linked by thousands of fine threads to U.S. imperialism, are not the target of U.S. military intervention in Colombia. In fact, the cartels form a sector of the Colombian capitalist class, based on their need to protect their land holdings and their need for U.S. markets.

In order to protect against mass action by the peasants, big landowners have organized paramilitary groups and death squads to terrorize peasant activists and trade unionists. Over 2,500 members of the Patriotic Union, a progressive political party, have been murdered by death squads in the past eight years.

The campaign by some in the Colombian elite and the U.S. military to label the armed revolutionary movements as "narco-traffickers" is a crude attempt to obscure the class lines of the struggle in Colombia.

The sharpening battle in Colombia will pit the mass movement of workers and peasants along with the revolutionary forces against the combined weight of the drug cartels, the Colombian military, and U.S. imperialism. It won't be a "drug war"-it will be a class war.

(Copyright Workers World Service: Permission to reprint granted if source is cited. For more information contact Workers World, 55 W. 17 St., NY, NY 10011; via e-mail: [email protected] For subscription info send message to: [email protected] Web: http://www.workers.org)

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